Life as a Pro-life Progressive
by Lisa Stiller
Even as I type the words in that title, I realize how redundant they really are.
Because to me, being pro-life is part of being progressive. Being progressive means protecting all life. Being progressive means putting the needs of the most vulnerable, lower income people first. Being progressive means rejecting all violence.
Becoming a Pro-life Progressive
I seemed to have been called to political involvement and activism since high school, in the midst of the movement against the war in Vietnam and the racial conflicts of the late 60s. I started a small group of young activists who helped make phone calls about getting out the vote. I joined an interfaith group that was focused on healing racism. I tutored low-income minority elementary school students in a very poor neighborhood and struggled to understand why their world was so different from my own. I landed in college as the Vietnam death tolls skyrocketed and started to help organize protests almost as soon as I got to campus. I remember protests happening just about every day on campus, as we ran from tear gas carrying water bottles and bandanas. I remember the National Guard walking through the streets at night.
I got involved in draft counseling work in my junior and senior year in college, hoping that I helped some avoid the draft. I stood in front of the White House one summer with a group of Quakers from New York protesting the war 24 hours a day. I was among the first group of people to be arrested in the May Day protests of 1971, at 5:30am, as we started out to block the 14th Street Bridge. I volunteered at a co-op distributing free food to students and low-income people, which turned out to be more a more meaningful experience than any class I took.
And one day, a conservative friend with whom I’d had many friendly political discussions gave me one of those tests to see where I stood on the political spectrum. We both knew our scores were going to be very different, so it was just for fun. One question asked whether I supported abortion. I stopped and stared at the question. I had never really thought much about it, although I had heard plenty of discussion among my women progressive friends.
And suddenly, I realized I didn’t. It was killing. Wasn’t I running around the streets of DC protesting the war in Vietnam and all the deaths, injury, and destruction?
That is when I realized I was in a political no man’s land. My “progressive” friends were clamoring for the legalization of abortion and then cheering the Roe v Wade decision. What was progressive about championing death?
Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable among these people. My questioning was met with hostility. I was told I needed to support “women’s rights.” Well, I do, I said. I supported women’s rights to equal pay for equal work, to affordable child care and health care, and to aim higher than just college then marriage then children. (This was the early 1970s.)
But that was not enough. The Holy Grail was the “right” to have an abortion– what I realized was really the “right” to kill an unborn child. I couldn’t believe that supporting abortion was a litmus test for being a feminist, even back then.
I finished college, eventually went to the Bay Area, and just partied for a few years. I returned to DC to work for a year, then moved to the west coast again. Political activism called me back almost right away, this time in the form of protesting the contra wars and Reagan’s war on the poor and a few years later the first Iraq war. I remember marching through the streets of Portland, Oregon every day that war lasted.
But becoming involved with a political party meant I had to pass the abortion litmus test.
I failed, of course. I realized I was politically homeless, and I had no clue what to do except to keep speaking out against war and poverty in any way I could. I organized protests against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. I didn’t need to belong to a political party to do that.
Acting as a Pro-life Progressive
During the March for Life events in Reno, mostly attended by very conservative groups, I carried a sign saying No War, No Death Penalty, No Abortion; I almost always made the news with that sign!
I became known in the community as a strong peace activist. I even eventually tried getting involved with the local Democrats so I could round them up for antiwar protests. But I kept feeling like I was living a lie. As long as the abortion question didn’t come up, I was safe. I lived in fear that it would.
Finally, one day in 2001 I was sitting at my computer and I googled “opposing abortion progressives”. Up popped something called the Seamless Garment Network. There were people like me somewhere out there! The only other place I had found any companionship politically was with my Catholic Social Justice group. I felt no need to be part of a political party; I just needed to act out what our faith taught us about social justice.
It took about 9 or 10 years for me to actually reach out, and by then the Seamless Garment Network had become the Consistent Life Network. Around 2010 I found an email list for pro-life Quakers, which led me back to the Consistent Life Network. I signed up as a volunteer and got on the mailing list. Then one day about two years later I got an email from a Rose Evans (I had no clue who she was) inviting me to join the board of Consistent Life. I finally had a political home. (And I finally met Rose, one of the most amazing women I have ever met!)
And I found out there really were lots of other people like me.
I’m still politically active in my community. I’m always emphasizing the need to support programs that help children and families, as well as opposing every single possibility of war anywhere.
I hate having to live a lie, not being free to speak up. I love going to conferences and speaking to people who feel the same way I do, and talking to people who, although we may disagree about one issue, still accept me.
Life as a prolife progressive is tough. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
For other personal journeys in our blog posts, see:
On Being a Consistent Chimera / Rob Arner
Peas of the Same Pod / Elena Muller Garcia
My Personal Journey on Veganism, War, and Abortion / Frank Lane
Off the Fence and Taking My Stand on Abortion / Mary Liepold
Sharon Long: My Personal Pro-life Journey / Sharon Long