The Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) position was on full display at Rehumanize International’s recent conference #Rehumanize2020, which took place virtually on Saturday, August 29. This was more than a pro-life conference in regards to abortion. #Rehumanize2020 provided a space of convergence on many key life issues — including abortion, the death penalty, war, ableism, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, immigration, incarceration, racism, and more. Just as diverse as the life issues covered were the speakers who presented and led these important conversations. After all, the rights to life, safety, and equality belong to everyone.
Human Defense Initiative, who helped sponsor #Rehumanize 2020, was represented in the live attendance of the conference by HDI contributors Kara Johnson and Sarah Mouradian. Due to some personal technical difficulties, we were able to join the conference starting with the breakout sessions at 2:30 p.m. through the end of the main sessions of the conference at 6:30 p.m. The following is a summary of our personal reflections on the sessions we each attended.
Lived Experiences Breakout Session 2: Ableism
The first session I attended was “Ablesim,” presented by Beth Fox of Rehumanize International. Beth’s courage and joy for life truly shined through as she shared her own life experiences and her personal insight on the topics of ableism and how to better support individuals living with disabilities in our society. Even before birth, Beth was targeted by doctors for abortion due to in-utero diagnosis of her rare neuro-muscular distrophy disease. Beth shared the story of her mother’s courage to reject abortion in the face of doctors who claimed it would be the more “merciful” choice for Beth’s life.
Beth additionally shared a similar story from only just a few years ago. Before being given a ventilator to help her breathe, a nurse kept asking Beth to sign a DNR while in the hospital, and even went so far as to say “Who would want to live like that?” in regards to living with the assistance of a ventilator for the rest of her life. Today, Beth proves this nurse and all doctors who believed she would have no “quality of life” wrong by loving her life, as different as it may be from others.
An important point Beth made in relation to the pro-life movement is that pro-life advocates need to be careful in how we address less than optimistic in-utero diagnoses for the health of a child. It’s true doctors and tests can be wrong, but that shouldn’t be the primary reason to reject abortion when it comes to abortion in the case of fetal anomalies. Abortion should be rejected in these cases simply because the child is still a person with a life worth living, no matter what challenges may lie ahead.
Keynote: Can War Ever be Just?
The keynote presentation “Can War Ever Be Just?” by David Swanson from World Beyond War presented a number of compelling points against the concept of a just war. While I am personally not in favor of war and believe nearly all war causes more harm and destruction than any potential good outcomes, I am somewhat open to the theory of a just war. I admittedly don’t know the just war theory very well. For me, Swanson’s presentation didn’t sway my current position. This may have largely been in part due to time constraints which limited how many points could be covered and the amount of depth which could have been provided to his points.
Swanson presented many interesting perspectives. One particular perspective I found interesting was the assertion that World War II was not truly a “just war” due to the circumstances of its inception and the long-lasting damaging effects on our world which still persist to this day. A difficult challenge was proposed to the attendees by Swanson: name one truly just war which did not cause more damage than the wrongs said war was supposedly trying to make right (that may not have been the exact wording, but that was the gist). While some of Swanson’s points seemed more generalized and could have used more support in my opinion, I must admit that this challenge will sit with me for a long time. I would have liked examples of successful nonviolent actions as alternatives to war to be discussed in greater detail. This may have once again been affected by the presentation’s time limit. Overall, David Swanson gave me a lot to think about when it comes to the concept of a just war and how war is extremely difficult if not nearly impossible to completely justify.
History Breakout Session: U.S. Immigration Policy
Next, I attended the History Breakout Session on U.S. immigration policy, hosted by Mikhayla Stover, a current law student from the Catholic University of America and also known on Twitter as @talitha_rising. I’ve actually followed Mikhayla on Twitter for quite a while, so I was excited to hear her speak at the conference! U.S. immigration policy is currently the area of Mikhayla’s work and interest as she pursues law, so the topic is very close to her heart. Her presentation was well-organized and covered the brief introduction to the complex elements of U.S. immigration and foreign policy, particularly in Latin America. While there simply isn’t the space or time to reasonably cover all of Mikhayla’s points from the session, I will say that I was pretty floored with how extensive the U.S. government’s reach has been and currently is in Latin American economics and government. I still love the U.S., but I think it’s important for all people to be aware of the extensive history and cycle of oppression perpetuated by government and economic leaders, institutions, and organizations — especially as many of the current issues surrounding immigration from Latin America have been directly caused by the U.S.’s actions for over a century.
