Pro-Life: Expressing the Highest Ideals of the Left

 

Courtesy of Life Matters Journal. The first installment of this essay was first published, with illustrations, in Life Matters Journal Volume 5 Issue 8 — October 2017.

 

Thanks to Val for a lot of research, and for the good feedback on the writing.

1. What Happened to Liberals’ Hearts?

“How had I agreed to make this hideous act the centerpiece of my feminism?,” Frederica Mathewes-Green asked in 2016. Just a little later that year, pro-choice advocate Camille Paglia wrote, “Progressives need to do some soul-searching. . . . A liberal credo that is variously anti-war, anti-fur, vegan, and committed to environmental protection of endangered species . . . should not be so stridently withholding its imagination and compassion from the unborn.” Conservatives have sometimes derided the left as “bleeding-heart liberals,” but what happened to liberals’ hearts regarding the unborn?

Explaining the shifting positions of liberals on abortion seems to be a tale of oppression, altruism, and – in the case of many liberal leaders – opportunism.

The oppression I refer to is the horrific oppression of women for millennia, which naturally led to a backlash that was overdue and highly justifiable for the most part, but that in at least one important way—attitudes toward abortion—went out of control. Altruism, or compassion, is a character trait that is stronger in some people than in others; and even between people of equal compassion, some have more tendency than others to try to translate that compassion into governmental responsibility. That tendency leads people to gravitate toward liberal politics. Altruism can be directed both toward pregnant women and their unborn children, but liberals tend to direct it disproportionately toward pregnant women for reasons I will explain below. And opportunism? The opportunism of some pro-choice politicians and other leaders is related primarily to the out-of-control aspect of the backlash and secondarily to money.

Jon Haidt, who researches in moral psychology, likes to list six possible dichotomies that various thinkers have argued about in trying to ground a secular morality. He says that liberals try to ground right and wrong overwhelmingly on the foundation of care/harm, whereas conservatives appeal also to the foundation of liberty/oppression and four other foundations. Whether or not liberals are naturally endowed with any more compassion than conservatives, I think they are much more inclined to try to translate their compassion into governmental responsibility.

In the history of liberal politics, the forces of oppression, altruism, and opportunism played themselves out against the backdrop of what I see as the main psychological source of the divide between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. That sharp divide seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn. Are the unborn full-fledged members of our human family, or are they something much less significant? A greater liberal emphasis on caring for the underdog would seem clearly to lead to a pro-life position if liberals see the unborn as full-fledged members of our human family. If, however, they see them as something much less, then understandably their caring would focus instead on pregnant women, they would see no need to pay any regard to the unborn, and they would become pro-choice. I personally am strongly pro-life, but if I were to perceive the unborn as insignificant, I would find it abhorrent to try to restrict what a woman can do with her body.

“The sharp divide seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn” is my own conclusion based on countless discussions about abortion with a range of people. And following from that conclusion, I naturally think that in general, the two-thirds (or so) of rank-and-file Democrats who identify as pro-choice must think of the unborn as something fairly insignificant.

When I say that the sharp divide “seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn,” some may ask, what about bodily-rights arguments, which concede for the sake of argument that the unborn is indeed fully human, yet claim a right to kill it nonetheless? But I think that the understanding that the preborn is a full-fledged member of our human family is, in fact, virtually sufficient to entail a pro-life position. Viewing the ranks of pro-choice apologists, I get the impression almost always that those who concede for the sake of argument that the unborn is truly a human being, yet claim a right to kill, make that concession only for the sake of argument. Very few of them – perhaps only Camille Paglia, mentioned above, and Naomi Wolf – have made that concession in their hearts. I think that almost anyone who really sees the unborn as our little sisters and brothers, will quickly dig a little deeper and discover the weaknesses in bodily-rights arguments.

