The Seamless Garment: Death for the Pro-Life Movement

Author: A.L.L.


American Life League

Honest debate is the only way to get this abortion bone out of the Catholic throat so that we can get on to more important pro-life issues [like hunger, health care, overpopulation, and "militarism"].

                                                       Pro-abortion 'Catholic' priest Daniel McGuire.[1]

Anti-Life Philosophy.

People who call themselves 'pro-life' are phonies, because they don't care about the rights of gays and minorities, they are for the death penalty, and they couldn't care less about nuclear weapons, war, the environment, and animal rights.

Seamless Garment: Effective Weapon of Confusion for the Left.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

                                                                                             Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Weaver of the Cloth.

Although the "Seamless Garment" theory has been in existence since social activism began, it was first applied to pro-lifers in 1976 by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in Dallas.

The Cardinal did not provide useful details on his permutation of the theory until a 1984 St. Louis talk entitled "A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue," where he stated that, although abortion and nuclear war cannot be "collapsed into one problem," they must nevertheless "be confronted as pieces of a larger pattern."

A Perfect Fit for the Left.

Pro-abortion and other Neoliberal groups, of course, couldn't be happier with Cardinal Bernardin's "Seamless Garment," because with it, they could cloak themselves with a shroud of legitimacy and righteousness.

Anti-life groups like 'Catholics' for a Free Choice see the "Seamless Garment" as a Hell-sent, handy way of putting abortion at the bottom of everyone's priority list, and even hopefully of burying the thorny and messy issue altogether. After all, if we relegate abortion to the back burner, nobody will attempt to violate the privacy of the baby-killers.

This is not the original intent of the Cardinal's concept, of course. But how many times have veteran pro-life activists heard;

"You're not really pro-life unless you ..."

• oppose capital punishment;
• work to stop nuclear war;
• work to stop hunger;
• work to increase human dignity;
• work to increase access to contraception;
• work to safeguard "gay" (i.e., pervert) rights;
• help save the whales;
• adopt several Ethiopian children;
• are a strict vegetarian and wear no leather;
• and do a thousand other things,
• ANYTHING besides opposing abortion!

Examples of the 'Seamless Garment' In Action.

Seamless Garment on the Offensive.

Inevitably, Neoliberal clergy wove a 'Seamless web' from the 'consistent ethic of life,' leading to numerous flagrant abuses. For example, Cardinal Bernardin himself attended several banquets to benefit Planned Parenthood contributors, and then criticized Cardinal John O'Connor's pro-life efforts as being "inconsistent."

These charges were naturally leveled while O'Connor was out of the country and was therefore unable to reply. Bernardin also fired a good priest from the Chicago Diocesan Pro-Life Office for offering Mass in reparation for the widespread use of artificial contraception by American 'Catholics,' saying that this Mass "... was too narrow and negatively focused."

Of course, Masses said for the intention of getting relief from the 'oppression' of the Contras, or for homosexuals, were perfectly acceptable.


Another outstanding example of how the Seamless Garment theory can be twisted to favor anti-life forces is a full-page advertisement that appeared in the November 3, 1988 edition of a left-wing 'Catholic' newspaper, The Progress.

The purpose of this ad was to drum up support for the second most anti-life Presidential candidate this country has ever seen: Michael Dukakis.

The headline, in one-inch high letters, shouted;


The ad proceeded to describe all of the perceived economic woes of the country, and placed all of them, along with the Iran-Contra affair, at Bush's feet. The complaints included the plight of farm families, bank failures, infant mortality, wealth concentration, the minimum wage, and all of the issues near and dear to a Neoliberal's cold heart.

Abortion was not mentioned until the concluding pitch, and only then in a condescending manner. Notice how the pro-aborts, once again, used the tools of confusion and deception as they tried to lay claim to the title "pro-life;"

George Bush wants you to believe he is pro-life.
He may be anti-abortion,

The Vatican Reply.

As usual, Pope John Paul II got to the heart of the matter when he said on February 12, 1986 that "An extreme sensitivity akin to a holy reaction is felt when attempts on life are made in the form of famine, war, and terrorism; yet, one cannot find this feeling of sensitivity when faced with abortion, which takes the lives of innumerable innocent beings."

Nuclear War.

The most popular connection made by Seamless Garment supporters is the abortion-nuclear war link. They allege that a person simply cannot be 'truly pro-life' if he or she in any way, shape, or form supports a strong national defense.

However, supporters of the Seamless Shroud deliberately obscure the central points of the comparison;

• Most importantly, the intentions behind abortion and national warfare are fundamentally different. Abortion is a pure act of aggression that seeks to kill innocent and helpless human beings, primarily for comfort and convenience. A just war seeks to destroy purely military targets and is carried out against well-armed troops that can defend themselves quite adequately.

• The intention of a reactive war is to defend one's country and way of life. The purpose of abortion is also to preserve one's lifestyle, but abortion is an offensive, not defensive act.

Unfortunately, all of this is irrelevant in the Seamless Garment debate, which is always carried out at the crudest and most appealing levels.

