The “Pro-Life” Movement’s Hidden Subtext

The most vociferous and sometimes violent opponents of women’s right to choose claim they act in the name of Christianity and of life.  The truth seems to me to be very different.

Interpreting scripture

I expected anti-choice zealots would be able to easily quote biblical passages clearly condemning abortion. I was surprised that instead, the citations they offered were always open to multiple interpretations, and even more surprised that their anti-choice interpretations historically had been in the minority. I will examine one of the most important of these passages and then explore what I believe to be the deeper reasons behind zealous attacks in the name of Christianity on women’s control over their own lives.

Consider the following passage from Exodus 21:22-25:

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.  But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

This passage, the longest, most detailed Biblical discussion of an issue relating to abortion, does not support the views of conservative Christianity that a fetus, let alone a zygote, is a human being.  Aggressively and violently inducing a miscarriage is punished by a fine, and an uncertain one at that.  Every other injury is compensated by the principle “an eye for an eye.”  If the mother is accidentally killed, the responsible party is still executed.  But if she miscarries, even if she was deliberately pushed, only a fine is levied.

Some anti-choice advocates claim that this passage refers to premature births where the expelled fetus lives. No eye for an eye was necessary. Given the times, it was hard enough to keep many normally birthed babies alive, so this claim seems bizarre.  In such a hypothetical situation, if the premature baby died soon after—as was often the case—could its death be attributed to the violence against the woman, or would it be considered just one more of many all too frequent infant deaths?

Those making this bizarre claim assert they know ancient Hebrew better than those making a more straightforward interpretation. They claim the term translated as “miscarriage” meant a live birth.

How is a reasonable person who is not a Hebraic scholar to decide? Fortunately we are not at the mercy of rival modern scholars debating what words meant more than 2000 years ago.  A community exists with an unbroken record of studying these texts since they were written. Many are quite conversant with ancient Hebrew. Of course I am talking about the Jews.

While Jewish law explicitly recognizes a fetus’ potential for becoming human, it is not considered a complete human being.  Rabbis Raymon Zwerin and Richard Shapiro write, “Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus ’av nefesh hu – it is not a person.’ The Talmud contains the expression ‘ubar yerech imo – the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,’ i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman’s body.” Rashi (1040-1105) used the passage above to justify his interpretation of the scriptures. Maimonides (1135-1204) took a different view. When considering a threat to the mother’s life, he compared the fetus to a rodef, or pursuer, for whom one was not to have pity. Abortion was justified because the fetus actively endangered the mother. Wikipedia also gives a good overview of the fact that Jews, who have studied their scripture since long before there were Christians, have not considered the fetus human in the moral sense.

Two of Judaism’s most respected authorities agree the woman’s life always comes before that of a fetus, with one clearly arguing the fetus is not human, only potentially so. The strongest contemporary Jewish argument I found that is critical of abortion nevertheless emphasizes that the issue is complex and simple answers are impossible: decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Jews are famous for their skills in debate, and religious Jews have mastered the art of textual dispute and interpretation as have few other communities.  Today an enormous variety of Jewish positions exists on virtually every question important to their religion and to their community as a whole. We would expect the same pattern to exist regarding abortion. Certainly if the bulk of textual evidence suggested abortion was murder, a large majority of religious Jews would be against abortion. But this is not the case.

In 2012 the Public Religion Research Institute published a survey of Jewish values. As one might expect, Jews varied widely in their political, economic, and religious opinions, with one exception. Fully 93% of all American Jews support making abortion legal in at least some cases, and 49% argued it should be legal in all cases.  77% of Jewish Republicans supported making abortion legal for at least some cases. Jews are the only religious group surveyed where a plurality supported abortion in all cases. Only 1% of American Jews supported completely outlawing abortion.

And my point is?

My point here is not to settle a dispute over another religion’s texts.  Christians have been arguing with and killing one another for over a thousand years and are no closer to agreement today than they were then.  How can a non-Christian expect to settle the matter?