Charles Camosy, relying significantly on the writings of Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life of America, relates an historical account[1] that I would summarize as follows:

As of the 1968 general elections, neither major party could be called pro-life or pro-choice. Events at the 1968 Democratic Convention led to activist groups of different kinds, in the aftermath of that convention, gaining more control than they had had before over party policies; and pro-choice activists succeeded in initiating their party’s tilt toward the pro-choice position.

This created an irresistible opportunity for the Republican Party to appeal to pro-lifers (just as if the Republican Party had been the first to tilt either way, it would have created an irresistible opportunity for the Democratic Party to appeal to the voters opposite to the tilt). And things have continued to polarize ever since. For his 1972 re-election, Republican President Richard Nixon used pro-life sentiment to successfully begin attracting Catholics away from the Democratic Party.

“In 1976,” according to Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, “the pro-life movement was still overwhelmingly Catholic and mostly politically liberal . . . but by 1980, there was a new group of pro-life activists: evangelical Protestants [overwhelmingly Republican].” But as we will see, the biggest spike in liberal conversions from pro-life to pro-choice – which is our focus in pondering what happened to liberals’ hearts – seems already to have occurred in the 1968-1972 period.

Ideologically, the pro-choice movement might have found more affinity with the Republican Party than with the Democratic. A key factor, possibly the key factor, in the way things fell out seems to have been that the pro-choice activists, as activists with a new party policy to propose, simply found the Democratic power structure easier to break into. I won’t insist on this view, but it’s consistent with the contributions of Democrats to the pro-life movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which indicate that as of 1972 the Democratic Party had not long been pro-choice in ideological terms.

In fact the pro-life movement that opposed the late-1960s calls for abortion rights (calls that foreshadowed Roe v. Wade) was led importantly by stalwarts of the civil-rights movement and of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and by liberal politicians. Jesse Jackson was both a civil-rights leader and a politician, and was at first vehemently pro-life. The priests Daniel Berrigan and John Neuhaus were co-founders of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam; both were pro-life, and Neuhaus was the keynote speaker at the first pro-life rally to be held on the National Mall. Edward Kennedy wrote an open letter in 1971 opposing abortion on demand. Williams finds even more significant the fact that the pro-life movement used the same ideological framework and language of human rights as those earlier movements.

As Democratic Party policies shifted in favor of abortion rights, liberal politicians shifted with them. Nat Hentoff wrote of Jesse Jackson: “But as Jesse Jackson decided to run for president in 1984, his fiery pro-life rhetoric suddenly subsided.” Hentoff didn’t expressly accuse Jackson of hypocrisy, but he concluded his article as follows:

I then asked Jackson about another form of execution. I told him that in speeches I often quote what he wrote as a pro-lifer. He looked uncomfortable. I asked him if he still believed what he said then. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he said. He hasn’t yet.

The opinion of Nat Hentoff, alone, is not enough to convince me that any individual politician is a hypocrite. We can’t know, simply through the images we find in the media, what is in any one person’s heart. But I can see how politics would have a special appeal for those whose ambition overrides their integrity, so I feel sure that in the cases of many politicians, if not in Jackson’s case individually, the conversions to a pro-choice position of Democratic leaders must have been opportunistic. Outside of elected office, also, any movement that offers a chance to become a hero to a large, vocal group or to cash in financially is sure to attract some who have such banal motivations (this would not exclude the pro-life side). The appeal of pro-choice feminists as a huge and motivated voting bloc or audience would have been hard to resist.

While opportunism might explain the shifting positions of Democratic leaders, however, rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party would not have felt the same compulsions of allegiance that politicians did, and it seems that many of the rank and file also must have undergone a conversion to pro-choice. The Washington Post of Aug. 25, 1972, reported that when Gallup asked whether “the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician,” 59% of Democrats agreed (among Republicans agreement was at 68%), and that “support for legal abortion ha[d] increased sharply” since the previous survey five months earlier. The report did not explicitly say that Democratic (liberal) support had increased since the previous survey, and I could not find earlier surveys asking exactly the same question or giving a breakdown by party. A Gallup poll in November 1969, however, had found only 40 per cent of all Americans in favor of a law “which would permit a woman to go to a doctor and end a pregnancy at any time during the first three months.” Such a huge number of pro-choice converts must have included many who would call themselves liberal.

