Here, after all, we have single-issue voters waging perhaps the most passionate crusades in American life, sometimes against seemingly hopeless odds, millions of people refusing to drop two extremely uncomfortable subjects that many of those around them get really upset about. Still more to their credit, both causes also go beyond talk and idle moralizing, and often their mission centers on adoption: In the spirit of Mother Teresa, who said, If you don’t want your babies, “give them to me,” thousands of animal shelters and sanctuaries ask only to care for homeless or cruelly treated creatures. It should not be surprising to find that these two groups have important qualities in common. I know a lot of people in both the pro-life and animal-protection causes, and they remind me of one another, even though neither would necessarily take that as the compliment it is.
Works of theory by the animal-rights thinkers of the Seventies and Eighties, with a heavy dose of utilitarianism and “liberation,” alienated religious and cultural conservatives and vastly complicated what might have been a natural partnership, as Mary Eberstadt, a Catholic, observed a few years ago in First Things
. Viewed in terms of their basic convictions and motivations, she writes, “the line connecting the dots between ‘we should respect animal life’ and ‘we should respect human life’ is far straighter than the line connecting vegetarianism to anti-life feminism or anti-humanist utilitarianism.” Both the animal-protection and pro-life endeavors arise, Eberstadt writes, from moral intuition of the best kind:
Most people who adopt a vegetarian or cruelty-free diet do not do so on the basis of the anti-humanist, anti-life ideas that prevail in academic thought. On the contrary, evidence abounds that most people change their dietary habits not because of carbon footprints or absent referents but through a very different process — acknowledging and acting on a moral intuition. This important point — overlooked, perhaps, precisely because it is so simple — is the moral key to a place where actual vegetarian lambs can easily be imagined resting alongside pro-life lions. . . . Any moral intuition powerful enough to cause second thoughts about a widely accepted practice — and to re-shape personal behavior accordingly — is an intuition that religious believers ordinarily take seriously indeed.
It is fitting that an eloquent pro-life woman, whose latest book analyzes the decline of religious faith in the West, should offer this insight. The whole animal-protection movement began, in Western societies, with the conscience of Christian reformers acting on just such intuition. Trace the lineage of venerable groups like Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — the RSPCA — or of its early American counterparts, and you’ll find that they began with the mission of abolishing slavery and protecting women and children from exploitation, challenging a few “widely accepted practices” of their own day, and branched out to animal welfare in what seemed to them, at least, an obvious extension of their vocation. Often these charities were founded by women, to shelter other women from users, louts, and bullies — the same types who also bring grief to animals. But there were heroic men, too, like the abolitionists William Wilberforce and Anthony Ashley-Cooper — convinced, as the latter wrote, “that God had called me to devote whatever advantages He might have bestowed upon me to the cause of the weak, the helpless, both man and beast, and those who had none to help them.”
Leaving aside the all-out conservative vegan credo that remains, of course, a tough sell for most people, why not at least this same spirit, in our time, of basic Judaeo-Christian compassion for animals, consistently upholding the dignity of human and animal life as different charges in the same calling? How could the defense of vulnerable humanity, and of the humane, be far apart? Both movements could go on as they are, doing their own work without much thought to one another, still less support and encouragement for one another, and still occupy vital and necessary ground in American politics. But in combination, if only as respectful friends and well-wishers, holding candidates and officeholders to high standards in defense of life and of animal welfare, and above all giving personal witness to both those values, the pro-life and pro-animal movements could do great things. Between advocates of the unborn and of brutalized creatures, as Eberstadt puts it, there is a straight line, a connection as natural as the love that young children themselves so often feel for animals, and deeper than the usual, pragmatic ties of politics: “The work of developing that bond could be done, and the benefit might be immense for both sides — like finding a few million friends that you never knew you had.”
Exactly as straight is the line connecting the attitude that some human beings may be disposed of as defective, unwanted, or otherwise undeserving of the breath of life, to the attitude that great multitudes of fellow creatures are unworthy of our empathy and respect, there only to be exploited as we desire. Challenge either attitude and you will encounter the same hardness of heart; you are drawing attention to the world’s discards, all the ones who get used or get in the way, kept off at a distance in unlighted places, and worldly people don’t like to hear about it. Thus the suspicion, hostility, and exasperated sighing to which pro-life and pro-animal activists are both accustomed, all for saying outright what nearly everyone knows to be true — about being decent and fair, and granting to others mercy as we would hope to receive it ourselves.
You can champion human life and scarcely notice the travails of lowly animals, or champion animal welfare and think nothing of the fate of the unborn, and still, by my measure, merit praise and gratitude for at least that much, for caring and trying where the need is great. Yet how much better to open our hearts to both, defending the innocent and powerless wherever they are, bringing to all creatures who have none to help them the love of their Creator, and by that example showing what it means to be pro-life all the way.
— Mr. Scully has been a speechwriter in each of the last six presidential general-election campaigns and was a special assistant to President George W. Bush. He is the author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.