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Pete Sabey: Is Judge Barrett pro-life?

In the mid-’70s I was a doctoral student in counseling psychology at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and director of the ecumenical (mainstream Protestant) campus ministry. When the Newman Center (Catholic campus ministry) invited Father Daniel Berrigan, a prominent anti-Vietnam war activist, to give a talk on the meaning of being pro-life, I gladly accepted the invitation to attend. Father Dan and I had started a friendship four or five years earlier during a peace demonstration, and I was thrilled to see him again.

After his presentation he accepted my invitation for lunch at the faculty club. I strongly agreed with his emphatic insistence in his lecture that “being pro-life is not only about opposing abortion, but includes total opposition to war, total non-violence, opposition to capital punishment, and any other action that does not show reverence for all life.”

However, I had served on the board of Planned Parenthood and was a strong advocate for a woman’s right to choose. In my understanding of human development, an early-term fetus may have a heart beat and some minimal brain activity, but could hardly be considered a full human “life.”



Halfway through lunch we got into a heated debate. Father Dan was adamant that I could not possibly be pro-life unless I was also against all abortions. No exceptions. As far as Father Dan was concerned, the point was non-negotiable. He was taking a stand that is genuinely and consistently pro-life, in dramatic contrast to the vast majority of those who claim to be pro-life because of their fervent and single-minded opposition to abortion.

Only a very small minority, it turns out, are also opposed to war or nuclear weapons, or capital punishment. Many balk at paying taxes to support young lives after birth (e.g., for nutritional support) or a universal right to health care.



“I’m pro-life and pro-gun” is a frequently heard slogan these days. Most have never been bothered by the inherent violence of our sprawling prison-industrial-complex, or the deadly effect of industrial poisoning of municipal water in poor, mostly Black neighborhoods, or the killing of young Black men by police. (Currently, that would include care for others by wearing a mask.)

One hears little objection when — to block women’s access to abortion, Planned Parenthood clinics are shut down by barely constitutional legislation in Republican states. Planned Parenthood is the only source of any health care for many less-affluent women. And when extreme “pro-lifers” bomb clinics and murder their physicians in the name of “preserving life” — muted murmurs of disapproval.

I unapologetically continue to defend a woman’s right to choose, but I wish self-proclaimed pro-lifers were more like Father Dan. If he were alive today, I have no doubt he would agree: To claim to be pro-life by single focus on abortion is sheer hypocrisy or ideologically driven self-deception. That claim is indefensibly at odds with any honest definition of what it means to be “pro-life.” I wish at least one senator had asked Amy Coney Barrett to expand on her pro-life views. I’m afraid it might turn out to be — by Father Dan’s wise definition — as phony as the majority of self-styled “pro-lifers.”

Pete Sabey lives in Grass Valley.


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