Let’s try to find the inner reasons why people might have been converting to pro-choice during the years 1968–1972. First, few people would have been converting due to bodily-autonomy arguments. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” was not published until 1971, and it takes time for academic thinking to trickle down and affect popular opinion. I believe that pro-choice arguments leading up to Roe v. Wade were largely arguments about women’s attaining career equality with men; about controlling population growth; about the fear that if a woman does not have access to a safe abortion she will seek out an unsafe one (the “back-alley abortion” argument); and, for seven Supreme Court justices, about a rarefied argument concerning privacy under the Constitution. Moreover, some people may have come to take the abortion-rights movement more seriously as women took over the leadership that had previously been held by men.

But few people would say that anyone should have the right to kill a full-fledged member of our human family for a job, or to control population, or so that killings of such persons can be carried out in safety, or to protect the privacy of the killer, or because of who recommends that right. Thus the above arguments would not fully explain how Mathewes-Green’s “hideous act” became a cornerstone of liberal politics. I wrote before, “if liberals . . . see [the unborn] as something much less [than full-fledged members of our human family], then understandably their caring would focus instead on pregnant women, they would see no need to pay any regard to the unborn, and they would become pro-choice.” For this reason, I think that many liberals around the 1968–1972 period must have actually found in themselves different intuitive perceptions of the unborn than they had held before.

Would that have been psychologically possible? Well, I get the impression that with people who have not thought much, in an individual capacity, about the nature of the unborn, their perceptions are extremely malleable. After all, except for a few surgeons, no one has ever seen an in utero fetus with their own eyes, and even if we saw an early fetus, that would not help us much to assess its moral value without some deep thinking. So if those who have not thought much about the topic are told repeatedly that the unborn has a soul, they will believe it has a soul. If told in secular terms that it is “a distinct, living and whole human being,” they will believe that. If told it is just tissue, they will believe that. I think that the last of those is what happened to liberals’ hearts – or perhaps not exactly to their hearts but to something in their minds closely related to their hearts.

The above arguments for abortion rights gave people incentives to find in themselves different perceptions of the unborn that led in the direction of dismissiveness. These arguments also gave incentives for the crystallization of a dismissive perception of the unborn where there had been no clear perception before. I think that psychologically such changes would in fact have been possible given two factors that were then present: first, the fact that many people were just beginning to think about the matter for the first time; and second, what seems to have been a concerted effort at dehumanization by pro-choice feminists. People’s still-formative perceptions were influenced in the direction of dismissing the unborn.

Pro-choice advocate Naomi Wolf has explained that “Many pro-choice advocates developed a language to assert that the foetus isn’t a person. . . . An account of a pre-Roe underground abortion service inadvertently sheds light on this: staffers referred to the foetus – well into the fourth month – as ‘material’ . . .”

That would be consistent with the picture that we get from Daniel Williams. Williams relates that in 1967 the National Organization for Women decided to demand women’s full control over their bodies, and that their adherents undertook to justify that control by claiming that the unborn were less than human. (I assume that they chose that course because they then had no other means of justification; Thomson-style arguments that claim to establish such a right to bodily control even if the unborn are fully human were not yet available to them.) Their adherents proceeded to develop what Wolf calls “a lexicon of dehumanization.”

I don’t think that a spike in conversions to pro-choice between 1969 and 1972 following upon an apparent intensification of the push for dehumanization in 1967 was just a coincidence.

In a 1980 article in The Progressive, “Abortion: The Left Has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life,” Mary Meehan wrote:

…it is out of character for the Left to neglect the weak and helpless.

The traditional mark of the Left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient… The basic instinct of the Left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves – and that instinct is absolutely sound.

