Consistency is key for pro-life ‘misfits’

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and Immanuel Kant, a pivotal German philosopher of the 18th century, rarely appear in the same company. But for Aimee Murphy, both figures have had a profound influence upon her work.

Murphy’s organization, Rehumanize International, not only stands against abortion, but all forms of “aggressive violence,” such as unjust war, capital punishment, euthanasia, human trafficking and embryonic stem cell research. The organization advocates an ethos that respects and upholds the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death and at every stage in between, regardless of circumstance.

“It’s a real common-sense position that violence against human beings is contrary to our intrinsic human dignity,” Murphy, 29, told Our Sunday Visitor. “There’s no circumstance that can nullify this inherent human dignity, and we have a responsibility to stand up to all forms of aggressive violence.”

Weaving this consistent ethic of life into society is an ambitious goal, Murphy said. It’s also a goal that puts her organization beyond easy partisan or ideological classification. But as a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization, Rehumanize seeks to build a culture of peace and non-violence, based on the unqualified dignity of the human person, by building a broad coalition that crosses every cultural divide.

A missing piece

When she first got involved in pro-life work after graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University, Murphy, who is Catholic, “felt that there was a niche that wasn’t being filled, in consistent life ethic, pro-life advocacy directed and geared toward young people,” she said. The organization she helped found in 2011, Life Matters Journal, provided a platform for dialogue on the consistent life ethic, and a means to educate young people on its philosophy.

Life Matters Journal, which became Rehumanize International in 2017, sponsors speaking tours and outreach efforts to educate people on the consistent life ethic, inviting conversations through presentations on “whether you can be feminist and pro-life” or asking “who deserves human rights?” The organization also produces a YouTube channel, Consistently Quirky, and a photojournalism project, Encounter Youniverse, along with its magazine, Life Matters Journal.

Forty-five years after Roe v. Wade, Murphy said the pro-life movement is “at a tipping point.” While significant legislation has been passed on the state level to restrict abortion, the cultural shift that’s necessary to the lasting success of the pro-life movement — to make abortion not only illegal, but unthinkable as an option for women facing pregnancy — has not occurred.

Murphy is concerned that the pro-life movement is losing potential allies due to partisan politics. The pro-life movement deeply cares about women and human dignity, but Murphy said many people struggle to believe that message when the movement’s success gets tied to politicians who are credibly accused of predatory behavior. And with issues like immigration, she said, party politics make it difficult for voters to uphold both the dignity of the preborn and that of immigrants.

“A political movement should never be partisan,” Murphy said. No political party supports a full expression of the dignity of human life, she said, but in order for abortion to end, “People from all parties need to believe in the inherent dignity of humanity.”

Building a bridge

C.J. Williams, also 29, director of outreach and education for Rehumanize International, told OSV her organization is well-placed to address a “secular audience.” Many people sympathetic to the pro-life view, Williams said, do not connect with the religious language often used in the pro-life community. By grounding the issue of human life and dignity in reason and science, Rehumanize can overcome those barriers.

St John Paul ll"s Consistent Defense of Life and Dignity
St. John Paul II laid out the Church’s vision for the consistent ethical defense of human life and dignity in all circumstances. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), he said, “every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart.”

“It’s really just a matter of language, and how we communicate this to people,” she said. For people who are not pro-life, Williams said, the consistent life ethic is credible in a way that a solely anti-abortion stance is not, because of its complete opposition to violence. Agreement on other issues within the consistent life ethic, like human trafficking, she said, can create opportunities for people to then reconsider their stance on abortion.

At the same time, upholding the dignity of life in all circumstances can cause friction with erstwhile allies. Within movements that are “more generally dominated by leftists and liberals,” like the anti-war movement or the women’s marches, Rehumanize International’s co-sponsorship has often been refused or revoked because of its opposition to abortion.

Abortion and more

In the pro-life movement, she said, Rehumanize has more acceptance. But the organization sometimes faces opposition from some pro-life quarters, on the grounds that upholding a consistent ethic of life in Rehumanize’s pro-life work weakens the focus on abortion.

Murphy said that without a doubt, “abolishing abortion is the most urgent cause we can take up.” And for those who uphold a consistent life ethic, “it’s not an excuse to go halfway, or an excuse to compromise your morals, it’s a challenge to do more.”

For Murphy, the consistent life ethic helps illustrate the rationale behind opposition to abortion. “If you have this understanding of the inherent dignity of humanity, then inaction is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.

Interest in the consistent life ethic has grown within the traditional pro-life community, Williams said, “as people have seen that those who adhere to it don’t use it as an escape route to avoid addressing abortion.” Williams added that Rehumanize International is also showing people something to aspire to. She was drawn to Rehumanize International with their focus on the “joyful celebration of life.” Rather than being just against violence, or against abortion, it also asked her and others, “how do we celebrate the glory of being human?”

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Rehumanize International believes that positive vision of what a society would look like built on a consistent ethic of life is the most effective way to carry the day. Murphy said it will make the pro-life movement stronger with a more diverse demographic, committed to implementing this vision through a wide variety of actions. “There’s strength in having a unity of vision and diversity of mission,” Murphy said. “If you really want to end abortion, and not just make it illegal, everyone needs to believe that the preborn child has dignity and worth and value.”

Nicholas Wolfram Smith writes from California.