Abortion: Breaker of Democracy

If it seems like democracy isn’t built to handle the issue of abortion, that’s because it’s not. Democracy presumes that the population holds a set of a priori values which are not up for public debate. Some things, in the parlance of the Declaration of Independence, are self-evident truths, and not issues which citizens of good faith may legitimately disagree upon. Democracy can only function when a nation continues to be in agreement about the most basic questions of morality and human rights. A democratic nation in which half the population thought that cannibalism was a fundamental right could not long endure.

To be sure, no moral premise, no matter how seemingly uncontroversial, will ever command the assent of everyone on earth. Even ‘do unto others as you would have done to you’ will meet objections from ethical egoists. Any law criminalizing behavior is going to necessarily ‘impose morality.’ An ethical egoist will get nowhere with protestations that his personal choice to embezzle ought not be infringed by the moral beliefs of the majority. Democracy can still work if the number of objectors to the common set of values are few. The problem arises when this few becomes more numerous. Numerous enough to become a potent political force.

Enter abortion. At it’s core, it is a disagreement over the boundaries of the right to life.  For those who place the unborn outside that boundary, it becomes a question of personal autonomy and freedom, and one can no more take away a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy than one can take away her right to get a haircut, remove a wart, or treat a disease. The two values, life and autonomy, are both fundamental ones which democracies usually presume to be beyond debate. This is what the misguided folks who seek “common ground” fail to understand. You can find common ground on taxes, immigration, or education. But common ground doesn’t exist when the right to life, and the right to bodily autonomy are set in opposition to each other. Both are rights which are meant to be eternally protected from the dangers of majority vote.

I must confess that this schism over a priori values has made it extremely difficult for me to have any affection for my fellow countrymen in the abstract. All around me, I see citizens, good citizens, who think the eugenic abortion of a down syndrome child is not only acceptable, but compassionate. Conversations I overhear between seemingly normal people can leave me deeply depressed. They are, I keep reminding myself, just ordinary Americans, and their vote counts just as much as mine come election day. Daniel Berrigan, a peace activist who occasionally speaks out against abortion, put my feelings into words better than anyone else

It is a hell of a way to spend one’s life, as I do, objecting to the killing of people. It is like being in the stone age, pre-human. You would like to be building human community with certain common presuppositions, and you can’t. You can’t. It is like living in a cave, sitting around the fire arguing whether we should go out and club people and eat them. As if this were a serious choice. (Quoted from http://www.meehanreports.com/)

It’s hard to predict how the irrepressible tension between democracy and abortion will ever be finally resolved. In some European countries, the the pro-life movement has all but vanished, and abortion has become non-controversial. That’s one possible outcome. But because I place no limits on the sovereignty of God, I also do not rule out the possibility of a massive scale softening of American hearts. At least for the moment, hope springs eternal.

Pro-life Arguments That Need to Die.

Not all arguments against abortion are created equal. Some arguments leave you in awe of their remarkable forcefulness, cogency, and self-evident truth. Others just make you cringe when you come across them. Below, in no particular order, I’ve cataloged a few that I could do with never seeing again.

 You had a choice… when you had sex.

This is my all-time least favorite. It fails on quite a number of levels. Off the top of my head…

  1. It implies that abortion is permissible if the pregnancy resulted from rape.
  2. Often, the “choice” made to have sex involves the usage one or more methods of contraception. Here, the woman has already made a choice not to have a baby. She only resorts to abortion because her original “choice” was frustrated by contraceptive failure.
  3. Under the logic of the slogan, it would not be wrong to make treatment for venereal diseases illegal, because the woman already had a “choice.”
  4. It’s a needless distraction from the central issue of life. Even if all pregnancies occurred spontaneously, without any maternal choice, abortion would still be wrong.
  5. It has the effect of making pregnancy seem like a ‘punishment,’ for women who do not make the “choice” to have sex wisely.
  6.  It ignores that abortion is often chosen for reasons that could not have possibly have been anticipated at the time of conception (e.g. a diagnosis of Down syndrome).