As we saw earlier, liberals are, if not the voters who care most, then those who try hardest to translate their caring into governmental responsibility. So Meehan is of course right that liberals should be pro-life – if the unborn are perceived as full-fledged members of our human family. If they are perceived as something much less, the contention would not be true. But I have discussed elsewhere why I am confident that the former perception will prevail.

2. The Highest Ideals of the Left

I would call myself a member of the left, if we have to use such simple concepts. I volunteered with the Delta Ministry briefly in Mississippi in the summer of 1965. I was evicted by police from a university building in 1969 in an anti-Vietnam War protest led by Students for a Democratic Society. A few days later I marched to free Huey Newton, defense minister of the Black Panther Party (though I soon came to realize I had little knowledge of whether he was innocent of the charges). I support universal health care, as long as it is real health care and not abortion or other forms of killing. I think that eventually most industry should be owned by cooperatives or by governments.

To explain my view on abortion in relation to the ideals of the left, let me go back to that 1969 Vietnam protest, with the understanding that I don’t want to start an argument about that war. I have much humility about my understanding of history and geopolitics. I have great respect for American Vietnam veterans. All that matters here is what my perception of the war was at the time I protested it. What motivated me to join that action in 1969 and other anti-war events was a sense of outrage at what I perceived as a devastatingly violent onslaught being perpetrated by the strong against the weak, in another part of the world. Entirely innocent and entirely defenseless sisters and brothers of mine in Vietnam seemed to account for untold numbers of the slaughtered, while those who seemed to me the worst aggressors operated with complete impunity.

Abortion, if we don’t euphemize, is a devastatingly violent onslaught by the strong and relatively strong against the very weakest and most innocent of our sisters and brothers, all over the world. Legal abortion is not the moral equivalent of imperialistic aggression (if the Vietnam war really was imperialistic aggression, as I saw it then), but it is by definition slaughter of the innocent and defenseless with impunity, and the numbers of victims are on a scale that cannot be compared with the relatively modest numbers of victims in mere military wars. Abortion is one more human manifestation of might makes right, and it awakens in me much of the same sense of injustice and outrage as did Vietnam. Not only do present laws (which call for a unilateral decision) mandate might makes right, natural circumstances are also conducive to might makes right, because a woman and a doctor alone have the physical capacity to carry out the abortion. I think that if the balance of might were different and therefore state power were required to carry out the death sentence, the unborn would get a much more equitable hearing (a day in court), and therefore many outcomes would be different. The ease of abortion obviates the deeper and more soul-searching assessment of the justice of the situation that would occur if the intended target were someone who could resist. Thus those already born are flatly taking advantage of the helplessness of those not yet born.

I think that the impulse to defend the weak is one of the highest human impulses. Defense of the weak is normally undertaken without thought of personal gain and hence with minimal thought of self. It is altruistic. And as a species, we have gradually been learning that happiness for an individual involves identification with something greater than oneself. As the abstract of a 2008 psychology study said,

. . . we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

Atheism advocate and neuroscientist Sam Harris recommends and teaches meditation. Meditation is a technique other than altruistic conduct through which one can lose one’s sense of self. Harris says that through meditative exercises, “[Certain] people have lost their feeling of self, to a great degree, and with that loss [have] come incredibly positive experiences.” He suggests that there is “a connection between self-transcendence and living ethically,” because self-transcendent experiences can involve “forms of mental pleasure that are intrinsically ethical. . . a phrase like ‘boundless love” does not seem overblown.”[2] (See also “Sonder: The Key to Peace?” The word “sonder” has been coined for a state of mind out of which consistent affirmation of life in all one’s actions must inevitably flow.)

The loss of the sense of self, however it is achieved, will have some of the same effect for ethical living that Harris claims for meditation.

Harris and most other scientists are confident that such mental states must have an adequate neurological explanation and do not require the religious explanations formerly ascribed to them. Whatever explanation for them may eventually be found, I think of states of transcendence, self-sacrifice and universal love as the highest good that human beings can aspire to. And I think that whatever may be the failings of liberal politics, the liberal principle of defending the weak is the one principle, not only on the left, but anywhere on the political spectrum, that is most conducive to going beyond our normal pettiness and our ordinary boundaries.

