Matt on Abortion, Part II

Matt on Abortion, Part II December 29, 2009

(Part one is here. Read it. Any comment accusing me of being pro-choice will be cheerfully deleted without comment, and without ever seeing the light of day – Matt)

Someone once asked Gandhi what he thought of western civilization, and he responded that he thought it would be a good idea. I would probably give a somewhat similar response if someone asked me what I thought of the pro-life movement.

Neither major political party is pro-life in anything like a holistic sense. The Republicans often profess opposition to the current permissive abortion laws, but lip service is usually all that is on offer when it comes time to actually stand up for the unborn. There is some action around the periphery  (e.g., the Mexico City policy) but nothing resembling an effort to truly root out abortion root and branch. More on that in a bit.

The folks I think of as the “EWTN anti-abortion contingent” has (more or less) one political strategy and one strategy only: elect Republicans so they will appoint anti-Roe judges, in the hope that eventually Roe will be overturned. This is nowhere near being a sensible approach. More on that in a bit, too.

For their part, the national Democrats have defense of abortion rights as part of their platform and are beholden to NARAL, Emily’s list and other abortion rights advocates. (Worth mentioning, though: the Party is enough of a “big tent” that there are Democrats like Casey, Bart Stupak, Ben Nelson and (somewhat) Harry Reid and others who are for a more restrictive regime. Not to mention, you know, me.)

The choice is between a Party too beholden to pro-choice groups (the Democrats) and a Party whose glaring hypocrisy on war, torture, opposition to anything meant to lift up workers or help the poor, and so forth, seriously undermines their “pro-life” case (the Republicans). The pro-life movement throwing in their lot with the Republican Party was a serious strategic error, in my judgment. In exchange for “supporting” pro-lifers, the Republicans have bought the relative silence of pro-life Catholics on other issues (the previously-mentioned torture and war, plus tilting the flow of economic benefits toward the rich, and much else) where truly pro-life Catholics would otherwise oppose them, and in strenuous terms. To be blunt, I seriously question (to put it very, VERY mildly) whether the national leadership of the Republican Party even cares about abortion in any serious, committed way. Ask yourself: if they really consider abortion to be the equivalent of genocide, why is it that, when they actually gain power, the things they actually make an effort to get done are all about tax cuts, economic deregulation (both of which hurt workers in different ways) and so forth? The Republicans could have made a lot of progress on abortion by going to the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate and saying: “Look, guys: we’ll brush off the insurance industry pocket lint from our suits and give you single-payer health care, if you’ll throw Emily’s list and NARAL under the bus and work with us on abortion. Deal?”

I can imagine even the late Teddy Kennedy being tempted by such an offer.

But here’s the thing: let’s say that, tomorrow, the Supreme Court, in a surprise ruling, actually overturned Roe v. Wade and reverted the country to the pre-Roe situation. I think there is this idea among many pro-lifers that that would represent “mission accomplished” and then it could spend its energy doing the “hearts and minds” thing: mop-up operations.

In a word? “Uh, no.”

Though I’m really more of a New Dealer/Economic Populist than a post-sixties “New Left” type, I move enough in lefty circles to have a pretty good sense of what the reaction would be, and trust me, it would be absolutely massive. Overturning Roe would more or less immediately galvanize a large part of the pro-choice left (who would make common cause with the pro-choice faction of the libertarian right) and the result would be enormous street protests, hundreds of thousands of arrests, sit-ins, and so forth; DC and lots of other large cities would pretty much grind to a halt, there would be marches on Washington, large networks of underground abortion providers would be providing abortions as an act of “civil disobedience” who, if arrested, would become “martyrs” for the cause of abortion rights, and so on. There would be a huge, concerted, and continuous effort to move a substantial portion of the general public to actively support the goals of the pro-choice movement. There’d be TV ads, probably showing some wholesome, all-American looking teenaged girl: “This is Jenny at her 16th Birthday party. She died 2 weeks later due to a botched back-alley abortion. No one likes abortion, but should Jenny’s penalty for a mistake be bleeding to death in some underground clinic?”

And so on – and (here’s the thing): abortions would continue. In fact, they would very likely expand. It is currently very hard to get an abortion in certain places in the country (the same places which would be the first places to ban abortion outright). It is likely that there would be many more underground clinics as part of the civil disobedience I describe. And really – I have no sense that the pro-life movement has any equivalent planning in place to counter that response. No counter-protests in the streets, no mass mobilization of public opinion. Just the vague hope that the Eleanor Smeals of the left would just throw in the towel: “Well, girls, looks like we lost this one. Oh well.”

This really is where we are. Believe me, I’m not happy about it: not in the least. If I could just wave a magic wand and make abortion (truly) vanish from the United States forever? Believe me; I’d wave it in a heartbeat. No such wand exists, unfortunately. We have work to do, lots of it; deep, foundational work for the long haul. That’s the only way to truly abolish abortion, root and branch, from our culture.

It is worth remembering that the Civil and Voting Rights Acts happened only after a decades-long struggle involving challenging some of the core power structures in the country. Segregation was deeply entrenched in the South, and it took nearly a century of effort to change the culture there.  But change it did: by the 1950s, most of the folks agitating against racial integration were in the older generations: southern youth had already come a long way towards accepting equality for blacks. Even those kids’ parents were further along than their parents had been – lynching was becoming comparatively rare by the 1950s (at least as compared to the early part of the 20th century).

I firmly believe that any truly effective pro-life movement must be grounded in love – deep, agape love. Not demonization of our opponent, but lovingly appealing to his or her conscience.

Martin Luther King:

[T]he Greek language comes out with the word, “agape.” Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that this is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we’ve tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline.

So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process –  and our victory will be a double victory.

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  • Matt, your serious comments are worth the consideration of those involved in the ‘pro-life’ movement as they ask important questions about the motivations of those active especially in the political effort to reverse Roe. But I need to correct or at least clarify for those readers that the ‘movement’ is not monolithic and that the mere reversal of Roe would not have most right to lifers congratulating themselves and going home. Most of us in the trenches KNOW that the reversal of Roe would require some serious further commitment to the need to assist those pregnancy resource centers that have been doing so much with so little.

    And there are those of us who want to permanently protect the pre-born child from the vagaries of the mob. So we would not be leaving the political front either. We would need to continue our education of the young about the realities of life before birth.

    As for the political analysis, many of us long involved in the movement argued against the “all the eggs in one basket” approach. Our practical problem was finding principled Democrats to run and remain pro-life after election. You have to understand that in 1975 we had over a 110 pro-life Democrats in the House. The pro-abortion controlled leadership of the Democratic party arranged for their demise by failing to allow for them to advance into leadership. Every presidential contender in those days had to kiss the ring of the pro-abortion feminist leadership. Al Gore, Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, Carter, all professed to be pro-life at one point )Jackson called abortion genocide). However to be seriously considered for the democratic nod, they had to “grow” and adopt a pro-choice position. has this happened on the Republican side, no doubt. But it is infinitely better to “grow” to a pro-life understanding than to abandon the rationale for defending innocent unborn babies and working to protect their mothers.

    Across this nation the “pro-life movement” continues to grow. It is younger and more energetic than in some years past. We who have been around for awhile need to encourage this participation by the next generation so that together we can apply that “agape” you referenced in all parts of our society

    • Thanks for the response, John. For now, just a quick note that the usage “Democrat party” is often a sort of tribal signifier, and I’ll be correcting comments to reflect the proper name – it’s “Democratic Party” or “Democratic caucus/ Democratic congressman” etc.

  • Why should we settle for what either party is offering? Why not set our own path?

  • there is a point where one must operate within the existing framework because frankly our “troops” are neither fully equipped or aware of the enormity of the undertaking. Perhaps if pro-life organizations could come together and agree on some basics, we could make some serious demands of both parties and really move the ball. But fear, self interest and lack of vision have a way of holding this idea hostage. (Our fallen human nature keeps getting in the way). Efforts to break through with the Democratic Party continue to be frustrated. (Ask Kristan Day of DFLA) Beltway and establishment Republicans seem to be clueless.
    Ironically there are areas that could really engage the general public – who hates the very mention of the word abortion. One idea involves promoting and supporting adoption. Another addresses the beauty of really educating the public on fetal development and the miracle in the womb. 4D ultrasound does change people’s attitudes for the better.
    These are just a few thoughts.

    • There’s a lot there I agree with, John J.

      Segregation in the South was something that most non-southerners were only vaguely aware of, and sort of tried not to think about much. The SCLC deliberately broke the (unjust) laws of the South in order to make the ugliness non-ignorable. MLK said he would foster change by “showing this nation to itself.”

      So it is with abortion: the actual reality of it is something lots of fence-sitters don’t want to think about much. Lovingly forcing the issue is essential, I think. That really is an important ingredient in changing hearts.

