Politics isn’t a matter of making friends, but rather picking which enemies you can stomach the least.
Case in point: I’ve come to detest much of the modern radical feminist lobby. Many of its members claim victimization at every turn and constant carping about “the patriarchal hegemony” is often little more than convenient cover for gratuitous male-bashing.
Despite these repugnant characteristics, the feministas have a useful role to play. They keep the anti-abortion fanatics at bay. In the grand scheme of things, it is the latter group – not the former – that is the greatest threat to individual liberty and governmental restraint.
Perhaps the greatest fraud perpetrated by abortion foes is the claim that they act in defense of life.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 525 pregnancy-related deaths reported in 1999. This figure is likely to increase substantially if “pro-lifers” get their way and abortion is criminalized.
Think they give a damn about those lives lost? Think again.
Indeed, abortion opponents have not earned the right to be called “pro-life.”
True pro-lifers, such as the Dalai Lama, actor Martin Sheen and columnist Nat Hentoff, don’t merely oppose abortion, but euthanasia, war and capital punishment as well.
Inasmuch as certain abortion opponents have been known to favor one or more of these other elements, their “defense of life” argument can be deemed shallow at best, hypocritical and morally subjective at worst.
Just as opposition to abortion and pro-life are not synonymous, being pro-choice does not necessarily mean being pro-abortion.
There are many who feel that abortion – as a matter of personal opinion – is wrong, but they are not content to sanction an invasive and Draconian government ban on the procedure.
Pioneering feminist/anarchist Emma Goldman, for one, characterized the high rate of abortion as “appalling,” but she defended the right of women to have abortions nonetheless.
There is no contradiction here. Quite simply, two wrongs do not make a right.
To draw a parallel, there are plenty of people (such as the aforementioned Hentoff) who will defend free speech to the hilt, even if they disagree with what is being said, because they view censorship as a wrong in and of itself.
The same principle applies to abortion: pro-choicers may find it disagreeable, but no more disagreeable than legislation that aims to control a woman’s body.
Abortion opponents either fail to recognize or deliberately downplay this important distinction. In their warped and demented view, there are only two sides: those who oppose abortion and are hence “pro-life” and those who don’t oppose abortion and are therefore “anti-life.”
By dumbing down a complex issue and erecting a false dichotomy, they are able to impose a dubious moral imperative that favors their cause.
As we shall soon see, however, the tactics employed by the anti-abortion lobby are anything but moral and semantic oversimplification is the least of their many transgressions.
And so it was written
In a desperate attempt to elevate the validity of their argument, abortion opponents would like us all to believe that God is on their side. Appealing to a higher power is, of course, a stock rhetorical fallacy. Nevertheless, for religious folk, the “God condemns abortion” argument is a weighty one.
Unfortunately, it is also a false conclusion ill supported by either scripture or subsequent teachings. The Bible lays forth several points at which life may begin, none of which are at the point of conception. Psalm 139:13 refers to life beginning in the womb, but it does not say that life begins with pregnancy itself.
Those who believe life begins at the point of viability can feel comfortable knowing the Bible is on their side, as a viable fetus is still “in the womb” as the Psalm says.
To complicate matters further, other parts of the Bible lay down different standards for personhood. In Genesis 2:23, Adam only becomes “a living being” when God breathes life into his nostrils. Therefore, any pre-birth organism that has not yet developed nostrils cannot be considered alive.
Another standard is laid down by Leviticus 17:11, which says, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” Ergo, until a circulatory system is developed, a being is not alive in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word.
Subsequent writings also helped establish an oft-ignored pro-choice position in religion. The Jewish belief has always been that life begins at birth and rabbinical texts have affirmed this.
Early Christian writers, such as Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and Pope Innocent III, believed that life began when a fetus became “animated.” This view closely corresponds to the modern concept of viability and casts serious doubt on the notion that the pro-choice position is incompatible with faith.
Those who cling desperately to a “God forbids” argument are not only being dishonest, but they are also being dishonest while using the Lord’s name for cover.
Back in the day
Another deceptive device employed by the anti-abortion lobby is the idea that opposition to abortion is the historically traditional position and pro-choice legislation represented a radical departure from it.
This ruse was pulled off so convincingly that I myself fell victim to it before I realized the weight of historical evidence simply does not bear it out.
Our legal system is based on the English Common Law that dates back hundreds of years. The Common Law held that an “unquickened” child was not a person and its destruction was not equivocal to murder.
When our Founding Fathers set up shop, they most likely agreed with this view, for they put nothing in the Constitution to the contrary.
Legalized abortion was in fact a part of our country’s heritage until the late 19th century, at which point the greedy medical lobby finally succeeded in pressuring lawmakers to impose restrictions.
To their credit, some abortion opponents do realize they are flying in the face of history and tradition.
To justify their radicalism, they paint themselves as the ideological heirs of radicals of a previous era: the anti-slavery abolitionists. The attempt to equate abortion to slavery has been used many a time by anti-abortion advocates to demonize their opponents.
During the Illinois Senate race, Alan Keyes insisted Barack Obama held “the slave-holder’s position” on abortion, proving that conservatives are every bit as adept at pandering and playing the race card as the liberals they despise.
Keyes’ argument, however, ignores one of the key tenets of abolition – every person has a right to his or her own body. Slavery was wrong inasmuch as it deprived individuals of that right and placed control in the hands of the slave masters.
Likewise, the anti-abortion movement seeks to transfer control from the individual to the government.
If anything, Keyes is closer to holding the slave owner’s position than is the man who defeated him.
The chicken and the egg
Without a doubt, the most aggravating aspect of abortion opponents is their ability to recognize the futility of their argument and still refuse to concede the point.
A popular pro-abortion argument is that a pre-viability zygote/embryo/fetus is not a living, breathing person, much in the same way an egg is not a chicken.
Abortion opponents grasp this important distinction. They just prefer to pretend it does not exist.
Sometimes, however, they let their guard down. In the dissenting opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, “Abortion involves the purposeful determination of potential life.”
That he used “potential life” instead of “life” itself shows that he is cognizant of the difference.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), an ardent abortion opponent, furthers this point in his defense of stem cell research. “I just cannot equate a child living in the womb, with moving toes and fingers and a beating heart, with a frozen embryo sitting in a lab somewhere,” he said.
If he really bought the old anti-abortion line about life beginning at conception, he would have no choice but to believe that that frozen embryo is a person, no different than you or I.
Hatch, however, sees a distinction. Despite this, he and others have stuck by their tired “abortion is murder” rhetoric even though legal, historical, biblical and scientific evidence says otherwise.
These are but a few weapons in the arsenal of lies, distortions, mistruths and half-truths used by abortion opponents to further the cause of criminalizing abortion.
The irony here is that those who oppose abortion and bemoan the loss of life should be working to keep it legal.
Criminalizing abortion will not stop it from happening, but it will cause women to seek crude and dangerous procedures.
In third world countries where abortions are criminalized, these procedures have resulted in the deaths of thousands of pregnant women per year, with high infant mortality rates to match.
At the heart of this matter is an ethical tug of war. Ethics requires us to make informed decisions that take into consideration the needs of all parties involved and the potential consequences of every action.
Abortion opponents detest ethics. Rather than subject their rhetoric to this kind of careful evaluation, they want the answer to the abortion question in every instance to be a universal, unflinching “no!”
I’m hardly what one would call a zealot on this issue. I believe Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and I support a number of state-level abortion restrictions. It took the overwhelming deceit and hypocrisy of the anti-abortion movement to prompt me to write this piece. If abortion opponents are offended by it, they have only themselves to blame.