The predatory providence of ‘pro-life’ Richard Mourdock (part 1)

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns with Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. (AP, Charles Dharapak)

U.S. Senate candidate from Indiana Richard Mourdock has joined Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and Tom Smith among prominent white male Republicans saying appalling things about rape.

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said. “And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock himself, and a host of religious defenders of his agenda, have tied themselves into knots, offering a series of confused and confusing attempts to defend his comments. See, for example, Mark Galli’s appalling article for Christianity Today, in which Galli offers an incoherent and morally perverse appeal to “the providence of God.”

Via Mark Kleiman, here’s Dominican Fr. Jeremy Paretsky highlighting the irony of this appeal to “providence” by Mourdock and Galli:

To say that anything that happens is by God’s will says everything and nothing: it says no more than that creation as such exists by the will of God, who in a single act incorporates all contingencies. Will is confused with desire, which is a function of the human will. No distinction is made between God’s providential will (whereby he cares for creation) and permissive will (whereby contingencies are incorporated into that care). To say that life begun by rape is God’s will fails to make this distinction. It is equally true by the same loose use of language to say that abortion subsequent to rape is also God’s will.

Mourdock et. al. are appealing to an expansive-but-shallow “all things work together for good” notion to defend restrictions on abortion. They fail to notice that this same appeal to providence also means that every abortion must also be “something that God intended to happen.”

Oh, and as Danielle points out at From Two to One: ” The most common byproducts of rape are depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide, substance abuse, self-harm, fear, self-blame, sleeplessness, nightmares, triggers, sexual dysfunction, feelings of worthlessness, despair, hopelessness, and even death.” Are these consequences of rape also “gifts from God”?

Since this self-negating notion of everything as “something that God intended to happen” is usually invoked as an attempt to make sense out of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, let’s note that Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, says that Mourdock is “invoking the will of God where it is not appropriate”:

People “should have compassion for the person whose life is messed up by this and not make her an instrument for our idiosyncratic theological commitment,” Kushner said.

“If you believe she has no right to terminate that pregnancy, you’re free to believe that,” Kushner said. “But for you to write your preferences into law and compel another person to mess her life up because of what you believe, I think you’re going too far.”

To make someone else “an instrument for our idiosyncratic theological commitment” is to treat that person as a tool — as a means and not an end. That the person in this case is someone who has already suffered that same treatment at the hands of her attacker only compounds the evil of it.

As Dianna Anderson writes:

Rape victims are not players in your narratives of redemption. People suffering through some of the worst, most traumatic events of their lives aren’t interested in going through more pain just so you can point to it as a redemptive show of God.

… God’s eschatology doesn’t need you to persuade a rape victim to keep their pregnancy. What God does need you for is to understand and support the suffering, no matter what decision they may make. What God does need you to do is shut up and listen. This is not your battle to fight, except insofar as you can come alongside the one who is suffering. This is not yours to explain. This is not your area and God doesn’t need you to persuade a person to suffer more just so They could eventually redeem. It is disrespectful to God to presume to be someone else’s Holy Spirit in a decision that has nothing to do with you.

Many others have written quite a bit of wise and insightful commentary on the predatory providence of Richard Mourdock. Theologians have denounced his theology, politicians have criticized his politics, and people who just generally don’t regard women as sub-human have pondered just WTF exactly is wrong with this man (there’s some overlap between those categories). I’ll have a round-up highlighting some of that in a follow-up to this post.

  • Victor

    After reading all of these comments, it reminds me of how much Mom must have Loved me and how lucky I am to have received that Love. She would tell me about the death of my older brother who died at six month of pneumonia which they now called C.F. and I thank science for having  learned that I’m a carrier after one of our grand son was born with C.F because I was the next child born after my brother died. Mom in her old age would tell me of how she ruptured herself cutting wood when there was ice on the handle while dad was at work and apparently my sister said that she saw the rupture. She also said that dad was paid $2.oo a month back then and…….
     