  • Warrick Walker

    Matt: First, I agree that the testimony of our lives is the best weapon we have in the war to win hearts and minds. Agape love indeed. One of the points I would have liked to see you expand on was your reference to Roe v. Wade being overturned. Ultimately,we need to all ask ourselves the simple question: Does a court decision make something right? There was a time when slavery was legal and women were kept from voting.The root of the problem is in how as individuals we decide right and wrong. Sadly, people are so consumed by themselves and their consumerism that this type of reflection is all but ignored. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity whenever it arises to promote thoughtful debate on these critical moral issues, but with gentleness and respect.

  • Kurt

    Matt and John both offer intelligent and helpful observations. I will object to one statement of John’s that “You have to understand that in 1975 we had over a 110 pro-life Democrats in the House. The pro-abortion controlled leadership of the Democratic party arranged for their demise by failing to allow for them to advance into leadership.”

    I think that is an objectively incorrect assertion. David Boinor was advanced to House Democratic Whip. Wendell Ford was advanced to Senate Democratic Whip. Mary Rose Oakar was advanced to Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus and then again as Vice Chair of the Caucus. James Oberstar serves as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. John LaFalce served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. John Murtha is chair of the Defense Appropriations Committee. Bart Stupak chairs the Oversight Subcommittee of Energy & Commerce.

    These are just the examples that immediately come to my mind. I am sure there are more.

  • Great comment, Warrick. Consumerism can be pointed at for a significant portion of the blame for the acceptance of abortion, I believe.

    And this:

    I encourage everyone to take the opportunity whenever it arises to promote thoughtful debate on these critical moral issues, but with gentleness and respect.

    …is really a key to hearts and minds, one on one.

  • Ronald King

    Matt, Excellent post. I hear the talking heads on EWTN being outraged by abortion and in the next breath they are advertising their “pilgrimages” to the Holy Land to “deepen” our faith. It seems to me that it is easier to be outraged than it is to do what is necessary to make a profound statement. In other words, the sacrifice must be equal to or greater than the cause.
    Since human beings primarily relate through the senses we must appeal to the senses. Agape love is sacrificial and our sacrifice must be real and visible. At the same time it must be spiritual and it must shock the senses of the observer.
    In 2006 I wrote a letter to Pope Benedict asking him to lead us on a pilgrimage to Darfur to care for the refugees as an act of real faith. I received a response stating he had read my letter and had the same concern. He stated that he wrote his first encyclical God Is Love and suggested I should read it. That was it.
    In 2007 during one of my morning Rosary Runs I received the thought that we should have a cross-country Rosary Run to raise money and exhibit the sacrifice necessary for mothers and their children. In other words, we should show how much we are willing to sacrifice our comfort and security for those we proclaim to support. I sent this to several EWTN personalities and was told they would pray about it and get back to me. In other words, the answer was no. Another one told me it was not practical. Our faith is not practical. I mean. we eat God! Is that practical? I suggested that EWTN could do their shows from the road with their mobile unit and this could capture the attention of everyone and exhibit the mystical element of the faith that has been watered down to “I’ll pray for you” superficial insincerity.
    Warrick and John are right on. Consumerism is our drug of choice to numb us to the reality of suffering in the world. We are afraid to give up everything just as He tells us to. We settle for the minimum and expect miraculous results. We settle for politics and become entrenched in the ways of the world for spiritual enlightenment and conversion.

  • digbydolben

    Matt, I congratulate you on one of the best posts here on this subject that I’ve ever read. I should like to stipulate, however, that I do not believe it is possible to make progress on this issue–or, indeed, on the whole “seamless garment” of genuine Catholic social justice concerns–until there is a sort of “Christian Democratic” Party in America. It is not just women who want abortions that have to be educated regarding what radical consumerist capitalism in America is doing to leach life in the post-modern West of its “sacred” quality; it is also American Catholics themselves, who don’t understand that violence done to the poor, the sick, the exploited masses of the Third World, to the environment, to families crushed by debt, to youth whose educations are being perverted to “training” to be consumers and mindless industrial cogs and eager receptors of propaganda–that ALL of these things are related to abortion, and, in fact, facilitate the false consciousness that motivates the ill-informed to take life in this way.

  • Matt,

    Your explanation of what you think would happen on the left if Roe were overturn misses one of the basic elements which commentators here have pointed out a number of times: Overturning Roe would not actually ban abortions at all. It would only allow for legislation (either at the federal or the state level) to address the issue.

    So while it’s true that die-hard pro-abortion advocates would probably try to stage some large protests, there would not be an immediate underground abortion network, because abortions would remain legal in most states. What _would_ happen is that over the ensuing 5-10 years, we would actually have a chance to debate abortion policy, which right now is essentially impossible because of Roe.

  • Thanks for the response, Darwin. Couple things:

    First, while overturning Roe would not, as you say, have a large immediate effect on the abortion rate, it would be seen as a huge “threat to abortion rights” by the pro-choice left, and the response would be immediate.

    Secondly, though: the chance to debate abortion policy is now. It was 36 years ago, and every day since. This is what I’m saying! How would repealing Roe suddenly make debating abortion policy more “possible”?

    We need to move away from bitter polemics, and we need to say publicly that we’re moving away from bitter polemics. We pro-lifers need to have a conversation with fence-sitters (and even more amenable-to-reason pro-choicers), using reasonable arguments and without caricaturing the other side, about why we care about abortion and what we understand it to be. Quiet, persistent truth. This is what will change hearts and minds in America, and ultimately enable abortion to be truly abolished.

  • Well, you’re right that we can debate abortion now, and indeed a great deal of that goes on. I think some of the most important debate is basically non political: people discussion how they think about abortion at a personal level, rather than discussing electoral politics. In that regard, I think it’s important to note that the country has been gradually trending more pro-life (and the abortion rate has been dropping) for 20+ years now.

    Pro-life political victories have been few, small, and the result of incredibly bitter fighting. However, there are clearly personal pro-life victories going on quietly every day.

    That said, one should not ignore what an absolute obstacle Roe is to actually having a political debate about what legal abortion restrictions we should have. Very, very few abortion restrictions are possible in the US because of Roe — that’s why we have significantly more lax abortion laws that the far more socially liberal countries in Europe. So I do think that at a political level it’s unrealistic to imagine we can have any real debate about what our abortion laws should be until Roe is gone and it’s actually possible to develop abortion law through debate and legislation.

    Right now, the existence of Roe breeds extreemism on both sides, just as the Dredd Scott decision in regards to slavery and the abolistionist movement.

    As for moving away from bitter polemics: I personally do not like the bitter recriminations type of debate on any topic. It’s not my style, and I think it tends to obscure truth rather than reveal it. That said, I cannot think of a single issue on which advocates do not routinely resort to caricatures and accusations of bad faith on both sides:

    Health care? Republicans want you to die quickly. Democrats want to socialize health care and euthenize grandma.

    Taxes? Democrats want to take all your money away and redistribute it. Republicans only care about giving money to the rich and screw the little guy.

    Labor? Free trade? Civil rights? War? Gun control?

    I certainly advocate that people behave better, but if we condemn the pro-life movement for its rhetoric, we would also have to condemn the union movement, the free trade movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the gun control movement, the gun rights movement, indeed virtually every movement, good or bad, there has ever been. I’d love it if none of those movements had loud, populist mouthpieces who distorted the beliefs of their opponents. But surely we can’t tell all movements to shut up and put themselves on hold until all their members are pure, or nothing would ever happen.

    (Though, as a conservative, I suppose I’d be willing to settle for all movements ceasing to exist… I have hope in no change.)

  • Kurt

    I am going to respectfully disagree with digby in his call for a “Christian Democratic Party”. I think instead what we need is people witnessing comprehensive Catholics values in both the existing parties.

    I would also disagree with the statement that:

    “In exchange for “supporting” pro-lifers, the Republicans have bought the relative silence of pro-life Catholics on other issues (the previously-mentioned torture and war, plus tilting the flow of economic benefits toward the rich, and much else)

    I find that Pro-Life Republicans and the leaders of the established pro-life movement do not have their silence bought on these issues but simply don’t agree with the Church on these issues. We have a Pro-Life Movement led and controlled by those who do not hold pro-life views on war, torture and economic justice.

    I think we would be much better off if we had a cadre of people embracing comprehensive pro-life values and then simply fliped a coin to determine which party in which they would go forward and witness those values.

    • I find that Pro-Life Republicans and the leaders of the established pro-life movement do not have their silence bought on these issues but simply don’t agree with the Church on these issues. We have a Pro-Life Movement led and controlled by those who do not hold pro-life views on war, torture and economic justice.

      I’m not sure I completely agree with that, Kurt. While there are undoubtedly some hard-right evangelicals (and for that matter, even hard-right Catholics) in the Pro-life leadership who hold the views you describe, I would hesitate to paint with too broad a brush.

  • But surely we can’t tell all movements to shut up and put themselves on hold until all their members are pure, or nothing would ever happen.

    Agreed, Darwin: but, rooting out abortion needs to be a radical (in the literal, non-political sense of that word) change in American culture. Such deep change can only happen from the bottom, and not from a change-the-law-first approach, in my estimation. Change hearts, and the law will follow; and when the law follows, it (and here’s the thing) will stay changed, because there will be a consensus supporting it.

