Race, Abortion and the Military: A Tragic Parallel

Race, Abortion and the Military: A Tragic Parallel March 16, 2012

As explosive a combination of topics as this appears to be, I am aiming here to address a problem on the systemic level in a way that can hopefully cut through the usual polemics.  The particular problem I am referring to is the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in both abortion rates and military recruitment in the United States.  I am using this as both a concrete example of how life issues (in a broad, Catholic Social Teaching sense of the term) interpenetrate, and a jumping-off point for addressing them each more broadly while continuing to hold them in parallel.  I aim above all to avoid the finger-pointing that occurs far too frequently on all sides of these issues, and to lead instead into a proposal for reconciliation.

One can read any number of things into the statistics, depending on what one is looking for.  Some activists have accused abortion providers or military recruiters of deliberately targeting minorities, but on reflection, I doubt that such charges are either true or helpful.  In all probability there are many people working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who sincerely believe they are helping by providing health care to the underserved, and many military recruiters who likewise believe they are helping by providing education and career opportunities.  And in fact they are providing these things – but at a far greater cost than they can or will acknowledge.  In both cases, life-affirming activities are bound tightly together with life-denying ones, and the added racial dynamic only compromises the situation further.  When our minority populations are compelled to sacrifice their unborn and adult children in disproportionate numbers, what this amounts to is systemic racism, which is no less unjust for being unintended.  Indeed there are several injustices tied together, and violence is at the heart of each.

In responding to such complex problems, it should go without saying that it is not enough to simply be anti-abortion or anti-war, or even both.  And sadly, even the more positive identifiers of “pro-life” and “pro-peace” are often reduced to narrowly “anti” connotations, especially when they are talked about in a vacuum and compartmentalized as separate “issues” in a way that ignores their interrelatedness.  In order to promote life and peace, it is necessary to break apart the vacuumized compartments and address the broader interconnections, both in the negative sense of targeting the root causes of violence, and in the positive sense of providing consistently life-affirming alternatives.

As to the former, I see the deeper question beyond the statistics as this: what are the phenomena that lead so many Americans, and minorities in particular, into situations in which abortion or military enlistment appears to be the only viable option?  This question is big enough to deserve its own separate treatment and touches on a variety of areas beyond my expertise, so I will not attempt to answer it here.  Yet it must be raised as an essential foundation for the second necessity, the prevention of violence by the creation of nonviolent alternatives.  If, instead of debating the justification of certain forms of violence, we could begin with an agreement that they should all be prevented as much as possible, then we could focus on making such prevention the common goal – from crisis pregnancy centers to ensuring a just livelihood for parents and children at all stages of life; from equal-opportunity education to just peacemaking and conflict prevention strategies.  Maybe then we wouldn’t even need to argue hawks and doves, pro-life and pro-choice.

To anticipate further questions, let me acknowledge outright that I have been speaking from the premise that all violence is intrinsically evil – and as a corollary to this, that war, abortion and racism are all forms of violence.  From here we could easily go around in circles debating the finer points of this premise, but I would like to suggest a better alternative.  Whether or not you can fully agree with my premise, I would hope that we can all at least agree that all three of the above are tragic and undesirable, and that based on this agreement it is possible to work together toward eradicating their root causes and providing positive alternatives.  This strikes me as a much better use of our energies than debating whether and under what circumstances any of these tragedies may be permissible.

In the end, what I am calling for is nothing less than a paradigm shift, by which it will become possible to see allies in those we have seen as enemies.


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  • Your premise is strong, and your ideals are worth striving for. But I wonder if it is possible to bring about such unity of mind. It seems to me that what requires a man or woman to undertake such procedures such as Abortions, or requires a man to join the military as the only alternative to poverty, is avarice. It seems to me that when a person is driven to the point of abortion, or to the point of accepting a military education, someone benefits from their dire straight. Those that benefit from such a system will not give up their positions of power without a fight, the allure of money is too powerful for them, if only because they do not want to end up where their victims are. Some might respond to such greed with violence, making their fellow men seem not what they are, coloring their cause with a varnish of hate, and preventing any real headway from happening; playing into the hands of those they attack. Without an example it is difficult for any to follow. The trouble I see is not in your premise, but reality. Can you find a man or woman that stands for these principles, provides an example for them, someone they can trust in that cannot be swayed by avarice?

    • Julia Smucker

      Luke, I think you are raising a helpful challenge, and I will try to rise to the occasion with a twofold reply.

      About avarice: I agree that those motives are present and are undoubtedly keeping unjust and violent systems the way they are. I just don’t think it can all be reduced to that, because when this reduction gets to the point of casting “those who benefit from such a system” as absolute villains with no concern for others, it becomes as dehumanizing as the systems themselves. There is no human being who is not “swayed by avarice” in some way, yet there is also no human being without a conscience. Which is why, as Ron points out below, people who become involved in violent systems are very often conflicted. I strongly suspect that this applies at all levels of their chains of command.