    What’s your point Victor cause “I” have heard “IT” all before countless times butt please don’t tell U>S (usual sinners) that C.F. stands for “Christ First” just because you’ve just received “His Body and Blood” a few hour ago cause we Fred’s gods don’t want to hear about “IT”.

    SORRY MOM!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B3CJSj483g

    Peace

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    How do they reconcile that with the whole Immaculate Conception business, which, from my limited understanding, was in effect from before Mary was born herself?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think–I’m not sure, but I think–the deal is that a sinless person would never go contrary to God’s will, on account of going contrary to God’s will is the definition of sin. Which invites the question of what went wrong with Eve, and also the question of whether Mary could meaningfully consent at all.

  • Wingedwyrm

    It’s questionable where the exact math of the equivilancy would end up in the “pregnancy=organ/tissue/blood donation”.

    But, when the discussion comes up between me and someone who is pro-life, I do ask them if they think a person’s right to live justifies mandatory post-mortem organ donation expressly because it is so obviously and so dramatically a lesser imposition upon the post-mortem organ donor.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I do ask them if they think a person’s right to live justifies mandatory post-mortem organ donation expressly because it is so obviously and so dramatically a lesser imposition upon the post-mortem organ donor.
    That sounds like it would run right into the same religious beliefs that have kept many people from being cremated on the grounds that they’ll need their bodies intact for the Resurrection.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    While I would not make this argument, I do think you could make a
    coherent argument that you were weighing harm to both parties and
    deciding that the harm involved in demanding that a woman bear a child
    she doesn’t want to bear is lower than the harm of aborting that child,
    but the harm involved in demanding that a woman bear a child she doesn’t
    want to bear *when she has just been raped* is higher, and is too high.

    Yeah, but you have to give up “Fetuses is definately peoples” argument and instead build a very complex argument around a concept like “Abortion is morally dicey and there is a risk of it taking innocent life, so we must perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine in which cases the moral hazard of abortion outweighs the moral hazard of forced pregnancy.” And I think that (not in so many words) this is a pretty mainstream position among people who self-identify both as pro-life AND pro-choice (Truefax; I know people who consider themselves pro-choice but lament that there’s no practical way to make a distinction between “the condom broke” and “she chose of her own free will and uncoerced not to use any sort of birth control” and allow the former but not the later) , with their differences coming down to the details of that cost-benefit analysis.

    I’m all for complicated solutions to complicated problems, but I think more than a little revulsion at the concept of “Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis to see if you deserve to be put through the ordeal of an unwilling forced birth,” is called for. And when you start getting into doing that kind of analysis, well, how are you going to boil that down to actionable rules? Do we want to have an exclusion for statutory rape (If we’re taking “the woman was traumatized” as the morally distinguishing factor)? What other cases change the moral calculus? What about if the woman’s life isn’t in danger but her future fertility is? What if her life is at risk but it’s a really *small* risk (Not that there’s such a thing as a risk-free pregnancy, but, say, what if she’s got a progressive disease where there’s a 90% chance of survival if it’s treated immediately with teratogenic drugs, but an 80% chance of survival if the teratogenic drugs are withheld for nine months)? 

    And who gets to make this decision? A panel of doctors? Popular vote (by people who, as we have recently established, hold such profound misconceptions about the female anatomy that it’s amazing they can even *find* the vagina)? Consent from a man?

  • LL

    Yeah, I guess I could have been more specific. I know that not everybody who opposes abortion is a terrible person who says terrible things about victims of rape. I just thought everybody would assume I was talking about those particular people (the terrible ones), since that’s who Fred was discussing.

    And like I said, when politicians do it, I don’t think it really has anything to do with babies or hurting women (in that I don’t think they give a shit about either one of those), I think they just want power. If tossing rape victims under the proverbial bus is what it takes to do it, they don’t seem to be shrinking from that idea, but rather, embracing it. Because rape victims are probably a smaller number among their constituents (as far as they know) than anti-abortion voters. I’m pretty sure most of them, if confronted with this issue personally (ie, a wife or daughter becoming pregnant as a result of a sexual assault), they’d find their conviction about how awesome it is changing significantly. 

