A very slightly less ‘fake’ argument from Mark Galli in Christianity Today

A very slightly less ‘fake’ argument from Mark Galli in Christianity Today November 8, 2012

At Christianity Today, Mark Galli’s voice isn’t always this high-pitched. That’s just the Doppler effect on account of his back-tracking so fast from his earlier post attacking Jonathan Dudley for supposedly “fake history.” It’s only a half-baked correction, but at least Galli acknowledges that his earlier post was misleading twaddle.

Galli’s latest is also misleading. He qualifies the sweeping nonsense and historical errors of his earlier post, but still clings to it with weasel-words like “some” and “don’t necessarily.” Yet these grudging qualifiers can’t be reconciled with the logic of his position or the coherence — such as it is — of his argument. Galli writes:

Dudley is correct is suggesting that some pro-choice advocates do indeed believe that the fetus has moral value, and that they don’t necessarily think abortion is the principal answer to the control of human reproduction. … The problem is that a large part of the pro-choice community — which includes millions beyond the U.S. — do indeed fail to see that the fetus has moral value, and do indeed champion abortion as just another method of birth control.

A qualification and concession, then a false bit of maliciously dickish hogwash — “just another method of birth control” — and then Galli is off to the races, dismissing those few “some” who “don’t necessarily” fit his bogus caricature of the international sisterhood of the pro-choice conspiracy and returning to the same false binary choice of his previous post.

Does a zygote have no moral value at all? Or does it have greater moral value than an adult woman? Those are your only possible options.

Galli’s official, tribally sanctioned “stance” on abortion requires him to dismiss any consideration of pro-choice views that “do indeed believe that the fetus has moral value.” In doing so, as Galli reluctantly concedes Dudley is correct to say, he must therefore dismiss the view that the majority of evangelicals held just 40 years ago — and the view that more than a third of us hold today.

Everything Galli argues after dispensing with the “some … do indeed” qualifier above is based on this binary view that every zygote is either: A) morally indistinguishable from a human adult, and therefore legally more significant than the women who carries it; or else B) of zero value and zero moral significance. Allowing for those two — and only those two — options, Galli concludes that “A” is the only acceptable position for real, true Christians.

That’s not a coherent argument, but it’s a smart one for Galli. If he wants to keep his job at Christianity Today, then “A” is the only acceptable position.

The problem with constructing the question in this binary way, however, is that it prevents Galli from hearing, understanding or even imagining the actual view of the actual people who disagree with him. And thus it also prevents Galli from understanding or even imagining the actual view of American law. That law is based on the idea excluded by Galli’s binary framework — the idea that a zygote or fetus has great value and moral significance, but that it’s value is less than that of the adult person who carries it. Her rights therefore carry greater weight than its rights — her humanity counts for more, legally and morally, than its potential humanity.

This is not an obscure idea — it’s embodied by and embedded in all of our cultural traditions and rituals, including our religious rituals, from birthdays to baptisms. This is why we mourn for a lost pregnancy, but not in the same way that we mourn for the death of a child. This is why when the tragedy of a miscarriage occurs, we wonder, “How far along?” — gauging our response by the answer, the further along, the deeper the tragedy.

We know this. All of us, including people like Mark Galli, know this.

So why exclude this possibility? Why pretend our only choices are the binary options of zero value or greater-than-a-woman value?

One reason to pretend such a thing might be hinted at by Galli’s insistence that legal abortion is the province mainly of cavalier sluts for whom it is “just another form of birth control.” No, he didn’t explicitly say “cavalier sluts.” He didn’t need to say it explicitly. One can’t wind up where he winds up — with this glib, nasty garbage about “just another form of birth control” — without starting from the presumption that women are cavalier sluts who cannot be trusted with the fetuses in their own bodies.

I’d urge Galli to read a recent post at the dead authors club (via Abi at Making Light) in which Chris discusses “Fetal personhood and criminalizing abortion: a prosecutor’s perspective.” Chris writes:

First off, I want to talk about an abortion ban that leaves exceptions in place only for instances of rape, incest or life of the mother. The first thing that I want to say about this policy is this: this is a pro-choice position. The proponents can call it whatever the hell they want, but the bottom line is that this position is pro-choice. A person who takes this position is acknowledging that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy. What we are actually quibbling about here is who gets to decide when the woman’s reason is good enough. With the classic pro-choice position, the person who gets to decide if the woman’s reason is good enough is the woman. Herself. The rape/incest exception people – their position is that they get to decide if someone else’s (i.e., some other woman’s) reason is good enough. I am pro-her-choice. They are pro-their-choice.

In addition, however, to the extraordinary presumption and paternalism inherent in the position that you – whoever you are – should have more control than the pregnant woman over her reproductive future, is the absolutely, unequivocally impossible enforcement situation that this policy would create.

I’m skipping quite a bit here, and no one should skip any of Chris’ post — read the whole thing — but I want to highlight one other part, in which she walks through much of what Galli refuses to think about, what he is unable to think about due to his embrace of a binary view based on a slanderous lie about those with whom he disagrees:

So, personhood for a cluster of cells means that abortion could equal aggravated murder. Really, do Republicans want us prosecuting girls and women for the aggravated homicide of their zygotes? Is that the plan here? Do they actually want to impose the death penalty, or will life in prison be sufficient to satisfy their pathological need to punish women for the crime of being sexually active? …

But if that isn’t their goal, if they would say “of course we don’t want that,” well, then, I have to ask, “what the hell do you want?” Because if you actually believe that a zygote is a person, then how can you demand anything less than justice for the murder victim? Acceptance of less than full accountability means that the zygote has less meaningful protection for its personhood than other persons. And if you can accept this, then it must mean that you don’t actually think it is a person, because we don’t have degrees of personhood in this country. If it is a person, then it absolutely must enjoy the same rights and protections of every other person. So, if you aren’t actually prepared to deal with the consequences that flow from granting it those rights and protections, then you cannot justify calling it a person. Words have power and meaning, and if even you don’t really think it is a person, then what the f–k are we all having this discussion for?


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  • EllieMurasaki


  • Daughter

     Can’t remember where I read this… maybe even on this blog. A young guy who had attended an evangelical college wrote about how he became pro-choice. He and some of his male college classmates were sitting around discussing abortion, when someone asked the question, “If your pregnant wife was going to die if she carried her pregnancy to term, but the baby would survive, would you opt for abortion?”

    He wrote that every single guy in the discussion said the same thing: if it was a choice between their wife and their unborn child, they would absolutely choose their wife.

  • Mattpurdum

    We got rid over a hundred years ago of the idea that ANY American is three-fifths of a person. I’m surprised you would support slavery, Fred.