When the majority of people hear the term pro-life, they immediately equate it with the issue of abortion—full stop. The reality, though, is that the pro-life issue is much broader than that. Saints, popes, and the US bishops have all addressed the issue and said so.
These days, as we face down the challenges of COVID-19, we have to adjust our way of thinking and living. What being pro-life looks like right now is taking precautions to protect those who are most vulnerable. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by wearing a mask.
Yet doing something so simple and selfless has somehow turned into a hot-button political issue with people crying out that being asked to wear a mask is infringing on their civil rights. But what about human rights, such as a person’s right to life? Isn’t that the tagline of the pro-life movement? It’s time for us to move from a me-centric view to a more we-centric one.
Just the Facts
Many people who choose not to wear masks cite reports from early on in the crisis when the World Health Organization, the US surgeon general, and others questioned the effectiveness of masks. Those organizations have since reversed their stances, based on new information.
According to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”
Director of the CDC, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, explained: “We are not defenseless against COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus—particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
We are in unprecedented times and uncharted territory, so we all must allow for some flexibility to learn about the virus and, if necessary, change course. And we must similarly adapt our roles for the health and safety of all. Right now, that means wearing masks to protect ourselves and others.
Call to Action
In 1971, Roman Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan introduced the “seamless garment” concept as a way to describe a holistic reverence for life in all its stages, incorporating issues such as unjust war, capital punishment, social injustice, and other issues that affect people’s lives. “The protection of life,” she said, “is a seamless garment. You can’t protect some life and not others.”
In that same vein, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin often spoke of the “consis-tent ethic of life.” The issues were individual, he noted, but at the heart of them all was valuing and defending human life. “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area,” he once told a group, “eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.”
Even St. John Paul II alluded to this idea in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Culture of Life”) when he wrote: “Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart. Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence, and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.”
Certainly protection of vulnerable people during a pandemic would fit into those philosophies.
An Act of Love
Do you remember the old acronym WWJD—What Would Jesus Do?—that was so popular in the ’90s? Well, if we asked ourselves that question right now given our current situation, I’m pretty sure the answer would be that Jesus would wear a mask and tell his followers to do so, too, because it’s the loving thing to do.
Being pro-life can manifest itself in many different ways, and those ways can change as new situations arise. Now, amid a devastating worldwide pandemic, that means wearing a mask to protect our brothers and sisters. It’s the right thing to do.