Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Legal Abortion: An Unjust Peace

Brenda Kay Zylstra


January 21, 2011
by Brenda Kay Zylstra

Earlier this week, Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based abortion doctor, was charged with eight counts of murder. One patient died of a painkiller overdose, while seven infants met their grisly deaths from a pair of scissors wielded by Gosnell’s hands. These and many other appalling details are recorded in a 300-page grand jury report on Gosnell and his clinic. It’s a horrifying tale, reflecting an abortion industry that is at once overfunded and underregulated.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider, has enormous political clout—$300 million in taxpayer funding per year, more than 800 clinics in the U.S. alone, well-connected PACs all over the country, international affiliates and a research arm.  Meanwhile, 4000 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) operate on volunteer hours and shoestring budgets bereft of government largesse. CPCs offer free services alongside the deep emotional support that comes only from loving thy neighbor as thyself. In return CPCs face onerous legal burdens, legislative attack and apathy from many pro-lifers.

The Center for Public Justice, in its Guideline on Human Life  states, “Opposing abortion and trying to outlaw it are not sufficient ways to achieve the goal of protecting the unborn and supporting life. Protecting life and the life-generating process from before pregnancy (healthy marriage) through birth and human maturation must be the underlying aim of public policies.” CPCs are the backbone of the pro-life movement. As Christians we have a duty to support them—with our time, with our money, with our resources – as they support women in need. In this way we seek justice, but our obligation does not end there.

Last year I took a course on just war theory, whose crucial underlying assumption proposes that justice is of higher importance than even peace. To put it another way, an unjust peace is unacceptable. Augustine speaks of caritas, roughly translated as neighbor-love. When the Christian sees an unjust peace, caritas ought to move the Christian to prayer and to action.

Tonight I will board an overnight bus to Washington, DC,  to gather with a quarter million others on the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. By now this exercise is familiar—thousands of pro-lifers swarm the Capital for a couple of days, speaking to their legislators, marching to the Supreme Court, waving signs and shouting slogans that call for an end to abortion. After decades of this giant rally, Roe v. Wade still stands.  Should I stay home? One of my favorite signs at the March says, “We Will Not Be Silent.” A simple message, but one that points to the heart of why the March for Life grows larger every year even as Roe recedes further into the past. We come to speak for those whose cries are not heard. We come to pray for those whose very existence the world would wish away. Each year more than 50,000 lives are dismissed before their first breath is drawn.

Legal abortion is an unjust peace. Time and time again our Lord commands us to protect the lost, the last, the least, and the littlest. The true caritas that He requires can only be satisfied by demanding justice from ourselves and from each other. Both just war theory and the right-to-life philosophy begin at the same point. The biblical commitment to justice stems from and informs an obligation to caritas that leads to civic engagement. Christian civic engagement may take many forms. It need not be the March for Life, but it does entail a commitment to speaking out for these little ones. An unjust peace is unacceptable. Love thy neighbor as thyself. We will not be silent.

—Brenda Kay Zylstra is a dual Master's student in the Harris School of Public Policy and the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”