From my perspective (which is open to either biblical interpretation, because the Bible’s position is irrelevant to my own), there is no absolutely certain interpretation of these passages. However, the historical record favors pro-choice interpretations of Exodus and other shorter texts that argue the fetus does not have the moral standing of a human being.

Given the texts’ ambiguity, and that the anti-choice position has been a minority position for most of this time among the Jewish community, why the vehemence, arrogance, and even violence of those most deeply involved with the anti-choice position?

Pro-life or pro-something else?

As I was writing this column, I came across a report that anti-choice ‘pregnancy centers’ in Virginia and Ohio routinely lie to the women visiting them, even over issues unconnected to abortion, such as birth control.  If they truly care about ending abortion, this record of lies is strange. Contraception dramatically reduces abortion rates.

But such anti-choice ‘pregnancy centers’ do not care primarily about abortion, nor are they particularly ‘pro-life.’  Their behavior fits a different pattern.  To understand this pattern, we need to see the anti-choice movement in its larger context.

Every study of which I am aware indicates states whose citizens most accept the anti-choice argument (and so would presumably be concerned about the health of defenseless ‘human beings’ within a woman) spend far less money on providing prenatal care for mothers than do other states. This lack of concern with fetal well-being is accompanied by their lack of concern for children’s health and nutrition, a similar lack of concern for women’s health in general, and support for torture even though it is against Jesus’s explicit teachings (as well as US and international law). A great many anti-choice zealots also oppose giving girls the HPV vaccine despite the fact it could provide life-saving protection from cervical cancers acquired through intercourse.

How can we make sense of this behavior?  Southern Democrat-turned-Republican Zell Miller, who spoke at a Republican presidential convention, gave us more than a hint. In 2007, Miller charged that abortion has contributed to our military’s manpower shortage. More babies are needed to grow up and become soldiers.  In addition, a lower rate of abortion would produce more Americans to do the minimally paid jobs Mexican laborers now seek, thus “solving” the immigration problem. The key clue is Miller’s reference to the importance of stoop agricultural labor.

The monster under the surface

On PaganSquare, I argued the vehemence of the struggle over abortion is rooted in a deeper transformation of a world where the institutions, attitudes, and mores of agricultural societies no longer fit the needs of a modern civilization. But many people remain wedded to those old agricultural civilization-rooted values, and conflict arises.

Two of those values are veneration of hierarchy and the subordination of women. They are linked. Over time, agricultural societies generate steep hierarchies based on unequal land ownership. Extreme hierarchy comes to appear natural, along with the belief that most people should be subordinate to a very small elite.

Early America’s situation was uniquely different. Particularly in the north, the circumstances of its European settlement created a society of many independent small farmers rather than a mass of poverty-stricken peasants. Early Americans were accustomed to considerable self-governance, a reality the American Revolution strengthened. The world’s first liberal democracy arose, and with it a challenge to an old set of dominant values thousands of years old. As Thomas Jefferson observed, “The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

Despite Jefferson’s optimistic words, had the previously normal course of events unfolded, increasing population would have gradually decreased the size and viability of farms, and farmers’ debts would have led to the consolidation of land holdings.  In time, these small independent farmers would have become a large peasant class ruled by an oligarchy or aristocracy of landowners. It had happened before.

But this time it did not happen.

Our democratic republic arose just as industrial growth began transforming the world. Starting first in England (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations first appeared in 1776!), it soon spread to the US and elsewhere. The fatal dynamic of prosperity leading to peonage was broken. Jefferson’s hopes were fulfilled here at home and, increasingly, abroad. Modern societies and their ideals of equality transformed the human world as deeply as had the earlier transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. But the new order inherited ways of thought and customs rooted in the old.