  • Most reader of Vox Nova do recognize the interconnectedness of different life issues; they simply prioritize them differently, which is within the realm of prudential judgement.

    It’s quite easy to sit around and pound the strawman of those who think that “pro-life” ends at birth, etc., but that doesn’t get too far.

    Indeed, I think it’s counter-productive, because those who support abortion are only too eager to portray the pro-life movement as mouth-breathing misogynists who don’t care about anything else.

    There will always be parts of the pro-life movement that will say and do things that we might find embarassing. The same will be true for any movement people care deeply about. I don’t think the answer to this is to withhold our support until these people are purged, because that will never happen. Rather, we should add our voices so that the picture of a pro-life person is something other than someone screaming at a teenager approaching a clinic.

    • Rather, we should add our voices so that the picture of a pro-life person is something other than someone screaming at a teenager approaching a clinic.

      We need to change the tone, John. Not just add our voices, but make sure that more reasonable voices are the the predominant ones representing the movement, and disowning the ranters. Listening to Ann Coulter (say) rant about Marxist Lesbian Baby-Killers turns a lot of otherwise persuadable people against the cause. It’s time the pro-life movement distanced itself publicly from such rhetoric.

  • Kurt

    To Darwin, as to the movements you mention, I think the difference is that however strident they may be to their political opponents, nothing beats the pro-life movement for the way they treat some of their own followers. For me, that is why I left the Pro-Life Movement. I have never been treated so poorly by people with whom I agree with on the fundemental question.

  • Kurt

    Matt,

    Could you name some pro-life Republican members of Congress or members of the Board of Directors of NRTLC, ALL, HLI, March fot Life, etc. as examples?

  • digbydolben

    Kurt, the reason I should like to suggest the efficacy of Catholics and similarly-minded Protestants, Jews and Muslims founding something like a “Christian Democratic Party” is because I believe that the special corporate interests of consumerist capitalism control BOTH parties in America and will not permit abortion to be used as anything other than a symbol to attract social conservatives. If abortion were actually linked to the other plagues on society and opposed in a philosophically consistent way, it would threaten the culture of consumerism and the “commodification of life.”

  • To all: I must say I’m extremely gratified at the tone of this discussion so far, and the general level of charity on display.

  • When you say that abortion requirs a from the bottom up approach, rather than a change the law approach (leaving aside the issue that changing the law would require building a 50.1% majority or better in favor of the change — just not necessarily an overwhelming consensus) would you say that this would have applied similarly to other major issues in American history such as slavery, segregation and women’s rights?

    For instance, was MLK wrong to actually campaign against segregation itself, the legel regime of segregation, rather than campaigning only against racism and leaving changes in the law to a later date? Racism still exists today in a certain portion of the population. Would we want to still be waiting to try to get rid of segregation laws until those people changed? Would they change as well if the laws remained there, forming racist attitudes?

    Or is abortion radically different from slavery, segregation and women’s rights in this regard?

    Most concerning, is it possible for people to be lulled into thinking that a “hearts and minds first” policy has to be followed in abortion unlike the above movements because the overall left leaning political movements seems more appealing than right leaning movements, and it’s in the hearts and minds in left leaning political movements which are so adamantly in favor of abortion?

    • Those are excellent questions, Darwin, and deserve a detailed response.

      When you say that abortion requires a from the bottom up approach, rather than a change the law approach (leaving aside the issue that changing the law would require building a 50.1% majority or better in favor of the change — just not necessarily an overwhelming consensus) would you say that this would have applied similarly to other major issues in American history such as slavery, segregation and women’s rights?

      To be clear: My goal is a permanent change in the law – deep change that would be impossible for the next social-libertarian president to undo.

      As to whether my approach would have applied to the other issues you describe: Slavery? The South more or less made itself its own country (seceded) over the issue, and the (voter’s) consensus in that “country” was for preserving slavery, so the analogy doesn’t quite hold. On segregation? As I previously described, the civil rights movement’s tactics turned the rest of the country against segregation, which is why the Civil and Voting Rights Acts have never been seriously threatened. I’m not intimately familiar with the history of first-wave feminism, but I believe the same situation obtains there.

      Most concerning, is it possible for people to be lulled into thinking that a “hearts and minds first” policy has to be followed in abortion unlike the above movements because the overall left leaning political movements seems more appealing than right leaning movements, and it’s in the hearts and minds in left leaning political movements which are so adamantly in favor of abortion?

      I’m not sure precisely what you’re driving at there, but I think the Pro-life movement could learn a lot from the historical left-leaning movements I think you’re referring to, such as the civil rights movement.

  • Kurt, good point, but there are now only – what 25 pro-life Dems in the House and – how many now in the Senate? Across the nation, I witnessed the decimation of the pro-life influence at the state and local level among the various state Democratic parties. McGovern’s minions, Gary Hart et al, did a number on the old guard. And while the folks you mention are there, where is their voice? Still I continue at the local and state level to find honest pro-life candidates in both parties to run for elective office. I think a smart political strategy for the pro-life movement would be to look at a district and if it is a generally democratic seat, find a pro-life democrat to run.

    As for changing the law, i am reminded of a line used by MLK. A law may not change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. If the laws were changed the debate could center on protecting the women as well as the children. Laws against segregation had to be changed in both directions because of the fallen nature of the human person. frankly if the Supreme Court cannot look at the 4D ultrasound and tell us that the Constitution was designed to include these human beings, then those jurists have no business sitting on the bench.

    One more thing and this applies to Kurt’s comment on leadership. the pro-life leadership throughout the country is more diverse than you imagine. Most of hte people I know would object to Kurt’s characterization. Further I think that it is quite judgmental and fails to account for what we know to be areas requiring prudential determinations. There are after all numerous moral ways to combat poverty that may appear at first glance to be opposed to one another and some which are politically opposite. Yet each apporach to economic justice may be morally defensible. However when it comes to directly and intentionally killing pre-born children in the womb, there are no morally defensible positions and hence it is objectively evil. Those who support or cooperate in perpetuating this evil are culpable. As Matt reminds us, we all must act personally to combat this evil in our society and the first way to begin doing this is by choosing to live lives of holiness and sacrifice. Our willingness and openness to life in our own lives is an example to others. We must then go forth and share the good news of “life” and by our lives attract others to the “Good News.” It is a lot of work and it is not easy.

  • Mike

    I agree with you that the majority of Republicans don’t care that much about abortion. I would estimate that 40% are in favor of legalized abortion and about 20% are indifferent or nominally anti-abortion.

    Still, I feel strongly that at least 40% of registered Republicans are motivated by social issues, the most important part of which is abortion.

    I understand that you are uncomfortable with the political term “pro-life” when used to describe what is really an anti-abortion movement, and that’s a fair criticism. But to me, the mass murder of the unborn surpasses every other issue we face today. I voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin because of their stance (and the GOP platform’s) on the issue.

    My vote would have flipped had theirs and Obama/Biden’s positions been reversed (even though I disagree with them on most other issues as well). I don’t see any room for my position in the Democratic party.

    I agree that abortion would continue to happen if made illegal (just like shoplifting, jaywalking, homicide, rape, and any other crime), but I think the fact that abortion is legal and easy to obtain is part of the reason why it is so common. I think a lot of people would think twice before having an abortion if it was against the law, and the rate would go down.

  • Let me see if I can tease out my point with these historical examples a bit more:

    Abolitionists were definitely seen as radicals at the time, and they did not have an electoral majority, though looking at the US as a whole, a majority perhaps leaned at least somewhat anti-slavery. Lincoln himself was only moderately anti-slavery compared to radical abolitionists, but the pro-slavery states were so incensed at his election that they seceded, and were only bought back by the bloodiest war in American history. Having won the war, the North legally enforced emancipation (with gun in hand where necessary) and abolition became law and eventually consensus. So clearly, slavery was abolished without a full consensus, though it did have majority support. Consensus only truly took root after the law was forced by a small majority.

    Similarly, on segregation, most people were not strong proponents of change, though a majority were uncomfortable with segregation. The civil rights movement succeeded in using that uncomfortable majority to force the vocal segregationalist minority via law. Desegregation in the deep south was so unpopular that US soldiers had to be deployed a couple times to enforce it. Clearly, the movement didn’t wait till there was a consensus of hearts and minds. It got change the moment it could muster a bare majority to force change through. And then a combination of the law and a very strong social pressure that you were lower than scum if you supported segregation gradually turned the segregationalist minority around.

    Support for women’s right to vote and other legal rights at the turn of the century also used a bare majority to push through change that was still widely unpopular.

    Now, the pro-life movement clearly still has a way to go, in that although there is that discomfort with abortion that is widespread, it isn’t yet possible to quite muster a bare majority of pro-life lawmakers. That said, I don’t see why the pro-life movement should seek a different path than the above movements.

