Pro-Life Progressivism

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"Pro-Life Progressivism" must sound as oxymoronic to some citizens as "Pro-Choice Conservatism" must sound to others. That's the fix we're in, and have been, since 1973, after Roe v. Wade, when defining groups often found it feasible to organize people, raise funds, defame "the other," and stop thinking. When I follow two autos bearing competitive bumper stickers – "Abortion Is Murder" vs. "A Woman's Body Is Her Own To Do With What She Wants" — and inhale the carbon monoxide their exhaust spews my way, one thing I know for sure is this: Neither is an invitation to dialogue. Both are conclusions, not premises or hypotheses. The one rules out thinking about "rights" and the other refuses to consider that there are "life" issues in abortion. Poised between the two camps of militants or in the trail of their exhaust pipes, most other non-polarized citizens gasp. They do know and show that "both sides" have something to say that all should consider. Few find ways to try to reach the other and help the "in-betweens."

An exception was our neighbor and friend Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who was setting forth a "Seamless Garment" or "Consistent Life Ethic" — for which he probably lost admirers from one camp and was certainly blasted by sharp-shooters from the other. Still, many did entertain second thoughts when they thought at all about what he was proposing.


Today all I can do is point to another effort, a scholarly attempt to get a hearing for "Pro-Life Progressivism." Responsible is Tom Berg, a.k.a. Professor Thomas C. Berg, "Faculty and Symposium Advisor" and trusted friend ever since he used to stop by during his University of Chicago Law School days and prompt me to think. Now he does it in print in his Foreword to the Spring 2005 University of St. Thomas Law Journal from Minneapolis.

The symposium asks, "Can the Seamless Garment Be Sewn? The Future of Pro-Life Progressivism." Among the contributors are people one takes seriously (or, at least, I take seriously), such as Jim Wallis, Sidney Callahan, Ted Jelen, and John Witte. Actually, Witte's article is not quite on subject; it's in Part Two of the same issue, but it poses "The Challenges of Christian Jurisprudence," which is related to the symposium.

It's frustrating, I know, to be told that there's something here which more of us ought to read, and then not to be given easy access. Your friendly neighborhood law school library will be of help. The single issue can come to you for $20.00. Berg reminds readers that the Catholic moral-political tradition in America has led many to "oppose the taking of human life not only in cases of abortion but also in cases of war — or at least war not justified as a strict necessity for defending others' lives." Oh-oh! He quotes Pope John Paul II, so often invoked on anti-abortion causes, but pushed past when he is cited as a foe of capital punishment. Berg, not himself Catholic, likes the Catholic progressive tradition, sometimes noticed by Catholic politicians, on "anti-poverty programs, environmental protection measures, and worker's rights," as human-dignity and human-life issues. He reminds those who welcome such witness that they have some listening to do on the other part of the Bernardin-John Paul II program.

This column will settle nothing. I just wanted to tell you what I "sighted" this week.

This article was originally published on June 5, 2006.
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Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com. Original Source: Sightings – A biweekly, electronic editorial published by the Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.