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    For the record, if God should tell you that someone being raped was his will, you should tell God that he fucked up big and it’s time to make amends starting with helping the victim.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Of course, I didn’t hit refresh before posting that, and thus didn’t notice that more than a page of conversation had taken place.

  • Lunch Meat

    How do they reconcile that with the whole Immaculate Conception business, which, from my limited understanding, was in effect from before Mary was born herself?

    Not all Christians believe in immaculate conception. I, personally, have always believed that Mary chose to accept it of her own will. And for all we know, the angel could have gone to 20 other unmarried women first, who all said no.

  • Otrame

    Terry Pratchett says evil is when you treat people like things.  

  • EllieMurasaki

    I would just like to note that today’s upstate paper and yesterday’s downstate paper have appeared in the break room, and while today’s upstate paper has a letter to the editor headlined ‘Unwanted pregnancy often woman’s fault’, yesterday’s downstate paper has a letter to the editor headlined ‘Pro-birth is not pro-life’.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    The sad thing is, I ran across one blogger who used that same Granny Weatherwax quote to make an anti-abortion argument —  ”They’re treating the unborn as things!” — while ignoring the whole “women being treated as incubators” thing.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    I suspect that frequently, anti-abortion politicians just say, “Oh, of course there should be exceptions for rape and incest” to try not to appear extremist and unsympathetic.  Rarely, if ever, have I heard any of them explain exactly how those exceptions are actually supposed to work.

  • renniejoy

    This wasn’t posted on this thread – MASSIVE trigger warnings – A Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians[from a fictional rapist], by John Scalzi

  • renniejoy

    Shoot-messed up the tags A Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians [from a fictional rapist], by John Scalzi.

    Trigger warnings for rape, reproductive coercion

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    I considered the possibility of others having been approached, but that would mean either there were a bunch of other immaculately conceived women around at the time, and wouldn’t that have interesting implications?, or time travel (or at least communication), which doesn’t seem at all consistent with the behaviour of God and/or Jesus elsewhere.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Truefax; I know people who consider themselves pro-choice but lament that there’s no practical way to make a distinction between “the condom broke” and “she chose of her own free will and uncoerced not to use any sort of birth control” and allow the former but not the later

    Speaking of people not having thought through the implications of their positions… if a woman really is just totally selfish and irresponsible, isn’t she the last person we should want to be having a child?

  • Mary

    What is getting lost in all this controversy is that the bible does not condemn abortion. In fact in the OT if a woman was pregnant and it was suspected that the child was not her husband’s, she could be forced to drink a potion to induce a miscarriage. So I guess that must mean that God approves of abortion, AS LONG AS IT ISN’T THE WOMAN’S CHOICE.

    Don’t these politicians have better things to do like say, I dunno, fix the economy???

  • Dan S.

    I think Ryan described an exception for the woman’s health as the Mack truck-sized loophole,  He *did*, however, co-sponsor the infamous redefining rape bill with Akin, though, so …

  • Lori

     

    His new position is that God notices a rape going on, is sad about this,
    and thinks “Imma just leave this here”.  To make up for it, maybe. 
    It’s not clear if Mourdock would have the balls to reassure a recent
    rape victim by saying “on the bright side, at least maybe you’ll get
    pregnant”.   

    I am literally making the sour milk face right now. That is just unbelievably awful and stupid and OMGWTF? There is not enough “What is wrong with you?” in the world to cover that.

  • Jay in Oregon

     I looked it up again, and you are right; the quote I referred to was in regards to an exception for the health of the mother, not in case of rape.

  • Lori

     

    I considered the possibility of others having been approached, but that
    would mean either there were a bunch of other immaculately conceived
    women around at the time, and wouldn’t that have interesting
    implications?, or time travel (or at least communication), which doesn’t
    seem at all consistent with the behaviour of God and/or Jesus
    elsewhere.  