    My concern, when I hear strongly left-leaning pro-lifers talking about how it’s necessary to change hearts and minds first and only then make any attempt at legal change is: That’s a very self-serving view if you’re politically leftist on other issues. Most anti-abortion politicians are right-leaning. Most left-leaning politicians are pro-abortion. So “let’s change hearts and minds first” can work out to meaning “let’s not attack the guys that I happen to want to vote for because of other issues”. Which in the end could itself be a major obstacle to changing hearts and minds, because for all the warm and fuzzy talk, one of the ways that hearts and minds were changed in regards to segregation was by enforcing a cultural taboo that if you were pro-segregation you were a racist pig. (Example, complimenting Strom Thurman is now enough to get you hounded out of political life.)

    • Desegregation in the deep south was so unpopular that US soldiers had to be deployed a couple times to enforce it. Clearly, the movement didn’t wait till there was a consensus of hearts and minds. It got change the moment it could muster a bare majority to force change through.

      While there was not a consensus in the South for desegregation, By the time the Civil and Voting Rights Acts were passed, the country as a whole had turned decisively against segregation – 10+ years of watching little girls be firehosed and little old ladies being beaten had that effect. The fact that the country saw those things on television is what turned them against segregationists.

      That’s a very self-serving view if you’re politically leftist on other issues. Most anti-abortion politicians are right-leaning. Most left-leaning politicians are pro-abortion. So “let’s change hearts and minds first” can work out to meaning “let’s not attack the guys that I happen to want to vote for because of other issues”.

      As I said previously, I’m not a “leftist” in the sense that word is usually used (say “leftist” and most folks think of radical Marxists, the “hippie left” from a half century ago, Che Guevara types, etc.) – I’m much more of a New-Dealer, pro-labor, economic populist. And my views on tactics and strategy are sincere, and I think I’ve explained them enough to make that clear, though if you choose not to trust me on that, I guess that’s ok.

      Which in the end could itself be a major obstacle to changing hearts and minds, because for all the warm and fuzzy talk, one of the ways that hearts and minds were changed in regards to segregation was by enforcing a cultural taboo that if you were pro-segregation you were a racist pig.

      Hearts and minds were changed by showing people the reality of the true nature of segregation on their TV screens. When segregation (for Northerners) was a sort of peculiar, slightly embarrassing abstraction, it could be ignored; brutality moved people to empathize with the victims.

  • And incidentally, I also am impressed with the tone of the discussion. Thanks for hosting it.

  • Let me add one other thing, Darwin:

    Given your previous comment about the right:

    (Though, as a conservative, I suppose I’d be willing to settle for all movements ceasing to exist… I have hope in no change.)

    …It might make sense to fill the leadership of the pro-life movement with pro-life leftish folks (veterans of the civil rights movement, maybe?) for whom the kind of organizing and tactics I describe might come more naturally.

  • If Roe were to be overturned, there would be no chance of it ever being law again, because it would have to be overturned on more or less universal legal premises. It’s also important to note that this is possible because most Constitutional scholars think Roe v Wade is good policy but bad law.

  • Kurt

    John writes:

    Kurt, good point, but there are now only – what 25 pro-life Dems in the House and – how many now in the Senate?

    How many? Too few. My point was not to dispute your statement that the number of anti-abortion Democrats in Congress has declined. It was that the cause of the decline is the Democratic leadership.

    I think a smart political strategy for the pro-life movement would be to look at a district and if it is a generally democratic seat, find a pro-life democrat to run.

    I do too. They rarely do. When pro-life Democrat John LaFalce and pro-choice Democrat Louise Slaughter were thrown in the same congressional district, the RTLC offered LaFalce no support. Last year, RTL backed pro-life Republican Steve Chabot against pro-life Democrat Steve Dreihaus, saying they back incuments. Now Dreihaus is the the incumbent. Where is the support?

    One more thing and this applies to Kurt’s comment on leadership. the pro-life leadership throughout the country is more diverse than you imagine.

    I asked Matt for some examples. If you could assist him on this, I would be most appreciative.

    Further I think that it is quite judgmental and fails to account for what we know to be areas requiring prudential determinations.

    Everything in legislation and political action requires prudential determinations.

  • The early pro-life movement WAS filled with a lot of “left-leaning” and in some cases “radical” civil rights veterans, some of whom I defended over the years.

    Here is the rub. Left leaning pro-lifers “appear” or “seem” to be more interested in critiquing the movement, Republicans, gadflys, etc., instead of challenging within the “left” or the Democratic party the current status quo. Believe me when i say that I get pretty frustrated over the lip service that i get from some of the so-called pro-life leadership in the House and Senate and RNC type groups. BUT, then I look over at the Catholic Democrats who are scandalizing the Faith with their pro-abortion votes and somehow the hypocrisy on the Right is a little more tolerable.

    tell me the truth. What was going on in your stomach after reading the Newsweek interview of Nancy Pelosi the other day. Nancy the theologian….

    And then we look at the entire Northeast and all those pro-abortion “Kennedy style” Catholics.

    If we who call ourselves Catholic would just live the faith and only support pro-life candidates, we could end this nightmare next election.

    But the good news is that every day ordinary people are acting to save lives. Yesterday I spoke with a sidewalk counselor who had a turn around that day and one the day previous.

    So in the immortal words of Winston Churchill – never, never, never give up.

    And Matt, even if they try to beat you up in your local group, stay involved and give it right back. Lives are saved through your efforts.

  • It’s time the pro-life movement distanced itself publicly from such rhetoric.

    And it does, regularly.

    But I reject Battered Spouse Syndrome notion that if only the pro-life movement were a little nicer, if it backed off the rhetoric a bit, then it would get a fair hearing.

    The truth to pro-life movement has to tell is a cross. And people will look for whatever reasons they can to avoid a cross. That doesn’t mean we go out of our ways to give them reasons to avoid it, but we can’t kid ourselves that if only Ann Coulter would shut up, people would be open to pro-life arguments.

    There’s also the severity involved, too. For a movement looking to end the intentional killing of millions of unborn children to take time to concern itself with whatever mean thing Ann Coulter just said reveals skewed priorities.

    Some people are going to get carried away. Frankly, given the magnitude of the problem, I’d almost be disappointed if they weren’t. Others will try to co-opt the outrage for their own purposes.

    But I think the problem is summarized by continuing to refer to the pro-life movement in the third person. What the pro-life movement should do, who it should have as leaders, etc.

    Ann Coulter is not going anywhere, unfortunately. And she will probably still call herself pro-life. If her presence in the pro-life movement prevents others from seeing the truth of the pro-life position, I suspect they didn’t want to see it anyway.

  • David Nickol

    (Example, complimenting Strom Thurman is now enough to get you hounded out of political life.)

    DarwinCatholic,

    Just for the record, these were the remarks made by Trent Lott:

    I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.

    Thurmond ran as the segregationist, Dixiecrat candidate against both Republican and Democratic candidates. The Washington Post account notes:

    He [Thurmond] declared during his campaign against Democrat Harry S. Truman, who supported civil rights legislation, and Republican Thomas Dewey: “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.”

    Lott’s remarks were made at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party and retirement celebration, where you can be sure there was praise aplenty. However, according to the Washington Post account:

    The gathering, which included many Thurmond family members and past and present staffers, applauded Lott when he said “we’re proud” of the 1948 vote. But when he said “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” if Thurmond had won, there was an audible gasp and general silence.

    It’s one thing to praise Strom Thurmond. It’s another thing to say that you supported the segregationist candidate in 1948, and that if he had won, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”

    For those who don’t remember, it doesn’t take much googling to verify that top conservatives (David Frum, William Kristol, George Will) were very critical of Lott.

  • David and Darwin: I let both your posts pass, but I’d rather not have the thread be derailed by an argument about Thurmond and Lott – let’s stay focused on the topic at hand.

  • John McG – I’m not really claiming what you say I’m claiming – that “If only Ann Coulter would shut up, people would be open to pro-life arguments.”

    Coulter and people like her are harming the movement because they are bomb-throwing polemicists who make us seem like nutcases. Why not say something like, “While we may agree with her on abortion, the NRTLC [or whomever] in no way endorses her comments.”

    Believe it or not, there are significant possibilities for changing hearts and minds on abortion in the rank-and-file left in this country; allowing Ann Coulter to continue to present herself as a face of the movement will pretty much guarantee that those minds and hearts will run with both feet away from us.

  • Matt,

    It has been my experience that all too often “hearts and minds” translates to “shut up about abortion.”

    Look at this blog. Look at dotCommonweal or the print Commonweal magazine.

    How much energy from those is dedicated to confronting society’s toleration of abortion, compared to calling out hypocrisy of abolitionist pro-lifers, or defending pro-choice Democratic candidates.

    Even in the health care debate, which I would have hoped would be a signature “common ground” issue, I saw many more posts here arguing that Catholics should accept a bill that included funding abortion than supporting the pro-life Democratic lawmakers who were working to take the abortion funding out of the bill, and pressing the case to remove the funding.

