A more or less line-by-line discussion (commentary, correction) of Neil Steinberg’s column today, “What’s behind anti-abortion frenzy?”:
. . . . The abortion issue seems to be heating up in a way beyond the flap of a prominent Catholic school conferring an honorary degree upon a president who supports a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.
End the life of her unwanted unborn.
According to the latest polls, suddenly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice” — 51 percent vs. 42 percent — a dramatic shift from just last year, when 50 percent were pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life.
Good for him, to bring that out.
What does this mean? Well, I suppose if you are pro-life, it means the nation has had an unexpected moral reassessment. As if waking from a dream, it gazes down and suddenly sees the blood on its hands, and recoils in moral horror.
Sounds about right.
Or, if you are pro-choice, you might dismiss the polls as meaning nothing, a hard rightward swing among Republicans and nothing more.
Arbitrary dismissal, it seems.
You might point out that human rights are not determined by majority vote, thank goodness, and that just as the pro-life movement didn’t fold its tents and go home in 1995, when 56 percent of Americans told pollsters they were pro-choice while 33 percent said they were pro-life, so now the shifting numbers don’t affect bedrock reality [as he sees it: argues nothing] — that this is a decision a woman should be able to make for herself and not one made for her by her husband or her deacon or anybody else.
Make for herself? No public interest here?
The first question about abortion is whether it is an absolute or not. [No. What it is comes first.] If you believe abortion is wrong under all circumstances [like any other direct killing of an innocent person], that abortion the day after conception is the same as 250 days in, a crime and a sin and an atrocity, well, you can proceed to the next page because this isn’t something under consideration, for you.
But it’s at the heart of this knotty issue.
No shame there, and I’m not criticizing you, or ridiculing your religion, just saying that we are thinking about the issue here, evaluating it, and if you are only willing to play a game where you are guaranteed to win at the end, then it isn’t quite fair to pretend you’re part of the discussion. “Abortion is murder.” We get it; thanks.
It’s an otiose argument? How so?
Myself, I consider this a gray region. Abortion isn’t murder — well, not until the last stage of pregnancy, when it is [How did Neil figure that out, besides counting Supreme Court votes?] — but rather a sort of murder, murder lite, and I’m glad that I’ve conducted my life in such a way that I’ve never been party to one.
Where to start with this? This gray region has to do with direct killing of innocent people, so it’s either-or, take your pick? But juries need beyond-a-shadow evidence for a guilty verdict. Not in this case? Murder lite is like pregnancy lite, which if left to go its course gives us a baby?
That said, I don’t consider a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence to be the equivalent of the Gerber baby, and find people who do to be curious, especially for the anger they bring to the debate.
Honestly stated, and typical, even typal. Neil can’t imagine concern for the fertized egg, and that decides it. Imagination rules?
If being pro-life meant an across-the-board reverence for life — if pro-life activists were also Human Rights Watch members, also fierce opponents to capital punishment and vigorous battlers of AIDS in Africa, and of course anti-handgun and anti-war — then I could almost understand the compressed rage that pro-lifers often exhibit.
Sure, but that would not affect the argument, whomever it persuaded.
But they aren’t. Nor are they in favor of the contraception that would prevent abortions, a tipoff that this — at its core — is not about preventing violence to the unborn so much as it is about unraveling a modern society where women are able to plan their pregnancies.
If as a group they aren’t anti-executions, etc., some are. Do these convince Neil? Moreover, is it wise to focus on the angry ones? To adapt The Master, the angry we have always with us.
Stealing is bad, and religion speaks against it, but no congregation ever took to the streets to protest theft. There is an intensity — at times a frenzy — behind the abortion debate, which hints that something else is going on, that religion is attacking modern sexually open society at its weakest point, taking a stand that requires them to not only see abortion as a morally significant act, which it is, but to insist that morality cannot shift under any circumstance, and that having an abortion is the same if you’re 14, or 24, or 64.
Wait. Fr. Pfleger leads marches all the time, protesting murder. As for intensity, that’s bound to ramp up if it’s murder that pro-lifers have in mind — and they do. As for sexually open society’s weakest point, yes, and a very weak one indeed. And no, morality does not shift in cases of murder. It’s murder no matter the ages involved.
The “abortion is murder” line is just that — a slogan. The people saying it obviously don’t really believe that, in their hearts, because otherwise they’d be even more extreme than they already are. If it’s murder, then why aren’t they talking about, not only banning abortion, but also conducting enormous public trials to prosecute the millions of women who have had one? That doesn’t seem to be on the table.
Well there you are, intense in opposition to abortion because you think it’s murder? He doesn’t believe that, because if you believed that, you’d be even more intense. And how much wood would a woodchuck chuck . . . ? No cry for enormous public trials? They just don’t have the imagination for that. Not as big as Neil’s anyhow.
I called this issue the “Hundred Years War” above, after checking to see what year Margaret Sanger went to prison for running a birth control clinic — 1917. Not quite a century, but I’m confident that whatever Barack Obama says Sunday, we’ll still be arguing this at the end of his second term.
Yes, Margaret Sanger, whose argument was eugenicist until she found a better one, freedom from childbirth for women. Does Neil know that about Sanger? Does he know what she wrote in 1939 in a letter to a physician ally, Clarence J. Gamble, who used his Proctor & Gamble inheritance money to finance birth control worldwide?
“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
She knew how to handle rebellious Negroes. As for settling the issue, what’s that got to do with it? Rebellious pro-lifers should shut up about it if the end is not in sight? Their lives’ end is in sight. Will they want to meet it having kept their mouths shut?
It helps to connect the abortion debate to the contraception debate because it is a continuum, the way World War II was really the second act of World War I. If you believe that sex is for procreation and nothing else, then a pro-life stance flows naturally. If you believe it’s for procreation, at certain times, but also for fun, then you’re pro-choice. Don’t hate me for bringing the news, but the for-fun element seems to be winning, no matter what last week’s poll numbers say.
I’ll buy the continuity — partly — except that no one says anyone is killed with birth control. Which is where the government comes in, with its longstanding opposition to killing innocent people. Another ball game entirely, we might say.
As for birth control, I wrote a book about it, in fact — Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics — in which veteran pastors coast to coast told of letting birth control go, having no parishioners ask about it, but to a man rejected abortion. Their pastoral concerns were with helping women get over one or helping them adopt out their child or do this or that, never with advising them to get one. Not the same situation at all.