    Or there was no Immaculate Conception. As Lunch Meat noted, plenty of Christians don’t believe in it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think that requires a ‘define omniscience’ moment. Maybe God knew Mary would consent to having Jesus if she were approached on the subject, regardless of whether she were suitable to have Jesus, so he made sure she would be suitable? ‘Course then we get into the awkward bit where God knew [insert atrocity] would happen and didn’t take action to prevent it…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Maybe the Immaculate Conception was God’s Bonus Free Gift Just For Taking Time Out Of Your Busy Day To Listen To His Proposal, like the way that my wife and I got Rita Rudner tickets for listening to a sales pitch for a timeshare in Las Vegas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Yes, there was an unstated assumption that I’m referring to the subset of Christians who do believe in Immaculate Conception, largely Roman Catholic as far as I know; I don’t even know if the Orthodox share that.  It doesn’t concern the rest of the Christians.

  • Wednesday

    ShifterCat — I can’t find that one, but I saw someone write an entire blog article berating Pratchett for his desire to be able to have an assisted death when he feels the time is right…. using that Granny Weatherwax quote.

    It was breathtakingly ignorant and presumptive.

  • Wingedwyrm

    One of my prime objections to Granny Weatherax was that she would do assisted suicide without the clear consent of the patient or the family.  She would take “is there anything you can do?” as that consent.

    In that case, it’s not assisted suicide, it’s murder under the the thin veil of assisted suicide because Granny Weatherax, despite her objections to other people treating people like things, treats people like things that are perfect tools for the bolstering of her own ego.

    And, even then, beyond the lack of consent, she does have a good internal justification for assisting people in death, because they’re not things.  (She just treats them that way because she wants to feel powerful.)

  • AnonymousSam

    I had a friend who went to jail for trying to kill himself. No idea what the charges were, just that he spent a week there before being transferred to a mental hospital for another week, and then he was home. He doesn’t talk about it.

    There’s literally no aspect of our lives that at least one highly influential person in power doesn’t want to control.

  • WalterC

    I think that this is true, and a lot of these politicians are now working to subtly shift the debate so that even these exceptions can be done away with without raising an eyebrow. It used to be that the conservative position was more or less “no abortion except in cases of rape and incest” and the liberal position was more or less “allow abortion in all cases as long as consent is present”. Conservatives have started chipping away at this, first by redefining rape and incest to mean something narrow (“it only counts if he had a gun or a knife or something”), then by simply refusing to permit any exceptions at all, for any reason.

     I think it might be an Overton window thing; the goal is to get it to the point where the debate is now between conservatives who think that abortion should be illegal in all cases and liberals who think that abortions should be still be legal but so heavily-restricted that the only way you can get one is with a signed permission slip from the Pope himself.

  • Lori

    I had a friend who went to jail for trying to kill himself. No idea what the charges were  

    Depending on when & where it happened it’s possible that the charge was attempting to commit suicide. Suicide was still illegal in some states as recently as the 1980s & 90s. Regardless of the charge he virtually certainly spent his week in jail on suicide watch and it’s likely that he was there because commitment procedures in your jurisdiction took longer than folks felt it was safe to leave him not locked up under observation.

    That’s a sad commentary on our mental health system, but I saw similar things when I was doing social work. There’s a debate to be had about when it’s appropriate to allow a person to choose suicide, but in your friends case I strongly suspect the issue was less about control than it was about trying to save his life. The silver lining is that, if I understood you correctly, he’s still alive to not talk about it.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, he’s still about. Whether or not this is a net positive is a larger question than I cam capable of objectively debating. He hasn’t done well with his life, but neither am I in a position to say what he’s done (fathered two children he will never be in a position to help raise) constitutes harm that should have been done without.

  • Lori

    I totally understand. It’s rare indeed to be in a position to make a confident judgement about the net value of another person’s life and it’s generally best not to try. I am sorry that things haven’t gone well for him.

  • LMM22

    One of my prime objections to Granny Weatherax was that she would do assisted suicide without the clear consent of the patient or the family.  She would take “is there anything you can do?” as that consent.