Look at this “hypothetical” scenario, and decide if the mother should have an abortion… you would have killed Beethoven/Obama/[whoever]!

This rhetorical trick does make a good point – that there are undoubtedly great men and women that the world has never known due to abortion – but ultimately raises too many questions to be useful. What if Hitler/Bin Laden/[whoever] had been aborted? What about the vast number of aborted fetuses who would have spent their lives trapped in the poverty they were born into? What about the great men and women who never existed because their would-be parents decided not to have sex on the night when they would have been conceived?

 Margaret Sanger was a huge racist, and eugenics fanatic.

Yeah, she was. So were a lot of people who lived during the same era. Eugenics and virulent racism were pretty trendy back then. But that doesn’t really have much to do with Planned Parenthood as it exists today. This is like pointing out that George Washington owned slaves, and using that to discredit present day United States of America.

Abortion stops a beating heart/the fetus can feel pain/does this picture look like a ‘blob of tissue’ to you?

If the specific context of these arguments is the morality of late-term abortion, they’re excellent arguments. More often though, they’re used outside of that specific context, and directed toward abortion in general.  The vast majority of abortions are done early in the pregnancy, many prior to heartbeat, prior to pain capacity, and prior to a human-like appearance. Someone from the other side can easily say to any of these arguments “yes, and that’s why we need to make it quicker and easier to get abortions very early on in the pregnancy.”

Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer/abortion has awful psychological effects on the mother

These arguments usually lead down rabbit trails about the accuracy and reliability of the abortion-cancer and abortion-depression claims. And even if the claims are accepted at face value, one can still easily be pro-choice. After all, tobacco and alcohol have terrible medical effects, but even conservatives generally agree that use of those substances is ultimately a personal choice.

Any other bad arguments?

Being Pro-choice is Easy.

A Haunting Exchange

In October of 1942, a truly remarkable meeting occurred between Jan Karski, a Jew who had escaped from Poland, and Felix Frankfurter, a Jewish Justice on the United State Supreme Court. The subject, as one might expect, was the Holocaust rumors that were being whispered around the world.

Frankfurter wanted to know the truth, and Karski was happy to oblige. In grim detailed, he recounted everything that he had seen back in Europe, while Frankfurter sat in studied silence. When Karski finished, Frankfuter had only one this to say: “Mr. Karski, I am unable to believe you.”

Karski was speechless, and the Polish ambassador, who was also at the meeting, immediately jumped to his defense: “How can you call him a liar to his face?”

“I did not say this man is lying,” responded Frankfurter, “I said I am unable to believe him.” With that, the meeting was over. And when the war ended less than three years later, Frankfurter was forced to accept that Karski had told the truth all along.

The Silent Majority

This haunting little story, I think, explains a lot about the attitudes of Americans toward abortion. Being pro-choice is easy – it’s as simple as believing that America, the land of liberty and justice for all, has not legally sanctioned the killing of 50 million infants. Like Justice Frankfurter, the average American would rather remain apathetic about a genocide than come to terms with its reality.

About five years ago, when Ramesh Ponnuru’s Party of Death was published, John Derbyshire wrote an amazing critical review. Amazing because of how well it seemed to understand the psychology of America’s quiet pro-choice majority. While admitting that Ponnuru’s arguments possessed undeniable cogency, Derbyshire convincingly contends that careful logic means little to everyday people.  Two passages in particular stood out:

Our preferred method for dealing with the unpleasant side of life, including topics like abortion and euthanasia, is to think about them as little as possible. In the fuss over Mrs. Schiavo, it was not hard to detect a general public irritation at having had the whole unsightly business forced on our attention…