Agricultural societies also dominated women, partly to ensure land and the power it facilitated was kept in the family, and partly because these societies were war-like either by choice or necessity: physical strength plus wealth usually determined who won. In such societies, organized religion ended up supporting extreme hierarchies and claimed the subordination of women was divinely ordained. In a world where extreme hierarchy seemed natural, the subordination of women appeared only reasonable, even to women. This attitude also initially carried over into the new society being birthed.

Much of modern history can be understood as the gradual transformation of agriculturally-based customs and ethics into outlooks more in keeping with the requirements of an industrial market order.

Degenerating into nihilism

Today, the agricultural, hierarchical way of life is no longer a force for anything positive. I believe this explains why the efforts of the most extreme advocates for subordinating women and honoring hierarchy are so lacking in intellectual honesty, moral decency, or concern for rational argument. Their tradition has run dry intellectually, morally, and spiritually. Its advocates are characterized instead by anger, self-righteousness, and disrespect for those who see the world differently.

In seeking to preserve domination by a few over most, and by men over women, supporters of this older paradigm are abandoning everything of value that agricultural societies contributed to humankind.  Their own program being ultimately sterile, defined by opposing whatever the new society favors, they themselves have no future, instead serving the interests of those who would re-establish hierarchy and domination on an industrial and financial basis. But that important issue is for another column.

I do not mean to denounce all hierarchies, not at all. But hierarchies need to be able to justify themselves in terms benefiting those below.  The old hierarchies of agricultural orders no longer perform positive functions and have no rational arguments on their behalf, and so their modern advocates simply attack newer cultural and religious values in better harmony with the needs of this new society.

This is why they reject science, as in their espousal of creationism and denial of ecological and climate science. (Small wonder that a 2009 Pew Research Center report found only 6% of scientists identified as Republicans and 9% called themselves ‘conservatives.’) This is why they seek the continued militarization of the police despite their contradictory claim that government cannot be trusted: a brutal police force encourages people to see themselves as subjects rather than as citizens.  This is why they support making higher education out of reach for most young Americans, reversing the trends of the last decades of the twentieth century: education flattens hierarchy.

This is also why they attack every late twentieth-century development that empowered women. Subordinating women to their biology provides firm support for a society of hierarchy and domination: those beneath the elite (but not at the very bottom) will always have someone they can dominate.  This strategy worked with poor white men in Dixie who, no matter how exploited they felt, could still in turn dominate Blacks and women. Dominant Southern religion helped everyone accept being kept ‘in their place.’

Am I too harsh?  If the anti-choice people—the most powerful of them anyway—were truly pro-life, they would support providing prenatal care. They would support women and children’s health. They do not because their real priorities have little to do with life.

A spiritual dimension

A secular analysis like this can take us pretty far. But I think there is another, deeper level to probe. What we are witnessing here is the influence of a Power grown strong through centuries of domination, a Power that is now fighting against its greatest earthly challenge.  It seems as if the energies that fed sumptuously off the old totalitarian states of the twentieth century had to find new human hosts once those states collapsed, or fade. Consequently, they were attracted to those who already see the world in terms of domination and subordination, and who worship a deity because it is “all-powerful,” not because it is good. When Power is the defining divine quality, Power is what that religion truly worships.

But it is not fulfilling to be at the bottom of a divine hierarchy. Others need to be below the worshippers as they are below their God—that allows them to exercise the domination they worship at the wholesale on the retail level. Women, Blacks, Hispanics, gays: all these and more will do as the bottom. The list is long. Claiming to be pro-life, the anti-choice people are really pro-domination.  Their image of a good world is of a divine baboon troop, not of a free society.

We can summarize it in George Orwell’s words: “Imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” This is the spiritual energy behind the so-called ‘pro-life’ movement.

A Personal Note on Abortion
Why monotheisms are so violent. And why the best monotheists are not.
Environmentalism and Pagan religion
A response to Niki Whiting’s review of my book, Faultlines
About Gus diZerega
  • Bianca Bradley

    I would have left this at the Jewish stuff. The rest of your article is nothing more then political pandering and growling that Conservatives are bad bad bad people. This fits in more with the highly biased stuff at the Democratic Underground. I would have hoped we could have left this stuff out at Patheos.

