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The pandemic is reminding us that ‘pro-life’ and ‘anti-abortion’ are not the same

Strict anti-abortion stances are at odds with opposition to vaccine mandates and other broader life issues.

A stage in place for the March for Life rally is reflected on a wet camera stand on the National Mall in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The March for Life takes place Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(RNS) — The annual March for Life, which takes place Friday (Jan. 21) in Washington, D.C., is an occasion to reflect on a simple but clarifying truth: Being “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” are not the same thing. 

A good example is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, a hero to many on the right for threatening to deny Communion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of her support for reproductive rights. This same archbishop has publicly stated he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. Weaponizing a holy sacrament to deny women autonomy over intimate, often complex choices about their body, he insists on his own bodily right to reject a life-saving vaccine — a right that puts at risk the health and lives of those around him.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a leading anti-abortion advocate who wants President Biden barred from receiving Communion for holding pro-choice views, tweeted over the summer in opposition to vaccine mandates and said people have a “free choice not to be vaccinated.”

The Supreme Court, on the strength of several justices the pro-Trump Christian right celebrates for being “pro-life,” last week blocked the Biden administration’s effort to require COVID-19 vaccines and testing mandates for businesses.


RELATED: On eve of March for Life, Catholic abortion rights advocates counterprotest pro-life vigil


The anti-abortion movement has every right to advance their cause with passion and purpose. But let’s be honest about who is protecting human life and dignity. For too long, anti-abortion advocates and Christian conservatives, who think they own the high ground on values, have been given a free pass.

Most Republican lawmakers and conservative voters who want to criminalize abortion have either opposed or done little to advance pro-life, pro-family policies such as vaccine mandates, mask requirements, universal health care, paid sick leave, living wages for workers and paid parental leave. These policies are not slogans on a bumper sticker but tangible supports that value families and help save lives. 

Many of the states that are eviscerating abortion rights are the same states doing the least to provide the kind of security that helps people raise children with dignity. Texas has effectively ended abortion access but has failed to expand Medicaid coverage that would be life saving for thousands of low-income families. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Catholic, likes to tout his “pro-life” stance, but the state has some of the worst health outcomes and levels of child poverty in the country, an injustice that falls disproportionately on people of color. 

Anti-abortion leaders have also lost moral credibility by propping up Donald Trump, a leader who stoked racism for electoral gain, demonized immigrants and slashed food benefits for struggling Americans. But many Christian conservatives ignore these broader life issues.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent pro-life organization and a consistent presence at the March for Life, committed to spending $52 million to help re-elect Trump and anti-abortion Republicans in the U.S. Senate in 2020. After Trump’s defeat, the group praised Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for signing a bill into law that limits the ways people can vote in the state.

Many of the white Catholics and evangelicals marching against abortion in Washington on Friday, in addition, helped elect an authoritarian president who provoked a bloody insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Some anti-abortion advocates who want to take away the right to a legal abortion are also entangled in anti-democracy efforts that are eroding voting rights. A recent investigation by the National Catholic Reporter found that several Catholic-led organizations and donors that oppose reproductive rights have pumped millions of dollars into voter suppression efforts under the banner of “election integrity.” Election experts and civil rights leaders warn these restrictions will have a disproportionate impact on Black voters.


RELATED: The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life takes on vaccine skeptics on social media


The newspaper also reported that Donors Trust, a dark-money organization that has given millions of dollars in anonymous donations to Catholic non-profits and other Catholic organizations involved in anti-abortion advocacy, has also provided funding to organizations that spread lies about the 2020 election.

These millions of dollars and anti-democratic tactics undermine a culture of life that promotes the common good and human dignity. 

John Gehring. Photo courtesy of Faith in Public Life

John Gehring. Photo courtesy of Faith in Public Life

At a time when the Supreme Court could soon end access to a legal abortion, let’s be clear about the ways that threats to women and democracy are often advanced by movements that are actively organizing against rights most Americans want protected. And let’s do the hard work of coming together across ideology and agendas to begin supporting women and children who deserve more than empty rhetoric. 

(John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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