The year 2020 was yet another inflection point in the American conversation about justice. Once again, we experienced as a nation how different justice issues intersect and converge; we saw firsthand how the fight for racial justice joins the fight for social justice, and how justice for the sick and those suffering from disease is a matter of equal justice for everyone. Most importantly, we learned that unless every Black life matters, we can’t have justice at all. The question is: Will we emerge from this latest chapter any different than before?
As far as we’ve come, one thing is still missing from the national justice conversation today: a recognition of dignity for pre-born human life. All too often, Americans still treat abortion and pro-life issues as separate from our collective fight for justice. The truth is that being pro-justice means being pro-life; every pro-life American is fighting for justice, and every pro-justice American needs to be pro-life.
I know my position is bound to cause some controversy. But truth be told, I think a little controversy can be a good thing. We sometimes need to be shaken up a bit in order to hear the call for justice clearly. And as long as we are ignoring the pain and suffering of the victims of abortion, we aren’t hearing that call.
What links different justice issues together is a shared commitment to equal dignity for all human life, from the womb to the tomb. Justice is about protecting those who deserve protection, and punishing those who deserve punishment. Justice seeks to remedy the destructive impact of abusive treatment in the lives of individuals and in the societies they live in. I find the call to justice almost perfectly summed up in the words of Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
As a society, if we fail to value vulnerable human dignity at one stage of life, we are more likely to devalue vulnerable life at another stage — whether that be the disabled, the elderly, the poor, the immigrant, or the unarmed Black person shot by police.
When we pursue justice, we assume responsibility for the forgotten, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the weak. We elevate, uplift, defend, and restore those who have been hurt or wounded by inequality, callousness, malice, and exploitation. The just man or woman does as Jesus commanded, loving God with all of their being and loving their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 27:37–39) with the full dignity of mercy, respect, and compassion.
For that very reason, justice is never satisfied with half-measures. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King Jr. said. Someone who stands up for the dignity and worth of women must fight against both sexism and human trafficking. Someone who believes that Black lives matter must combat both racial inequalities in our economy and systemic racism in every institution, including our police force.
Similarly, anyone and everyone who assumes responsibility for the most vulnerable among us must protect pre-born lives from the harms of abortion and work to enable women seeking to abort to choose life, by offering tangible services — such as health care, employment, or child care — to address their needs.
Many people don’t want to see it that way. People want abortion and pro-life issues to be matters of free choice. But they aren’t. Abortion kills an innocent life, and hurting innocents is never a mere matter of choice. Or people think they can fight against oppression and exploitation in our economy or criminal-justice system without also defending the lives of the unborn from the abortion industry. But they can’t. It is a hollow and lifeless sort of justice that views some lives as expendable, forgettable, or unimportant.
An incomplete view of justice that condemns certain lives to misery and harm should be intimately familiar to all of us. We only need to think about America’s reprehensible history of convict leasing, redlining, mass incarceration, and of course the injustice of slavery. In the 18th century, there were plenty of well-intentioned, kind, and Christian people who thought that slavery didn’t matter, even as they fought for their own independence from English rule. That Black bodies were hurting and in chains was just a matter of choice for the 19th-century southern gentlemen. Even within recent generations, that Black lives were forgotten and oppressed was a side issue — something that, maybe, we would get to later, after we solved our more pressing problems.
We recognize today how shortsighted, narrow-minded, hard-hearted, and fundamentally unjust such views were. How did anyone ever look at human chattel and not feel the call for justice in their conscience? As a descendant of enslaved people, I am offended when anyone seeks to defend or excuse the dehumanizing abuse of other people, then or now.
But it also offends me when people today turn a blind eye to abortion. Being inside the womb should not be a death sentence. Yet we voluntarily ignore the millions of lives lost to abortion, even while we march in the streets for social justice and equality. Justice demands we do differently. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” That has to mean giving a voice to the voiceless pre-born in our fight for justice.
There’s no better time than right now to extend the protection of justice to the unborn. “The time is always right to do what is right,” as Dr. King put it. In 2021, we can build on the experiences and lessons of 2020 about how to build a more just society. For America’s unborn, a more just society means an end to abortion.