During the summer of 2005 I taught a religion and politics seminar at our regional camp for Jewish youth. In my class were nine teen-agers from across the South. On the blackboard behind me, I drew a straight line — marking an "x" as the beginning of life on the left of the line and an "x" marking the end of life on the right, and I labeled the entire line "Pro-Life." I then asked the teenagers, "What do you think it means to be 'pro-life'?" The answers I received were expected: on the left "x" went the phrases "beginning of life" and "abortion" and at the right "x" went the name of Terri Schiavo, whose controversial end-of-life saga had made its impact felt on these kids.
As we looked at that line, with nothing written between the two "x's," I asked them, "Is there nothing more in this 'Pro-Life' existence of ours that should go on this line?" Try as they might, they could not think of anything else, until I said, "Hello! We're talking about being pro-LIFE, in favor of life! What about our actual lives?"
One of the kids then popped up and said, "You mean like camp?" YES! And school, and family, and the environment ... and all of a sudden they caught on and added such elements as clean water, health benefits, jobs, sports ... YES, YES!!
Being pro-life is about being for improving the time we are living — from birth to death. In Judaism we call this "Tikun Olam," repairing the world.
During the past few months, Arkansas has seen proposals coming out of our legislature that define life at 20 weeks and also with a fetal heartbeat at 12 weeks. And with the passage of these two bills, we have heard the statement, often clothed in Biblical and religious terms: "Now Arkansas is number 1 in Life." Well, the last time I checked both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the former had about 258 references to "life" and the latter around 162. In at least 99 percent of the cases, "life" in Scriptures refers to human beings, people who are living, breathing, trying to understand G-d, and trying to do the right and moral thing; yes, even looking for "eternal life" during their lives on earth.
So let's analyze for a moment what we are saying when we say, "Now Arkansas is number 1 in life." What we are really saying is that we are number one in conferring status upon fetuses, zygotes, embryos and heartbeats. When it comes to issues where the real life of our state and citizens are concerned, that is another matter indeed — these being issues that these same proud legislators have carefully avoided.
In areas where the real quality of life is measured: teen pregnancy, minimum wage, obesity, smoking mortality, per-capita income, prescription drug abuse and poverty (to name just a few), issues I would call pro-real-life issues, we rank at or near the bottom. If members of our General Assembly were honest, they would either call themselves "pro-fetus," or they would harness their "life" concerns to issues that really matter in and to the life of our state and our citizens.
These elected officials are telling us that "Life begins at conception, and ends at birth." I would hope that after the two abortion bills are declared unconstitutional, they can get back to the real business of life.
Rabbi Eugene Levy retired in 2011 after serving Congregation B'nai Israel in Little Rock for 24 years. He's a co-founder of the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance. Max Brantley is on vacation.