    Many of those echoed the same “hearts and minds, not laws” type of talk you’re offering now.

    I want to believe you mean it. But I hope you understand why some of us might be skeptical.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me that it is a failure of any authentic “pro-life” movement every time a woman wants an abortion, not just every time a woman succeeds in getting one.

    The Declaration on Procured Abortion says that “a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.” It seems to be a common Catholic, “pro-life” argument that legal prohibition must come first, but of course to many of us outsiders — fairly or not — it looks like legal prohibition is the only real goal, and that the social-welfare aspects of the Declaration may be ignored.

    It seems to me that if you save a life, you have made yourself responsible for that life — a good principle, even if it comes from Tonto and the Lone Ranger! How many in the anti-abortion camp would be willing to take on financial responsibility for the million-plus additional lives per year a truly comprehensive and effective ban on abortion would result in?

    Who is the “pro-life” movement really for?The only “pro-life” position I can understand is working so that women who do not want to get pregnant don’t get pregnant, or if they do, working so that they can still want the baby either for themselves or want it to have a good home. A pro-life movement that would make sense to me would be not about the unborn, but about mothers or potential mothers. The unborn are in Gods hands no matter whether they are aborted or not. I don’t see why we should worry about them. It seems to me there is a great deal of anti-abortion sentiment that is based on “moral sentimentality” and a false, fantasized empathy for the unborn — in other words, fetus fetish.

    • David Nickol: While I strongly disagree with (what I remember to be) your position on abortion, you do raise some valid points – points that really need to be thrashed out in the movement, if it is to be truly effective going forward.

      John McG –

      How much energy from those is dedicated to confronting society’s toleration of abortion, compared to calling out hypocrisy of abolitionist pro-lifers, or defending pro-choice Democratic candidates.

      Even in the health care debate, which I would have hoped would be a signature “common ground” issue, I saw many more posts here arguing that Catholics should accept a bill that included funding abortion than supporting the pro-life Democratic lawmakers who were working to take the abortion funding out of the bill, and pressing the case to remove the funding.

      Many of those echoed the same “hearts and minds, not laws” type of talk you’re offering now.

      I want to believe you mean it. But I hope you understand why some of us might be skeptical.

      Speaking from the pro-life left, the feeling is mutual – there has been virtually no effort to include our ideas in the movement’s agenda. For example, what about the “concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion” David mentioned? If that means a government program, the righties who dominate the movement won’t hear of it. Programs to support single mothers, same deal.

      Reach out to the pro-life left, and include some of our ideas in your agenda – we’re eager to help, but are tired of being belittled and patronized.

  • David Nickol

    If you don’t change hearts and minds, you either have women continuing to have abortions, or women having children they wish they could have aborted. I don’t see much good in that.

  • I should mention that Michael Sean Winters’ writings at America have been a notable and welcome exception to the pattern I observed above.

  • Matt,

    Who runs most crisis pregnancy centers, which are now in greater numbers than abortion clinics?

    Who adopts babies?

    I think those things represent, “concrete, honorable and possible alternatives to abortion,” contrary to your assertion that the pro-life movement does nothing about these things.

    But that’s not good enough for you. No, the pro-life movement must support government programs, or else you’re too good for it.

    The righties dominate the movement because people like you have contented yourselves to stand on the sidelines and offer your armchair critiques.

    I am not claiming the pro-life movement is perfect or was immaculately conceived. But it is fighting against what you acknowledge is a horrific injustice.

    If you think the problem is that the movement is dominated by right-wingers, then your carping from sidelines is part of the problem, not the solution. Kind of like men who refuse to get involved in parish activities because they’re dominated by women and thus too feminized. There’s one way to change that…

    If you expect pro-lifers to “work with” those who unambiguously offer full-throated support for legalized abortion, and government funding thereof, it will hardly do for you to turn your nose up at the pro-life movement because Ann Coulter says mean things and they don’t like your government program.

    I also have to challenge this:

    And so on – and (here’s the thing): abortions would continue. In fact, they would very likely expand.

    Can you site a historical example of an activity expanding in response to it being made illegal?

    Prohibition is widely regarded as misguided, but I don’t think anyone claims that alcohol consumption expanded during it.

    I can accept that pro-life focus on the make-up of the Supreme Court is misguided. But it has been demonstrated that there is nothing as effective at reducing abortions as banning the procedure itself.

    Yes, that does not discharge us of our duty to these children and their families. But I hardly think it is a waste for someone who wants to reduce or eliminate a practice to focus on the Supreme Court ruling that declared it a Constitutional right.

    Or, even if there were 0 abortions, the injustice that according to our laws, there is a class of people it is legal to arbitrarily kill.

    • No, the pro-life movement must support government programs, or else you’re too good for it.

      The righties dominate the movement because people like you have contented yourselves to stand on the sidelines and offer your armchair critiques.

      That kind of attitude is exactly what I’m talking about.

  • Can you site a historical example of an activity expanding in response to it being made illegal?

    My argument is (necessarily) a speculative one. The pro-choice movement would see prohibition of abortion as a civil rights issue. Mississippi has (ISTR) exactly one abortion clinic currently. It would likely have many more (now underground) clinics than that in the event of prohibition. Reasonable conclusion: abortion would be more available. If you disagree, I can respect that.

  • David, when I speak of the pro-life movement and those involved, especially those at the grassroots level, I speak of people who do act for the benefit of both mother and child. It is not a “false fantasized empathy for the unborn,” but true compassion. As for the unborn being in God’s hands, so are we all. That does not mean that I, as my children’s father do not have a responsibility to care for them. God has placed me in that role to provide for them. So too we are to “care for the least of our brothers and sisters,” including the unborn. We can never avoid our duty to our neighbor as Christ has commanded us.

    As for the responsibility of those who engage in activities which bring into being new life, they also share in the duty to care for the results of their decision making. Too much of the time, we are unwilling to discuss the fact that most of our discussion would be academic if we followed the teachings of Christ and avoided certain behavior. Indeed our society has lost sight of the meaning of “self control” or “self discipline” or “mastery of the will.”

  • Mark Gordon

    A pro-life movement that would make sense to me would be not about the unborn, but about mothers or potential mothers. The unborn are in Gods hands no matter whether they are aborted or not.

    Well, I guess we’re all in God’s hands, aren’t we? Yet, presumably you don’t counsel indifference toward the poor, the sick, the elderly, the oppressed, the abused. Are those who advocate for the poor making a fetish of them? Are those who work with refugees, or the victims of sexual abuse fetishists? Why would one make such a crude psychological accusation against an entire group of people, and faithful fellow Catholics, at that?

    Here’s what I’m for: on Saturday mornings I walk and pray outside an abortion clinic in a nearby city. I’ve been doing that for years. During the rest of the week, I volunteer for the Society of St. Vincent dePaul in my parish, bringing food, medicine, diapers, clothes, heating oil, and the other necessities of life to the poor in their homes. I also serve on the board of my local soup kitchen and homeless shelter, which includes an innovative program offering transitional permanent housing for single mothers and their childrn. Finally, I’m a financial contributor to our local pregnancy center, which counsels women on abortion alternatives, including adoption, and makes available a full range of pre-and post-natal services.

    I do all that out of the same, seamless concern for human persons, my precious brothers and sisters, whether born or unborn. You may sit there and accuse those of us in the pro-life movement of having a “fetus fetish.” But let me ask one question:

    What do you do?

  • Warrick Walker

    Matt: Oops! I didn’t know this is a predominantly catholic site. I’m of the evangelical protestant persuasion,but, what the heck. We all have our crosses to bear!I’m a little disappointed (but not suprised) at the attempts to politicise the debate and to stake out left/right positions.The Bible knows no such distinctions. Rather,it obliges us to act according to what God has revealed is right and wrong.That is why I claim no political affiliation, but ,instead, try to make biblically based decisions on a case by case basis.Our job as ambassadors is to be salt and light to the culture and impact it for the sake of the kingdom.Otherwise, we’re simply “secret agents, afraid to blow our cover”.If you examine the New Testament, you will no doubt notice that there were many forms of social injustice taking place. The disciples did not trust in the courts or the government to solve these problems. Rather, they lead by example,forgiving when forgiveness was needed,giving when charity was required,serving when things needed doing,and,most of all,loving. While overturning Roe v Wade in the short term would reduce abortions( and that’s a good thing)in the long run people would turn to other jurisdictions where abortion is legal or,worse, just swallow an abortion producing pill which in some ways is even more nefarious.I am reminded that for years the United States has had leaders who have professed to be people of faith(catholic or otherwise)and as a group have done little to stop this slaughter.No,the real war has to be waged in our homes,schools,workplaces and any other place where two or more people are present. By respectfully challenging pro-choicers to defend their position(assuming we are equipped enough to give a reasonable counter argument) we can hopefully get them to see what abortion really is and so make it unnecessary to change the law because no one will want one!.Remember,it has taken almost 50 years to get to this point , so this won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Even now support for abortion is waning.
    By the way, for anyone who has not read it, I can’t recommend enough the book ” When Choice Becomes God” by F. LaGard Smith. How I wish this was required reading for our grade 12’s and 1st year university students!And remember, in the words of Augustine: in the essentials unity, in the non essentials liberty and in all other things charity. God bless each and every one of you.