Some voices will say that while the unborn are indeed weak and defenseless, they are not human beings, or not persons, and are not deserving of our compassion. But I think those voices have been sufficiently dealt with elsewhere. However great the tragedy of the abortion issue, it is a transformative opportunity for society.

We need to be clear: The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. (Jerome Lejeune, “the father of modern genetics”)

 

[1] Charles C. Camosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), hardcover, pp. 22-24.

[2] Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), p. 14.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Is It Possible To Be Pro-CHOICE and Feminist?

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article of mine under their paid blogging program.

 

Some further thoughts on the SPL blog post

From the post: In relation to issue 3 above, pro-lifers often point out that legal abortion is called “pro-choice,” and then proceed to object (as at 15:43 in the video) “It’s not pro-choice when we feel like we have no choice.” This quip does make a good point about social conditions, but it is framed as if it demolishes either the term “pro-choice” or the pro-choice policy; and does it really succeed in doing either? I think that all this argument really does is to play on two different meanings of the word “choice.” There is no real inconsistency here in pro-choicers’ position.

The fact that for many teenaged girls, especially, under present social conditions, it would be disastrous to have a baby (that is, having a baby is not a palatable “choice,” since it means financial ruin or rejection by one’s family or beatings from one’s boyfriend) hardly proves that allowing abortion (known as the “pro-choice” social policy) is a flawed position. If anything, the fact that for many girls there is no palatable alternative bolsters, in itself, the case for allowing abortion.

Then from the pro-choice side we regularly hear a guilt-by-association argument that could be called the “pro-birth argument.” The argument goes, in effect, “Because many who identify as pro-life on abortion hold obnoxious positions and harm women’s interests on other issues, the pro-life position on abortion must also be obnoxious and harmful to women’s interests.” On the panel, this was the argument on which Pamela Merritt mainly relied (though she did refer, more briefly, to some other arguments).

Merritt certainly argued convincingly and memorably that many pro-life politicians are destructive in many ways to the well-being of the female gender (and everyone else). But what does that really prove in terms of whether abortion is moral, whether abortion should be legal, or whether a feminist should be pro-choice or pro-life? As an argument against the pro-life positions even of the Missouri politicians she focused on, hers was an ad hominem, and against the pro-life positions of three of her fellow panelists, it was a strawman as well.

In order to defeat the pro-life position, one has to defeat the most ideal version of it. If pro-choicers were able to defeat the most ideal version – namely, the consistent pro-life position – they would certainly do so. If they try to defeat a tarnished version of the pro-life position, it is simply an admission that they are unable to defeat the ideal one. It should be possible to make pro-choicers see that and hence to abandon that argument.

And when she said that, things came to a head. Aimee Murphy suggested that the word “person” could be dispensed with, since “if we’re talking human rights” what we want to know is who is a human. “At the moment of fertilization you have two human gametes; they fuse; it’s a member of the same species.” Merritt tried to dismiss that with “We’ve got science on one side, we’ve got science on the other side,” but Murphy shot back, “Do you have an embryology textbook that can back that up?” Merritt replied, “For every textbook that you have, there has been a textbook produced on the other side.” The two were not in a situation where they could immediately produce their documentation, so that discussion ended there. But I think that anyone who does delve into the documentation will decide that Murphy won that debate.

Personally I think we could even avoid debates about present humanity by asking simply, “At what point in development will we, if we kill it, deprive an individual organism – whatever name we may give to that organism – of the conscious human life it would likely have had in the future?”

Under The highlights, for me, in the blog post, I provided a quote from Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. Another good one at 78:08: “In gaining our liberation, I believe we have taken that same oppression and passed it down to the unborn being. . . . We should be the ones speaking up and saying we will never view any member of the human family as property, especially the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”

Klein-Hattori and Merritt found their stereotypes of pro-lifers exploded. Merritt said at 90:20 “What you’re describing is not pro-life that I experience and that millions of people experience . . . [it] is really blowing my mind.” Klein-Hattori said at 67:40 “One of the things that has me most excited is to hear the way that the pro-life women up here are talking.”

