The Seamless Garment: A Poison Pill to Kill Off the Pro-Life Movement

By John Zmirak Published on August 11, 2016

If you’ve ever engaged in hardcore negotiation, you know about something called a “poison pill.” That is something which you ask for, and pretend to desperately want, which is designed to throw your opponent off, make him back off on his other demands — to do whatever he needs to in order to avoid having to swallow that poison pill. So his attention is distracted, and he gives way on different issues, giving you what you actually wanted in the first place. You may actually be relieved that he didn’t accept the “poison pill,” since you didn’t want it either.

Poison pills are a risky strategy, though, if you don’t really know your opponent. What if he takes it — and then you’re stuck with it? Democrat opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tried to kill that bill by adding “sex” along with “race,” confident that even the Republicans leading the fight for the Act would see how absurd it was to pay women and men the same. Certainly, the fans of Jim Crow were not some closet feminists; they thought this amendment would kill the bill. But Republicans didn’t mind that provision either, and so instead of a narrow bill banning racist discrimination, the U.S. ended up with a broader bill that also encompassed women.

When Catholic liberal Democrats embraced the “Seamless Garment” spun by the leftist Cardinal Joseph Bernadin in 1982, and when they pushed it on passionately pro-life Catholics, they surely knew what they were doing. That theological project lumped together the intentional killing of more than a million unborn babies a year with every other phenomenon that might conceivably shorten some humans’ lives, from poor child nutrition to smog, from NATO missiles to Reagan’s aid to the anti-Communist contras. In essence, they said, if you aren’t a pacifist who favors absolutely unlimited welfare programs, open borders, and police using only rubber bullets, you cannot oppose abortion.

What the Seamless Garment Cloaks

Those who take this stance can pretend that they really oppose abortion, but are too intellectually rigorous to become “single issue” voters. In fact what they are doing is saddling the pro-life movement with a deadly poison pill: Either embrace our outrageous, implausible, and likely suicidal utopianism, or let us go on murdering a million children per year.

And in a sense the strategy worked. Almost no sincere pro-lifers were willing to adopt all the crackpot items on this Christmas wishlist, but its very existence gives crucial political cover to the likes of Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and Nancy Pelosi. The so-called “consistent” pro-life position, they suggest, is such a rigorous and demanding, unworldly agenda, that you can’t blame them for falling short on one or two items of the full glory of God. As Democrats, they can’t surrender abortion, but hey, look how much better they are than Republicans at federal grants for transgender illegal aliens!

This is the game that some members of Democrats for Life are playing this year. They started with a very bad hand, given that their party’s 2016 platform could not be more extreme on abortion. As The Stream noted last week:

The Democrat party is absolutely committed to keeping abortion legal for any reason, including sex selection, for all nine months of pregnancy. You as a taxpayer will have to pay for it, and you had better not try to protest outside abortion clinics. You will even pay to subsidize Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in tiny human organs. If you want to run a business, your insurance will have to pay for the abortion pill. Not only will you have to pay for abortions right here at home, you will also have to pay for promoting it around the world, including the use of U.S. foreign aid to pressure other sovereign countries such as El Salvador or Poland to repeal their democratically enacted pro-life laws.

‘Whole Life’ Co-Opted

To distract us from the fact that the party to which they belong has zero respect for innocent unborn life, Democrats such as Catholic U. grad student Robert Christian, and putatively pro-life blogger Mark Shea, are dusting off the Seamless Garment with a twist. They are using language stolen from genuine pro-lifers, such as Jason Jones.

Now instead of the Seamless Garment, they are talking about a “Whole Life” movement, one which dilutes our concern for ending a million murders a year, by dissolving it in a swimming pool full of other social concerns — some of which are legitimate, such as human rights and poverty. But they slip in the poison pill: The only way you can show that you care about medical treatment for the needy, or full respect for women, or lifting up the poor, is by voting for massive federal programs that throw taxpayer money at these problems and grow the power of the secular, anti-Christian state. If you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t really care, and you’re not really pro-life.

Indeed, they are so much more pro-life than the rest of us that it inoculates them from the fact that their party’s presidential candidate is the most pro-abortion in history. See how that works? It’s the first trick you learn in magician school: misdirection and sleight of hand. That trickery reached its apogee when the Democrats for Life sponsored a “Whole Life” reception at the same Democratic National Convention that approved its murderous platform.

The Real Whole Life

In fact, the real Whole Life movement dates back to 2007, and Jason Jones founded it for exactly the opposite reason. From its founding in 1973, the pro-life movement has treated abortion as the ugly fruit of the Sexual Revolution, with its leaders noting correctly that abortion is used primarily as back-up birth control. That is true as far as it goes, but it’s not the only way to look at the question. As someone won over to the pro-life cause when his daughter was aborted against his will, Jones always saw abortion as a human rights issue — a gross and cruel practice that pits mothers against their own children, often wrecking the lives of the former as it snuffs out those of the latter.

As a teenager himself at the time, he knew that other young people would respond to the human rights angle of abortion more readily than the dour (though truthful) approach which saw abortion primarily as the outcome of casual, irresponsible sex. His human rights interests broadened, and when he founded Whole Life he included outreaches to persecuted Africans, Middle Eastern Christians and the forgotten homeless of America’s inner cities.

He didn’t blur all those questions together and demand that anyone who opposes abortion travel with him to Sudan or Iraq; but he saw that they were all united by one concern, for the innocent human being threatened by violence. He is also consistent in his approach, opposing all violence against the innocent, which is why he has lobbied alongside the Innocence Project in defense of the wrongly convicted on death row.

And young people have responded. As Kristan Hawkins of the vibrant and growing Students for Life of America says of Jones:

It’s so encouraging the way Jones’ presentation of the life issue convinces and energizes college students across the country, from the University of Hawaii to Yale. Young people are naturally idealistic, and they want to be on the humane side of issues. He helps them to see that they ought to be pro-life, they should want to be pro-life, because it’s the side of hope for the future that embraces the next generation, and protects them from violence.

I started working with I Am Whole Life, Jason Jones’ non-profit, four years ago because I too was inspired by the integrity of its mission. It is the very opposite of the Seamless Garment. It doesn’t wrap the pro-life issue in the poison pill of utopian socialism or reckless pacifism, but instead fights every threat to innocent life, while respecting Catholic social teaching and classical Christian statecraft, which warn against giving undue power to Caesar, or trampling the rights of citizens in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

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