Because of Fiorina “Progressivism No Longer Owns Feminism”


Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina made one thing crystal clear at the CNN debate. . . : progressivism no longer owns feminism. And it’s about time.

Thus writes Lisa Torcasso Downing in a post at Life Outside the Book of Mormon Belt. She goes on to decry the fact that conservative women have felt–because of the association between feminism and liberal/progressive politics–the need to abandon the movement (or at least the term), although she doesn’t necessarily blame them for doing so:

In general terms, feminism claims its goal is to broaden opportunity for women, but when most Americans hear the word “feminist,” they attach to the word tangential philosophies conservative women reject on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels, including socialism as an acceptable political framework for the U.S. and social justice as a means to equality.

Torcasso put’s her finger on exactly my reluctance–and the reluctance of a lot of men and women I know–to go near the term “feminist” with a 10-foot pole. Instead, however, feminism should be simply “The freedom to choose a life, a path, a journey, and an adventure according to the dictates of our own mind, will, conscience, and being.” Obviously Torcasso doesn’t expect for liberal feminists to get behind Fiorina, but she does conclude by saying that:

if you can’t look at Carly Fiorina on that stage, positioned beside ten prominent Republican men, and feel a little thrill that this woman is a viable candidate for the presidency of the United States, then your feminism is dead, strangled by the cords with which you have tied yourself to progressivism.

I want to add one more thing. A pro-life friend of mine recently shared this image on Facebook:

801 - Embodied Equality Quote

I think it’s important to point out that conservative feminism is not actually just feminism with the progressive / liberal bits taken back out. Conservative feminism is, therefore, not just the idea of freedom for women. That notion–the kind of apolitical source of feminism–is just that, apolitical. What makes a conservative feminism is precisely that it is political, that it incorporates the idea of feminine dignity and feminine power into an ideology that goes beyond merely being pro-woman.

Liberal feminism is not just pro-woman. It has a whole set of attitudes and philosophical assumptions to go along with it and–even if you disagree with practically all of them (as I do)–they enrich the conversation. So that’s the additional loss that we all suffer due to feminism being more or less wholly subverted by left-wing ideology: there’s a whole continuum of feminist thought that is being silenced. There are attitudes and there are policies and there are insights that are only possible when one combines conservatism with feminism. Views like the one expressed in the quote above, which comes from the paper “Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights” by Erika Bachiochi.

Papers like this one pose a vital question for liberal feminism: which is more important? Liberalism? Or feminism? All too often, the answer has been the former rather than the latter.

Linker: “Democrats are going to pay a price for defending an unreasonably maximal position on abortion”

805 - Linker Abortion Piece

Damon Linker does not pull any punches in his most recent piece for The Week: Why liberals should support banning late-term abortions. I very much doubt that liberals will pay attention, but they should.

Linker’s central point is pretty simple: United States laws on abortion are so radical that they are out of touch with both American public opinion and “that notorious backwater of oppression for women, Europe.” Citing the recent defeat of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, he compares abortion advocates to the NRA:

That an activist would operate this way — strong-arming senators to champion views that harmonize with a mere 14 percent of the country — isn’t surprising. Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and their opinion-journalist allies are acting precisely like the NRA and its champions on the right, warning receptive politicians ominously, “Give an inch and the enemy will take more than a mile next time! No compromise allowed!” And so we get no restrictions on late-term abortion, just as we get no serious federal gun control.

He didn’t stop there, either. Instead, he went on to conclude that:

. . . on the issue of abortion, liberals shouldn’t kid themselves about their ability to keep it up. Their position is untenable, and time isn’t on their side. Those who want to ensure that women keep complete reproductive freedom through the first 20 weeks of pregnancy need to back down on the second 20 weeks. Morality no less than politics demands it.


The entire piece is very, very good and worth reading all the way through. I strongly disagree with Linker about abortion (he is pro-choice; I am pro-life), but I very, very much agree with him on the key factors in this article. American abortion law is truly radical, it is not democratically supported at all, and the pro-choice lobby manages to maintain the status quo only by subterfuge. If Americans understood our laws today, they would not stand for them. An understanding of what the laws really permit–and a deepening understanding of the humanity of the unborn–is inevitable.