  • David Nickol

    As for the unborn being in God’s hands, so are we all.
    Well, I guess we’re all in God’s hands, aren’t we?

    John and Mark,

    My understanding of Catholic thought is that what is the most important thing about human existence is salvation. We are all in God’s hands in one way or another, but when it comes to salvation, the unborn are entirely in God’s hands, and those of us who can have abortions or worry about abortions or try to stop abortions are very much in our own hands. If the Catholic Church is right, what we do makes a difference between eternal bliss and eternal suffering. The unborn are not in that position.

    I abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human being — that is, murder — whom should we have the most concern for, the would-be perpetrator (the mother) or the would-be victim (the unborn child)? Whose salvation is at risk? And if legal prohibitions are the best you can do, a woman who wants an abortion but is prevented from getting one is someone who has committed murder in her heart and will more likely than not be the one who raises the child she wanted to kill. Not an ideal family situation, and from the standpoint of salvation of the mother and the unwanted child, not an ideal situation, either.

    As for the fetus fetish remark, I was quoting Eugene McCarraher being provocative. As I read him (and no doubt oversimplify his thought) he is saying that abortion is not the disease, it’s a symptom of the disease, and he’s saying many who are appalled by abortion object to the symptom but support the disease, which is capitalism. Exactly how far I am willing to go with him on that I don’t know, but I do note that Pope Benedict XVI denounces capitalism with the same vehemence that he denounces Marxism, so an attack on capitalism shouldn’t shock or surprise Catholics. In any case, for those who object to the term “fetus fetish,” your quarrel is more with McCarraher than it is with me.

  • David Nickol

    You may sit there and accuse those of us in the pro-life movement of having a “fetus fetish.” But let me ask one question:

    What do you do?

    Mark,

    First of all, I did not accuse everyone in the pro-life movement of having a fetus fetish. I said, “It seems to me there is a great deal of anti-abortion sentiment that is based on “moral sentimentality” and a false, fantasized empathy for the unborn — in other words, fetus fetish.” It is impossible to empathize with the unborn, or at least fairly early embryos. The definition of empathy from Merriam-Webster: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. It is simply impossible to empathize with an embryo at an early stage of development, even though we all were embryos once. If you can empathize with an embryo, please explain to me what the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of an embryo are. The horror I feel at the thought of being pulled apart by a huge suction machine is not empathy with an aborted baby. It is a pure act of imagination on my part. Grisly photos of aborted fetus parts are intensely disturbing, but the feelings they evoke have nothing to do with the actual experiences of embryos.

    Second, I am attempting reasoned arguments here, and how long my resume of good works is compared to yours has no bearing on whether or not my arguments have merit. However, if you want to know what I do for the anti-abortion cause, the answer is nothing. I don’t know whether it was your intention or not, but one of the things I find annoying about some in the anti-abortion movement is that they seem to feel one’s worthiness is determined by how much one does to try to put an end to abortion. However worthy a cause that is, everyone is entitled to his or her own way of trying to make the world a better place. Someone who is deeply moved by the suffering of animals and devotes all of his or her charitable work and contributions to animal welfare is just as worthy, in my opinion, as somebody whose focus is immigrants, or the environment, or abused children. What moves me the most is human suffering, particularly the suffering of children. That is my own personal focus, and I don’t see a significant connection to the anti-abortion movement.

  • David and Mark: I can see your subthread becoming a distraction from discussion of the main thrust of my post. I’ll let it continue for now, but please wrap up your side discussion at your earliest convenience.

  • David Nickol

    Matt,

    I’ve had my say, except (1) my two-sentence message of December 30, 2009 at 4:34 pm is still awaiting moderation, and (2) with your permission, I will reproduce my favorite quote, from the Declaration on Procured Abortion.

    23. On the contrary, it is the task of law to pursue a reform of society and of conditions of life in all milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person. Help for families and for unmarried mothers, assured grants for children, a statute for illegitimate children and reasonable arrangements for adoption – a whole positive policy must be put into force so that there will always be a concrete, honorable and possible alternative to abortion.

  • digbydolben

    Darwincatholic, are you a Southerner? Have you never heard of the “Jim Crow” laws? Do you honestly believe that de facto slavery was ended by the American Civil War?

    Also, do you know much about the last phase of Martin Luther King’s life? By that time he had realized that the ending of de jure segregation would have little effect on ending institutionalized, socially-effected racism in America. He had connected the dots and well understood that the inhumane economic system of America as well as its militarism (i.e. in the form of support for the war in Vietnam) were directly connected to the racism he had fought against all his life.

    I think that Dr. King would have very much supported the “ground up” program that Matt is advocating here.

  • digbydolben

    Example, complimenting Strom Thurman is now enough to get you hounded out of political life.)

    Not in South Carolina, it’s not. (Now I KNOW you’re not a Southerner, Darwincatholic! 🙂

  • Ronald King

    David, I am in total agreement with your statement about abortion being the symptom and not the disease. Abortion is the outcome of the disease. It is easier to express care for a child developing in the womb than to provide for the mother who carries that child.
    What causes the disease? If we do not know then our solution is flawed. Everything that does not support and validate those who bring life into the world creates the disease that ends life. Everything that is not love leads to the death of the innocent no matter where they may be living at the time.
    A heart that is afraid and does not know its own value in the competitive and violent world that males have created has been infected by the disease.
    The disease affects the heart and soul which is created for an environment of love. The cure for the disease is not words nor legislation. Love is not legislated. Love is an action that transcends human reason but is clearly understood in the heart and soul of the recipient. Love looks insane to the lovers of human logic and reason because it cannot be comprehended by that left-brain dominated observer. Love is holistic and thus observes the disease from a holistic perspective.
    David seems to exhibit a more holistic understanding and to me appears to be influenced by the mystery of love in his comments.

  • Leah

    One thing that is continually left out of discussions of the pro-life movement is the role of race. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be against abortion. However, not only are both of these groups underrepresented in the pro-life movement, but women of color are more likely to have abortions. I think there are several reasons for this. First, there do not seem to be many attempts to engage the black (Protestant) church in the abortion debate. Part of this is due to the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy,” which alienated black voters. The fact that certain prominent pro-life culture warriors (I’m thinking specifically of Jerry Falwell) were once pro-segregation, makes it difficult to convince blacks that they really have their best interests at heart. If black church-goers, especially in politically important cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and New York can be persuaded to support the pro-life movement, that would force the Democratic Party to not be so stridently pro-abortion. If pro-lifers embed themselves in low-income minority areas and actively work to change the grassroots culture surrounding sex, marriage, and relationships, that would crowd out the influence of the pro-abortion activists who tend to run women’s health collectives and the like.

    Second, pro-abortionists will gladly enlist religious people justify abortion, but pro-lifers (the one’s I’ve encountered) have not made similar overtures to non-whites and non-Christians. The way it stands now, the pro-life movement tends to be percieved as the pet cause of conservative white Catholics/Protestants, and not many others. This will continue to be the case as long as abortion is framed as being a strict “culture wars” issue, rather than one of human rights. This situation isn’t likely to change unless the pro-life movement can recruit significant numbers of secular humanists, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, gays, and any other sub-group that’s out there.

    Lastly, there is also the fact that technological advances have changed the nature of the abortion debate. I don’t know if making abortion illegal is even feasible at this point. The cat is already out of the bag with portable suction devices, abortion pills, and other technological developments that remove the need even for the presence of an abortion clinic. There is a common belief in political science and economic development literature that legalizing access to birth control and abortion is a sign of a modernizing society. That view certainly won’t be going away anytime soon. Who exactly would we put in prison? Doctors, probably but what about the women? Sure, the woman forced to have an abortion by her abusive boyfriend or husband may have diminished culpability, but what about the woman who doesn’t want pregnancy to prevent her from wearing a certain dress? Or the woman who wants one baby, not three (this was documented in a New York Times magazine story and even hard-core pro-abortionists were creeped out)? The woman who wanted a girl but got a boy or vice versa? Or the woman who just likes having child-free sex? More thought needs to go into figuring out exactly what the end goal of the pro-life movement should be and what the legal and social implications of such goals might be.

    Prior to about the 1950s or so, the main factor that prevented more women from having more abortions was the threat of fatal injury or death rather than the presence of a “culture of life.” Throughout most of history, the desire to have an abortion or practice contraception meant buying a strange concoction from a woman who could politely be described as the village hag. The stuff that she gave you might cause a “safe abortion,” act as a contraceptive potion, or possible lead to loss of life and limb. Given these options, all but the most desperate choose to have the baby.