    • Gus diZerega

      I think you read very superficially. Perhaps you will take the time sometime to address the specific points I made after the purely Biblical discussion. Either you insult conservatives by arguing, AS I DO NOT, that they share all those negative traits and actions, or you regard those traits and actions as good, in which case they are calling out for you to defend them.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Oh I didn’t read superficially. You make it pretty blatant here:

        Every study of which I am aware indicates states whose citizens most accept the anti-choice argument (and so would presumably be concerned about the health of defenseless ‘human beings’ within a woman) spend far less money on providing prenatal care for mothers than do other states. This lack of concern with fetal well-being is accompanied by their lack of concern for children’s health and nutrition, a similar lack of concern for women’s health in general, and support for torture even though it is against Jesus’s explicit teachings (as well as US and international law). A great many anti-choice zealots also oppose giving girls the HPV vaccine despite the fact it could provide life-saving protection from cervical cancers acquired through intercourse
        Zealots hmmm. I guess you missed the place where others, even in your political demographic oppose giving girls this vaccine. Especially as it hasn’t been out long enough to see it’s side effects. Sorry but my daughter will get pap smears not the HPV vaccine.

        This is a political rant, not a theological one. Not to mention that those Conservative states, have many factors not just Christian Conservatives that drive them to those legislation’s. You might want to take some time and take a look at the Conservative Libertarians as well

        And while I’m at it, Parental fricken rights. The last place that required the HPV vaccine was Texas and many people(not just Conservative political specturms) yelled and Perry redecided his policy. You might want to see West Virginia and Mississippi takes on vaccinations and how Parental rights don’t figure and why that has led to home schooling more. OH and take a look at the political spectrum in the autism community and those who follow Doctor Ten Penny

        • Gus diZerega

          I listed a pattern- no single issue is enough to make the broad statement I made. That is WHY i gave a lot of examples. People will sincerely disagree on almost any issue, but when a pattern emerges as to where they disagree, then we have something that goes beyond personal differences of opinion in weighing evidence.

          For example, many Catholics are against abortion but they also support the humane policies that the religious right opposes. I disagree with them obviously, but do not include them in the charge I make in this article.

          If you do not want a vaccination due to health concerns, that is evaluating the evidence of a single issue. You can be humane and coherently make such a choice. But if you also oppose prenatal care, are not interested in health care for poor kids, and support the death penalty even when there is no longer any doubt innocent people have been executed, etc., then if the shoe fits wear it. If you identify with the pattern and take exception to my interpretation, that is your problem, not mine until you can give me evidence I am wrong.

          Notice how it is you who are switching the conversation from the anti-choice movement to ‘conservatism.’ And then to “Conservative Libertarians.” I have written plenty on both, and not always what you probably imagine. But this piece is on the anti-choice crowd and what motivates them at the bottom.

          One more thing- you quoted my use of the word “zealots” and then by implication accuse me of calling anyone who opposed the vaccine a zealot. Go back and read- I said “anti-choice zealots.” If you identify with them that is your problem.

          • Bianca Bradley

            That you didn’t bother to take any context or bother to research further why, you just based it off of religion and not culture or anything.

            And again, you are doing it again. They aren’t opposed to health care for poor kids, they are opposed to what they view as the welfare mentality. It is a bigger complex issue then what you are portraying and you are highly biased by your politics. Heck Atheist Conservatives view the same thing in regards to welfare and medicaid that the Conservative Christians do.

            I do take exception to your inaccurate portrayal of friends. I take exception that you are posting it on Patheos, who publishes Theological discussions. I take exception that your “article” which is not that well researched will be among other articles on theology and that those who look to Paganism think that many Pagans believe this.

            and by the by, Vaccination exceptions aren’t only for health concerns, they are also if you take an exception to them. You have religious and health reasons to not have vaccines. I know, because many in the autism community even if they are atheist use the religious exception.

