How Can Vegetarians Not Be Pro-Life?

A while back, PETA continued their descent into self-parody by releasing a statement opposing Obama’s swatting of a fly. No, seriously. Ok, actually, the story’s a little more complex: PETA was asked by numerous reporters, and said some pretty mild stuff about Obama not being Buddha, but the media coverage would have you believe that an outraged PETA was typing furiously on official letterhead.

As a Catholic who is mostly vegetarian, this got me thinking. PETA is willing to tow the line, and say, more or less, that although insects have only the most primitive of central nervous systems, a lack of self-awareness of any kind, and nothing which could constitute “thoughts,” their lives are worth protecting (or at least not intentionally ending). That’s fine. Sort of silly to me: how can you possible cure diseases if you’re willing to protect literally anything living? Wouldn’t killing a virus be less awful than letting the disease wipe out humanity? I probably don’t want to know how PETA folks would answer this. (Personally, I avoid eating the higher life-forms: cows, fowl, pigs, etc., while being a bit more flexible on lower life-forms, like shrimp).

But if you’re going to hold a PETA-like position (or really, even a more moderate one), how could you possibly not be pro-life? There’s no question, scientifically, that biological life (that is, the life and growth of an organism with unique DNA) begins at conception. No question. If you think there is, find me someone credible who claims otherwise. The pro-choice side may say things like “life begins at birth,” but they don’t mean biological life: they mean something vague, like legally-protected life, or some amorphous concept of “personhood.” Those arguments may sound fine to regular pro-choicers with no sense of history (like the other Supreme Court decision which held some lifes weren’t legally protected, or other groups which have held some humans weren’t “persons” protected by law), but how can they be held by a vegetarian?

After all, whether an unborn child is a “person” or even a “human” shouldn’t matter to a vegetarian. The question for killing flies seems to be: is this a living thing? If yes, don’t kill it. It’s absolutist and uncompromising, but it’s at least an internally consistent ethos. How then, can unborn human beings (who are biologically alive by any definition) not pass this low hurdle? Has sin so warped our senses that we can no longer think logically? A fertilized bald eagle egg is worth protecting, while a fertilized human woman’s egg is not?

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