Committed pro-life activists are often accused of being too focused on abortion: “If you really cared about babies, you would also care about Issue X!”
True, children need many things to survive and thrive, and pro-lifers should work on those issues as well as the abortion issue. But the “Seamless Garment,” as a rhetorical strategy, is often perceived by pro-lifers as a subtle or not-so-subtle attempt to undermine them. All too often, these suspicions are well-founded. So my next statement may surprise you: The pro-life movement needs a Seamless Garment of its own. Let me explain.
The Ruth Institute conducted a survey of pro-life student opinion at the Students for Life Pro-Life Summit on Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C. More than 3,000 people attended this summit the day after the 47th-annual national March for Life. Nearly 10% of the attendees stopped by the Ruth Institute booth and took our survey. Their ages ranged from 12 through 76, with an average of 28. The respondents were 71% women and 77% Catholic.
We asked them: “What other related issues concern you? Check all that apply.” Of the 305 people who answered, the following percentages flagged these issues:
- 83% said they were concerned about euthanasia.
- 83% said they were concerned about the decline of marriage.
- 66% said they were concerned about contraception.
- 59% said they were concerned about comprehensive sexuality education.
- 50% said they were concerned about surrogacy, egg donation and sperm donation.
- 47% said they were concerned about the worldwide decline of fertility.
True enough, these are not the issues that advocates of the Seamless Garment generally mention. Back when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago popularized the Seamless Garment, the issues included government programs supporting the material needs of children.
Today, the issues are more apt to be climate change or immigration, but the subtle accusation is clear enough: “If pro-lifers really cared about children, they would care about them after birth.” So let us look at our survey of the Students for Life participants through this lens of children’s needs after they are born.
Of course, everyone knows that children need food and shelter and clothing. But children also need love. The “failure to thrive” syndrome shows that, in some way, the non-material needs of children are more important than their physical needs. Children who “fail to thrive” have their material needs met. They have food, shelter, clothing and medical care. But they do not grow. They may even die. The commonly accepted explanation for failure to thrive is that kids need more than food. They also need to be fed and nurtured, by a person who holds them, rocks them, looks into their eyes and loves them.
In other words, kids need their parents. Mom rocks the baby. Dad supports Mom while she rocks the baby. She can’t get it done alone.
I conclude that authentic care for children must include care for their need to be loved by both their parents. We should provide systematic social structures to ensure that as many kids as possible get to grow up with their own parents who love them and each other. Children have a birthright to their own parents. That means a stable relationship with their biological parents wherever possible and stable, child-centered provision for adoption where the biological parents are permanently unavailable.
What might those structures look like? Adult society affirms that people should be having sex only with the person we are married to. We get married before having sex. We stay together unless someone does something really awful. We cut out petty criticism of our spouses. We have a social norm of patiently bearing with our spouse’s faults.
In other words, the most reliable systematic plan for ensuring that kids get to have the love and attention of both their parents is lifelong married love, supported by traditional Christian sexual ethics. The respondents to our survey at the Students for Life Summit seem to be quite well aware of this. “The decline of marriage” option comes in at the top of the list of their concerns, with more than 80% support.
Two-thirds of the activists mentioned contraception as an area of concern. Only an idiot can overlook the connection between the constant promotion of the contraceptive ideology and people’s casual choices of sex partners. If you care about kids, you should make it easier, not harder, for people to make good decisions about the identity of their child’s other parent.
Nearly 60% of the respondents were concerned about comprehensive sexuality education. This, too, shows that these activists are sensitive to the needs of children. Much of what passes for sex education amounts to propaganda for the sexual revolution, inflicted on small children, too young and impressionable to defend themselves.
Schools, public and private alike, convey to children that sex is a recreational activity: They safely can partake of it, as long as they use a condom every time. This message has no place in a Seamless Garment that treasures the rights of children to their parents, and therefore demands self-control from adults.
Half the survey participants were concerned about third-party reproduction issues. Is this because children of donated sperm or eggs are cut off from one of their biological parents? Or are these respondents mainly concerned about all of the death-dealing that goes on in the infertility industry, by discarding or freezing unwanted embryos? Either way, these pro-lifers’ care for babies extends well beyond the abortion issue.
When we conceived the idea for this survey, we just wanted to get an idea of where these participants at the Students for Life Summit stood on the Ruth Institute’s issues. Viewing the results reveals something more.
The pro-life movement really has matured from a single-issue battle, fought in a single way, to a multi-issue movement. The most committed participants in the movement understand that we need to defend the rights of children and parents to be in stable relationships with each other. Children have a birthright to their parents, as well as a birthright to be born in the first place.
And this survey also shows us that we are closer than we realized to having a pro-life Seamless Garment of our own.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute. She is the author of The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and How the Church Was Right All Along. She first wrote about the failure-to-thrive syndrome in her book Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, originally published in 2001.