    However, by the end of World War II the world of medicine had changed to the point where safe surgical abortion was possible. Due to other medical advancements, the events where a mother’s life would actually be in danger to nessesitate an abortion (a common smokescreen used by rich women to obtain abortions) were very rare. This was another reason why doctors sought to decriminalize abortion. The Church was really unprepared to confront what would happen if abortion and contraception became common, because without access to scientifically tested forms of birth control, these scenarios are almost thought experiments.


  • The righties dominate the movement because people like you have contented yourselves to stand on the sidelines and offer your armchair critiques.

    That kind of attitude is exactly what I’m talking about.

    You mean the attitude that advocating on behalf of the unborn should not be conditioned on the movement accepting your laundry list of policy proposals on tangentially related matters?

    Then I don’t apologize for it.

    • No, John McG – I mean the uncharitable caricature.

  • Matt,

    I’d basically signed off, so I didn’t see what followed, and frankly don’t have the time today to catch up on all of it, but I did want to clarify two things immediately related to my comments:

    1) My point about the danger of “change hearts and minds first” being a self serving suggestion for politically leftist Catholics was not meant to either pigeon-hole you with people you don’t agree with or to suggest that I think you’re being dishonest. It’s more that I think that, particularly in the political arena, we are always needed to examine why we hold the pragmatic positions we do, and if those positions are correct, or if they are based on a desire to serve the interests of those who instinctively see as our political allies. For myself, as someone of strongly conservative temperment, I know that the temptation for me is to fall into the trap of being “fair minded” but inactive in the way that MLK talks about in his Lettter From Birmingham Jail, and thus failing to support political change where it _does_ actually stand a chance of being positive. I have to assume that the opposite temptation exists for political progressives: to go along with the secularizing instincts of fellow progressives even when they in fact should not, because of an unconscious assumption that other progressives are “the good guys” and so working with them on all issues is better than fighting them.

    2) In reference to David’s comment (and not seeking to derail at all) I just want to be clear that I fully support Lott getting his tail kicked out of public life for praising Thurman — even though I think it’s arguable he probably didn’t see his remarks at the time as endorsing segregation. (After all, segregation itself was not a major national issue in 1948.) As a conservative, I think one of the major ways that we enforce societal mores is by placing strong taboos on certain issues. Thus, I think it’s good for our society (and helps to keep racism stamped down) to over-punish anything that looks like endorsing segregation. However, similarly, I think it is incumbant upon us as Catholics to apply similar levels of shame and ostricization to anyone who endorses a pro-choice agenda. We may not like the fact, but shame is a powerful means of building a social sense of morality. If we refuse to apply shame to high profile pro-choice individuals, we effectively tell people that abortion is moral.

  • Kurt

    You mean the attitude that advocating on behalf of the unborn should not be conditioned on the movement accepting your laundry list of policy proposals on tangentially related matters?

    For 30 years I was part of the pro-life movement that was to an accpetable degree focused on abortion. I defended its non-involvement in issues such as the death penalty to critics on the basis that the movement needed to be broad in appeal and focused in objectives. I left when it became part and parcel of political conservativism and intolerant of of pro-life liberals.

  • Matt Bowman

    Matt–I echo John J in appreciating your perspective and the seriousness of your approach. I agree that the core of the pro-life movement needs to be a social movement of nonviolent action in solidarity with preborn children and their families. Pope John Paul II said in On Social Concern that the root to freedom to massive entrenched social evil is radical solidarity with the victims.

    Of course we might say as you did that this is the answer INSTEAD of what the pro-life movement is doing politically. We might just as well say that it is the answer INSTEAD of bloggers and commenters spouting praise or criticism or strategy about what pro-life activity should be. That doesn’t get us far. I hope you would agree (but am not sure) that it is a false dichotomy to say we need a change-hearts-agape movement first and then law changes later. There is no reason not to pursue both at the same time. A reason why you might think we can’t pursue both is what I think is your somewhat narrow view of the legal side of the existing pro-life movement, which you define as anti-Roe only. In fact, the legal side of the pro-life movement also goes into state legislatures now and tries to pass lots of restrictions on abortion, and successfully passes many. Consider the Hyde Amendment, which has prevented millions of abortions. You can’t assess the legal side of the movement and ignore these efforts. I think people ignore them because they aren’t as flashy as presidential campaigns themselves, but they are occurring in large scale.

    Consider also many laws causing debate and many education campaigns and prayerful efforts of solidarity at aborton facilities themselves and the MASSIVE pregnancy support movement, and that this all combines to us now having record high people claiming to be pro-life and record low numbers of abortions even though the US population is increasing.

    One effect of claiming that the political pro-life movement is anti-Roe-only, is that once anti-Roe is declared to be a disfavored goal, then nothing else legally and politically supporting abortion matters in that person’s calculus, EVEN THOUGH TONS of other legal and political things are happening that increase or decrease abortions significantly. So the line last year was, support Obama because anti-Roe-only is a losing strategy, implying there’s nothing else of weighty concern. But there is the combined effect of: Mexico City, UN diplomacy spreading abortion abroad, pro-abortion appointments throughout the executive, health reform paying for abortion coverage for the poor who don’t otherwise get abortions, massive increases in federally fundded embryo destruction, yes the one and soon two or three Supreme Court appointments upholding or striking down all those state restrictions I mention above, and the list is too long to name here. Saying, well the pro-life movement is anti-Roe-only and then rejecting anti-Roe ignores the enormous combined effect of these other legal and political efforts and impliedly says that each of them is not significant. The result that a “pro-life” person can support all of them and still claim to be pro-life–because, arguing circularly, there is nothing (significant) in the pro-life political movement but anti-Roe.

    In short, I think your analysis must include consideration of the massive pregnancy support network that already exists WITHIN the pro-life movement and is working hard and very well, and must also reckon with the combined effect of all the other legal and political efforts at issue. Indeed, a wholistic agape Church-based movement cannot by definition exclude consideration of various components of the existing and still-needed pro-life movement, or say to any one of them in effect “I have no need of you.” We are one body.

  • Mark Gordon

    Thanks, Matt, for a great post. With your indulgence, this will be my last comment.

    David Nickol, allow me to answer each of the points you raise in your two responses, points which you’ve been retailing on this and other websites for months:

    My understanding of Catholic thought is that what is the most important thing about human existence is salvation. We are all in God’s hands in one way or another, but when it comes to salvation, the unborn are entirely in God’s hands, and those of us who can have abortions or worry about abortions or try to stop abortions are very much in our own hands. If the Catholic Church is right, what we do makes a difference between eternal bliss and eternal suffering. The unborn are not in that position. I[f] abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human being — that is, murder — whom should we have the most concern for, the would-be perpetrator (the mother) or the would-be victim (the unborn child)? Whose salvation is at risk? And if legal prohibitions are the best you can do, a woman who wants an abortion but is prevented from getting one is someone who has committed murder in her heart and will more likely than not be the one who raises the child she wanted to kill. Not an ideal family situation, and from the standpoint of salvation of the mother and the unwanted child, not an ideal situation, either.

    This, it seems to me, is the consequentialist argument par excellence. If they wind up saved, it doesn’t matter how they wind up dead. But precisely the same argument could be made about infanticide or children who have not attained to the age of reason. Or for the euthanization of those with mental deficiencies that render them morally unaccountable. Presumably, you do not counsel moral indifference to to the killing of these persons. Why are you not consistent in your reasoning?

    As for the ‘fetus fetish’ remark, I was quoting Eugene McCarraher being provocative. As I read him (and no doubt oversimplify his thought) he is saying that abortion is not the disease, it’s a symptom of the disease, and he’s saying many who are appalled by abortion object to the symptom but support the disease, which is capitalism.

    Your selective reading of McCarraher’s interview is illuminating, especially considering that you are personally “pro-choice.” In context. McCarraher says: “Abortion becomes conceivable as a moral practice once we take individual autonomy as the beau ideal of the self; but to recognize that is, if we’re logical, to indict not only abortion but also our cherished idyll of choice or freedom. But that, then, is to indict capitalism …” As much as anything, McCarraher seems to be saying that to be pro-choice is to apply to human persons the same consumerist logic at the heart of capitalism’s myth of the autonomous self. One can only contradict the logic by undermining the myth. Now, it is true that many pro-life people don’t undermine the myth – they don’t oppose the logic of capitalism – but that is generally because they simply don’t understand the connection, as I once did not. Others, like you, DO understand the connection and yet don’t oppose either the logic or the myth. In fact, you defend it, essentially making the claim here and elsewhere that merely because of its dependence on another the fetus surrenders his right to life in favor of the mother’s autonomous right to choose. The fetish of the pro- choice movement, of which you are a part, is the autonomous individual self, which McCarraher condemns. For you, who fundamentally disagrees with McCarraher’s point to wield his alliterative trope, “fetus fetish,” as a weapon is a form of intellectual sleight of hand.

    It is impossible to empathize with the unborn, or at least fairly early embryos. The definition of empathy from Merriam-Webster: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. It is simply impossible to empathize with an embryo at an early stage of development, even though we all were embryos once. If you can empathize with an embryo, please explain to me what the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of an embryo are.

