The Pro-Life Progressive: An Endangered Species?

It’s been quite a long while since I have had a political rant. It’s also been a while since I’ve written on the Consistent Ethic of Life I ride or die by. Well that ends today. Usually when bloggers go on political rants, they get on their hobby horse, and preach this holier than thou “partisanship is such so evil, let’s unite everyone and all be centrists” message that it gets pretty stale like last month’s WonderBread.

Ever since I was in high school, I identified as a pro-life Democrat, and it wasn’t until undergrad that I learned of the group of Dems known as the Democrats for Life of America. I have noticed a recent trend recently probably starting back to last year. Pro-life progressives and moderates are being unfairly criticized for not being “pro-life enough” by conservative evangelicals simply because they support or have worked with pro-choice politicians.  This backlash is spurred by primarily conservative writers.  On the liberal side of things, pro-life progressives still remain marginalized as well.  During the Democratic Nation convention, as a few times in the past, pro-life Democrats were treated as second-class citizens once again.  At Daily Theology, Kevin Ahern pointed to the rise in the number of Op-Eds making Joseph Cardinal Bernardin the scapegoat from everything to “Obamacare” to a cryptic boogey man of  “Chicago-style” Catholic politics.

As Ahern notes,

“Joseph Bernardin’s moral vision, best articulated with the phrase “consistent ethic of life,” should make us uncomfortable. Rooted squarely in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition, this vision challenges all of us to humbly reflect on how our politics, lifestyle choices, and ideologies promote or harm human dignity, with particular attention to the least among us.”

Reading Joseph Cardinal Bernardin opened my eyes to a new way of doing of viewing politics. You see, my problem with conservative and moderate Democrats (blue dog Democrats) is that they voted and behaved too much like Republicans-lites. In our two party system, the moderates are always the ones who lay claim to the moral high ground it assumed because of Big Mean Partisans! The problem with pro-life progressives isn’t that we are not “pro-life enough”; it’s that we run and hide from our particularity, we’re afraid of partisanship, when we shouldn’t be.

Let me put this another way. Because we as pro-life progressives have been marginalized by both sides of the political equations so much, we have chosen to just keep our mouths shut. With our silence, we are suppressing our own distinct voice. When we have newspapers mourning the demise of Blue Dog / Southern Democrats, this should not be seen as sad news. This should be looked at as an opportunity for pro-life liberals and moderates to make their voices heard, and not only that, to make it more distinct. Political difference isn’t something to be avoided, it is to be embraced first, and then once we have honest conversation, we can move forward towards solidarity and community.

As I have written about in the past, Protestants too have also written on the consistent ethic of life; Dietrich Bonhoeffer being just one of them. In fact, going back to the early Church, and writings like the Didache: from the second chapter: “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born” is found in the same chapter with also “You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.” Being pro-life is seen along the same lines as not harboring any bigotry; in other words, being anti-racist is being pro-life.

The Way of Life described by the Didache is the politics of the Jesus Way, while the Way of Death includes “First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, [etc.]” The Early Christian authors of the Didache recognized that Rape Culture is part of the Culture of Death.

The Didache, Bonhoeffer, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and Pope John Paul II are just a few examples I could give from the past. In modern times, one example could be pastors like Eugene Cho (who btw, is located in the Pacific Northwest, not South) who writes about the “womb to tomb” Consistent Ethic of Life and who also lives it out with projects such as the One Days’ Wages Campaign.

To identify as a pro-life progressive, is to give voice to the voiceless. It is about taking radical actions such as not only protecting the lives of fetuses, but to also protect children from rape culture and abuse by listening to their stories. A commitment to the Consistent Ethic of Life is consistent with movements towards integral human liberation, “in choosing sides with the little ones on the margins, the Crucified Lord joins the struggle of crucified peoples of history: whether that be the enslaved Africans on American shores, a fetus conceived within the womb of a single mother or a person sentenced on death row.  The power of the Cross destroys all false idols, and its that power, the omnipotence displayed of God suffering with us that should keep Christians from making the fetus a “fetish.”

