Chris Smith
Chris Smith

Following the March for Life Jan. 19, The Monitor spoke with Congressman Chris Smith, the long-time representative from New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District and member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square.

The Monitor: There were hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall, including many from the Diocese of Trenton. What were your impressions of being at the march and seeing that many people supporting life?

Rep. Chris Smith: I’ve been going since 1974. … We had the speaker [of the House] there, the president and vice president spoke … there’s a renewed determination in the pro-life movement.

The Monitor: Because of the new administration?

Smith: That and I think people realize the exponential threat to the unborn every year, this massive loss of children’s lives. We’re at 60 million dead babies [since the 1973 “Roe” decision] – as I said at the march, that’s the same as every man, woman and child living in England. That’s a lot of lost life, and the impact on woman is predictable – not every woman of course, but so many.

I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement for 46 years. Got involved the year before “Roe v. Wade” and at the first march, the year after [that], and I see an optimism and determination right down to just about every marcher. The biggest takeaway, from my point of view, is how many young people there are. We’ve seen that trend in the different marches; I see it in the district, when I go to schools.

The Monitor: Looking ahead, the national legality of abortion won’t change until the makeup of the Supreme Court changes, but we’ve seen some states and localities taking action to restrict abortion. What would you recommend to pro-lifers in New Jersey who want to build a culture of life?

Smith: The importance of education becomes even higher when it appears that there’s about to be resumed funding [to Planned Parenthood] from the state, which [former Gov.] Chris Christie did stop, and I don’t know what else the incoming [governor] has in store. But when it comes defending human life, it won’t be good, and that’s sad and tragic.

I do think the emphasis on pregnancy care centers, Project Rachel, undertaken by the Diocese – they all become all the more important when there’s a more hostile wave coming our way. But not to despair in any way, shape or form. We can bounce back in New Jersey, too.

The Monitor: There’s been ongoing discussion about whether the pro-life movement should focus solely on opposition to abortion or include a focus on the other threats to human life and dignity the Church speaks on, like the death penalty, even things like health care or immigration. Where do you see is the best place to put energy? Is it just in restricting abortion or in building a broader pro-life movement?

Smith: What motivates me is my faith – Our Lord’s admonition in Matthew 25, “whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do likewise to me.” And it’s all situational – granted, we’re all in the sight of the Lord, but when it comes to a situation, we’re not. And an unborn child is profoundly unequal and disadvantaged, as is an at-risk pregnant woman who could be subjected to a whole lot of pressure to abort her unborn baby. And so that needs to be the paramount issue – again, looking at this loss of life, 60 million, it’s promoted aggressively by groups like Planned Parenthood; they market this ware to young people who are at risk and vulnerable.

And so while I’m all for housing, I was the prime author in the House of the global food security act, I wrote four laws on human trafficking, including the Human Trafficking Victim Protection Act, wrote the Homeless Veterans Assistance Act, our landmark law on homeless veterans programs [which] significantly reduced the number of homeless vets out on the street on any given night and has worked, I’ve written all these laws.

But if you can’t live, if you are killed by dismemberment or chemical poisoning, and it’s celebrated by some on the other side as if it is a manifestation of empowerment, we’ve lost our way. And so I think the Church, all of us, [must] say “who’s most at risk?” If we were killing 5-year-olds or 3-year-olds, we would put a great deal of emphasis on defending them. So if the unborn are being killed…that’s who we need to prioritize. We need to have a consistent ethic of life, no doubt about it.

The Monitor: If you could see something change or be brought back into our political discourse and system to alleviate some of the brokenness and polarization, what would it be?

Smith: There’s no civility. … Disagree on the issues, fight it out, try to persuade, and that’s where civility comes in. That’s how I’ve carried myself – I defy anyone to find where I’ve ever done otherwise, even as a candidate. Because I think as a believer, as a Catholic, if you’re going to serve honorably, you’ve got to run honorably, and “thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” applies equally to every politician as it does to everybody else. So-called “opposition research” that distorts and lies about somebody’s position breaks one of the commandments, in my opinion. That stuff means a lot to me, and I’ve seen it go way off course in the past year, and I don’t think it’s helpful. I think people lose interest – a lot of good people who might have run for office decide they won’t, and that’s not good, on both sides of the aisle. You want people who have a heart for doing what’s right, as God gives the grace to see what’s right.

The Monitor: So are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our politics?

Smith: I am optimistic, and I am more determined than ever. There’s no way I want to see the baton passed to people who are crude or worse, and that makes me want to do this job and keep fighting. My two favorite words: never quit.

Interview conducted by freelance reporter Patrick Brown.