      One sentence of yours in particular deserves to be highlighted:
      Some might respond to such greed with violence, making their fellow men seem not what they are, coloring their cause with a varnish of hate, and preventing any real headway from happening; playing into the hands of those they attack.
      This, in a nutshell, is the cycle of violence. It occurs to me that it is as true of culture wars as it is of literal wars. In any case, an alternative is vital, which leads to my second point…

      About reality: when the realities at hand are deeply flawed, the answer is not resignation but transformation. I have even heard it suggested that the impossibility of fully attaining certain ideals means that there is always a responsibility to strive for them. A biblical example of this is Jesus’ citation of Deuteronomy 15:11, “The poor will be with you always,” too frequently used as a prooftext in defense of unjust social structures, even though the rest of the verse takes the situation as a perpetual mandate: “therefore, open your hand…” I suppose when one is still trying to prophesy from the center, one has to remain somewhat idealistic, but I’m sticking to it.

  • Your premise is strong, and your ideals are worth striving for. But I wonder if it is possible to bring about such unity of mind. It seems to me that what requires a man or woman to undertake such procedures such as Abortions, or requires a man to join the military as the only alternative to poverty, is avarice. It seems to me that when a person is driven to the point of abortion, or to the point of accepting a military education, someone benefits from their dire straight. Those that benefit from such a system will not give up their positions of power without a fight, the allure of money is too powerful for them, if only because they do not want to end up where their victims are. Some might respond to such greed with violence, making their fellow men seem not what they are, coloring their cause with a varnish of hate, and preventing any real headway from happening; playing into the hands of those they attack. Without an example it is difficult for any to follow. The trouble I see is not in your premise, but reality. Can you find a man or woman that stands for these principles, provides an example for them, someone they can trust in that cannot be swayed by avarice?

    • Julia Smucker

      Luke, I think you are raising a helpful challenge, and I will try to rise to the occasion with a twofold reply.

      About avarice: I agree that those motives are present and are undoubtedly keeping unjust and violent systems the way they are. I just don’t think it can all be reduced to that, because when this reduction gets to the point of casting “those who benefit from such a system” as absolute villains with no concern for others, it becomes as dehumanizing as the systems themselves. There is no human being who is not “swayed by avarice” in some way, yet there is also no human being without a conscience. Which is why, as Ron points out below, people who become involved in violent systems are very often conflicted. I strongly suspect that this applies at all levels of their chains of command.

      One sentence of yours in particular deserves to be highlighted:
      Some might respond to such greed with violence, making their fellow men seem not what they are, coloring their cause with a varnish of hate, and preventing any real headway from happening; playing into the hands of those they attack.
      This, in a nutshell, is the cycle of violence. It occurs to me that it is as true of culture wars as it is of literal wars. In any case, an alternative is vital, which leads to my second point…

      About reality: when the realities at hand are deeply flawed, the answer is not resignation but transformation. I have even heard it suggested that the impossibility of fully attaining certain ideals means that there is always a responsibility to strive for them. A biblical example of this is Jesus’ citation of Deuteronomy 15:11, “The poor will be with you always,” too frequently used as a prooftext in defense of unjust social structures, even though the rest of the verse takes the situation as a perpetual mandate: “therefore, open your hand…” I suppose when one is still trying to prophesy from the center, one has to remain somewhat idealistic, but I’m sticking to it.

  • Thanks for another really thought-provoking piece: Vox Nova at its absolute best! The parallels you draw here are compelling, especially your suggestion that similar factors account for the disproportionate representation of racial minorities (and lower-income Americans generally) among military recruits and clients at abortion clinics. Obviously, many of these young people do not believe they have other good alternatives, and this may lead them to make a virtue out of what they really regard as a necessity.

    Nonetheless, at some level, these same young people–and their families–have a visceral distaste for the violence they seem to embrace. In many years of teaching in an inner-city college, I found that my students almost all supported pro-choice politicians, but few of them bought into the pro-abortion rhetoric of radical feminism. Likewise, while they took pride in their own military experience and that of family members,they were deeply cynical about American militarism and about war generally. Truly charismatic nonviolent leadership might have helped them to sort through these conflicted responses, but I see little evidence that such leadership is on the horizon.

  • Thanks for another really thought-provoking piece: Vox Nova at its absolute best! The parallels you draw here are compelling, especially your suggestion that similar factors account for the disproportionate representation of racial minorities (and lower-income Americans generally) among military recruits and clients at abortion clinics. Obviously, many of these young people do not believe they have other good alternatives, and this may lead them to make a virtue out of what they really regard as a necessity.

