There are many sorrows of this time of coronavirus, and one of them is actually political. On the first Tuesday we were really truly grappling with it as a country, one of our national leaders in defense of innocent human life lost his primary race. Dan Lipinski of Illinois is pretty much the pro-life Democrat, at least in Washington, D.C. Democrats who were intent on seeing him voted out of Congress will tell you he was a conservative in disguise, having opposed President Obama’s health-care plan. But the only reason he opposed it in the end is that he wasn’t a cheap date — he wasn’t going to take assurances that had no substance to them about conscience protections. The fact that the Little Sisters of the Poor remain with a case pending before the Supreme Court is evidence that Lipinski was standing up against lies from the leaders of his party.
Lipinski is a man of conscience and courage. And my first thought when news came in that he had lost was: We don’t deserve him.
There wasn’t a lot of press time for Lipinski’s loss, for obvious reasons, but I found the closing remarks of his campaign important as a matter of history and examination of conscience. “There was one issue that loomed especially large in this campaign, the fact that I am pro-life. I was pilloried in millions of dollars of TV ads and mailers. I was shunned by many of my colleagues and other Democratic Party members and operators because of my pro-life stance. The pressure in the Democratic Party on the life issue has never been as great as it is now. Over the years I’ve watched many other politicians succumb to pressure and change their position on this issue. I have always said that I would never give up being pro-life and standing up for babies in the womb.” This has been the case for decades now, and, as Lipinski testifies, it has gotten worse instead of better. I sometimes wonder if this is a positive sign, a sign of a last stand of those so radically aligned not just to legal abortion but to its expansion.
He went on to say that he and his wife Judy have this belief because of their Catholic faith, but also because of the reality that science makes clear. “Life begins at conception,” he said. “Knowing this, I could never give up protecting the most vulnerable human beings in the world, simply to win an election. My faith teaches, and the Democratic Party preaches, that we should serve everyone, especially the most vulnerable. To stand in solidarity with the vulnerable is to become vulnerable. But there is no higher calling for anyone.”
And aren’t we all vulnerable now? It puts everything in a new perspective — or at least it should. You don’t have to agree with me, obviously, but can we take some of this time to reflect on it? What is life? What is its value? Why are we making such sacrifices for strangers, for the unknown?
In his concession speech, Representative Lipinski ran with that point, because his service hasn’t been merely about winning a campaign or keeping a seat in Congress: “Right now everyone in our country, and many other countries, are vulnerable in a way that we never imagined, as we face the coronavirus pandemic. We are a very polarized nation where people are often looking for ways to cause more division, but it is time for us to realize that we are all in this fight together. This is a threat that can only be defeated by all of us listening to and following guidance from health-care experts and caring for the good of our neighbors. . . . Now is the time for common sense and solidarity, and we can minimize the suffering from this pandemic.”
I find myself somewhat stunned by a lot of things these days, and among them is that so many of us, regardless of our party affiliations or ideological loyalties, or other convictions of the more enduring sort, are joined in common cause in defense of vulnerable human life. In the coronavirus case, we don’t even really know who all the vulnerable are. We have been assuming the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, but we’re seeing that it can be a whole lot of other people as well.
And I’ve been watching New York State governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who not only expanded abortion in our state but also once told those of us who consider ourselves pro-life — opponents of abortion and then some — to leave the state, that we are unwelcome here. In these days, though, he is rising to the occasion of protecting and defending human life. This is exactly what people in government should do — it’s exactly, frankly, what all our men should do, what we all should do. And so I am grateful. And even without Mass to attend, I find myself praying not only for healing and an end to this evil virus but also that, when we find ourselves on the other side of this, we might reconsider some of our debates and, as people of goodwill, find common cause on many more. Our recalcitrant back-and-forth over abortion should be no more. Not after we have spent all these weeks and months defending innocent human life! Can we rethink things a bit? Can we see our common humanity?
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.