Equal Concern for Each Human Being, Not for Each Human Issue
by Richard Stith
Editor’s Note: Richard is responding to a recent article in LifeSite News which has a common criticism of the consistent life ethic by pro-lifers, that by addressing several issues we’re treating all of them as equally important, and thereby watering down the crucial importance of the right to life as a foundation. This was offered as a response, and in the spirit of a good exchange of views, we offer below e-mails between him and the editor.
Richard is a senior research professor at Valparaiso University Law School, and is on the board of the Consistent Life Network.
The “seamless garment” or “consistent life” ethic should be understood as equal concern for every human being, not equal concern for every human issue.
If one person is threatened with losing her house and another is threatened with losing her life, equal concern for both would make us rush to the assistance of the latter, not the former. Thus those who think housing and abortion to be issues of equal weight are letting a false consistency cover up a deeply inconsistent politics of care. Such people have no right to cover themselves with the “seamless garment.”
Properly understood, true consistency is what we pro-lifers all uphold. Every one of us is absolutely inclusive. Not one of us cares more for unborn babies than for other human beings. Each of us would protest against the mass killing of toddlers or teenagers just as forcefully as we now protest against the mass killing of unborn babies. Our all-inclusive philosophy is often expressed in this way: We are for the equal protection of all human beings from conception to natural death.
Moreover, this inclusive approach is our best strategy to help the unborn. The only way abortion can be tolerated is if unborn babies are excluded from concern. That is why our opponents insist above all on not calling the babies “human beings.” They know that once the unborn are brought within the circle of our concern, there is absolutely no way that their cruel dismemberment can be justified. So our first pro-life step has to be simply to counteract specific exclusion of the unborn with their specific inclusion.
Thus, for example, a wonderful congregational prayer would be “For all people in our community, born and unborn, who are threatened by violence, let us pray to the Lord.” This phrase “born and unborn” is actually a much better reminder of the babies’ plight than just something focusing entirely on pro-life in a narrow sense, like “Let us pray for an end to abortion.”
By being inclusive and also explicitly mentioning the unborn, we do a much better job of focusing on them as fellow human beings just like the rest of us. Talking only about abortion makes killing unborn babies seem to be a side issue that can be easily ignored.
Bottom line: We pro-lifers need to seize upon the “seamless garment” and “consistent life” language, properly understood, and make it our own. We are the ones who want to include everyone. Our pro-abortion opponents are the ones who want to exclude some people from our society’s care and concern.
By contrast, when we attack the “seamless garment” and “consistent life” philosophies, we make ourselves seem to be the excluders and our opponents seem to be the includers, which is just the opposite of the truth.
Editor’s second note: Richard requested this be published in Life Site News and was turned down. The editor gave us permission to publish his response:
Personally, I don’t think we can co-opt the seamless garment to our advantage, although most of what you say makes sense. The social liberals created this phrase for a definite strategic purpose – to exploit strong pro-life sentiment to turn it towards social issues that are not about moral absolutes and which do not involve the deliberate killing of massive numbers of innocents. We can’t pretend that abortion is not the great evil that is it – as well as those issues related to it such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, infanticide, embryonic stem cell research, etc. – all killings of the most innocent and vulnerable.
For more of our blog posts from Richard Stith, see:
For another blog post addressing this criticism, see:
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.