          • Gus diZerega

            I know conservative arguments against ‘welfare’ for children quite well thank you. At one time I made them myself in a libertarian context before I decided that that position was mistaken.

            Again, you are ignoring what I wrote about patterns. You appear uninterested in comprehending the post, preferring self-righteous rants.

            Notice you never mention the “theological” ending but accuse me of only writing politics. Just like your distortion of my use of the term “zealots,” you create a misleading caricature and then attack it I am not wasting more time with you till you actually address arguments without distorting them.

          • Bianca Bradley

            I am not ignoring what you wrote about patterns. Your patterns are biased and not objective. They lack research and are therefore irrelevant.

            You know one argument about Conservative arguments on welfare. As for saying I distorted what you wrote try again.

  • Bill

    The world’s first liberal democracy? San Marino, the Dutch republic, Switzerland don’t count?
    Good article apart from that.

    • Gus diZerega

      Hi Bill-
      Thank you for your praise, and as to your criticisms, while in some ways you have a point, in other ways I think I am justified in what I wrote. And I think the issue is very interesting. You are right regarding terms like ‘republic’ (till Madison redefined it) and ‘constitution’, but I used the term “liberal democracy” because it is a good deal more specific.

      First, so far as I know the US constitution was the first to make universal adult suffrage a legitimate means for electing national leaders. This notion of universal equality is a liberal ideal and decisively changes it from older conceptions of status societies. (That is connected to my argument about different cultures in the blog.)

      Voting details were left up to the states, but Rhode Island had universal male voting without property qualifications, and that principle spread throughout the north pretty rapidly. An even stronger form of genuine democracy soon existed in some northern states. New Jersey allowed universal suffrage by women and free blacks. Other northern states allowed unmarried women- maids or widows – to vote (the argument was that married women would obey their husbands, giving them two votes). Many northern states allowed free Blacks to vote.

      As is so often the case a conservative backlash took the vote away from women and often free Blacks. The South never allowed women to vote and I do not believe it allowed free Blacks to either. But the constitution
      allowed for both and some states took advantage of it. It was the dreadful Dred Scott decision, by judicial servants of the slavocracy in the South, that attempted to demolish the country’s status as a liberal democracy in theory and to a significant degree in practice.

      The Dutch republic was in many ways a success and inspired John Locke on religious toleration who inspired the Americans and our Declaration of Independence. And Madison explicitly mentioned Dutch religious toleration as leading to the logic of his argument in Federalist 10. But so far as I know the Netherlands were never democratic in the sense of universal suffrage by adult citizens and citizens being anyone born in the place. I believe their thinking was rooted the older principle that voters needed to have an economic stake in the country and that a minimum amount of property was necessary for them to be truly independent and not able to be bought off by local notables (voting was not secret back then). So the vote was not universal, even for free men.

      In my view Switzerland was and continues to be in many respects ahead of the US, but its democratic rights, to the best of my knowledge, were also rooted in having sufficient status in agricultural society and not in being born in Switzerland or a canton. I do not want to make light of the Swiss case, but for institutionalizing the ethic of universal suffrage, I think the US that got there first in theory and in the north, in practice. Ironically the Swiss were the last Western European country to give women the vote. Gofigure!

      I know nothing of San Marino, but I would be very surprised if San Marino ever had universal male suffrage before 1789, but would love to learn if it did.

  • Barfly_Kokhba

    “Pagan Supports Child Sacrifice, Details at Eleven”

    The best argument against abortion needs no Biblical citation. An unborn baby is a human life, and it therefore has intrinsic value. You don’t even need to believe in God to understand that.

    I would think that secular humanists, of all people, would be the first to say that all human life has intrinsic value.

    • Gus diZerega

      Bartly- This is the third column in a series. The first covered your objection. I suggest you take the time to read it and save us the self-righteousness until you have dealt with the arguments. You can find it at

    • Karin Karejanrakoi

      Something that is growing in my body is not a ‘baby’ unless I choose to regard it as such.

