Race, Abortion and the Military: A Tragic Parallel
As explosive a combination of topics as this appears to be, I am aiming here to address a problem on the systemic level in a way that can hopefully cut through the usual polemics. The particular problem I am referring to is the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in both abortion rates and military recruitment in the United States. I am using this as both a concrete example of how life issues (in a broad, Catholic Social Teaching sense of the term) interpenetrate, and a jumping-off point for addressing them each more broadly while continuing to hold them in parallel. I aim above all to avoid the finger-pointing that occurs far too frequently on all sides of these issues, and to lead instead into a proposal for reconciliation.
One can read any number of things into the statistics, depending on what one is looking for. Some activists have accused abortion providers or military recruiters of deliberately targeting minorities, but on reflection, I doubt that such charges are either true or helpful. In all probability there are many people working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who sincerely believe they are helping by providing health care to the underserved, and many military recruiters who likewise believe they are helping by providing education and career opportunities. And in fact they are providing these things – but at a far greater cost than they can or will acknowledge. In both cases, life-affirming activities are bound tightly together with life-denying ones, and the added racial dynamic only compromises the situation further. When our minority populations are compelled to sacrifice their unborn and adult children in disproportionate numbers, what this amounts to is systemic racism, which is no less unjust for being unintended. Indeed there are several injustices tied together, and violence is at the heart of each.
In responding to such complex problems, it should go without saying that it is not enough to simply be anti-abortion or anti-war, or even both. And sadly, even the more positive identifiers of “pro-life” and “pro-peace” are often reduced to narrowly “anti” connotations, especially when they are talked about in a vacuum and compartmentalized as separate “issues” in a way that ignores their interrelatedness. In order to promote life and peace, it is necessary to break apart the vacuumized compartments and address the broader interconnections, both in the negative sense of targeting the root causes of violence, and in the positive sense of providing consistently life-affirming alternatives.
As to the former, I see the deeper question beyond the statistics as this: what are the phenomena that lead so many Americans, and minorities in particular, into situations in which abortion or military enlistment appears to be the only viable option? This question is big enough to deserve its own separate treatment and touches on a variety of areas beyond my expertise, so I will not attempt to answer it here. Yet it must be raised as an essential foundation for the second necessity, the prevention of violence by the creation of nonviolent alternatives. If, instead of debating the justification of certain forms of violence, we could begin with an agreement that they should all be prevented as much as possible, then we could focus on making such prevention the common goal – from crisis pregnancy centers to ensuring a just livelihood for parents and children at all stages of life; from equal-opportunity education to just peacemaking and conflict prevention strategies. Maybe then we wouldn’t even need to argue hawks and doves, pro-life and pro-choice.
To anticipate further questions, let me acknowledge outright that I have been speaking from the premise that all violence is intrinsically evil – and as a corollary to this, that war, abortion and racism are all forms of violence. From here we could easily go around in circles debating the finer points of this premise, but I would like to suggest a better alternative. Whether or not you can fully agree with my premise, I would hope that we can all at least agree that all three of the above are tragic and undesirable, and that based on this agreement it is possible to work together toward eradicating their root causes and providing positive alternatives. This strikes me as a much better use of our energies than debating whether and under what circumstances any of these tragedies may be permissible.
In the end, what I am calling for is nothing less than a paradigm shift, by which it will become possible to see allies in those we have seen as enemies.