The great legacy of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was the idea of the “seamless garment” and the creation of the theology of a Consistent Life Ethic (CLE. The idea was based on the principles of the 1964 Encyclical Humana Vitae by Pope St. Paul VI. Even though Cardinal Bernardin based his beliefs in Catholicism, he argued that these principles were universal and could be found in a traditional, secular natural law theory. In America, we believe in the common notion that “all men are created equal…that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” as a foundation for our national philosophy and ethic.
So naturally, in a time of great uncertainty, an ethic that opposed war, euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, capital punishment, and poverty would not seem that popular. Opposing war at that time with the Soviet Union posed to devour Europe was immensely unpopular, yet Bernardin argued–and Pope John Paul II put into action–against nuclear war and even conventional war when all other means had not been exhausted. In the wake of the Sexual Revolution and Roe v. Wade, opposing the supposed means of sexual liberation–abortion and contraception–was immensely unpopular, yet Bernardin argued that such evils would degrade society to the throw away culture we have today.
Despite its faithful adherence to Humana Vitae and the Gospels, the CLE and the seamless garment has been under consistent attack. The main criticism is that, in applying the necessity to defend life to more categories than abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and contraception, it dilutes the intended purpose i.e. to show the interconnected nature of the various life issues and simply be used as an excuse to deny certain aspects of it. The argument typically goes that a politician will claim they are for CLE because they support aid to the poor but they simultaneously support abortion. (Looking at you Tim Kaine.)
Yet, this argument necessarily is true of its inverse. Entire news sites are devoted to the opposition of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and contraception and critical of opposition to alleviating poverty, opposing war, and ending capital punishment. That is not to say that abortion is equal in gravity to poverty or unjust war. Inherent in the crime of abortion is a violation of the natural law of particular horror where the most vulnerable of human beings are attacked and brutally murdered. What it does say is that these issues are connected and are all moral imperatives.
These two arguments, the vice and the excessive scruple, try to cover themselves with half the garment and consider themselves fully clothed. The doctrine has never supported the acceptance of some principles while ignoring others. Implicitly, it does not seek to place some on a higher platform than another. Instead, the CLE is merely being consistent with the principle everyone agrees with i.e. that life is worth defending.
What actually has happened is that the CLE is under attack by secular forces trying to appeal to voters. The cause against abortion and against poverty have been appropriated by their respective partisan champions. We are not debating over methods to alleviate them but whether they should be alleviated at all. Thus, the very right to life, on both sides of the current false dichotomy we call a two party system, is under attack. The only solution is to endorse the CLE in it entirety. It cannot be pieced out or divided up. It must be, as Cardinal Bernardin said, seamless and covering all issues regarding life.
This does not mean that some issues are inherently more grave than others. The evil that is abortion violates the laws of nature so perversely that there are few, if any, cases were it could ever be justified. One can argue and disagree over capital punishment. One can disagree on the way we assist the poor. But abortion is the one issue that cannot be negotiated. It cannot be left to the states, the courts, or any human jurisdiction to decide whether it is a right or not. Due to its circumstances whereat the most vulnerable human life is at stake, protecting the life of the unborn is the first and foremost issue in any truly consistent life ethic. Since this is where life begins, this is where our life ethic must begin.
Yet the gravity of one issue should not preclude us from working on another one or even finding connections between those problems. In the end, the effort is to defend life at all stages of development and that can’t be done piecemeal without making man himself piecemeal.
The American Solidarity Party is the only political party in the US that support the CLE and works to end abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research while resisting unnecessary war and alleviating poverty. The ASP works for the “integral ecology” espoused by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si. A vote for ASP is a vote to defend the first and most precious right every human being has, from conception to natural death: life. Support ASP; support Life. It worked for Poland.