    Nonetheless, at some level, these same young people–and their families–have a visceral distaste for the violence they seem to embrace. In many years of teaching in an inner-city college, I found that my students almost all supported pro-choice politicians, but few of them bought into the pro-abortion rhetoric of radical feminism. Likewise, while they took pride in their own military experience and that of family members,they were deeply cynical about American militarism and about war generally. Truly charismatic nonviolent leadership might have helped them to sort through these conflicted responses, but I see little evidence that such leadership is on the horizon.

  • martha

    The whole canard about the military being disproportionately poor and black is widely accepted but is not supported by reality. Additionally you are making a bad assumption. Joining the military does NOT necessarily mean one is choosing to participate in violence.

    As I understand it while some minorities are slightly over represented in the military as a whole they are in fact under represented in the ‘fighting men’ positions. Special forces, infantry etc. Rather minorities tend to be found more in support roles where they gain transferable skills. If you choose to join the military as a cook or an MP or some other position that has a civilian counterpart there is very little chance (particularly in modern times) that you will ever see any combat at all.

    How do you respond to the fact that whites are also over represented? They are also overrepresented in the fighting positions. If we take race out of the equation and just look at financial status then you will find that the wealthiest Americans are over represented and the poorest are under represented. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903791504576587244025371456.html?mod=rss_opinion_main

    • Julia Smucker

      That joining the military per se entails participation in violence is part of my premise. I expected that there would be some disagreement with this and/or other parts of my premise, and interpretation of statistics is always debatable. But as I said, I believe it is much more worthwhile to discuss how tragic and undesirable situations (which I would hope is the least of what we can all acknowledge about the issues I’ve mentioned here, among others) can be avoided, rather than to argue over statistics and semantics.

      • The problem here, though, is that the very basis of the comparison is rooted, as you say above, in “the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in both abortion rates and military recruitment in the United States.” Martha’s link calls the material claim of disproportionate representation in military recruitment into serious question. One cannot now dismiss the point on the basis that (1) “the interpretation of statistics is always debatable” and (2) that we ought to discuss “how tragic and undesirable situations … can be avoided, rather than to argue over statistics and semantics.” Why? The problem with (1) is that, if you dismiss statistical studies, you main claim of equating the two evaporates, since there is no useful comparison linking race and these two phenomena (i.e. abortion and military recruitment). The problem with (2) is that is becomes less clear what the undesirable situation is. If Martha’s link is accurate, then the undesirable situation cannot be that racial minorities are being taken advantage of to be implicated in a system of violence, because it seems that they are not the main focus of recruitment, but rather instead that privileged white men are. So, one would have to conclude that the problem is military recruitment as such, but then the question of race and disproportion does not enter into it.

        In short, unless we deal with the kind of thing Martha’s link raises, your argument, as presented, does not seem to me to be helpful grounds for examining the matter, however helpful thinking simultaneously about issues of war and issues of abortion together.

        • Julia Smucker

          I apologize if I came across as dismissive. That was not my intent. I meant the comment on interpretation of statistics to be a concession that there is room for legitimate disagreement in terms of how we perceive the situation. Additionally, the idea that racial minorities are being deliberately targeted out of a blatantly racist perception of them as particularly expendable is precisely the kind of false charge I was trying to lay aside.

          If we agree that thinking simultaneously about war and abortion (as well as expanding beyond these, as Cardinal Bernardin did) is helpful, then hopefully that can be a place to start. My over-arching goal here was firstly to point to how peace/life/justice issues intersect and how it is therefore misleading to view them in isolation, and secondly to get us to a point of agreement on the undesirability of violence in whatever form (e.g. war, abortion, racism), even among those who would quibble with defining all of these as violence, and ultimately to get to a focus on prevention rather than justification. Too much of public discourse surrounding these issues ends up devolving into arguments around how we can justify our defense of certain forms of violence, even when none of us really wants the situations that lead to them to occur in the first place. If this latter point were more widely acknowledged, we might be able to have some fruitful discussion on these matters.

    • Mark Gordon

      Of course joining the military involves choosing to participate in violence. Soldiers – all soldiers – are taught to kill people and break things. That’s what they do, and even those in support roles enable violence by feeding, fueling, or resupplying fighters. Moreover, just about any Army or Marine Corps occupational specialty can bring a soldier into contact with the enemy on the modern battlefield. Mortars fall on facilities where clerks and cooks are working. Suicide bombers target checkpoints manned by MPs. Truck drivers delivering water or medical supplies drive over and detonate IED’s.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        What kind of participation in violence are we talking about? There are over 500,000 people in the US Army – that’s not including the Marines, Air Force, and Navy. Do we really think every single one of these people are DIRECTLY participating in violence? The mechanic who tracks and orders spare parts? The medic in the shot clinic? The guy who types up efficiency reports? The dental hygienist? The mail clerk? These people are all in the numbers being cited.