What I am not trying to say is that pro-life progressives have to vote Democrat. I would love for more Republicans to take a stand against the death penalty or support raising the minimum wage to a living wage, for example. We must come to see that politics is more than who we vote for in the voting booth. If there is to be a triumph of the Culture of Life over the Culture of Death (with its White Supremacy, infanticide, rape culture, and economic inequality), politics must be viewed as having to do with all of life. Pro-life progressives/Democrats should stop behaving/voting like Republicans in order to gain acceptance, and we who hold on to the Consistent Ethic of Life should stop acting like we are “above” partisan politics and activism. It’s well past time for Pro-Life Progressives to make a clear case for their causes across POLITICAL party LINES and REGIONAL differences..*

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Pro-Life and Black

Pro-Life and Black, Part 2: Bonhoeffer, Slavery, Abortion, and Black Bodies

Black and Pro-Life 3: Resisting the Death Penalty in Mississippi

*I hope to address cultural/racial and religious differences, & ecumenism when it comes the Consistent Ethic of Life in the near future

0 thoughts on “The Pro-Life Progressive: An Endangered Species?

  1. tbone1225

    Great post, Rod. I was ready to write a big, long, polemical post in response, but it sums up to these two points:

    1. I love your message of moral courage to an unpopular cross-section of ideology (pro-life and liberal/moderate). This is a message that everyone should take to heart.

    2. If nothing else, I love the consistency of your ethic of life. I wonder if we can expand it to include more than simply human life as well.

  2. Adam Shields

    While I don’t disagree with your point. The other part of the problem is that a number of pro-life advocacy groups have been Republican more than pro-life. They have actively campaigned against prolife democrats because they were democrats, even though many of them claim to be non-partisian groups. So while we used to have a number of pro-life democrats in congress and the senate, there are almost none today. And many of them have been defeated since 2000.

    I think it is actually the partisianship that has been the problem, not the prolife position in the end.

  3. Curious Foreigner

    The Republicans are wrong on Death Penalty and Immigration. They are right on Abortion. Both parties are wrong on the National Debt. I agree there is room for improvement from the right in many issues. The minimum wage, though, is a completely different animal. The problem is twofold. First, what it stands for, what is the goal. Conservatives and liberals are so far apart on this that a NAVY could pass in between. Basically, it is like trying to communicate using two different languages; there is no dialogue possible. Second, even if the first point is overcame, there is the question if the minimum wage is capable of achieving the desirable goal. I won’t go into detail because that is not the point of the article.

    Some questions: how about the Democrat-lite Republicans? The tea-party is on arms against them. It is not that the other ticket is an unbreakable unit. Actually, it is shambles. How the Pro-Life Democrats could reach them, caucus with them, even? Is it possible?


    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      Good point about Democrat-lite Republicans. A lot of those what Tea partiers call “RINOs” (republicans in name only) are socially liberal & pro-choice, and they vote more fiscally conservative. Perhaps working on issues outside of social issues and economic issues first? I don’t know where they would start for common ground honestly

  4. Justin Tiemeyer

    I think the concept of a living wage is certainly in line with a true pro life perspective, and that has nothing to do with the sophistry of similar names. I think an interesting axis to reorient this discussion, however, might be which values are pro life in theory and which become pro life in practice, because they are not necessarily the same. The living wage is a case in point. I think it is the right thing to do but I think you’d have to be ignorant to believe that there is zero risk of layoffs and companies going under – is that pro life? I agree with Curious Foreigner that an in-depth discussion of the living wage as a particular pro life doctrine is not the point of the article, but I do think that the general implication in CF’s distinction is fruitful for further discussion and entirely in line with this article.

  5. Joel

    Good post Rod. While I am somewhat more conservative than you (not right-wing), I pretty much agree with it. Many Republicans betray their own pro-life position in treating abortion as an isolated issue from the rest of their platform and not thinking enough about valuing life apart from abortion (I’m not Catholic, but the Catholic church generally does a better job of an integrated vision of this stuff). As one minor example, someone who truly believes that an unborn child is human has no business using a degrading term like “anchor babies.”

    On the other hand, as many Christians have rightly emphasized a more holistic view of justice in their politics, they treat being pro-life on abortion as an embarassment to stay quiet about, if not going pro-choice altogether.

    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      Yes, I would agree with you that being pro-life has become some what of an embarassment. I may be part of the problem, and I am working out a way to articulate my pro-life views within a consistent life ethic approach.

  6. Rachel MacNair

    No need to discuss this among a scattered few — the organization Consistent Life ( has many member groups and individual members and organizes among other things through a short weekly e-newsletter ( – over 200 back issues with an index, plus a subscriber button). The community of consistent-lifers is growing.


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