Begin speaking and acting against abortion, and it won't be long before you'll be called a “single-issue” person.
What the phrase means isn't exactly clear. Certainly, pro-lifers know that other “issues” besides abortion exist, and pro-lifers everywhere are in fact actively involved in addressing a host of other issues. But precisely why do “other issues” exist and what is their importance? Other issues exist because people exist. If there were no people, there would be no issues and nobody to discuss them.
The bottom line, in other words, is life. Any issue is important because life is important. Why should we be concerned about unemployment? It is a concern because people have a right to make a living. Why do they have a right to make a living? Because they have a right to live! Why is poverty also an important issue? It is important because people have a right to food, clothing and shelter. Why do they have a right to these things? Because they have a right to live! It all comes down to life. That's why abortion is the key issue. Deny that a person has the right to live, and you undercut the importance of every other issue. It is impossible to coherently speak up about any issue impacting human life if you are allowing the life itself to become a disposable item.
Abortion, in other words, is more than abortion. It not only leads to other evils, but in some manner contains them within itself. This is why the US bishops have called abortion "the fundamental human rights issue" and have explained that a consistent ethic of life is fully compatible with a priority attention to abortion. (See Resolution on Abortion, 1989; Living the Gospel of Life, 1998; Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities, 2001.)
The fact that abortion is a non-issue for many people is what makes the ‘single-issue’ accusation so misplaced. It adds insult to the injury already inflicted upon the children (a fatal injury) and their mothers. “Why don't you take care of people already born?” we are asked. Our response is, “Why are you making the distinction in the first place? We speak more often of the pre-born precisely because we are trying to undo the unfair distinction made between them and the born. The pre-born have equal rights with the born, and we demand that those rights be respected in the same way.” To accuse pro-lifers of not having concern for the born is as unfair as accusing prison chaplains of not having concern for those who are free, or helpers of the blind of not having concern for those who see! Having a universal concern for human rights never excludes a person from having a specific focus on one group of people in need.
The pre-born, furthermore, are most in need. Is any other group of people killed at the alarming rate of 3300 a day in the USA alone, at set times and places, accompanied by the indifference of so many and by the efforts of others to make it seem so legitimate? These deaths are not accidents; the government authorizes these deaths. What other group of human beings are so explicitly denied their very personhood, and so unable to defend themselves?
What would happen if tomorrow a policy were announced whereby 14-year-olds could be put to death at the discretion of their mothers? Would the policy last until sunset? Wouldn’t people rise up in revolt? Then suppose those who had set the policy said, “OK. We're sorry... That was a bad policy. We will push it back seven years. Only 7-year-olds may be put to death, at the discretion of their mothers.” Would that policy be any different? Would it be any better? Then suppose the policy-makers said, “OK. We were wrong again. This time we'll push the age back another seven years. Boys and girls in the womb may be killed at the discretion of their mothers.” The first two cases were fantasy, but now--welcome to reality. Here's the key question: Is this policy any different, any better? No; yet where is the outcry? Why do those who do cry out get accused of being “single-issue" people? Have we somehow believed the lie that abortion is morally better than killing a 7-year-old? If 7-year olds were systematically, legally, killed, would those who speak up be called “single issue” people?
Because of the prayerful action of pro-lifers, many children have been saved from abortion. Ask those children if they think that being saved from abortion is a "single issue." No, for each of them it is every issue; it is life itself, and all the gifts that life will bring to this world. For us, this life provides the foundation for which we will then defend those children from every other kind of attack that may threaten them throughout life. The issue is no less than the living image of God Himself. Yes, in the end there is only one issue. The issue is life. And ultimately, life defended and affirmed is identical with that single issue called love.
For more information, visit our website for an explanation of the Consistent Ethic of Life, which we embrace. Visit www.priestsforlife.org/consistentethic.