        • Julia Smucker

          Would you excuse, say, a receptionist at Planned Parenthood in the same way? Plenty of people work there who, analogous to military personnel, are not DIRECTLY involved in performing abortions. The point is that any role that aids the functioning of an intrinsically violent system entails some degree of complicity in its violence.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        Are you tracking the number of minorities who are PP receptionists?

        • Julia Smucker

          You’re missing the point. Can’t we move beyond these double standards on life issues?

      • Bruce in Kansas

        I’m sorry. I thought the point was that the efforts to attract racial minorities to participate in violence by military recruiters and abortion providers are so strongly parallel that they demand a new paradigm.

      • Julia Smucker

        Not quite: I considered that to attribute the parallel to deliberate and malicious “efforts to attract racial minorities to participate in violence” would be misguided, and then raised the question of what the true root causes of systemic violence (including racism) could be. The new paradigm that I’m calling for is a focus on root causes and prevention.

  • martha

    The whole canard about the military being disproportionately poor and black is widely accepted but is not supported by reality. Additionally you are making a bad assumption. Joining the military does NOT necessarily mean one is choosing to participate in violence.

    As I understand it while some minorities are slightly over represented in the military as a whole they are in fact under represented in the ‘fighting men’ positions. Special forces, infantry etc. Rather minorities tend to be found more in support roles where they gain transferable skills. If you choose to join the military as a cook or an MP or some other position that has a civilian counterpart there is very little chance (particularly in modern times) that you will ever see any combat at all.

    How do you respond to the fact that whites are also over represented? They are also overrepresented in the fighting positions. If we take race out of the equation and just look at financial status then you will find that the wealthiest Americans are over represented and the poorest are under represented. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903791504576587244025371456.html?mod=rss_opinion_main

    • Julia Smucker

      That joining the military per se entails participation in violence is part of my premise. I expected that there would be some disagreement with this and/or other parts of my premise, and interpretation of statistics is always debatable. But as I said, I believe it is much more worthwhile to discuss how tragic and undesirable situations (which I would hope is the least of what we can all acknowledge about the issues I’ve mentioned here, among others) can be avoided, rather than to argue over statistics and semantics.

      • The problem here, though, is that the very basis of the comparison is rooted, as you say above, in “the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in both abortion rates and military recruitment in the United States.” Martha’s link calls the material claim of disproportionate representation in military recruitment into serious question. One cannot now dismiss the point on the basis that (1) “the interpretation of statistics is always debatable” and (2) that we ought to discuss “how tragic and undesirable situations … can be avoided, rather than to argue over statistics and semantics.” Why? The problem with (1) is that, if you dismiss statistical studies, you main claim of equating the two evaporates, since there is no useful comparison linking race and these two phenomena (i.e. abortion and military recruitment). The problem with (2) is that is becomes less clear what the undesirable situation is. If Martha’s link is accurate, then the undesirable situation cannot be that racial minorities are being taken advantage of to be implicated in a system of violence, because it seems that they are not the main focus of recruitment, but rather instead that privileged white men are. So, one would have to conclude that the problem is military recruitment as such, but then the question of race and disproportion does not enter into it.

        In short, unless we deal with the kind of thing Martha’s link raises, your argument, as presented, does not seem to me to be helpful grounds for examining the matter, however helpful thinking simultaneously about issues of war and issues of abortion together.

        • Julia Smucker

          I apologize if I came across as dismissive. That was not my intent. I meant the comment on interpretation of statistics to be a concession that there is room for legitimate disagreement in terms of how we perceive the situation. Additionally, the idea that racial minorities are being deliberately targeted out of a blatantly racist perception of them as particularly expendable is precisely the kind of false charge I was trying to lay aside.

          If we agree that thinking simultaneously about war and abortion (as well as expanding beyond these, as Cardinal Bernardin did) is helpful, then hopefully that can be a place to start. My over-arching goal here was firstly to point to how peace/life/justice issues intersect and how it is therefore misleading to view them in isolation, and secondly to get us to a point of agreement on the undesirability of violence in whatever form (e.g. war, abortion, racism), even among those who would quibble with defining all of these as violence, and ultimately to get to a focus on prevention rather than justification. Too much of public discourse surrounding these issues ends up devolving into arguments around how we can justify our defense of certain forms of violence, even when none of us really wants the situations that lead to them to occur in the first place. If this latter point were more widely acknowledged, we might be able to have some fruitful discussion on these matters.