Some of us are RTL absolutists: “You can’t do that to a living human being!” Some of us are personal autonomy absolutists: “Don’t tell me what to do with my own body!” Most of us are too unintellectual to be consistently absolutist about anything. We just favor one side or the other, more or less strongly. America would be a happier and freer nation if the accursed intellectuals would just leave us alone with our lives, our blunders, our tragedies, and our deaths. (http://www.newenglishreview.org/John_Derbyshire/A_Frigid_and_Pitiless_Dogma/)

Like Justice Frankfurter, it’s not so much that ordinary Americans dispute the claims of pro-lifers. They just don’t want to face the possibility that those claims might be true. If 50 million babies really have died with democracy’s blessing, best to try putting it out of our minds. Best to not face the fact that we’ve routinely elected men and women who condone this killing. Best to keep thinking that America is not like those other countries in the world which violate basic human rights.

Being pro-life is hard. It means coming to terms with some highly unsettling facts about our country and our countrymen. In contrast, being pro-choice is the path of least resistance, an oasis of refuge for those who would rather not be troubled by the magnitude of what pro-lifers claim. Just say “at the end of the day, it’s her choice,” and move on. Write off personhood-at-conception as extremism, and move on. Couldn’t be easier

That, fellow travelers, is what we are up against.

Ruben Diaz, and the 7,000+ District Strategy.

Pro-life Democrats in politics are hard to find. And most of the ones that you do find are obviously to the right of the typical Democrat. Finding a bona fide pro-life liberal in politics? Now that’s a tall order! Most of the ones you do come across will eventually cave to pressure from the party base and abandon their pro-life convictions. Believe it or not, Dennis Kucinich used to have a perfect pro-life voting record in the 1990s, but abruptly embraced abortion as he moved toward running for president. Pro-life liberals in politics who stand pat, no matter how much abuse they get from the rest of their party, are almost non-existent.

Notice I said ‘almost,’ because Ruben Diaz, Sr., a State Senator from New York, is one such person. While holding fiscal views that would undoubtedly give Tea Partiers heart attacks, on the issue of abortion, his statements are absolutely incredible, and leave no room for misinterpretation:

Let me tell you something about being pro-choice:

A) Hitler was pro-choice. He chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz. That was not the Jews choice, that was Hitler’s choice.

B) Murderers and assassins are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your face and blow your head off. That is not your choice, that is their choice.

C) The baby in a woman’s womb will not choose the saline solution that will burn his skin away nor will he choose the forceps that will crack his little head off. That is not his choice, that is your choice.

But here’s the kicker – the Senate district Diaz represents is in the Bronx. According to the U.S. Election Atlas, the Bronx borough cast 88.71% of its vote for Barack Obama in 2008. That’s the third highest percentage for Obama out of every county in the nation, trailing only the 92.46% of the District of Columbia, and the 88.87% of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Diaz is not an aberration either; he’s been elected by his district three times, most recently in 2010 after easily beating back a challenge in the Democratic primary.

All this begs the question, if Diaz can repeatedly win in his district, which must be among the most liberal legislative districts in the entire nation, shouldn’t pro-life candidates be able to win anywhere? Howard Dean spoke of a 50 state strategy, and a handful of bloggers have talked about a 435 district strategy. There are more than 7,000 districts in the 50 state legislatures. Maybe it’s time that pro-lifers started thinking about a 7,000+ district strategy. Even in the impossibly liberal districts that no Republican is ever going to win, we ought to be on the look out for men and women like Ruben Diaz, Sr., who are unshakably pro-life, but otherwise firmly in step with the political leanings of their district.

Admittedly, it’s an uphill battle, and the vast majority of the time, lopsidedly Democratic districts will remain represented by a pro-choice legislator. But in state legislatures, which are usually quite small, every vote matters. A Ruben Diaz, Sr. from San Francisco, Chicago, or Seattle could one day end up being the critical vote to pass a law that saves hundreds of lives.

The Irrelevance of Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade? Everyone knows about that one. It completely ignored the will of the people, and utterly denied democratic debate over the issue by judicial fiat. And today, more than 50 million babies have been legally killed because of Roe.