For more information on the "Just War" theory, see Chapter 121 of Volume III.

The Death Penalty.

Seamless Garment enthusiasts also state flatly that one cannot be truly pro-life if he is not both anti-abortion and anti-death penalty.

This is worse than a comparison of apples and oranges; it is literally a comparison of grapes and watermelons.

Once again, Seamless Shroud supporters ignore the central points of the comparison;

• The preborn baby has committed no harm against anyone, while those who receive the death penalty have been found guilty of the most heinous of crimes in most cases, many heinous crimes. Pr-aborts may argue that the preborn baby commits harm against the mother just by existing, but this heartless argument totally neglects the fact that intent is missing. Nobody who kills another person unintentionally will be sentenced to death the crime may instead be manslaughter.

• The criminal has been tried by a jury, in front of a judge, and both 'sides' have presented evidence. The preborn has no jury, no judge, not even a charge (other than existing), and he is simply sentenced to death. He does not have the slightest chance of defending himself.

• Execution of a killer is a matter of utmost seriousness. It is true that some innocent people may have been executed, but it is also true that the 'system' has expended great efforts in discerning his guilt. On the other hand, almost all abortions are committed for the most trivial of reasons, as described in Chapter 87, "Statistics on Abortion." If the same philosophy was applied towards crime, all of our jails would be empty, because the death penalty would be automatic for such petty crimes as larceny and DUI.

As evidence of this last point, every day in this country, more innocent unborn babies die than all the criminals executed in this country's history!

Abortion and the death penalty cannot logically be compared. Seamless Garment hacks are trying to sell us this absurd equation:


For more information on this curious inversion of values, see Chapter 92 of Volume III, "Capital Punishment."

Seamless Garment = Death for Pro-Life Activism!

If the pro-life movement is to survive, it must avoid the Seamless Garment concept like the plague that it is. It is absolutely essential to reject this philosophy (in its Neoliberal-transformed guise) totally. As Franky Shaeffer so rightly predicted, "If you put on the clothes of the Seamless Garment, the pro-life movement is finished!"[2]

There are several compelling reasons for this rejection.

To begin with, the pro-life movement is inevitably broad-spectrum in its membership. It includes liberals and conservatives, Catholics, Protestants, atheists and Jews, Independents, Democrats and Republicans.

The people in this movement agree on one thing: That human life must be protected from conception. If other admittedly important issues such as the nuclear threat, animal rights, and capital punishment become a part of the debate, it will be very hard to find any two people in the new, expanded "Seamless pro-life movement" who will agree on everything. Thus, the movement would inevitably fracture into a thousand factions and die.

Besides, what is wrong with being 'single-issue' in the first place? Martin Luther King was single-issue. Even Margaret Sanger was single-issue. Many revered movements have been entirely single-issue: Civil rights, abolitionists, and the unionizing movement are just three examples.

After the Supreme Court's July 1989 Webster decision, the National Organization for Women and other pro-abortion groups demanded that their members sign pledges that they would never vote for an "anti-choice" politician. This is yet another case of the pervasive Neoliberal double standard; pro-lifers must be multiple issue, but Neoliberals may be anything they like.

Finally, 'broadening our scope' will be the death knell of the pro-life movement, because so many committed activists will be spending so much time in soup kitchens and picketing nuclear weapons plants that they won't have any time, energy, or money left to stop abortion.

References: The Seamless Garment.

[1] Pro-abortion 'Catholic' priest Daniel McGuire. "The Catholic Legacy and Abortion: A Debate." Commonwealth, November 20, 1987, pages 657 to 665.

[2] Franky Shaeffer, quoted in Life & Family News, July 1984, page 5.

Further Reading: The Seamless Garment.

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Consistent Ethic of Life
Sheed & Ward, 115 East Armour Boulevard, Post Office Box 419492, Kansas City, Missouri 64141, telephone: 1-800-333-7373. 1988, 287 pages. This book consists of three parts: (1) The texts of 10 addresses by Cardinal Bernardin, the originator of the "seamless garment" theory. This series of addresses considers the topics of genetic engineering, abortion, modern welfare, the terminally ill, and capital punishment; (2) symposium papers by several authors on the "seamless garment," including renegade Jesuit Richard A. McCormick and Sidney Callahan; and (3) and the Cardinal's response to the symposium.

Steve F. Levicoff. Building Bridges: The Prolife Movement and the Peace Movement
Toviah Press, Eagleville, Pennsylvania 19408. 1982, 130 pages. This book examines what the author falsely believes to be inconsistencies in both the pro-life and "peace" movements, and describes how he thinks that both movements can come together to protect all life, born and unborn. Unfortunately, the author seems oblivious to the profound differences in philosophy between the movements, and he does not take into account the root causes of these differences. Although the melding of these two movements is impossible under current conditions, the author still gives us some interesting food for thought.

© American Life League BBS — 1-703-659-7111

This is a chapter of the Pro-Life Activist’s Encyclopedia published by American Life League.