    • Mark Gordon

      Of course joining the military involves choosing to participate in violence. Soldiers – all soldiers – are taught to kill people and break things. That’s what they do, and even those in support roles enable violence by feeding, fueling, or resupplying fighters. Moreover, just about any Army or Marine Corps occupational specialty can bring a soldier into contact with the enemy on the modern battlefield. Mortars fall on facilities where clerks and cooks are working. Suicide bombers target checkpoints manned by MPs. Truck drivers delivering water or medical supplies drive over and detonate IED’s.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        What kind of participation in violence are we talking about? There are over 500,000 people in the US Army – that’s not including the Marines, Air Force, and Navy. Do we really think every single one of these people are DIRECTLY participating in violence? The mechanic who tracks and orders spare parts? The medic in the shot clinic? The guy who types up efficiency reports? The dental hygienist? The mail clerk? These people are all in the numbers being cited.

        • Julia Smucker

          Would you excuse, say, a receptionist at Planned Parenthood in the same way? Plenty of people work there who, analogous to military personnel, are not DIRECTLY involved in performing abortions. The point is that any role that aids the functioning of an intrinsically violent system entails some degree of complicity in its violence.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        Are you tracking the number of minorities who are PP receptionists?

        • Julia Smucker

          You’re missing the point. Can’t we move beyond these double standards on life issues?

      • Bruce in Kansas

        I’m sorry. I thought the point was that the efforts to attract racial minorities to participate in violence by military recruiters and abortion providers are so strongly parallel that they demand a new paradigm.

      • Julia Smucker

        Not quite: I considered that to attribute the parallel to deliberate and malicious “efforts to attract racial minorities to participate in violence” would be misguided, and then raised the question of what the true root causes of systemic violence (including racism) could be. The new paradigm that I’m calling for is a focus on root causes and prevention.

  • Julia Smucker

    You say

    Some activists have accused abortion providers or military recruiters of deliberately targeting minorities, but on reflection, I doubt that such charges are either true or helpful.

    I agree.

    But then you say:

    In all probability there are many people working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who sincerely believe they are helping by providing health care to the underserved, and many military recruiters who likewise believe they are helping by providing education and career opportunities.

    This muddies the issue. It is unclear, but it seems to me the implication is that military recruiters and Planned Parenthood really are targeting minorities, but doing so with good (but misguided) intentions.

    I don’t know about military recruiters. It seems to me they may indeed be “targeting” minorities. Military recruiters would logically try to recruit from groups where they are most likely to succeed. For those who are not opposed to the military and military recruitment, I don’t see how that would be a problem.

    But with Planned Parenthood, I think the idea that they target any specific population has been proven false. The reason black women (and Hispanic women) have a high abortion rate is because they have a high rate of unintended pregnancies. On the one hand, it would be foolish to claim that racism has not been a significant factor in shaping the black community, resulting in high rates of unintended pregnancies, high rates of abortion, and high rates of out-of-wedlock birth. But I think there is a tendency to assume that because minority women tend to be poorer than average (no doubt in significant part due to racist factors beginning with slavery and continuing to the present), they have more abortions. But it is a perhaps surprising fact that the high abortion rate among blacks is not associated with poverty. According to the Guttmacher Institute:

    [B]lack women consistently have had the highest abortion rates, followed by Hispanic women (see chart). This holds true even when controlling for income: At every income level, black women have higher abortion rates than whites or Hispanics, except for women below the poverty line, where Hispanic women have slightly higher rates than black women.

    The way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. It does not seem to me that the Catholic Church has anything approaching a practical approach to doing that.

    • Julia Smucker

      David, thanks for your lucid analysis. I was thinking of the assumption underlying the accusations of “targeting minorities” that this is directly motivated by racism, and that is what I take to be a false charge. But even without that being the case, the disproportion is still unjust. And yes, whenever anyone’s options are limited to being sent to possibly kill or be killed, or to be exposed to the psychological trauma of war, I do see that as a problem. And the same goes for post-abortive grief, a reality that all too frequently gets lost in the polemics. But on that subject, I agree with the way you are framing the goal as reducing the abortion rate. We’re not getting anywhere with the debates over whether or not abortion should be legal; a more productive discussion would be how circumstances that lead to abortion can be prevented. To some degree there is a practical response to this in the form of social services, Catholic and Protestant, that serve the needs of children and pregnant women. These services are important, but you are right to suggest that some kind of response on a systemic level is also needed.

    • The way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. It does not seem to me that the Catholic Church has anything approaching a practical approach to doing that.

      Might not a happier and better way forward be to say that the way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to increase how welcome pregnancy is? Surely part of our problem is the dark fantasy of autonomy, and with it the response of violence when that (false) autonomy is threatened. This is as true of the violence women themselves or by proxy commit on the life in their womb as it is of states claiming to defend their sovereignty, a violence which, to borrow from other discussions on this site, reflects a mimetic desire for the lethal power of the paterfamilias in idealized patriarchy.

