Angie Wingert has been part of the leadership team of the St. Wenceslaus Parish pro-life group in Omaha, Nebraska, for the past 15 years, doing all the “traditional” pro-life activities, from hosting baby showers for pregnancy centers to raising money for students to attend the national March for Life in Washington.
But when her home state of Nebraska launched an effort to repeal the death penalty, Wingert’s pro-life group was front and center with educational materials, letter-writing campaigns and speakers urging repeal.
Because, according to Wingert, the death penalty is definitely a pro-life issue.
“Life is precious,” said the activist grandmother, “but it’s fragile. We have to take care of it.”
And to Wingert, that means working on environmental issues, euthanasia, assisted suicide and any number of causes that support life. It’s why she volunteers to drive her parish’s adopted refugee family to appointments, a family that narrowly escaped death in a war-torn country.
“Social justice issues are really pro-life issues,” Wingert said.
You’ll find no argument with that from Mercy Sister Kathleen Erickson, who spent 18 years working near the U.S.-Mexico border at a center for women.
Many of these women, Sister Erickson said, are escaping life-threatening violence in Central American countries and now face long-term detention in U.S. facilities. Some of their circumstances would qualify as domestic violence, a category the U.S. Department of Justice no longer uses as a basis for asylum.
“Some of these women have post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said, “and many of them fear for their very lives. If that’s not a pro-life issue, I don’t know what is.”
With large numbers of children having been separated from their parents earlier this year by U.S. agencies, Sister Erickson sees the lifelong harm such separations could mean for children, especially very young ones, and those in danger of not being reunited.
Holly Sak, the executive director of a residence for homeless mothers called Bethlehem House, also sees the big picture when it comes to “pro-life.” Her agency provides classes, substance abuse help and case managers for pregnant women accepted into what she calls “a family residential center.”
Many of the women at Bethlehem House have had other children taken away. The program helps them work toward reunification and prepares them to find independent housing and better employment.
Giving birth does not mean you “graduate” from the healthy environment Bethlehem House provides. Residents typically spend a year at the facility, and even then they are always welcome to come back for classes and support. This is not only good for moms, but the babies they birth while at Bethlehem House are given a much better chance of a healthy life.
“We’re pro-life,” Sak said, “but we are also pro-love, pro-woman, pro-equality. We create a healthy family environment for women who may never have experienced that.”
These three women illustrate the “seamless garment” approach described by the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago. This approach doesn’t suggest all issues are equal in importance or put issues in competition with each other. Rather, the “seamless garment” maintains that the church teaches a consistent ethic of life that should permeate the way we live in and relate to our culture as Christians.
Wingert points out that we can’t each work on all of society’s problems. Her passion has long been for the right to life of the unborn child. Someone else may feel called to environmental issues or to justice for the incarcerated.
“Each of us can’t do everything,” she said. “But all of us working together can support life.”
(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)