She went on, “To say that we do need to remove all of these things, to dismantle and rebuild a world . . . that’s fantastic . . . whether abortion rights have to stay central, I believe that they do. . . . the way that people talk about abortion is socially constructed. . . . all of this is socially constructed.” But this would mean that her view that abortion should be normalized is also socially constructed; so how can we decide to normalize it? While I agree that we need to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy, how can she be sure that we do not need to dismantle Planned Parenthood supremacy? This must be a common type of question, so no doubt postmodernist philosophy has some answer.

 

A topic for another time is the stigmatization of abortion, criticized by Merritt at 72:42. If abortion is barbaric but most of the women involved are victims, is there a way to be honest about the barbarity without doing further damage to countless women?

 

If “the winning future for the pro-life movement is . . . young, feminist, and disproportionately people of color,” as Prof. Charles Camosy has written, that event may have had an importance that is hard to estimate.

The event merited at least a PhD thesis, but space did not allow.

Other articles on the event:

Both sides on abortion debate ponder if pro-lifers can also be feminists

How abortion divides the feminist movement

Feminists and pro-lifers can join forces – and why they should

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Next Steps for the Pro-Life Feminist Movement

Secular Pro-Life has published an article co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of SPL, and me.

 

Some further thoughts on the ideas of the article (these thoughts are mine and may or may not be thoughts of the co-author):

1.

We wrote: those who are not pregnant . . . will have to give up time, energy, and money to share the load of children . . .

What would be the economic mechanisms to ensure that sharing? The following is a comment I once posted under Sean Cahill’s “I am equal, not the same”:

 

Thanks, Sean Cahill, for providing a lot of clarity for me. I think some questions still remain, however:

“We are not liberated until both sexes are fully accepted as they are.”

As vehicles for the full acceptance of women as they are, in another guest post you listed the following things that Roe did NOT provide:

1. children born outside of marriage and their mothers are de-stigmatized

2. ensure women are able to earn a living wage

3. ensure proper maternity benefits

4. demand accommodations for parenting students and employees at colleges and workplaces

5. demand men act responsibly.

Can women as they are (i.e., without abortion) attain equality through these vehicles? The problem I see is this: Under capitalism as we know it, people win economic independence for themselves only when they get compensated for producing marketable goods or services. Child-carrying and child-rearing are not presently marketable goods or services, so if some of a woman’s time and energy goes into child-carrying and child-rearing, she will be hindered in winning economic independence unless child-carrying and child-rearing become marketable services. Handouts from those who ARE getting compensated for producing marketable goods or services do not have as much potential to add up to real money as do the direct compensations that go to the real (real in capitalistic terms) producers. And your points 2-4 above are, in a capitalistic framework, handouts.

So why not begin to treat child-carrying and child-rearing as marketable services? The answer revolves around demand. Under some neo-capitalistic system, they could indeed be marketable services, and under a socialistic system also, they could be services deserving of compensation. The level of the fee or the compensation would depend on the level of a given society’s demand for population, but in every society there is always a demand for at least some level of replacement of population. So your points 2-4 above would be upgraded from handouts to earned compensation.

Even if child-carrying and child-rearing were treated in this way, however, there would not be full equality of opportunity if these activities were to continue to be seen, as at present, as relatively menial occupations. The quip about “brood-mares of the state” would be quite appropriate. Considering the importance of upbringing in relation to whether a child grows up to be an asset to society or a liability, good child-rearing should rather be seen as a prized and highly-compensated set of skills (the most important skill being a hard one to learn — true motherly love).

But even with that “fix” in our framework, skilled mothers might not be as highly valued as top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. And still more importantly, pregnant women and mothers would not be equal in a society — either a capitalistic society or a socialistic society — where the demand for population was low.