      However, if we change our attitude towards pregnancy itself, if we came to see it as welcome, whether intended or not, then surely that would have the same practical effect but with less bloodshed and less hardening of hearts. Moreover, if every pregnancy could be a welcome pregnancy, not by the woman alone or only the woman and the father, but by all, then likewise it could more readily be argued that society should marshal its resources to see to it that every pregnancy is a healthy pregnancy, for mother and child alike.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        Exactly! With a below replacement birth rate and a society that views children as liability instead of blessing, our country’s problem is not as much unintended pregnancy as it is unwanted babies.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is an integral part of what John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus, critiques as “an ‘idolatry’ of the market,” in which children are viewed as mere market commodities, in contrast to what he calls “an authentic ‘human ecology’.”

  • Julia Smucker

    You say

    Some activists have accused abortion providers or military recruiters of deliberately targeting minorities, but on reflection, I doubt that such charges are either true or helpful.

    I agree.

    But then you say:

    In all probability there are many people working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood who sincerely believe they are helping by providing health care to the underserved, and many military recruiters who likewise believe they are helping by providing education and career opportunities.

    This muddies the issue. It is unclear, but it seems to me the implication is that military recruiters and Planned Parenthood really are targeting minorities, but doing so with good (but misguided) intentions.

    I don’t know about military recruiters. It seems to me they may indeed be “targeting” minorities. Military recruiters would logically try to recruit from groups where they are most likely to succeed. For those who are not opposed to the military and military recruitment, I don’t see how that would be a problem.

    But with Planned Parenthood, I think the idea that they target any specific population has been proven false. The reason black women (and Hispanic women) have a high abortion rate is because they have a high rate of unintended pregnancies. On the one hand, it would be foolish to claim that racism has not been a significant factor in shaping the black community, resulting in high rates of unintended pregnancies, high rates of abortion, and high rates of out-of-wedlock birth. But I think there is a tendency to assume that because minority women tend to be poorer than average (no doubt in significant part due to racist factors beginning with slavery and continuing to the present), they have more abortions. But it is a perhaps surprising fact that the high abortion rate among blacks is not associated with poverty. According to the Guttmacher Institute:

    [B]lack women consistently have had the highest abortion rates, followed by Hispanic women (see chart). This holds true even when controlling for income: At every income level, black women have higher abortion rates than whites or Hispanics, except for women below the poverty line, where Hispanic women have slightly higher rates than black women.

    The way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. It does not seem to me that the Catholic Church has anything approaching a practical approach to doing that.

    • Julia Smucker

      David, thanks for your lucid analysis. I was thinking of the assumption underlying the accusations of “targeting minorities” that this is directly motivated by racism, and that is what I take to be a false charge. But even without that being the case, the disproportion is still unjust. And yes, whenever anyone’s options are limited to being sent to possibly kill or be killed, or to be exposed to the psychological trauma of war, I do see that as a problem. And the same goes for post-abortive grief, a reality that all too frequently gets lost in the polemics. But on that subject, I agree with the way you are framing the goal as reducing the abortion rate. We’re not getting anywhere with the debates over whether or not abortion should be legal; a more productive discussion would be how circumstances that lead to abortion can be prevented. To some degree there is a practical response to this in the form of social services, Catholic and Protestant, that serve the needs of children and pregnant women. These services are important, but you are right to suggest that some kind of response on a systemic level is also needed.

    • The way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. It does not seem to me that the Catholic Church has anything approaching a practical approach to doing that.

      Might not a happier and better way forward be to say that the way to reduce the abortion rate significantly is to increase how welcome pregnancy is? Surely part of our problem is the dark fantasy of autonomy, and with it the response of violence when that (false) autonomy is threatened. This is as true of the violence women themselves or by proxy commit on the life in their womb as it is of states claiming to defend their sovereignty, a violence which, to borrow from other discussions on this site, reflects a mimetic desire for the lethal power of the paterfamilias in idealized patriarchy.

      However, if we change our attitude towards pregnancy itself, if we came to see it as welcome, whether intended or not, then surely that would have the same practical effect but with less bloodshed and less hardening of hearts. Moreover, if every pregnancy could be a welcome pregnancy, not by the woman alone or only the woman and the father, but by all, then likewise it could more readily be argued that society should marshal its resources to see to it that every pregnancy is a healthy pregnancy, for mother and child alike.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        Exactly! With a below replacement birth rate and a society that views children as liability instead of blessing, our country’s problem is not as much unintended pregnancy as it is unwanted babies.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is an integral part of what John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus, critiques as “an ‘idolatry’ of the market,” in which children are viewed as mere market commodities, in contrast to what he calls “an authentic ‘human ecology’.”