This point was especially powerful: “Oppression is America’s original bipartisan effort.” If we as citizens want to uphold the value of every human life, we need to ensure the citizens of other nations and those who are seeking refuge in the U.S. are treated with full dignity. Mikhayla presented four ways the U.S. can proceed and make a difference: end the sponsorship of brutality and corruption, take responsibility for past actions, separate the immigration court system from the executive branch, and end the practice of immigration detention in exchange for a total humanitarian system. Click here for a Twitter thread from Mikhayla, where she provides further discussions and resources in regards to her session’s topics.
Action Breakout Session 1: Dismantling Racism
Next, I attended “Dismantling Racism,” presented by Lancaster, PA City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El. We all know racism is a very prominent topic in our nation’s current discourse, often filled with great tension. I appreciated Ismail’s calm demeanor and overall commitment to unity in dismantling racism throughout society. As Ismail stated, racism is an obstacle to consistent human dignity, to opportunity, and to a consistent ethic of life and justice. Racism is more than just racial prejudice: it’s racial prejudice combined with power and society. I couldn’t agree more with Ismail that no affirmative solidarity across races can be accomplished without a firm position of anti-racism. In other words, individuals from all sides need to be willing to listen to each other and walk together. This doesn’t mean being “color blind,” but seeing difference, embracing it, and asking for the insight and perspective of those in our lives who are different from us as individuals.
Dismantling racism is not a charity effort, either, but an intentional movement for the benefit of all peoples. All of us can take away these three main points on how to dismantle racism in our daily lives: intervene when we encounter racism, intentionally create diverse institutions or abandon/disrupt homogeneous ones, and center the racial and ethnic impacts of our actions every time.
Keynote: Not Dead Yet: Ableism, Euthanasia, and Assisted Suicide
Similar to Beth Fox’s earlier session in the day, John B. Kelly’s keynote presentation “Not Dead Yet: Ableism, Euthenasia, and Assisted Suicide” covered the topic of ableism but on a state level. Some of the most impactful parts of John’s presentation were simply the data. Did you know assisted suicide in America is largely targeted at white, affluent individuals? Survey data presented by John also highlighted that most individuals with disabilities or those diagnosed with a terminal illness would consider assisted suicide primarily due to the loss of autonomy, the feeling of being a burden on others, and concern or fear over pain (as opposed to actual experienced pain). However, this does not discount those who would consider physician assisted suicide due to actual physical or emotional pain, as minorities and those with lower incomes are most often without access to adequate pain management and other health resources due to prejudice and lack of profit.
I had not realized until John’s presentation just how much state-sponsored assisted suicide and euthanasia preys both on people’s fears (rather than reality) and people’s wallets for those who are affluent enough to afford the expensive life-ending medications. On the side of euthanasia, John shared the story of Michael Hickson, a quadriplegic man who was recently denied medical care after contracting COVID-19 while also experiencing many other health conditions. Michael Hickson’s doctors and the state made the arbitrary choice that Michael Hickson’s life was supposedly not worth saving and that he supposedly did not have nor would ever have any “quality of life.”
While John’s presentation was extremely powerful and backed by extensive data, the only point I felt disappointed on was the focus on Not Dead Yet’s position being primarily against state-supported physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, and less so combating the causes that lead individuals to consider these options in the first place. However, that could simply be a misunderstanding on my part. Regardless, John’s presentation only strengthened my personal beliefs that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia must be important matters in the pro-life movement. We must fight for the right to life at both its conception and through to its natural end.