      If I do not want it there, it has no more ‘value’ than a tumour.

      • Barfly_Kokhba

        I’m sure every psychopathic murderer feels exactly the same as you do. Congratulations.

        • Gus diZerega

          Notice, like so many of your views, you never engage in debate over the issues, as I invited you to, you simply fling verbal poo at anyone who disagrees with you. I imagine you even prance and preen as some kind of ‘christian’ while doing so.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            What is there to “debate” with someone who compares a human baby to a cancerous tumor? I would no more pretend to debate with such a pathologically misanthropic opinion than I would debate with someone who claimed the earth is flat. It’s a ludicrous statement that deserves no serious response.

            You have a rich imagination.

          • Gus diZerega

            Fella- You have been very free in making charges and very much absent in trying to make an intelligent argument. I invited you to do so above and like a typical bullying coward, you didn’t, but continued attacking others. You called her the equivalent of a psychopathic murderer and never answered the arguments here that a fetus or zygote is not a baby.

            If I were a moderator you would now be absent on this list as demonstrating no ability to add anything of value to the discussion. Alas, we have to put up with you, but until you demonstrates some self control and integrity we do not have to be nice to you.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            You don’t seem to understand the concept that some arguments are simply not worthy of serious debate. Sadly, yours is a common mentality in highly indolent societies such as America has devolved into.

            The abortion issue is considered controversial to many people. It is not controversial to me in the slightest; not even a tiny little bit. A human being is a human being. There is no meaningful moral or ethical difference between a four-week old unborn baby inside of his or her mother’s womb, and a six-month old post-natal infant in a crib. I’ve already heard many “pro-choice” arguments claiming otherwise.

            I wouldn’t engage in a serious debate with someone who walked up to me and said “The earth isn’t round until I choose to regard it as such. Until then it has no more value than a tumor.”

            I wouldn’t engage in a serious debate with someone who walked up to me and said “Black people are not human until I choose to regard them as such. Until then they have no more value than a tumor.”

            Anyone who made the latter statement would rightly be considered a mentally defective and possibly dangerous individual in our current society. But because we live in an extremely materialistic and self-centered culture, many of us have chosen to exclude the weakest and most defenseless human beings among us from the basic human rights which we afford to every other human individual and every other group of humans in the world.

            There is nothing unusual about that. Many Europeans used to consider Africans to be less than human, and as having no more value than tumors. Many Germans used to consider Jewish people less than human, and as having no more value than tumors .

            Human beings are animals, and we use our intellects to justify many acts of vicious, disgusting violence every single day.

            But as far as I’m concerned there is nothing to debate when it comes to killing babies. It is an act of murderous violence, and that’s all there is to it.

          • Gus diZerega

            For you, apparently your will to assert something is true is sufficient. Reasons are a waste of time. Rebutting alternative points of view is a waste of time. Your Will to Believe is equivalent to the wisdom of God. Along with the indescribable pride and arrogance of your position comes its spiritual affinity with fascism- that will triumphs over mere talking.

            The view the earth is round did not arise from will, it arose from people giving reasons and rebutting the reasons others gave that it is not. At one time there were arguments by Christians that Black people were not fully human. New generations abandoned these views not through will but by encountering persuasive reasons.

            What is now obvious to you about the earth and Black people is obvious because others took the time to use methods you despise to show they were true. You use truths reason discovered to argue you are now exempt from giving reasons for views that a great many thoughtful people disagree with you on. In a sense you parasitize the achievements of reason in order to deny your responsibilities as a member of a free society to use reasons to persuade others on matters of public importance.

            Attitudes like yours are ultimately incompatible with free societies where good people disagree with one another. And when two people with your attitudes disagree there is nothing else to do but war with one another because reason and talk are wastes of time. If you are religious, it is the religion of violence and domination.