All the above was probably clarified a long time ago by some feminist writer or other. Where I would differ from pro-choice feminists might be this: I don’t see any of these problems as quite adding up to justification for killing babies.

Both capitalism and socialism are materialistic. I think that pregnant women and mothers will win equality only when their contribution is recognized in a sense that is not materialistic, and when they are compensated, if not by economic independence and opportunity, then by some kind of clout in society that is as good or better. In order for this to happen, society has to recognize that the contribution made by pregnant women and mothers is at least as valuable as the contribution of top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. Pregnant women and mothers contribute even if their children are not needed by society in a utilitarian way. Yet their contribution will not always be recognized as long as the calculus is a materialistic one. Their contribution is to give life.

 

2.

We wrote:The full value of this uniquely female contribution cannot be understood as long as the calculus is a purely materialistic one. . . . Thus women’s true equality, including the equality of women with unplanned pregnancies, requires a deep sensitivity to the value of life and the damage done to us all when already-existing life is devalued . . .

Will this day ever come? Please see “What’s in It for the Born?”

 

3.

Here is a comment I recently posted under Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s “Can you imagine a world without abortion?”:

 

Recently someone said to me, in relation to pro-life feminist thinking, “Strange to see someone argue that giving people more sovereignty over their own bodies is [patriarchal].”

But “sovereignty” of course means a right to kill their offspring, and it turns out that when you give someone that right, whatever happens next is their own problem — they are on their own. If they decide against abortion and opt to carry the pregnancy to term, then to the father of the baby, and to society, it will seem that they brought the burdens of pregnancy on themselves. And if they decide to raise the child, then it is a much bigger problem yet that they “brought on themselves.” Whereas if they decide to abort, no one will suffer any negative physical or psychological consequences as much as they will (though they undeniable stand to gain something as well).

Can we at least agree on this — that, though it may be paradoxical, pregnant women who DON’T want to abort will be better off in a society where abortion is not a legal option — where they DON’T have legal “sovereignty over their own bodies” ?

So they will be better off, whereas women who do want to abort, assuming they win the small physical gamble they take when they get the legal abortion, would be better off in a society where abortion is legal — better off, that is, in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions.

Assuming that “better off in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions” is really better off, in net, for that group of women, then we see that a society where abortion is not a legal option will be better for one group of women and worse for another group of women, and whether it is better for women overall might just depend on how many there are in each group.

And IS “better off in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions” in fact better off for women who want to abort? A very deep question.

An academic paper, by a woman named Sidney Callahan, on what is lost by women where abortion is legal, is “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: A Case for Pro-Life Feminism”. It concludes:

“Another and different round of feminist consciousness raising is needed in which all of women’s potential is accorded respect. This time, instead of humbly buying entrée by conforming to male lifestyles, women will demand that society accommodate itself to them.

“New feminist efforts to rethink the meaning of sexuality, femininity, and reproduction are all the more vital as new techniques for artificial reproduction, surrogate motherhood, and the like present a whole new set of dilemmas. In the long run, the very long run, the abortion debate may be merely the opening round in a series of far-reaching struggles over the role of human sexuality and the ethics of reproduction. Significant changes in the culture, both positive and negative in outcome, may begin as local storms of controversy. We may be at one of those vaguely realized thresholds when we had best come to full attention. What kind of people are we going to be? Prolife feminists pursue a vision for their sisters, daughters, and grand-daughters. Will their great-grand-daughters be grateful?”

 

Further thoughts” may be continued later.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

A Stopgap Response to Robin Marty’s Coverage of the March for Life

I may expand on this later.

Robin Marty, a pro-choice activist, has covered the recent March for Life here.

The article surprised pro-lifers with its relative fairness. Though not neglecting to make a couple of criticisms of it, Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life wrote, “But on the whole it was a much fairer piece than we would have gotten from any other pro-choice writer.” I don’t doubt that this is true.

