Seamless Garment Network gives those who feel alienated from mainstream pro-life a place to call home

A coalition of liberal groups and individuals has made a splash in the U.S. with an ad calling for a consistent life ethic.

The ad, which ran in The New Republic and was sponsored by a group called the Seamless Garment Network, was signed by such notables as actor Martin Sheen, Michael Affleck, international coordinator for Green-peace; and peace activists, Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

It states they are “committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, the arms race, the death penalty and euthanasia.”

Carol Crossed, who runs the Seamless Garment Network, admits the names on the list are surprising considering the traditional pigeon-holes into which pro-life activists are usually placed.

“These people are all unlikely people,” she sys of the signers of the ad.  “It’s wild, isn’t it.”

The group, formed in 1987, has now grown to include the Dalai Lame, and an unlikely sounding group based in Washington called the Pro-life Gay and Lesbian Alliance.  Other groups include The Committee of Southern Churchmen, Pax Christi USA, Agnostics for Life and Feminists for Life.

“We get phone calls from people who say they can’t believe it,” Crossed says, “Where have you been all my life?”

The members of the network come from a leftwing background in the U.S.  Many were activists against the Vietnam war and have consistently demonstrated against the arms race, and American military actions, particularly in Central America.  They oppose capital punishment saying the state can’t take life, even if it’s guilty life.  These activists see their pro-life views as a logical extension of their peace actions.

“We decided we needed our own group and wanted to make the statement that pro-life and pro-peace is no contradiction,” Crossed says.

In her writings, she describes her emerging pro-life activism as a “coming out of the closet.”  First I started remaining quiet around talk by peace people about the freedom of choice to be violent towards the pre-born,” she relates.  “Then I started asking a question or two and reading and stuff.  And within the last year sneaking to pro-life rallies.”

Now she can take the sign with the quotation from Leviticus, “Don’t reject the stranger on foreign soil,” to a Planned Parenthood office as well as any other of her favourite targets.

“It’s all out,” Crossed writes in an article called Confessions of a Consistent Bystander.  “Everybody knows.  I’ve never felt so lonely.  Why do I feel so good?”

Crossed participated in the Buffalo “Spring for Life” Rescue last year and was arrested outside the local Planned Parenthood office in her hometown of Rochester.  Her home, where she lives with her husband Richard and their six children, often serves as a shelter for women who have decided not to have an abortion.

Juli Loesch, founder of Pro-lifers for Survival, is also a member of the Seamless Garment Network.  She describes “trying to speak Christianity in two worlds.”

She tells of the abuse she received when she began distributing pro-life materials at a benefit for feminist and anti-nuclear groups.  But in every one of these groups, she says, “people on the left, Christian and otherwise, are beginning to question abortion.”

It’s this knowledge which helps her and others bear the fury which she arouses almost anywhere she goes.  Loesch calls it “working both sides of the aisle.”

The Seamless Garment Network actually began after a group of pro-life people were refused entry into a peace group in 1986.  Activists from eight groups met and formed the network in Chapel Hill North Carolina.  They decided they needed their own organization to make the statement all life is sacred.

The term “seamless garment” was popularized by controversial Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  He took the notion from Eileen Egan, inventor of the phrase and long-time activist in the Catholic Worker movement.

Growth has been slow but, Crossed says, it has been solid.  When they get money for an ad then they publish.  She says every cent they raise goes into promoting the statement.

“It’s a movement people have been dying for,” Crossed says.

So far there has been little activity in Canada although Dr. Rosalie Bertell, of Toronto, president of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, is one of the signatories of the ad.

Fr. Henri Nouwen, of L’Arche-Daybreak in Toronto, also added his name to the list.