  • Dan Arnold

    Gus, just a quick grammatical point on the Hebrew in the Exodus 21 reference. While English is ambiguous whether it is the woman who is injured or the child, the Hebrew, since it is a gendered language, is not. The conjugation of the “to be” verb (יִהְיֶ֖ה) here is masculine making the point that the injury is to her (male) child (יְלָדֶ֔יהָ), not the woman. Hence, the fine is to the woman’s master (commonly rendered, “husband”) if the child is okay, but the lex talionis applies to any injury the child sustains. This is not a bizarre claim (an ad hominem attack) nor a claim to understand Hebrew better than the great Rabbis’ (an argument by appeal to authority) but rather simple grammar. I’m not familiar enough with the great Maimonides or Rashi to have a comment on their thought but the Hebrew in the Masoretic Text does not support your argument presented here.

    • Gus diZerega

      According to the Rabbis I quoted, Rashi in particular read Hebrew differently than you. Your argument is with them and with Rashi, not me. At the moment I will give the Jewish tradition preference in determining what their own scriptures meant.

  • Karin Karejanrakoi

    There is no need to invoke a “Will to Dominate” to explain the misogynist, agenda behind the “pro-life movement,” Mr diZerega – Ms Bradley has spelt out its rationale quite clearly.

    Those who constitute the ruling class – the class that owns the means of production – need heirs to inherit their property (land and the agricultural surplus it produced in the first instance, but also food animals and, at a later point in history, shops, factories, mines, mills, railroads, ships, and nowadays even newspapers and internet companies – not to mention that little stash of stocks ‘n’ bonds in the family safe). Until very recently in history, only sons could inherit, and, since the patriarch was determined to pass on his property to his own offspring, the sexuality and reproductive choices of ‘his’ women had to be ‘controlled’ – girls had to be kept virginal until their father chose a ‘suitable’ man (one who would ensure the “proper management” of the father’s property) and married women kept ‘faithful’ to avoid “bringing into the eagle’s nest” a ‘cuckoo’ who might lay claim to the ‘eagle’s’ property.

    Incidentally, this is probably why, in the absence of alternatives like murdering unfaithful wives, or locking up ‘sinning’ daughters, the wealthy – even if they are religious – are nowadays at times prepared to be hypocrites and countenance contraception and abortion for wives, daughters and mistresses … heirs must after all be *legitimate* and reputations must be maintained.

    But the “lower orders” (those who don’t own property) must at all costs be denied abortion and enjoined to breed like rabbits in order to provide the next generation of slaves, serfs or “free labourers” to make the owners wealthier and to be cannon fodder in wars that the rich provoke with their greed.

    Moreover, once born, the non-owners mustn’t be allowed to “get fat on welfare.” If their lives were made too easy, they’d not be willing to work in factories, mines and mills for less-than-subsistence wages.

    The owners would be deprived (quelle horreur!) of their maids and pool-boys, secretaries, waitresses, busboys and parking attendants, field-hands, store clerks and bank tellers who must grovel to them for mere survival – not to mention the muscle with which to intimidate their slum tenants.

    If “the poor were not always with us,” who would be so desperate as to risk prison to provide the ‘substances’ the owners use to ameliorate their oh-so-tedious lives? Or to sell their sexual services to the wealthy and be despised for it?

    Whence would come the police and the military whose main raison d’être is to protect the owners’ property?

    And how useful it is for the owners to be able to invoke invisible friends to persuade the inert and gullible that the status quo of inequality and exploitation – whether slavery, feudalism or capitalism – is part of a “divine plan” and render the non-owners willing to accept their lowly status in this world in return for the promise of a glorious life after death!

    I have no comment, Ms Bradley, on whether or not “conservatives are bad, bad people” – what I do know is that, in the story of human progress, they are simply blockages in the bowel, and that a regular dose of the laxative called Revolution will flush them into the sewer where they belong.

