Not that long ago conservative politicians in the United States could get away with touting their “prolife” bona fides solely because of their opposition to abortion. Political leaders on the right who slashed safety nets for the poor, denied climate change, and made life harder for pregnant women rarely felt any real heat from bishops, never mind a pope, as long as they were viewed as sufficiently anti-abortion.
Pope Francis is making those once comfortable politicians look over their shoulders.
Since his election almost five years ago, the pope has rejected a narrow, single-issue framing of what it means to be “prolife” in ways that offer a refreshing, long overdue challenge to a binary U.S. political narrative. Earlier this week, in one of his now-classic freewheeling in-flight press conferences, Francis was back at it. When asked about President Trump’s decision to roll back an Obama-era program that protected some 800,000 young immigrants brought to the United States when they were children—the president gave Congress only six months to find a solution—Francis didn’t equivocate.
“The President of the United States presents himself as prolife and if he is a good prolifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected,” the pope said. Removing children from families “isn’t something that bears fruit for either the youngsters or their families.” During the same press conference this week, Francis also chided politicians who deny the impact human activity has on climate change, an issue he has frequently defined in stark life-and-death terms. “Whoever denies it has to go to the scientists and ask them,” he said. “They speak very clearly; scientists are precise. Then they decide and history will judge those decisions.”
American political debates over what constitutes a “life issue” are usually stuck in a rigid, partisan paradigm that offers little more than predictable talking points on both the right and left. Pope Francis’s insistence that “everything is connected,” as he described it in his encyclical Laudato si’, explodes those insufficient and suffocating categories. What the pope calls a “throwaway culture” includes myriad threats to life. During his 2015 trip to the United States, the pope clearly articulated this framework during his homily in a Mass for U.S. Catholic bishops. Francis specifically linked what he called “the innocent victim of abortion” to “children who die of hunger or from bombings,” “immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow,” and “the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.”