However, let’s look at an important theme of the article. At one point Marty quotes Jill Stanek as saying, “Well, of course we want to get into the mainstream,” and Stanek’s son-in-law Andy Moore as saying, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate.” But there’s something strange about this. For one thing, Marty doesn’t quote Moore as using the word “mainstream.” Is Marty sure that he was referring to the mainstream — and not meaning, for example, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate from pro-choicers”? There is a difference between a dislike of socializing with some people, and being out of the mainstream. Wouldn’t a reluctance to be in the mainstream mean that one does not even want one’s policy views to prevail?

And regarding what Stanek said, well, with most Americans favoring some abortion restrictions, aren’t pro-lifers in the mainstream, which would also place their leadership in the mainstream? I wonder if Stanek said “mainstream media” rather than “mainstream.”

Stanek has tweeted regarding this, “I don’t remember what I said or the exact context of the sentence that came b4.”

If I understand correctly, by “sentence that came b4″ Stanek is referring to Marty’s: “I had told [Stanek] that the part that stuck out to me most was this idea of an alternative culture that could stand as a complete counterpart to the world the rest of us interacted in, creating its own reality that anti-abortion and especially Christian conservative true believers could exist in, untouched.”

The main interpretive theme of the article, running alongside its fascinating factual coverage of the March, seems to be that pro-life activists are younger and more numerous and more well-intentioned, and even more joyous, than Marty expected, but that nevertheless they are out of touch with reality.

A willingness to take a fresh look is unusual in public discourse, and praiseworthy. But what about the concept that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream and that some of them don’t even want to be in it?

A serious minority party or movement is usually said to be “the opposition,” but not out of the mainstream. Activists for any cause are always in a minority, but if the cause itself is popular, do we say that the activists are out of the mainstream? Those who actually marched for civil rights in Washington in 1963 were in a small minority in the US, but were they in a “bubble”?

Marty tries to support her “bubble” idea by noting that “The ‘us versus the rest of the world’ theme was consistent through the panels I attended.” But surely that is a fairly common denominator of all struggles against oppression, and pro-lifers feel that their unborn sisters and brothers are oppressed.

So the best way to make sense of the idea that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream (and that some of them don’t even want to be in it) is to infer that to Marty, their being out of the mainstream does not reflect on their numbers or their seriousness about changing policy, but rather is synonymous with their “creating [their] own reality” where their ideas will not be threatened.

And what is the real reality that, to Marty, pro-life activists are out of touch with? It is that an unborn child is a “life,” whereas its mother is a “person”: I will never, ever believe that the rights of a life developing in the womb outweigh the rights of the person carrying it, or that she has an obligation once pregnant to provide society with a live, full-term infant regardless of her own emotional or medical needs. (Which also seems to echo the occasionally-heard conspiracy theory that pro-lifers are motivated by a desire to increase population.)

The “reality” that an unborn child is not a person is of course almost the main crux of the abortion issue and is normally admitted by both sides to be highly subjective. In another post, I looked at it this way:

In thinking of the unborn, some people tend to perceive a still picture, an organism frozen in time, while some tend to perceive a process. If you kill a small clump of cells lacking, perhaps, even a beating heart, is it correct to say that you are killing an organism whose life presently has little value, or to say that you are depriving it of the complete human life which has started as a process? In fact, both statements are correct. Obviously the perception of a process is a more complete perception. If one does perceive a process, then one will also intuit that the unborn is a full-fledged member of human society, and will call it a person. But there is no way to prove logically that the process model is more valid morally than the frozen-in-time model as a basis for deciding the fate of the organism. . . . I would call the “process” perception of the unborn holistic, and would call the frozen-in-time perception reductive or mechanistic; but scientifically, neither is incorrect . . .

For some comments by pro-lifers on Marty’s article, see Secular Pro-Life’s Facebook status of February 1 at 9:24pm.

By the way, here is the one photo that to me best captures the big array of feelings that drive the March for Life.

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has!” (Margaret Mead)

 

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World