Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday (Jan. 18), and the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on Friday (Jan. 22).
I join those who raise their voices in protest against abortion. I thank those who extend aid to pregnant mothers and children in need so that a better option is within reach. I reach out to those who have had abortions, to offer the mercy and healing of Jesus. I challenge those who think abortion is OK: we can do better for women, for children and for society.
I also want to articulate a connection that’s available — perhaps even obvious — to those who think in the categories of Catholic Social Teaching, but seems to escape those who think only in political terms. According to the logic of American politics, pro-life issues and race issues are divided: one is the concern of Republicans, and the other is the concern of Democrats. According to the logic of Catholic Social Teaching, however, pro-life issues and race issues are united under one banner: the dignity of the human person.
Lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear: I am not making a “seamless garment” argument, as though there were no distinctions between racism and abortion. Moral theologians are right when they warn us against the fallacy of moral equivalence. The direct taking of a million lives in the womb every year and the long-standing undermining of human dignity by systemic racism are both wrong; but the wrongness of each involves important moral distinctions.
But let me also be clear about this: If abortion is wrong because human dignity must be upheld, and if the lives of the vulnerable should be protected in law, in practice, in policy and through services, then those same protections should be extended to those whose lives are vulnerable because of their race.
By the very same logic, it is impossible to hold that racism is a violation of human dignity (which it is!) and that abortion is good. If the dignity of each person must be upheld (and it must!), and if systems should change to uphold that dignity (and they should!), that applies both to issues of race and issues of the unborn. As long as American law and American practice can take an entire class of people — whether Black or immigrant or unborn — and say “these lives don’t matter,” we can’t be surprised when another class of people are treated the same way. The issues stand or fall together.
Missouri is known as one of the top pro-life states in the nation. I’m deeply grateful to those who have worked to make it so. We have achieved and maintained that recognition because of our combined approach to abortion legislation and generous service to vulnerable mothers and children. When it comes to life issues, Missouri has shown the nation: we can do better, we can do both!
There’s no reason why we can’t bring that same approach to lives that are vulnerable because of race and systemic racism.
I am not naïve — I don’t think this will be simple. I am hopeful — I think the inherent logic of human dignity ties these issues together, just as the calendar this week does.
When it comes to pro-life issues and race issues, American politics is a house divided. It’s time for new political wineskins. We can do better. We can do both.