    • Gus diZerega

      I have to disagree, Karin. The anti-choice movement is geographically based and includes the least urban, least wealthy parts of the country. Its center has been the former Confederacy, which used religion to legitimize slavery for many, and so cut itself off from the Enlightenment as well as the main currents of American thought. Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy” is a wonderful eye-opener here.

      We have a serious problem with a growing oligarchy, but it is not connected to abortion except, for some, a way to keep everyone else waging ‘culture war’ and so not attend to the growing threat of a new aristocracy.

  • Gus diZerega

    Very weak post at two levels. I have never seen your other post and I didn’t see this one till it appeared here. I don’t moderate or Barfly would be history.

    Second, I really do not care about who has the right translation in Judaism since I am not a Jew. That they do not agree supports my argument. I thought I made it pretty clear reputable Rabbis disagreed since Rashi and Maimonides disagreed on the issue. But that required your listening to my argument.

    Your point about the Orthodox is no more relevant to me than a Baptist or Catholic claiming they are the only true Christians. That Israel due to its political system and fragmented society is under pressure from its most conservative elements far out of proportion to their numbers is a political misfortune, not a sign of religious truth. Or would you say that true Christianity is Orthodox in Russia and Catholic in Ireland and evangelical in Alabama?

    The issue at hand is – is the fetus or zygote morally human by any reasonable criteria? I have answered no. You have done nothing and argued nothing to cast any doubt at all on my conclusion.

    • John

      I posted this reply a month ago, and you’re just getting around to approving it? Convenient now that no one is reading it. The first post was submitted; I just checked, and it’s sitting on my disqus account. If you want to pretend it doesn’t exist, that’s your prerogative since it’s your blog, but people should know how you handle comments. I’d repost if I believed, even suspected, you had the integrity to approve it.

      Second, my point had nothing to do with translation, but ethical practice. You explicitly appeal to Jewish law and practice, even survey data, but you do so disingenuously, since you either don’t know or don’t care to accurately portray actual Jewish thinking and practice on abortion. And you have the nerve to imply I didn’t listen to your argument?

      And I won’t even touch the “Jews are famed for their skills in debate.” Stereotype much? Next post on how Jews get good prices?

      Third, you cite surveys of American Jews because, I assume, you think its relevant, but actual law in Israel is irrelevant to you? Bonus points if you can spot the inconsistency.

      Finally, I’m not arguing pro-life or pro-choice, or making any claims about the status of a fetus. I’m pro-choice, at least in early term, and with medical supervision, later term abortion is sometimes justified. I’m simply pointing out you do not make good arguments. I’m not casting doubt on your conclusions; I’m pointing out you haven’t even argued your way to a conclusion.

      • Christine Kraemer

        Dear John,

        It appears we may have a technical issue with Gus receiving notice of your replies in a timely fashion. Please be patient while I check into it.

        Christine Kraemer
        Managing Editor, Pagan Channel

    • John

      One more contradiction – see if you can find it:

      Gus diZerega: “I don’t moderate or Barfly would be history.”

      What appears after I click post: “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

      Could you spot it?

      • Christine Kraemer

        Disqus appears to be moderating you automatically, for reasons I’m not quite sure of — possibly due to key words related to tone (somewhat belligerent), possibly because others have flagged comments of yours (elsewhere?) as potentially abusive, or possibly because your account is new. In any case, some aspect of your account is causing Disqus to raise a red flag, meaning that Gus is not immediately seeing your comments.

        We appreciate your efforts to engage in respectful dialogue here and to avoid unconstructive assumptions. Thank you.

  • yewtree

    If you look at the other things the anti-choice movement wants to ban – contraception, sex education, and so on – it is clear that what they want to stop is not actually abortion, but women’s sexual pleasure and our autonomy. There was an excellent post about this on the atheist channel on Patheos.

    If there was more contraception and more sex education, abortions would decrease, so you would think that those who oppose abortion would support sex education and contraception. But they don’t. So there must be something else.

    Your post explains very well the economic and social dynamics that feed into the desire to stop women having sexual pleasure and autonomy, however.

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