Over Winter Study, seven Williams students, including myself, travelled to Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life, accompanied by the College’s Catholic chaplain, Father Gary Caster. While some at the march, including Father Caster, have been attending for most of its 42-year history, it was my first time participating. Furthermore, it was the first time I ever participated in anything overtly political. The goal of the march is political, after all, since it seeks to overturn the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade and to petition the government for stronger pro-life legislation. However, it was obvious to me that nearly all of the 500,000 who marched on January 22 were not people you might recognize as political activists. Rather, the majority were young people from faith-based groups. These were overwhelmingly Catholic groups, representing youth groups, parishes, dioceses, schools, colleges and other organizations. Although we participated as Williams For Life (which is not Catholic in character), most of us are Catholic, including, of course, our chaplain. I was fascinated to see how closely the event was tied to the efforts of the Catholic Church in the United States to promote a pro-life culture.
I have not considered myself pro-life for very long. It was only within the last year that I became fully convinced of the moral impetus to defend life and noticed a desire in me to express this conviction. It grew slowly out of my Catholic faith, even though this was one of the Church’s teachings that I had always found difficult to accept. In fact, I often still wonder what the implications of a pro-life stance are.
I must say that when we discuss life, it is absolutely necessary to consider the issues from a wider perspective. For example, the polemic “Do we defend the mother or the baby?” is completely misguided. I think the position that most people would prefer to take would be something like, “Love them both.” Of course, that does not fit in well with the confrontational style of politics that seems so often to dominate our government; therefore, little has been done to promote it. By “Love them both,” I mean that there must be more ways to support and provide for the needs of a pregnant woman without taking the life of an unborn child. How about we, as a society, increase resources for child care and health care that would make a mother’s job to take care of her child much more manageable? How about we, as a society, reach out to communities with high rates of teenage and young-adult pregnancies to provide counseling, especially where it seems that women might end up as single mothers? We need to show compassion for these women, who may be vulnerable, afraid and perhaps even shamed by their families and friends for getting pregnant. I do not think that taking the life of an unborn child is a valid solution to the more fundamental problems of poverty and lack of support that often lead women to consider an abortion.
I intentionally did not use the word abortion until the very end of that paragraph. Yes, I do wish that abortion would be outlawed, but I do not think that the pro-life movement must be restricted to being anti-abortion. As I explained, we need to take in the wider picture. Being pro-life does not mean only defending life in the womb. It means defending life when it comes to capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide, social injustice, militarism and every other issue where the very life and dignity of an individual is threatened. I believe that all human life has great dignity and that we have no right to take a life. To stand up for this variety of pro-life cause is what Cardinal Joseph Bernardin meant by the consistent life ethic. He believed that we must uphold a “seamless garment of life,” defending the lives of others in every situation, especially where they seem most vulnerable.
I admire the College greatly for having a pro-life group on campus. One thing I learned at the March for Life is that many other liberal-leaning institutions are not as tolerant of viewpoints that contradict what we might call liberal thought. At a college like Williams, where all students ought to have an outlet to express their views, I applaud Williams For Life and encourage it to continue creating a pro-life culture on campus.
So when I say that I am pro-life, I mean that I am pro-all life. Not just the life of the unborn child, not just that of the pregnant mother, but indeed all human lives, from conception until natural death. I wonder what we might do to encourage this way of thinking on campus and bring about some action as a result. I do not wish here to propose a solution, but merely start a conversation, a conversation that should reach beyond the limited way of looking at choice vs. life and be open to the truth that all life is sacred.
David Vascones ’18 is from Queens, NY. He lives in Armstrong-Pratt.