    It’s really unclear that that doesn’t constitute “clear consent” in context — i.e., that the people speaking weren’t aware that one of the things she *could* do was a mercy killing.

    Pratchett has spoken of this in interviews, and I’ve seen it from other sources — in an era without effective painkillers, mercy killing was commonplace. (Early in his career, he said, he spoke to a Victorian nurse who matter-of-factly told him “we called it, helping people to God.”) It’s really only now — once dying in pain has become less commonplace, or at least easier to cover up — that we’ve been able to medicalize what was once an accepted procedure no one spoke about.

    Absolute ethics, funny enough, are actually really dependent upon technology. It’s a lot easier to moralize when you aren’t facing some of the very real problems that your absolute positions would create in another context. (See also: anti-abortion protesters. If anything, the situation is *better* today: even good Catholic women, from what I’ve been told, typically had abortions if they were exposed to rubella in their first trimester.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Bad parenting. I can confidently blame the way he is today on that because his parents went out of their way to teach him, his brother and his sister terrible ways to behave, which carried through into their adult lives.

    Small example: They taught each of them to spy on the others and then began rewarding them based on what things they could report the others were doing. Said things included anything from “hanging out with the wrong friends” to “looking at porn” to “eating too many sweets.”

  • Lori

    Oh FSM. Stories like that are why I had to get out of social work. When you find yourself crying in the car while driving home and you realize that that’s become a pretty routine thing for you, you’re in the wrong profession.

    I’ve said it before and I stand by it—-we as a society need to get rid of the assumption that “of course” the vast majority of people will have kids. The world is brimming over with people who should not be in charge of the rearing of small humans (or any other vulnerable creature).

  • Wednesday

     Re: Granny Weatherwax and consent:

    First, Granny Weatherwax living and acting in the real world with be rather different from Granny Weatherwax in Discworld, because the Discworld has magic and Death is a skeletal dude with a scythe who’s really quite fond of humanity.
    Helping someone die sometimes involves showing them where a metaphysical doorway  between life and death lies, and helping them step through it. Under those circumstances, the patient who does not actually want to die is (a) able to clearly articulate or deny consent, and (b) could refuse to step through the damn door. Granny is also very, very good at headology and Borrowing, gifts that I allow her to determine what the patient and the patient’s family actually want. The times when she doesn’t take family wishes into consideration are cases where it’s “choose between your wife and your in-the-process-of-being-born infant child”, which is a horrible choice for someone to have to make.

     Second, Lancre is a completely different social context from what most of us live in. “Is there anything you can do” in our social context tends to mean “is there any experimental or expensive treatment that will help”,  but in Lancre those are not things that exist in their frame of reference. The correct comparison is not with modern times in the real world but with the approximate historical counterpart (someone has done this pretty well in comments already). There are more ways to clearly consent to things than explicit verbal consent.

    Third, she’s not the only witch who does this. Sure, she does it more than Nanny according to the text, but Nanny has done it too. Heck, Tiffany has done it (albeit for a nonhuman being since it was a kid’s book). And after that, the other young witches-in-training confirmed that they’d all heard about it, too, in a definitely magical context — the doorway and the desert of black sand.

    You’re welcome to your reading that Granny murders sick people just because she wants to feel powerful and boost her ego. But I don’t think it’s supported by the text.

    Regardless, the author of the article that I object so strenuously to was clearly not interested in the question of consent, given that Pratchett was articulating his wish to have an assisted death at the time of his choosing under circumstances where he is still able to clearly give consent. For the writer, our bodies and lives belong to the writer’s god first, and ourselves second.

  • bobnelsonfr

    In defense of Mourdock…

    Not really. That would be the case if Mourdock said something like, “Rape is a terrible thing. Only a very few crimes are worse… but killing babies is one of those. If we agree that a fertilized egg is a person, just like you and me, then we are in the terrible situation of having to protect that fertilized egg with all the same vigor that we would deploy to protect any other person. We must pursue both the mother who seeks an abortion and the abortionist, for murder. All pregnancies that do not go to term must be investigated, and “negligent homicide” charges must be brought against any mmother who has done such irresponsible things as smoke, drink, drive, walk, or anything at all that might eventually jeopardize the new person.”