  • William Kelly

    The suggestion that enlisting in the U.S. military service is the equivalent of electing to have an abortion is ridiculous.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m not sure what you mean, or think I mean, by “equivalent”, but this is exactly the kind of argument I was hoping to avoid. On one level it is apples and oranges, but on another level there is a deep similarity in that both entail participation in violence. What’s ridiculous is arguing about which is worse – so please, let’s not.

    • brettsalkeld

      The suggestion that Julia said they were equivalent is ridiculous.

  • William Kelly

    The suggestion that enlisting in the U.S. military service is the equivalent of electing to have an abortion is ridiculous.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m not sure what you mean, or think I mean, by “equivalent”, but this is exactly the kind of argument I was hoping to avoid. On one level it is apples and oranges, but on another level there is a deep similarity in that both entail participation in violence. What’s ridiculous is arguing about which is worse – so please, let’s not.

    • brettsalkeld

      The suggestion that Julia said they were equivalent is ridiculous.

  • Regarding the article Martha pointed out, the Wall Street Journal:

    I confess that my opinion of Heritage Foundation research is very low, especially when quoted in a WSJ article. A phrase like “using data provided by the Defense Department, the Heritage Foundation found that…” all too frequently introduces a serious misrepresentation or at least mis-framing of facts.

    I looked up what the Army says about its own ethnicity, at http://www.2k.army.mil/faqs.htm#ethnicity

    What the Army publishes about itself directly contradicts the claim Martha repeated, namely that “whites are also over represented.” In fact, African Americans are the only over-represented group among both new enlistees and the force as a whole. Hispanics, Caucasians and Asian-Pacific Islanders are all under-represented. Furthermore, African Americans serve longer than other groups, explaining why they are even more over-represented in the officer corps.

    I also had a look at the Army’s by-state recruitment statistics, and calculated the number of enlistees per year per 100,000 population by state. The highest enlistment rate is over 90 per 100,000 in Guam (not a surprise). The states with high enlistment rates around 40 per 100,000 are: AK, AL, AR, ME, MT, OK, SC, and TX. The District of Columbia has the highest fraction of African American population, yet is lowest for enlistment rate, at about 8 per 100,000. CT is the second lowest at about 9 per 100,000. I haven’t done the analysis carefully, but I’d bet if I added a column to my analysis with per capita income, it would correlate well with the enlistment rate. Maybe someone else with some time to spare will have at that one.

    One factor which alters the Army’s recruitment statistics is that they consider enlistment from the eligible population, not the population as a whole. My per-state calculation uses a state’s entire population. Poor people are less likely to have graduated from high school or to meet the other enlistment requirements. No doubt this contributes to DC’s low enlistment rate, an interpretation which makes low enlistment rates reflective of poverty.

    I also note that Washington DC has the highest abortion rate (abortions/woman/year) in the country and the lowest enlistment rate. The southern states with high enlistment rates also have higher abortion rates than Midwest and northeastern states like CT.

    Bottom line: Reality isn’t as simple as we’d like, and definitely not as simple as the Heritage Foundation or WSJ want us to believe.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      This is the problem when such a tiny fraction of the population serves. Only three of ten 18-year-olds meet eligibility to serve in the armed forces; the others either have a criminal record, drug use, no HS diploma, or are not physically fit enough. So recruiters compete with colleges and employers for that 30 percent. A racial variance may reflect colleges taking in disproportionate ratio of whites. Martha and the WSJ article clearly made the distinction between the force as a whole and branch specialties such as special forces, infantry, armor, and transportation, ordnance and signal. In the US Army, blacks and hispanics are traditionally underrepresented in the three former branches and overrepresented in the latter. Perhaps you should examine casualty rates. or better yet realize the comparison, while interesting, the statistical data contain far too many differing variables to withstand the scrutiny of research methods.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is what I mean about the debatability of interpreting statistics. We can all read the data however we want to see it, through the lens of our preferred sources, to justify our preferred forms of violence.

  • Regarding the article Martha pointed out, the Wall Street Journal:

    I confess that my opinion of Heritage Foundation research is very low, especially when quoted in a WSJ article. A phrase like “using data provided by the Defense Department, the Heritage Foundation found that…” all too frequently introduces a serious misrepresentation or at least mis-framing of facts.

    I looked up what the Army says about its own ethnicity, at http://www.2k.army.mil/faqs.htm#ethnicity

    What the Army publishes about itself directly contradicts the claim Martha repeated, namely that “whites are also over represented.” In fact, African Americans are the only over-represented group among both new enlistees and the force as a whole. Hispanics, Caucasians and Asian-Pacific Islanders are all under-represented. Furthermore, African Americans serve longer than other groups, explaining why they are even more over-represented in the officer corps.

