An pro-life supporter in Washington marches Jan. 4, 2020, during the 47th annual March for Life. CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

Building a consistent culture of life

By  John Milloy
  • July 8, 2022

Remember that old expression, “you are like the dog that caught the car?” It’s what you say to someone who has focused so much on achieving a certain goal that they never thought about what they would do if successful. 

In the light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a fair number of pro-life Americans, including many Catholics, must be facing a similar “what now” question.  What role should they play now that the legal context has been dramatically changed?

As Catholics ponder next steps, the guiding principle should be our call to create a “culture of life.” As St. John Paul II said, we need to “respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”

Not all Catholics see the court decision as the best way to create this “culture of life.” They see legally compelling a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy as going too far. Others believe that it is crucial that laws recognize the rights of the unborn. 

Where the two sides do agree is that this is much bigger than a legal question. As St. John Paul II reminds us, “it is not enough to remove unjust laws,” we need to put “in place social and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of parenthood.” 

When I look at the U.S. situation, creating the conditions that foster a “culture of life” involves quite a long list of “social and political initiatives.”

Echoing what has been said by many U.S. Catholic leaders, the top priority appears to be creating supports for women in crisis. As financial issues often drive women to have an abortion, it would seem logical that Catholics should push for a greater social safety net for the poor, parental leave options, more child care, better schools and access to health care.  

As for abortions occur because parents are overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for a child with disabilities, Catholic voices should be demanding better supports for persons with disabilities along with policies that welcome them into the mainstream.

Being pro-life shouldn’t simply be about mothers and babies. Shouldn’t Catholics advocate for more support for the elderly, including palliative care, to negate assisted suicide?  Shouldn’t ending the death penalty, which is still used in many states in the U.S., be a priority?

And what of other “life” issues? Pope Francis has spoken about our need to address the threat of the climate crisis which has already displaced and killed countless individuals through droughts, floods and devastating storms. 

What of another priority identified by Pope Francis: the plight of immigrants and refugees and the need to welcome and support them with compassion? Doesn’t caring for those fleeing poverty, persecution and war represent an important step in creating a “culture of life”?

Protecting the unborn has long been a central tenet of the Catholic faith. It is important to remind ourselves, however, that it is not the only tenet. Ours is a rich faith that has some powerful teachings on a wide range of related social justice issues, many of which may require us to pay more taxes, face more regulation and alter our lifestyles for the common good. 

In the early 1980s, U.S. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin challenged Catholics to approach the issue of abortion using a “consistent ethic of life.” He argued that Catholics “cannot have it both ways.” If you call for laws to protect the unborn, you also must “be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker” and this “translates into specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care.”

It’s a sentiment Canadian Catholics might also want to consider as we, too, work to build a “culture of life.”

(John Milloy, a former Ontario MPP, is the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College and the author of Politics and Faith in a Polarized World: A Challenge for Catholics published by Novalis)

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