In light of the Colorado Springs shootings, some people have blamed the pro-life movement for creating a climate that would make the violence possible. The conversation has prompted me to re-examine the question: What does it mean to be pro-life?
A consistent pro-life ethic is one that respects, values and promotes the intrinsic dignity of all persons. Seen from this vantage point, a true ethic of life extends far beyond the realm of abortion and into all domains of life. A consistent pro-life ethic, in my view, also extends to opposing the death penalty, ending physician-assisted suicide, providing for the needs of the less fortunate and integrating the marginalized into society.
The pro-life position, therefore, does not belong politically to either the right or the left, to either to Democrats or to Republicans. It transcends political divisions in its mission to uphold the sanctity of all life, without exceptions. It is less a political issue and more a question of fundamental human rights.
From this perspective, the tragic Colorado Springs shooting that left three dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic on Nov. 29 should be unequivocally denounced as evil. There is an obvious contradiction between a consistent pro-life ethic and the actions of the shooter. One cannot build a pro-life world through violence or the destruction of life. Even if one strongly feels that abortion is mass murder, the ends do not justify the means
Why did the shooter act? Perhaps we will never fully know. Some have claimed that increasingly strident rhetoric from the political right created a climate that made the shooting possible. As of yet, authorities have reported no motive for the crime. Clearly, the shooter had a violent past, a history of domestic abuse and unresolved anger. At first glance, his motivations appear to stem more from his troubled past and psychological instability rather than from political threads. Of course, that question remains for the courts.
What is certainly true, however, is that the local pro-life community in Colorado Springs had a history of dialogue and peaceful non-confrontation with the Planned Parenthood clinic. For example, Garrett Swasey — one of the slain police officers who responded to the shooting and who also served as an elder at a local evangelical church — was pro-life. He died defending those with whom he deeply disagreed.
Less than an hour before the shooting, moreover, members of the local Catholic community celebrated Mass and prayed outside the clinic. When the Catholic priest, Father Bill Carmody, heard about the shooting, he immediately called the clinic’s security guard, whom the clinic hired to oversee Carmody’s activities. Carmody asked the security guard how he was and the two talked together briefly. The security guard asked the priest to pray for him and a relative of his with cancer. Carmody also called other members of Planned Parenthood to express his sorrow over the shootings.
Peaceful dialogue is necessary to heal our culture and resolve the abortion debate. Mother Teresa, for example, often spoke out in favor of the pro-life position with great charity. Her message was credible because it came from a woman who lived a consistent ethic of life. She served the poor and marginalized, opened homes for pregnant mothers and offered to take care of any unwanted child that a mother could not care for.
Of course, dialogue does not require a compromise with the truth. If one truly believes that life begins at conception, then abortion may be rightly seen as the greatest evil in the world. Indeed, at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, Mother Teresa declared that “the greatest destroyer of peace today in the world is abortion, because it is a war against the child.” Her words out of context may seem harsh, but her vision was that the human person is created to love and to be loved. She saw adoption and the choice for life as a truly humanizing force in the world.
In the context of the abortion debate, a pro-life ethic also appreciates and is deeply sensitive to the needs of women considering an abortion. Using shaming tactics or manipulating the emotions of women through threats of damnation is no way to start a conversation. The goal should be to move hearts to greater love in truth. That is the example that Mother Teresa gave, along with the pro-life community in Colorado Springs.
We, who declare ourselves pro-life, would do best by following in their footsteps.
Daniel Gordon is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .