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.

"This year, the formula for absolution has changed. The modifications include the line “poured out ..."

Reforming the Sacrament of Reconciliation
"Very late to this article, but is there somewhere in Catholic theology that states this?"It ..."

On the Conscience and Our Response ..."
"This is such an important topic. We as a nation have to admit when solutions ..."

Lies, Damn Lies, and Profit Motives

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad