In his “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade” (Oxford University Press, $35.95), historian Daniel K. Williams tells of a pro-life movement that was deeply connected to activists protesting against the war in Vietnam. For reasons that should be obvious, these activists publicly burned their draft cards — but they also discarded their birth certificates at pro-life rallies.
Much like a draft card, a birth certificate was seen as an oppressive government document serving anti-life oppression by arbitrarily declaring that human life mattered at one point in its development, but not another.
This beautiful consistent ethic of life has been the beating heart of the U.S. pro-life movement from its beginnings. And now, with war apparently beginning in Ukraine, it is time once again for pro-lifers to fiercely resist coming attacks on human life.
This is especially if we claim Christ as Our Lord and live according to his commands.
Jesus couldn’t have been more clear about loving our enemies and refusing to live by the sword. The early Church just assumed that this meant that they weren’t permitted to join the Roman army — though idolatry of the emperor and other pagan gods were concerns there as well. Indeed, they had no sense at all that they were to use the world’s standards in making sure things turned out right. And they certainly didn’t think they were permitted to shed blood in order to make it so.
For some, there is desperate talk about the U.S. and other Western countries needing to step up in a violent way in Ukraine in order to preserve our “global dominance” — especially against what some see as a growing alliance between Russia and China. But the idea that we should send some of the most economically vulnerable citizens to kill and be killed in the name of global dominance should send shivers down the spine of everyone with a commitment to Christ.
For others, however, the growing conflict in Ukraine may seem like something far away, of little concern. Perhaps gas prices will go up and my 401K will go down. For a bit. But this was happening already and other issues may seem to be of much more concern.
However, if there’s anything we know about war, it is that without a broad coalition willing to resist, it tends to build on its own insane logic and spin out of control. That was true in Vietnam and it was true most recently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It will almost certainly be true in Ukraine.
As Mike Baxter, my friend and mentor from my time as a doctoral student in moral theology at Notre Dame, pointed out in a recent interview I did with him at The Pillar: “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
And consider this: During the first Cold War, Ukraine had the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world. They gave up these weapons in the 1990s in return for security guarantees, but today there are serious regrets about this decision. Indeed, last year a Ukrainian ambassador said that if they were not able to join NATO it may have to reconsider rebuilding its arsenal.
This is one of Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for his aggressive action and, in a related story, he has personally overseen nuclear weapons tests in recent days. And just a reminder in case you forgot this story from back in 2018: Russia has developed nuclear weapons which evade missile defense systems.
And what if this spins out of control? As Baxter pointed out in our interview, the United States leads the world with an astonishing 3750 nuclear warheads in its active stockpile — with detailed plans to deliver them from the land, sea, and air. China has upped its game to compete with Russia and the U.S. So has Pakistan. The U.K. recently pledged to share its nuclear submarine technology with Australia. North Korea continues on its path to becoming a nuclear power, as does Iran, though it is opposed by Israel, which has a secret nuclear capacity of its own.
It doesn’t take a genius to imagine how all of this could end in utter disaster. We’ve been a hair’s breadth away from nuclear war several times before based on mistakes. It could easily happen again.
So, let the pro-life movement stand up once again and be heard. In the name of the Prince of Peace: let us give a firm and aggressive no to war.