    Mourdock would have to explain WHY a fertilized egg is a person. He would have to explain why he does nothing to save the millions of fertilized eggs that never implant, and thus “die”.

    If Mourdock were pushed beyond simplistic rhetoric, the multiple moral, theological, scientific, and legal absurdities would be blatant.

  • bobnelsonfr

    Has anyone heard a solid case (either a factual / scientific basis and then coherent logic, or a reasonably indisputable scriptural text) justifying the “personhood at fertilization” position?

    I have never seen either.

    All that I have seen is affirmation, without basis. Circular reasoning: personhood begins at fertilization because a fertilized egg is a person… and a fertilized egg is a person because personhood begins at fertilization.

  • Mike

    Maim their body? Are you referring to an abortion? Because last I checked abortion causes more medical problems than birth. In fact, a recent convention of prenatal care physicians and experts determined that there is never a case in which abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yes, flushing a teeny ball of cells out of the uterus is absolutely as potentially damaging as shoving something the size of a football out of the vagina.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > a recent convention of prenatal care physicians and experts determined that there is never a case in which abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother

    Citation seriously needed.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Has anyone heard a solid case (either a factual / scientific basis and
    then coherent logic, or a reasonably indisputable scriptural text)
    justifying the “personhood at fertilization” position?

    Well, scripture is out of the question. The human ovum was only discovered in 1827. The Book of Mormon was already being written at the time (I suppose it might have made it into one of the later chapters). 1827 is pretty recent in the history of religion — you’re pretty much restricted to neopaganism, modern occult, Raeleanism, Rastafarianism, Scientology and Bahá’í.

  • bobnelsonfr

    I’m afraid that you are making the grievous error known as “coherence”. Bible literalists are never bothered by that!

    To be fair… the basics of gestation have been known for millennia. Miscarriages caused people to see all stages of development, larger than microscopic. Nor was there any doubt about the mechanism of fertilization. ;-)

    It was no big deal to imagine the man’s seed, with or without a contribution from the woman, growing in the womb.

    But of course… gestation has nothing to do with “personhood”. The Hebrews required less blood-gold for an unborn baby than for a born one. A fetus was important… but less than a born child. I understand this difference as being “before and after” the arrival of the soul.

    But I am still waiting to see a convincing Biblical text that indicates anything other than “at birth”!

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought it was at the first breath. Not quite the same thing.

  • bobnelsonfr

    You’re right: that IS a significant distinction. “First breath” would eliminate stillborn.

    I’m afraid I don’t have the texts at hand, but I’m willing to bet that they fit “first breath” as well as “at birth”.

  • bobnelsonfr

    Also… searching for coherence…

    Many fundamentalists believe that one must be baptized to be saved… at the same time that they believe that personhood begins at conception.

    Are all those zygotes that never implant condemned to Hell for all eternity?

  • EllieMurasaki

    In fact, a recent convention of prenatal care physicians and experts determined that there is never a case in which abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/11/13/woman-dies-after-being-refused-medically-necessary-abortion/
    Something went wrong with this woman’s pregnancy such that the pregnancy was going to end with a dead fetus no matter what happened. But the fetus wasn’t dead, so doctors refused to remove it. She spent three days in torture because of the dying fetus in her womb.

    This woman is dead, her fetus with her. If she had gotten an abortion when she asked for one, her fetus would be no less dead, and this woman would be alive.

    Her name was Savita Halappanavar. Remember that name. She is dead because of people who think that the life of a fetus, even a fetus with no chance of survival, is worth more than the life of a woman.

    Savita is dead, Mike, because of you. And you, Ginny Bain Allen. And every single person on this planet who thinks abortion should be as unavailable as possible. You killed Savita.

    How do you sleep at night?