When one hears that term, one immediately assumes the speaker is referring to the issue of abortion. And indeed the issue of abortion is an important one for all spiritual people to address. However, I believe strongly that discussions of the right to life need to go far beyond the issue of abortion.
The right to life is a belief that should indeed address the unborn but it needs to address all of life!
A Right to Life dialogue should first of all speak to the entire life span. It should address the rights of the poor. The rights of the immigrant for a better life. The needs of the veteran for something as basic as a home as well as an opportunity to heal. The rights of the elderly to not be forgotten. The rights of the dying to do so with dignity and care.
A Right to Life dialogue should not stop with addressing human life. We humans have not done a good job of taking care of our fellow creatures and our environment. We have allowed and continue to allow greed to give us permission to kill off species of animals and to decimate our forests. Do wildlife not have a right to life too? Are we not called to respect the lives of the trees and the streams?
The Right to Life movement needs to address other politically “hot” issues such as gun control, the death penalty, and, most especially, war. If there is any pervasive human activity that threatens life, it is war, no matter how justified we might feel a given war to be. War affects people. With the many veterans I’ve worked with over the years, those who came to see the so-called enemy as a person have had deep struggles justifying their behavior and that of their government. The bottom line of a war is to kill as many people as possible. Is that not an affront to one’s right to life?
Jesus challenged us to consider who has a Right to Life. He focused on the poor and the displaced. He noted that the Jews of His day had a right to life but so did the Samaritans. His most powerful invitation to honor the rights of others to life was His command to love our enemy.
Loving my enemy may be a key to my embracing an attitude that life — all of life — is sacred. Yes, my loved ones have a right to life but so does the mean old man down the street. The veteran on the street corner. And, yes, even the murderer sitting in a jail cell.
I have no easy answers to the many complex issues addressed by considering a comprehensive right to life. All that I know is that my exploration of the issues needs to be guided by compassion, not judgment.
So I invite you to consider your own understanding of the term Right to Life and perhaps to expand it to embrace all of God’s creation.