“I’m done with the pro-life movement.”
I heard that trope all too often this past fall, as erstwhile prolifers washed their proverbial hands of responsibility for the failures and foolishness of so-called pro-life politicians in this year’s midterm elections. The pro-life movement recently suffered wounds that some of us have warned about for years: the widespread perception that we have overreached by seeking the overturn of Roe v. Wade.; the popular ascription of compassionless self-righteousness to our cause; the exploitation of the movement by incompetent or cynical politicians.
But I’m not done with the pro-life movement. Because in the long run, extending the protection of the law to the unborn is the only way to sustain a true balance of political interests, as well as preserve a basis for compassion in politics and promote a political culture of honesty.
I draw my conviction from P.D. James, Baroness of Holland Park, whose work brims with insight into the sickness of modern civilization. Her dystopian novel Children of Men—not quite the same plot as the nevertheless decent movie inspired by the book—explores the ramifications of a society being rendered childless: loss of hope for the future, reckless violence and wastefulness, and nihilistic disregard even for adult life.
Perhaps less predictably, the absence of children also leads to tyranny, as those charged with the protection and ordering of society no longer recognize the unique value of human life. It is the unanticipated birth of a child after years of plague-induced sterility that undermines the despair sustaining this cultural corruption. The story ends with a character named after God (Theo) unseating the tyrant, whose name (Xan) signals a Greek abbreviation for Christian, an unsubtle slap at Christians who veil their political ambition with the pretense of pro-life virtue.
The announcement of the end of despair is near the heart of the Christmas message. “You shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son . . . and the Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” To the pregnant pilgrim mother exposed to public shame before her marriage, to the father seeking refuge in Egypt for his wife and newborn son, to the tyrants and magi disconcerted by the astrological news—the birth of Jesus brings hope in place of despair, urgency in place of futility, and the overturning of worldly power.
Every baby, born and unborn, wanted and unwanted, brings an echo of the hope, the urgency, and the new kingdom inaugurated by the baby Jesus. In the words of the Roman Catholic Rite of Baptism, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may [the child] live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” The baptized child is anointed with chrism, a consecrated mixture of oil and balsam used from biblical times at the ordination of priests and the coronation of kings and queens.
And for me, that’s where the pro-life movement comes in. To deny the protection of the law to an unborn child is to deny his or her membership in God’s work for our salvation, and thus to exclude ourselves and our community from redemption. It diminishes us all for anyone to abandon the pro-life movement because it is no longer powerful, no longer popular—or because it is associated with wicked and foolish politicians.
On the contrary, all these failures underscore our need for the kind of health we call “salvation.” That health presumes respect for the dignity of all human life, which makes possible a genuine respect for political enemies and the preservation of compassion as a shared political goal. That health requires the pro-life movement.
I’m not done with the pro-life movement, because Christ is born of the Virgin Mary. Merry Christmas!
Fr. David Poecking is the regional vicar of the South Vicariate of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.]