When Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion bill into law, she gave this simple explanation.
“Every life is precious,” she said.
The law has been criticized by some abortion opponents like televangelist Pat Robertson who feel its restrictions are too extreme to win support from the Supreme Court, and it is engendering a strong reaction from abortion supporters.
But in a straightforward and uncomplicated way, Gov. Ivey offered the perfect rationale for ending abortion. “Every life is precious.”
What makes this statement so powerful is that it comes without exceptions.
One does not say that every life is precious, except …
— if the person is black
— or has handicaps
— or is an immigrant
— or whose father was a rapist
Every life is precious. No exceptions.
All recent popes have made the same point. The defense of unborn life, said Pope Francis, “involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.”
This is a powerful rationale for opposing abortion, putting the emphasis on the unique human life at stake, genetically distinct from the mother from the moment of conception.
Yet the simplicity of this proposition inevitably demands that this explanation be one that is consistently followed. Are we behaving as if every life is precious in all of our decisions? Do we have this same concern for all life at stages other than birth? In our inner cities and rural areas, and at our borders too?
If we do not, then we risk making a mockery of our explanation. Our opponents highlight the contradiction, and those who we hope to influence, especially today’s young people, are allergic to hypocrisy.
Many, many committed pro-lifers provide all sorts of help to women. One example: The Women’s Care Center was founded in 1984 in South Bend, Indiana. It now has 29 locations, helping women, children and families.
Yet there is an abundance of evidence that when it comes to both policy and programs, we as a nation do not act as if every life is precious.
The number of homeless in our country is astounding. In Los Angeles, an estimated 50,000 men, women and children are homeless, a city within a city. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and women are the fastest growing segment of that population. The warehousing of prisoners, often in terribly crowded conditions, leads to all sorts of other abuses, including suicides.
The United States also has the highest maternal mortality rate of 50 developed countries. The number of deaths from drug overdoses now outranks deaths by guns or by cars.
Are our government leaders acting as if every life is precious? Are we as citizens?
Charles Camosy, a moral theologian who has written often on the abortion issue and has a new book out called “Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People,” wrote a column for The Washington Post that plays off of condemnations of the Alabama law as extreme. He calls for a pro-life strategy that is as extreme in its support of women as it is in defense of the unborn child.
Camosy calls for a series of legislative reforms that would make it easier for women to keep and raise children. “One dramatic way to lessen the burden of abortion restrictions on women is to dramatically increase social support for pregnant women and other mothers,” he writes.
It is a good place to start: The mother is precious to us also. And to help her is to help the child.
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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.