Action Breakout Session 2: Activism
Finally, I ended my time at #Rehumanize2020 by attending the Activism panel by Terrisa Bukovinac from Pro-Life San Francisco. My key takeaways from Terrisa’s discussion are how we can unite better as a pro-life movement to achieve our goals and how we can better welcome diversity. As Terrisa stated, no movement can have victory without unity. We delay victory for a cause when we get hung up on other beliefs and values. A purity ideology is a privileged position, as it disregards the reality of diversity. The pro-life movement isn’t homogeneous, even though we stand for the same core belief that abortion ends a human life and doesn’t improve the lives of others or society. I really loved how Terrisa emphasized that we need the freedom to fully express ourselves when recognizing our differences, otherwise our unity will be false. This equation couldn’t ring more true: diversity + unity = victory.
So, what can we do as activists to keep the pro-life movement strong? Terrisa suggests respectfully embracing comedy such as through pro-life memes (e.g., Dank Pro Life Memes), directly yet respectfully call out individuals and institutions who stand against what we stand for (e.g., Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion politicians), never giving up on organizing and reaching out, being consistent about sharing details of beliefs and events, and continuously producing and sharing content. In the age of COVID-19, using social media to share the pro-life message is more important than ever before.
History Breakout Session: Torture
The conference was a great learning experience all around, and it was nice to be virtually surrounded by pro-life activists from all across the country. With that said, I wish I could have attended every session but unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow that. However, the sessions I did attend were thought provoking, and I took something new with me after each one.
The first session I attended was with Joise Setzler of Witness Against Torture. While I knew this session would be interesting, I didn’t realize how eye-opening it would be. Setzler discussed how the accountability of torture as a whole was shut down under the Obama administration. Needless to say, the Obama administration was evidently against life. Even though she stated some bad news, there was also some good. Did you know that prisoners have hope when they know they aren’t forgotten? Prisoners help each other by lifting their own voices through hunger strikes, artwork, writing, and reading poetry. It’s not often we think of those who are imprisoned around the world and perhaps that’s why they feel they have to lift each other up. The men Witness Against Torture serves are men who have not been convicted of any crime. It’s encouraging to know that a movement like Witness Against Torture can help raise awareness and serve these prisoners even when it seems like all hope is lost.
Action Breakout Session 1: Abolishing War
The next session I attended was “Abolishing War.” Many things were discussed during a short amount of time, and while it seems impossible to abolish war as a whole in the world we live in, this is a mission for so many and can be an effective tool to promote life. There were certain things in the session I did not agree with, but I enjoyed seeing things from a different perspective and learned things along the way. This session was led by Gretta Zarro with World Beyond War. Zarro discussed how war can have an effect on the environment and how it can erode civil liberties and drain our economies. World Beyond War is doing a peace pledge on their website to put an end to the violence which is taking place in wars all around the world. If you would like to sign it, please visit worldbeyondwar.org.
Action Breakout Session 2: Creative Expression
The last breakout session I attended was “Creative Expression,” led by Maria Oswalt and Sarah Terzo. This session was by far my favorite one of the day. Oswalt discussed activism art and how when words fail, art speaks. She portrayed a very important message as she talked, discussing how old and new activism art can influence those in power and make a difference in life. Terzo’s portion was about writing and poetry. These two segments spoke to me as I have realized that creative expression at the most crucial times can speak volumes. This session was proof of that as both women came together to discuss the importance of life and how art can transform minds and hearts for the pro-life movement.
The #Rehumanize2020 Conference was a great way to spend a Saturday. Many portions of the conference were eye-opening, and we learned a lot along the way. It was encouraging to be surrounded by so many pro-life advocates who are willing to rise up and defend life where it needs to be defended, whether it’s speaking out against abortion, unjust war, torture, racism, or euthanasia and assisted suicide. This was such an important conference to be a part of, and we would definitely attend next year.
Want to learn more about Rehumanize International? You can head to their website rehumanizeintl.org to learn more about the importance of life and how you can get involved.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.