Pro-Peace from Left and Right

These remarks were given by John Whitehead at the Pro-life March to Abolish Nuclear weapons, held in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2017

The theme of this rally and march, opposition to nuclear weapons from a pro-life perspective, has been at the heart of the Consistent Life Network from the very beginning. We were originally an organization called Pro-Lifers for Survival, which combined opposition to abortion with opposition to nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

One of the co-founders of Pro-Lifers for Survival was Julianne Wiley. I want to share some stories from Mrs. Wiley about her opposition to abortion and nuclear weapons and how these positions were connected.

Wiley began as an anti-nuclear activist, giving talks to small groups of people in their homes about the dangers from nuclear power and nuclear weapons. As she recalled,

I made a point of talking about how nuclear radiation would affect particularly the next generation [that is, children in the womb]. A woman…asked me, “If it’s wrong to injure these kids with iodine-131 accidentally, why isn’t it wrong to kill them deliberately with curettes?” She was confronting me on abortion and I didn’t have an answer. She was direct and persistent enough that it stayed in my conscience a long time and really challenged me to take all direct assaults on the innocent seriously.[1]

That experience of someone drawing a connection between the dangers of nuclear weapons and abortion helped make Wiley to extend her opposition to nuclear weapons to opposition to abortion. The process also works the other way, however. Years after that fateful conversation, Wiley had another conversation with a man named Brent Bozell.

Bozell was a crucial figure in the history of American conservatism. He was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley and an editor of National Review. Bozell served as a speechwriter for Joe McCarthy and ghostwrote The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater. He was fiercely opposed to abortion. Yet he also, in the later stages of his life, came to embrace opposition to nuclear weapons.

Wiley remembers

He came to see me one snowy night in the early 1980s. He drove through a snowstorm from Washington, D.C., to Erie, Pennsylvania, nonstop because he wanted to talk to me about nuclear arms. He thought nuclear arms were an abomination…[N]ot just the theory of nuclear deterrence but even the mere possession of nuclear weapons, he thought was a mortal sin. And this is a guy who took very seriously the concept of mortal sin…He sat and talked to me for an hour…on how frustrated he felt that people didn’t take the fear of God seriously. And if you threaten, if you possess these diabolical things you could compare it to the possession of hardcore pornography and other things that simply as property don’t deserve to exist.[2] 

As Wiley noted, these types of property that don’t have a right to exist include “nuclear bombs, or suction machines.”[3]

So there you have it. Left and right uniting in opposition to abortion and nuclear weapons—uniting to be fully pro-life. Julianne Wiley summed it up nicely when she said  

[T]o me nuclear weapons and abortion were perfect bookends, symmetrical images of each other. They both involved a frank commitment to targeting innocent targets, and they both depended on the calculated willingness to destroy them deliberately…The two issues struck me as being so absolute they set up a kind of a north and south pole—a whole magnetic force that drew in a lot of other issues because of the clarity of those two.[4]

Those words remain true today. This is why the Consistent Life Network is here, this why we are all here, to be fully pro-life and to call for an end to nuclear weapons. 

A version of this essay originally appeared on the Imago Dei Politics website.


[1] “Activists Reminisce: An Oral History of Prolifers for Survival,” in Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War, edited by Rachel M. MacNair & Stephen Zunes (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2011), 105.

[2] Ibid., 112-113.

[3] Ibid., 113.

[4] Ibid., 106.

© 2017 John Whitehead. All rights reserved.

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