Published on
the San Francisco Chronicle

Pope Francis’ Call to be Ecologically ‘Pro-Life’

Pope Francis gives an audience to the participants at the Convention of Rome Diocese at St Peter's square on June 14, 2015 at the Vatican. (Fillipo Monteforte/AFP)

Abortion is a polarizing issue in America, with half the country believing individuals should be free to choose, and 44 percent believing we must safeguard life. But “pro-life” can encompass far more than life in the womb; in fact, life on Earth is threatened — and we are the ones aborting the ecosystems on which we rely. We’re being called to be ecologically pro-life.

Thursday, Pope Francis releases his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, which Catholic News Service predicts will present ecology “as the ultimate pro-life, pro-poor, pro-family issue.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of the principles of Catholicism, states that God has entrusted to us “the noble mission of safeguarding life.” Yet our way of life — high consumption, low responsibility, fossil-fuel driven — has pushed ecosystems into collapse. We live in an ecologically pro-choice culture, where most of us make choices without thinking of its effects on ecosystems, and the lives — humans, other animals, plants — that depend on them. As a matter of good business, we encourage corporations to pursue profit regardless of ecological repercussions. The results? Pretty much every scientist, notes NASA, is in agreement: the Earth is in unprecedented, human-induced trouble. We’ve pumped enough carbon into the atmosphere to raise Earth’s temperature by 1 degree Celsius, and we’re on track for more. We’re already witnessing the results.



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Sea level rise, super-storms, water scarcity, unpredictable weather; for animals and plants, extinction rates are rapidly rising. For humans, it’s linked to natural disasters, droughts, political instability. Our food supply already has been affected, says the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

When taking a stance on abortion, poverty, public health, national security and other hot-button issues that address safeguarding life, I find myself redirected to the challenges of climate change. If my daughter announces she’s considering abortion while the house is burning, I first focus on extinguishing the fire that threatens us all — fetus, included. Climate change is a double-whammy, magnifying poverty, migration, international conflict — you name it. It is the defining moral issue of our time that determines our future as a species, and, as the pope’s encyclical hopefully will note, we need to come together — 100 percent of us — to address it, first.

Reframing pro-life brings the issue into everyday decisions: The average American may never face unwanted pregnancy, but he or she might decide whether to buy a car or bike to work; buy beef or go vegetarian; divest his or her portfolio from fossil fuels or do nothing. He or she can also step up pressure for governments to limit further development of fossil fuels. This is safeguarding life.

Pope Francis has implored us to see “the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person.” Our care for the environment — and our connection to it — are fundamentally what make us human. It’s time to step up to our mission, to prioritize ecological pro-life

Claire Hutkins Seda

Claire Hutkins Seda

Claire Hutkins Seda of Chico, California writes on social justice and environmental issues.

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