This, more or less, is the standard line of pro-lifers when they speak of Roe v. Wade. Like an epidemic’s Patient Zero, Roe is supposed to be the place where it all began, the epicenter of great genocide which continues to this day. But now, I want to make a claim that flies in the face of what much of the pro-life community has accepted as truth: Roe was nowhere near as anti-democratic as everyone continues to assume. And while legal abortion continues to exist under the aegis of Roe, the American people deserve much of the blame that has too often been reserved only for the Supreme Court.

The flag burning case of Texas v. Johnson is a good example of a truly anti-democratic ruling. 48 states protected the flag (Alaska and Wyoming being the exceptions, and by omission rather than commission), and public sentiment was overwhelmingly, lopsidedly, in favor of these laws. Several times, Constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling came close to passing, failing not due to lack of public support, but because of a small handful of stubborn Democrats in the Senate.

In contrast, by 1973 the American people had sent the Supreme Court plenty of signals that they had, at best, ambivalence toward abortion on demand. In four states – New York, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii – unrestricted abortion was already available. Critically, in New York, there was no residency requirement; before Justice Blackmun wrote so much as a single word of Roe, any mother in America with enough money for a round-trip plane ticket already had the option of legally having their unborn child killed.

Imagine for a moment that a small number of states today started giving mothers the right to put any children in their custody under the age of 16 months to death, and imagine that, like New York, one of them had no residency requirement. Do you imagine that the rest of the country would have sat by, and not done anything about it? If the public reaction to the Casey Anthony trial is anything to go by, I’d say no.

And yet, when these four states legalized abortion in 1970, nothing is exactly what the country did. On Capitol Hill, where endless debates raged about the death tolls in the Vietnam war, there was only deafening silence about the legal execution of infants here in the homeland. In 1972, a full two years after New York’s law, Representative John G. Schmitz finally introduced a Constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to life. Few noticed, and fewer still cared. It was the only human life amendment ever introduced prior to Roe.

Roe v. Wade had the misfortune to be announced on the same day that Lyndon Johnson died, but even then, the lack of negative reaction outside of the Catholic hierarchy was palpable. Within a year, dozens of Congressmen were reporting back that polls conducted in their districts showed clear majorities supporting Roe almost everywhere. Senator Birch Bayh held a series of committee hearings about a possible human life amendment, but most Americans were too transfixed by Sam Ervin’s Watergate committee hearings to pay any heed. At the end of 1974, Nelson Rockefeller, the man responsible for New York’s abortion law, was installed as Vice President.

Again, imagine that the Supreme Court had ruled that mothers had a fundamental right to kill any children of theirs under the age of 16 months. A Constitutional amendment undoubtedly would have been quickly ratified by the states, possibly even before the end of 1973. The supermajorities required to pass the amendment would have been irrelevant. Democracy is not halted by a single aberrant Supreme Court decision, and supermajorities are generally not hard to achieve if a right as fundamental as life has been ruthlessly and baselessly attacked.

And yet, no human life amendment has even come close to passing. Furthermore, even were the Supreme Court to reverse Roe, a large number of states would undoubtedly make abortion generally legal, and while several thousand lives would be saved due to the hassle of traveling to one of these pro-chioce states, the annual death toll would still likely be around one million.

Gary North, a leader of the fringe Christian Reconstruction movement, is one of the few pro-lifers I have ever come across who seems to understand the magnitude of the problem:

The problem is that the American community agrees with the Supreme Court of the United States. The general American public agrees that abortion should be legal.