    First, substantiate your flat asserion that “it is impossible to empathize with the unborn.”

    Second, I deny your implication that opposition to abortion is based on empathy or moral sentimentality, including revulsion. Perhaps you can’t imagine solidarity apart from empathy, but that’s your problem. The Church teaches that the unborn are human persons, a teaching that coheres with own observations and understanding of the world, such as the human physical form of the unborn and the fact of genetic differentiation. Human persons possess a dignity that I am bound to defend, whether I “feel” something or not. I am opposed to capital punishment, but I am certainly not sentimental about or empathetic with murderers. One cannot empathize in the least with the feelings, thoughts and experiences of a chicken, and yet one may insist on only purchasing free range eggs or locally packaged chicked meat, humanely farmed. A tree has neither feelings, thoughts or experiences with which to empathize, and yet one can object vigorously to the needless destruction of a beautiful, living poplar.

    But let’s grant that some opposition to is based on empathy. Is that really misplaced? You cite the first half of the definition – “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present” – but conveniently play down the second half: “without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” I can empathize in a general way with all living things because I am one, “without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” I can empathize with all living beings – that is, all animals – because I am one, “without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” I can empathize with all human persons because I am one, “without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” This is called “moral imagination,” David, and it is the very essence of solidarity. Only those who are completely given over to the logic of the myth of the autonomous individual self seem particularly incapable of moral imagination: If it hasn’t happened to me, I can’t imagine it.

    I am attempting reasoned arguments here, and how long my resume of good works is compared to yours has no bearing on whether or not my arguments have merit.

    What we do has everything to do with everything else, or haven’t you read Matthew 25 (or the Letter to James, for that matter)? Talk is cheap, and commenting on a blog is even cheaper. If your arguments don’t translate into concrete action to relieve human suffering, they aren’t worth the pixels they’re written with.

    However, if you want to know what I do for the anti-abortion cause, the answer is nothing.

    I didn’t ask what you do for the anti-abortion cause because I don’t work for the anti-abortion cause. I work in the cause of human solidarity. I told you what I do, and then asked “What do you do?” So, what do you do, David?

    What moves me the most is human suffering, particularly the suffering of children. That is my personal focus, and I don’t see a significant connection to the anti-abortion movement.

    But, I didn’t ask what “moves” you because I really don’t care. Feelings are not the issue. I asked what you do. What do you do for suffering children, David?

  • digbydolben

    Leah, I’m so happy that a woman entered this discussion and injected sufficient common sense into it that the male idealogues might be able to recognise that the “cat,” as you put it, is, indeed, “out of the bag” as regards the “culture of death” in post-modernist, consumerist societies.

    [Digby – I edited out your second paragraph, as I considered it to be needlessly provocative, and likely to send the discussion into the weeds – Matt]

  • David Nickol

    But, I didn’t ask what “moves” you because I really don’t care. Feelings are not the issue. I asked what you do. What do you do for suffering children, David?

    Mark,

    You seem to be quite angry not just with the thoughts I express but with me as an individual. I participate here and on dotCommonweal because I enjoy the exchange of ideas. I don’t enjoy personal battles, and even if I did, I think it would be inappropriate of me to engage in this one when Matt has asked us not to distract from his original post.

  • For myself, as someone of strongly conservative temperment, I know that the temptation for me is to fall into the trap of being “fair minded” but inactive in the way that MLK talks about in his Lettter From Birmingham Jail, and thus failing to support political change where it _does_ actually stand a chance of being positive. I have to assume that the opposite temptation exists for political progressives: to go along with the secularizing instincts of fellow progressives even when they in fact should not, because of an unconscious assumption that other progressives are “the good guys” and so working with them on all issues is better than fighting them.

    I’ll make you a deal, Darwin – I’ll work on my lefty friends on that issue, if you’ll work on your rightie friends on it. 🙂

  • David Nickol

    Lastly, there is also the fact that technological advances have changed the nature of the abortion debate.

    Leah,

    Yours is one of the most interesting posts I have ever read in a thread about abortion.

    Regarding technology, I wonder if future technological advances won’t change the nature of the debate even more.

    Should medical science reach the point in which first trimester fetuses can be brought to term by use of artificial wombs, the idea of “viability” will surely play less of a role in the debate. I think it would be more difficult to justify surgical abortions if the technology existed to simply remove an embryo and bring it to term artificially. Of course, that would also move us closer to Brave New World, where pregnancy is a thing of the past for “civilized” women, and babies are routinely produced from conception to “birth” in an artificial environment.

    Should easier, cheaper, more nearly foolproof methods of contraception become widely available, the number of unwanted pregnancies would be reduced. Also there might very well be less sympathy for women who become pregnant and want to abort.

  • digbydolben

    OK, Matt, this is a very good discussion anyway.

    Happy New Year!

  • Ronald King

    Matt, Since you mentioned Gandhi I thought it necessary to relate his method for initiating change in the government. Why not?

  • That is probably coming at some point, Ronald.

  • dan

    “Overturning Roe would more or less immediately galvanize a large part of the pro-choice left (who would make common cause with the pro-choice faction of the libertarian right) ”

    I don’t see the libertarian right getting all upset and taking to the streets if Roe is overturned. From what I have heard from that “wing” of our political fabricate is that they believe Roe was a bad ruling and that states should have the right to legislate on this issue.

    Yes, “deep agape love” is the way to witness for the Pro-life cause. Keep witnessing…participate respectfully in a Walk for Life event, respectfully write to your representatives and letters to the editor,…give and give to charities…expand your Pro-life horizons by speaking out against the death penalty etc…join peaceful protests at Fort Benning, Lawrence Livermore labs…

  • Excelsior

    There are a lot of sad truths about the eventual, longed-for overthrow of Roe v. Wade.

    One of them, of course, is that in the states abortion would sometimes remain legal at any stage of development, and usually remain legal at early stages.

    However, the article claims, “…abortions would continue. In fact, they would very likely expand.”

    The first part of that is true. The second part is ridiculous. That the left would be galvanized would be true…in the short term. It’s even possible that there’d be exactly the same number of abortions per month for a while (that is, in the short term).

    But assuming that the overturning of Roe could be maintained for more than a couple of years, the plain fact is that states would finally have freedom to make it difficult to obtain an abortion without crossing state lines to another, more pro-choice state. Many states would do just this.

    And that increased difficulty would deter some abortions, thus leading inevitably to a reduction in numbers.

    To say that it would expand…no, let me not address that just yet.

    To say that abortion rates would remain unchanged is to imply that the left would throw great resources at finding any woman inconvenienced by the increased difficulty of obtaining an abortion, and transporting her to other states.

    I can well believe that they’d try to do just that. But it would be very expensive in time and money to completely offset the new difficulty every abortion-seeking woman in Utah or Alabama would encounter in obtaining an abortion.

    And if the left did spend all that time and money? Wonderful! That’d mean they’d have rather less money to spend on other things, such as passing pro-choice laws and achieving pro-choice state-level rulings all around the country to offset the effect of Roe’s repeal.

    You see, Roe is a massive resource-saver for the left. It costs little to maintain because of stare decisis, yet it forces pro-lifers to spend huge amounts of money in every state, and at the national level, in order to achieve legislative victories which often end up being declared unconstitutional. Roe makes expending resources to achieve pro-life state and federal laws a bad risk: Run afoul of Roe and your law is overturned, and your resources were expended for nothing.

    Eliminate Roe, and suddenly it’s the opposite: The pro-choicers have to fight state-to-state, and more in the legislative realm, where, whenever they can’t get their way through judicial fiat, they tend to lose.

    So, to return to the original observation: In the long term, if Roe were not somehow re-instated, then its overturn would either reduce abortion because of the increased difficulty of obtaining an abortion, or keep things at status quo levels…but only because the pro-choicers were willing to spend huge resources offsetting the difficulty of procuring an abortion in red states, which (a.) I think they’re unlikely to do; (b.) I think might not succeed even if they tried; and, (c.) would be great, because such a resource drain would weaken them overall.

    Now the funny thing is the claim that abortion might “actually expand.” Nah. That would only be possible if either (1.) demand for abortions increased; or, (2.) demand for abortion is not currently being met, and the pro-choicers could manage to throw enough resources at ease-of-procurement that it became easier to obtain an abortion than it is now, thus allowing more demand to be met.

    I can’t see any reason why (1.) would be true.

    And (2.) is very unlikely, because it would, again, be very expensive for the pro-aborts to make it easier than it is now to obtain abortions despite a sudden increase in state-level regulations against.

    It is always difficult to predict the future. People, whether singly or in groups, sometimes act in madcap unexpected ways.

    But the smart money is that with the overturning of Roe abortions would decrease even as the left went ape. No matter what their rage, it would be too costly in time and money to maintain the status quo abortion numbers, let alone increase them…and if they should happen to achieve something like that for even a short period of time, the resource drain would bleed them dry: A salutary outcome!