In January 2007 I landed my first Canadian teaching job at my alma mater Notre Dame in Wilcox, SK. There I would live a dream of teaching Christian Ethics to young people. While I was preparing to teach a class dedicated to the subject of morality I remember reading a section of the text book called "A Seamless Garment: having a consistent pro-life ethic." While I don't remember the specifics of that section, I do remember its gist: being pro-life doesn't mean that you are just anti-abortion or against euthanasia. It means that from the womb to the tomb, you are a person who defends and advocates for life. This means that you would be equally against capital punishment, war and any economic policies that would seeks to exploit the poor and concentrate wealth into the hands of the few. And with Pope Francis' new encyclical on ecology, I would dare say that this brand of pro-life would also apply to defending and advocating for all of Creation.
Promoted by American Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, inspiration for the "seamless garment" came from the Gospel crucifixion account where Roman soldiers decided to cast lots (ancient dice tossing) over Jesus' robe instead of tearing it into pieces. Bernardin took this story and applied it as a metaphor for having a consistent pro-life Christian morality. The idea was that, while certain things may be more important than others, all issues that threaten human life are interwoven and Christians must take them all seriously.
My concern is that, while abortion is a significant piece on that seamless garment of life, it has been ripped off of the robe to the exclusion to all other assaults on life. Christian Right wing organizations such as Canada Family Action exploit this garment shredding by telling voters to "Do [their] part to make sure [Canada] remains a nation that supports life" by voting Conservative. I find this really confusing when on their pamphlets they make it clear that the Conservative Party, "Will not initiate legislation on abortion." (See attached picture at the bottom for full table that Canada Family Action released; doesn't include Green party position which fully supports a woman's right to choose but allow individual MPs to make personal decision based upon their consciences and their constituents)
Personal story: In 1998 I marched down a Washington D.C. main street towards the Capitol. In my hands were small wooden sticks extending out from a miniature casket representing one of the 30 years that abortion was legal in the U.S. I said nothing during the march, just walked in humble reflection thinking about the great mass of lives lost through abortion. At one point I was yelled and screamed at by pro-choice mobs demonstrating on the sides of the streets. I was only 19 years old. A couple of years later I learned that abortion was not just an issue "out there" but something that had taken place within my own family. Believe me, abortion is not an issue that I have not thought about or have taken lightly.
Following the lead of both Catholic and Evangelical churches that I attended, I continued my zeal for pro-life activism. And then, in 2006, as part of my teaching degree, I decided to teach for a year in Kampala, Uganda. It would be a year where I would begin to learn how complicated and unjust the world's political and economic systems were. 2006 was also the last time that I would vote Conservative. Part of the reason I voted Blue was because I thought that the party would actually take some action on abortion.
It was during the brief reign of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 that Stephen Harper made his position on abortion known: "I've been clear. A Conservative government led by me will not be tabling abortion legislation. It will not be sponsoring an abortion referendum..."
Harper said his own views on abortion fall somewhere "in-between the two extremes," and that he would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion services, again asserting that this is a health matter and under provincial jurisdiction. (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/no-plans-to-change-abortion-laws-harper-1.466847 for full article)
These are clearly the words of a leader who has no desire to make abortion a high priority issue. And so it really frustrates me when Christians say that they are voting Conservative because it is a pro-life party. Individual Conservative MPs can say all they want about being pro-life, but at the end of the day Harper will not allow them to do anything to change abortion laws in Canada (see National Post story).
Now, I'm not saying that I have the same stance as I did in 2006 on abortion. In fact, I probably agree more now with Harper's stance and even more so with Elizabeth May, also a Christian (http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/an-activist-an-anglican-a-political-leader), who believes that all life is sacred and that abortion needs to be an option for those women in difficult positions where there seems to be no other way out. May says that, instead of reactive solutions, we should be looking at the root causes: "What kind of programs and strategies do we need to have to reduce the number of legal abortions that take place?"
I can get behind legislation that would help create these type of preventative strategies and programs. And I also appreciate a leader who is seeking to create dialogue on a difficult issue rather than muzzle the consciences of those within her party.
Weaving the abortion fabric back into the seamless garment as a whole will help us see that high abortion rates are a symptom, much like capital punishment, stricter jail sentences, tougher immigration laws, increased military campaigns, poverty, exploitation of both Aboriginal and Third World peoples, and environmental degradation. While they are unique, all of these issues are inextricably linked to the fundamental human vices of greed and selfishness. And without a doubt, the greatest feeder of these evils is an unfettered capitalist system which instructs us to compete and consume, no matter what the cost.
In a recent speech that he gave at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to the evil of an unbridled market which, rather than serving humanity, make us servants of money:
In referring to the injustices that all people, and especially the poor, face Francis says: "These are not isolated issues. I wonder whether we can see that these destructive realities are part of a system which has become global. Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?"
"The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home."
(full article at http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-speech-at-world-meeting-of-popular-mo)
And so, if Canadians continue to desire such an economic system where there are clear winners and losers then by all means, vote for Stephen Harper. But before you do, consider what the Pope is saying (and I'm not saying he is telling us who to vote for but what values to support): the most anti-life movement right now is the unfettered global capitalist system in which Harper, and some other parties, live, breath and move. And when it comes to abortion, I would ask this: Which party is going to effectively address the root causes of abortion, which include poverty, education access and domestic support (a recent study found that 69 % of abortions in the US are chosen by women who live below the poverty line)? This, my friends, is the most pro-life party and it is definitely not the Conservatives.
In case you missed my main point here it is: when it comes to the specific issue of abortion, even though certain parties are pro-choice, their social and economic policies will create a Canada in which fewer abortions take place. And as a pro-life person, is not the point to save more humans? Given the choice of a government that cloaks anti-family policies in pro-life rhetoric or one that has a pro-choice stance and encourages social programs that help the struggling mothers who are more prone to choose abortion—the typical abortion patient these days is a twenty-something single mother of colour (see Abortion Demographics article)—I would take the party that is actually reducing the amount of abortions, not abortion access.
And when it comes to "seamless garment of life" that I referred to earlier which encompasses justice, war, poverty, and the environment, the Conservatives record is quite poor. In a recent article entitled "The Conservative Vision of Social Justice" former Conservative MP Monte Solberg admits that, when it comes to governing, the Cons have it "half-right."
"While almost any Conservative Member of Parliament could provide you with a credible argument for the Conservative Party’s approach to reducing taxes or getting tough on crime, I would wager that almost none could justify the current ambiguous approach the government takes to spending half its budget in addressing social problems," writes Solberg.
In other words, while they have thrown money at social programs, Solberg admits that the Conservatives, and other governing parties, have done a poor job in effectively addressing issues such as addiction and homelessness.
Solberg says he saw this first hand when, as the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, he confessed to "having very little idea" of the effectiveness of government funding to the Salvation Army to get people off the streets.
Solberg identifies the financial costs of social breakdowns of things like families, educational underachievement and crime as issues that are never raised for serious discussion in Canada.
Tackling such issues preventatively, rather then consequentially (think Harper's 86% increased prison costs since he came to power), could save a lot of money, not to mention all of the social and emotional costs for Canadians.
Solberg concludes: "if the Conservative Party is serious about reducing the size of government, lowering taxes and improving productivity, the most obvious place to begin is to address Canada’s social ills more effectively."
Well said Mr. Solberg. Thank you for your honest exposition of Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative party's biggest weakness: It's lack of compassion.