Perhaps the most quoted line from the recent conference at Georgetown on “Overcoming Polarization Through Catholic Social Thought” came from Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.
“There are no single-issue saints,” he said.
Indeed, the saints “teach us that whenever human life is threatened, whenever the image of God is obscured and violated, we are called to rise up and defend it.”
I had the archbishop’s words in mind as I became increasingly frustrated at the complicit silence of mainstream, traditional pro-life organizations with respect to the violations of human dignity occurring on our southern border—including the Trump administration’s decision to radically reduce the kinds of asylum claims it will accept from vulnerable women and using the pain and suffering of children forcibly separated from their parents as a means of deterring undocumented immigration.
Archbishop José H. Gomez: “There are no single-issue saints.”
This past Sunday, I criticized these pro-life organizations for their silence in an op-ed for The New York Times. These groups have such leverage with the president and his administration that it seemed shameful for them not to rise up and defend vulnerable human life at the border.
Though I mentioned several such organizations (including Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council—both organizations one might think would publicly stand against children being ripped from their parents’ arms), the only one that I have seen give a formal response was the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most influential pro-life organizations in the United States.
A significant part of the influence they currently have comes from a close relationship with Mr. Trump. Indeed, their website homepage features a photo of the president with their executive director Marjorie Dannenfelser—along with a button inviting one to “WATCH TRUMP’S SPEECH” at their recent gala fundraiser.
Perhaps picking up on some of the tactics of the president, they used half of their response to my op-ed to attack me personally—suggesting that I do not really believe that abortion is the taking of a human life and instead “exploit the abortion issue” to achieve other political ends.
Whenever the image of God in the least among us is obscured and violated, we have an obligation to call those responsible out.
This aspect of their response is not very interesting, not just because personal attacks are not very interesting but because anyone who reads more than two or three of my pieces knows that I believe prenatal children deserve equal protection of the law and am working both as an academic and activist to try to bring this about. Pro-choice activists often make the same kind of accusation but in the opposite direction. I am not really interested in social justice, they say.
Matthew 25 instructs us how to be pro-life. Whenever the image of God in the least among us is obscured and violated, we have an obligation to call those responsible out. Last week, it was traditional pro-lifers for leaving out the stranger, but at other times it is leftist social justice activists who leave out the prenatal child. (Here, for instance, is a piece I wrote criticizing Sister Simone Campbell for doing precisely this.)
Far more interesting than their personal attack against me, however, was the Susan B. Anthony List’s attempt to defend their silence:
From its inception Susan B. Anthony List has been completely dedicated to protecting the first right without which no other rights matter: the right to life. Our sole mission is to restore that profound right. Therefore, we refrain from public comment on immigration and many other topics, including other policies that impact families. It is not in our purview to speak on behalf of our members on other issues.
Let us leave aside whether it is a good and authentic strategy for a pro-life organization to comment only on a narrow set of issues related to the right to life. And let us also leave aside the fact that the S.B.A. List was willing to use an immigration vote as ammunition in ads it ran in California opposing a pro-choice candidate.
Does the group agree with the Catholic bishops that the Trump administration’s border policies threaten the right to life?
Does the group agree with the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that the Trump administration’s border policies threaten the right to life?
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said exactly this in a statement on June 13:
At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country.... We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life (emphasis added).
In addition, the editors of this magazine recently highlighted that U.S. detainment policies on the border are threatening the lives of prenatal children increasingly lost to miscarriage. This has to be a pro-life issue, even given the very narrow way that the S.B.A. List defines it.
Why have not we heard anything from them about these two matters that threaten the first right, the right without which no other rights matter, the right to life?
Rachel MacNair, one of the founders of the S.B.A. List, offers one answer: “Republicans took over.” But though the organization clearly leans hard to the right, they did succeed in helping Pro-Life Democrat Dan Lipinski keep his Congressional seat in Illinois.
Unless pro-life organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List want their advocacy to be reduced to advancing the political right, then they must be heard on issues that make the right wing uncomfortable.
This is not just a political necessity. The face of Christ in the least ones commands us to do so.