April 13, 2016 – Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life convened a conversation yesterday on how violence, treatment of the unborn and immigration issues illustrate the ways human life and dignity come under threat.
“We live here in Ward 3, an affluent part of our city where infant mortality is almost nonexistent,” said initiative director John Carr. “But 10 miles from here in Anacostia, it is 10 times as high. In Anacostia, the infant mortality rate rivals San Salvador.”
He pointed to the recent violence that claimed the lives of two local teens in Washington, D.C.; the suicide bomber who murdered children and families as they attended an amusement park in Pakistan; and the terrorist bombing in Brussels that killed 32 people and injured more than 300.
“Life is cheap in a lot of places,” said Carr, who moderated the panel discussion at Georgetown on "Resisting the ‘Throwaway Culture’: Protecting Human Life and Dignity.”
Panelists for last night’s event included Helen Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University School of Law and former leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pro-life efforts; Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley; and Charles Camosy, associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University.
“We are the beneficiaries of a profound moral and spiritual tradition, shaped over the course of two millennia,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said before the event. “The work to systematically address the threats to life – the urgency of building a civil society with a shared vision of what human sacredness demands continues to be our work today.”
Alvaré said her experience working in the anti-abortion movement led her to social justice work and vice versa. She said she thinks being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to support abortion.
“I really think [that idea is] a thing of the past,” said Alvaré, founder of Women Speak For Themselves. “How terrible to tell women [and] how negative a view of women’s empowerment that it takes them denying this natural human inclination to take care of life.”
Alvaré also talked about how American society doesn’t support being a mother the way it should.
“All those years of not addressing the cultural, the political and other realms so that women [have] to organize their motherhood and child care around corporate culture, instead of corporate culture having to organize around us,” she said.
Camosy, author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation, said activists on both sides of the abortion debate are frustrated with their politicians.
“Both parties have … an interest – a financial interest, a political interest – in keeping the language and the MO of the abortion world alive,” Camosy said. “They raise money on it. … When there were obvious attempts to find compromise, they weren’t taken in my opinion.”<
Camosy said America operates under “life” and “choice” movements, but that we should stop thinking of the issue in those terms.
“Before 12 weeks [of pregnancy], 60 percent of Americans are generally in favor of broad access to abortion,” he said. “After 12 weeks, the Gallup [poll] consistently finds that 70 percent of Americans are against legal access to abortion. Is that a pro-choice position? Yes. Is that a pro-life position? Yes.”
Pimentel shared another view of threats to human life and dignity by looking at immigration. The Catholic nun is the organizer of the Sacred Heart Immigrant Welcome Center on the U.S.-Mexican border.
She said the center has helped more than 35,000 immigrants to date despite anti-immigration sentiment.
“I have met personally [and heard] stories about their suffering,” Pimentel said, adding that many of the people she meets fear for the lives of their children.
She shared the story of a pregnant woman and her child who risked a harrowing voyage across the border after an intruder in their home narrowly missed killing her daughter.
“There is no future for my children there,” Pimentel said the mother explained. “When you see this for yourself, there’s this special connection that happens when you see human dignity in such conditions.”