Maybe it does not agree that the third-trimester abortions should be legal, but it is not going to throw out of office the civil magistrates who enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling. In fact, the Supreme Court has authorized third-trimester abortion and any other kind of abortion, but the public will not fight it. A handful of people have fought it, but the public refuses. The voting public will not vote out of office a man who is pro- abortion. In fact, time and time again, the public re-elects those people to office…

The problem is the community. The community approves. Let us not mince words: the United States electorate approves of abortion on demand. It will not bring political sanctions against those politicians who remain silent on abortion or who actively promote abortions. The problem is in the hearts of the people. (http://www.reformed.org/social/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/social/let_2_paul_hill.html)

Exactly right: The problem is in the hearts of the people.  Not a 40 year old Supreme Court ruling. Not the pro-choice lobby. Not the abortion doctors. The problem is the essential character of Americans. The result is something somber and ominous: genocide by consent of the governed.

For forty years, pro-lifers have been waiting for the dam to break; we’ve waited for the mass, nationwide awakening of conscience that would, at last, consign abortion to the dustbin of history alongside slavery and segregation. So far, it hasn’t happened. Forty years has produced little progress, and has conditioned us to leap for joy at the most ambiguous signs of hope, like when a poll shows 51% of Americans identifying themselves as “pro-life,” a term which really doesn’t mean anything. At times, a candid assessment of abortion in America looks bleak.

Nonetheless, I keep hoping, even when the night seems endless. Luke 1:37 shows the way: “for nothing is impossible with God.”

Herman Cain, and Political Pro-life Subterfuge

If there’s one thing most politicians dread, it’s being pinned down on the abortion issue. Most prefer to speak in generalities which let people with a wide spectrum of beliefs about abortion hear what they want to hear. One of the very first politicians to exploit this phenomenon was Jimmy Carter, who won the 1976 Iowa caucus by masking his pro-choice position so well that countless pro-lifers mistakenly thought he was one of them.  George W. Bush’s repeated and unelaborated commitment to creating a “Culture of Life”  was another masterful example of this principle. He was too smart to ever give the Democrats a juicy soundbite like “Women facing unwanted pregnancies should be forced to carry them to term,” but also smart enough to never say anything which might cause his pro-life supporters to doubt that he actually believed this. Even now, nearly three years after he left office, I still have no idea what Bush’s precise position on abortion’s legality is.

Herman Cain, who unlike the rest of the Republican field is not a politician, hasn’t learned the art of the craft yet. His statements on abortion zigzag, and are hopelessly contradictory. They paint a picture of a man who has zero studied convictions, and just says whatever he thinks of on his feet when the issue comes up. In the space of a single interview with Piers Morgan, Cain went from being perceived as the most pro-life candidate in the field to the least. His recent Tweet (“I’m 100% pro-life. End of story”) does little to clear things up.

The basic underlying problem is that “pro-life,” as a statement of a candidate’s political stance, means almost nothing. Sometimes, “pro-life” means little more than “I have this vague feeling that abortion is usually the wrong choice.” Over the years, countless Democrats have advertised themselves as “pro-life” in the election season, but cast many pro-choice votes once they get into office. Bob Casey Jr. is one of the more prominent, and recent examples. He voted to kill the Mexico City policy in 2007, and voted against defunding Planned Parenthood earlier this year. It’s not that Casey flat-out lied in the 2006 election, it’s just has a different idea of what it means to be “pro-life” than others in the movement.

As for poor Herman Cain, whatever his idiosyncratic definition of “pro-life” ultimately turns out to be, in the end I doubt he would govern any differently from someone with unimpeachable pro-life bona fides, like Rick Santorum. Regardless of Cain’s position, Congress isn’t going to be banning abortion anytime soon. In the meantime, pro-lifers ought to be aware that Cain is far from the only “pro-life” political figure to engage in this sort of subterfuge – he’s just less skilled at it than most.

An all new pro-life blog

Welcome to the Pro-lifist, a new blog dedicated to the pro-life cause.

My intention is to provide historical background and context that’s not always easy to find or piece together in the abortion debate. In particular, I plan to primarily explore the legal side of the issue. In the coming days, I hope to be as informative and enlightening as I can to any readers who happen to stumble across my humble blog.