    I also had a look at the Army’s by-state recruitment statistics, and calculated the number of enlistees per year per 100,000 population by state. The highest enlistment rate is over 90 per 100,000 in Guam (not a surprise). The states with high enlistment rates around 40 per 100,000 are: AK, AL, AR, ME, MT, OK, SC, and TX. The District of Columbia has the highest fraction of African American population, yet is lowest for enlistment rate, at about 8 per 100,000. CT is the second lowest at about 9 per 100,000. I haven’t done the analysis carefully, but I’d bet if I added a column to my analysis with per capita income, it would correlate well with the enlistment rate. Maybe someone else with some time to spare will have at that one.

    One factor which alters the Army’s recruitment statistics is that they consider enlistment from the eligible population, not the population as a whole. My per-state calculation uses a state’s entire population. Poor people are less likely to have graduated from high school or to meet the other enlistment requirements. No doubt this contributes to DC’s low enlistment rate, an interpretation which makes low enlistment rates reflective of poverty.

    I also note that Washington DC has the highest abortion rate (abortions/woman/year) in the country and the lowest enlistment rate. The southern states with high enlistment rates also have higher abortion rates than Midwest and northeastern states like CT.

    Bottom line: Reality isn’t as simple as we’d like, and definitely not as simple as the Heritage Foundation or WSJ want us to believe.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      This is the problem when such a tiny fraction of the population serves. Only three of ten 18-year-olds meet eligibility to serve in the armed forces; the others either have a criminal record, drug use, no HS diploma, or are not physically fit enough. So recruiters compete with colleges and employers for that 30 percent. A racial variance may reflect colleges taking in disproportionate ratio of whites. Martha and the WSJ article clearly made the distinction between the force as a whole and branch specialties such as special forces, infantry, armor, and transportation, ordnance and signal. In the US Army, blacks and hispanics are traditionally underrepresented in the three former branches and overrepresented in the latter. Perhaps you should examine casualty rates. or better yet realize the comparison, while interesting, the statistical data contain far too many differing variables to withstand the scrutiny of research methods.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is what I mean about the debatability of interpreting statistics. We can all read the data however we want to see it, through the lens of our preferred sources, to justify our preferred forms of violence.

  • brettsalkeld

    “Too much of public discourse surrounding these issues ends up devolving into arguments around how we can justify our defense of certain forms of violence, even when none of us really wants the situations that lead to them to occur in the first place.”

    AMEN!

    And may I add that it seems to me that this unfortunate habit stems from the preposterous notion that we must defend the party we vote for. The only way for Catholics to change the political options in the United States is to vote (whether for the Republicans, Democrats or a third party) and then publically bewail the fact that they were forced into such terrible options. I can appreciate a Catholic feeling like he or she had to vote for someone like Santorum given the other options out there. I cannot understand how anyone can pretend Santorum is anything approaching what an ideal Catholic candidate should look like. As long as we continue to give out free passes to people just because they are better than the alternative, we are captives of an evil, murderous system.

    • I suspect that this habit stems at least in part as an otherwise laudable desire to avoid appealing to ragion di Stato to justify morally indefensible actions by and for the state on the grounds that they promote the common good. Since that view is worrisome, we tell ourselves that we have not and do not subscribe to it. It is a short walk, then, to convince ourselves that the candidate or party whom we support does not support these kinds of policies, or at least not in an indefensible way.

  • brettsalkeld

    “Too much of public discourse surrounding these issues ends up devolving into arguments around how we can justify our defense of certain forms of violence, even when none of us really wants the situations that lead to them to occur in the first place.”

    AMEN!

    And may I add that it seems to me that this unfortunate habit stems from the preposterous notion that we must defend the party we vote for. The only way for Catholics to change the political options in the United States is to vote (whether for the Republicans, Democrats or a third party) and then publically bewail the fact that they were forced into such terrible options. I can appreciate a Catholic feeling like he or she had to vote for someone like Santorum given the other options out there. I cannot understand how anyone can pretend Santorum is anything approaching what an ideal Catholic candidate should look like. As long as we continue to give out free passes to people just because they are better than the alternative, we are captives of an evil, murderous system.

    • I suspect that this habit stems at least in part as an otherwise laudable desire to avoid appealing to ragion di Stato to justify morally indefensible actions by and for the state on the grounds that they promote the common good. Since that view is worrisome, we tell ourselves that we have not and do not subscribe to it. It is a short walk, then, to convince ourselves that the candidate or party whom we support does not support these kinds of policies, or at least not in an indefensible way.