Here’s a quick note on why Americans don’t understand abortion law. Roe v. Wade set up a trimester system that allowed states to impose more regulation with each trimester. And so, in theory, the states have wide latitude especially after viability. That is why many people believe that abortion is already illegal or severely regulated later on in pregnancy. The problem is that in every case Roe calls for an exception for a mother’s “health.”

That sounds good and reasonable, but another, lesser-known decision (Doe v. Bolton) that was handed down on the same day as Roe v. Wade defines “health” so broadly that the health-exception basically nullifies any law that includes it.

Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, “an abortion is necessary” is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called upon to make routinely. We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.

So “health” can include basically any factor that a physician decides to include. Which means that any law with a “health” exception is useless. It would be like passing a law that says you can’t drink alcohol unless the bartender thinks you need it. As a result, American abortion law is truly radical and late-term abortions are <em>not</em> illegal or harshly regulated, but in order to fully appreciate this you have to be aware of not only Roe (which everyone has heard of) but also Doe (which is much less well-known). As far as the general public is concerned, the pro-life lobby keeps trying to restrict abortion without exceptions for the mother’s health and that looks very bad and fits the narrative that social conservatives have declared war on women. The understanding that if the health exception goes in the law you might as well just not even bother passing it is little understood.


As long as this charade is maintained intact, the pro-choice lobby continues to operate from a position of strength, even though only 14% of the American public supports their position. But bills like the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the ongoing release of undercover Planned Parenthood videos are eroding that charade.

Time will end the horrific human rights abuse that is the American system of abortion-as-birth control. There will be a day when we look back on this time period with the same mixture of shame and incomprehension as slavery, segregation, and male-only voting. The Democratic Party can get out of the way, or they can take a turn understanding the true meaning of the phrase “the wrong side of history.”

Was Fiorina Telling the Truth About Abortion?

For me, the only moment of genuine passion and conviction in the entire GOP debate came when Carly Fiorina linked the Iran issue (“the defense of the security of this nation”) with abortion (“the defense of the character of this nation”) Here is what she said:

Fiorina has been excoriated in the media for this statement, not least because the debate was the most-watched event for CNN. Planned Parenthood has been in damage-control mode over the ongoing release of undercover videos documenting the sale / donation of human organs procured during abortions. This kind of coverage does not help make their federal funding any safer.

This pro-Fiorina article from First Things (Fiorina Was Right) gives a good rundown of some of the criticism Fiorina has faced, for example, straight from Planned Parenthood:

The images show nothing like what Carly Fiorina said they do, and they have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. The video footage that she claims exists—and that she ‘dared’ people to watch—does not exist. We have a word for that: It’s a lie.

Glenn Stanton, writing the First Things piece, argues that the video is real and provides the YouTube link with time stamps to see exactly what Fiorina is referring to. I don’t like watching these kinds of videos, but I did for the sake of understanding. The video produced by the Center for Medical Progress shows exactly what Fiorina describes. However, the video of the unborn human being with a beating heart and twitching leg is clearly not footage from the undercover sting operation. So what’s going on? Here’s MSNBC:

What does exist is a video interview of a former employee of StemExpress, a tissue procurement agency like the fictitious group represented by the anti-abortion activists behind the video. In it, she claims she saw a fetus with a heartbeat, and says her supervisor planned to procure the fetus’s brain for medical research. The video also includes unrelated stock footage of a fetus outside the womb that purports to be from an abortion… No one in the videos has even alleged that a fetus was kept alive to harvest a brain, nor is there footage of it.

So here’s what happened: the Center for Medical Progress (which has been releasing the undercover videos) used stock footage from another pro-life group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform during this segment of the video. They cut back and forth between an interview with a former “Procurement Technician” from Stem Express, LLC describing the incident that made her quit her job and stock footage. The footage is clearly labeled, as this image (cropped to avoid any disturbing imagery) shows:

815 - Labeled Footage

This isn’t dishonest on the part of CMP. They were interviewing a woman about what she was asked to do (cut through the face of an unborn human being to harvest the brain) and why she was unable to do it (it was too horrific for her to go through with). Showing footage of a fetus of the same gestational age during the interview is neither misleading nor gratuitous given the content of the interview. Furthermore, the CMP video does not allege that the footage of the fetus was from the  specific incident being described by the interviewee. In fact, that would be strange because if they had undercover video of that incident they would be playing that video in addition to / instead of an interview. You interview people precisely because you don’t have primary evidence of the thing you are interviewing them about. That is what, to a large extent, interviews are for. Nor does the CMP video allege that the fetus in the footage is aborted, and why should they? That is not actually relevant. The fetus that is the subject of the interview was aborted, the fetus in the stock footage is there as an illustration to show viewers what we’re talking about. This woman was asked to cut through the face of an unborn human being. This is what an unborn human being looks like. Given euphemisms about “products of conception” and “uterine contents” and so forth, the inclusion of illustrative footage is entirely legitimate.

So let’s turn to Fiorina’s comments. It’s clear that she, either in watching the video or in remembering it after the fact, conflated the stock footage with actual footage of a fetus that was about to have its brain harvested. I do not think it was a lie because I do not think it was intentional. People misremember. That’s part of being human. More importantly: I don’t think it matters.

Think about the Planned Parenthood rebuttal for a moment. A woman testifies that PP conducted an abortion that led to a living, intact fetus and then ordered this women to harvest that fetus’s brain. Fiorina passionately declares that this kind of barbaric treatment is a threat to our national character. Planned Parenthood says, “Aha, but you don’t actually have video of that specific incident.”

This non sequitur is as morally bankrupt as one of Donald Trump’s failed enterprises. Does it really matter if this particular fetus in this particular video is the one that had its brain harvested? Or doesn’t it actually matter whether or not there was such a fetus that had its brain harvested on or off camera? Does Planned Parenthood think that something morally repugnant becomes morally acceptable just because it was not caught on video?

Probably not. But they do understand very, very well that as long as something is not seen it cannot generate or sustain outrage. And that is the real secret to Planned Parenthood’s ongoing success. They do not provide the assistance to poor women that they claim to, and every single service they do offer other than abortion can be accessed at other community health clinics that don’t perform abortions (not to mention harvest and sell human organs). But they continue to enjoy widespread support and hundreds of millions of dollars of government funding and the abortion industry as a whole continues on largely unregulated and unopposed because abortion is invisible. We don’t talk about the unborn human beings who die, we don’t even talk seriously about the costs to the women who procure abortions, we don’t even talk about the toll this kind of routinized violence takes on abortion providers.

The specific video that Fiorina thought existed does not exist. But the kind of incidents that threaten our national character did take place and continue to take place. Which of those truths matters more? Planned Parenthood doesn’t really care; they just want you to think there’s nothing to see here so that you’ll move along without looking too closely.


Close-Minded Christians Protest Bernie Sanders… Oh Wait…

825 - Bernie Sanders at Liberty

Jesse Singal makes a simple but worthwhile point at NYMag: Liberty University Students Survived the Unsafe Space Created by Bernie Sanders and His Pro-Choice Views (somehow). The backstory is simple: Bernie Sanders came to speak at notoriously conservative Liberty University and, although he faced tough questions from a generally hostile crowd, no one protested to deny him the opportunity to speak and no one interrupted his speech. Contrast that as Singal does, with basically any liberal-dominated college you can think of:

For example, Emily Yoffe, who has written about the connection between alcohol and sexual assaulthad a speaking offer at a West Coast college rescinded after a student organization told her that her presence would make victims of assault “feel unsafe.” At my alma mater of the University of Michigan, for example, a showing of American Sniper wascanceled (though later un-canceled) after students complained that the movie’s depiction of Iraqi Muslims would make “students feel unsafe and unwelcome.” Unsuccessful attempts to get Bill Maher and George Will canceled as speakers at the University of California – Berkeley andMichigan State, respectively, involved similar arguments about creating dangerous-feeling environments.

There are plenty more examples where those came from, of course.

I’ll tell you one thing: the word liberal sure doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

824 - You Keep Using that Word

This is Why I Don’t Like Planned Parenthood

I’d been storing up a couple of articles about Planned Parenthood, unsure of when I was going to post them, and then news broke yesterday of Planned Parenthood’s side gig selling human body parts from aborted fetuses. Well, it doesn’t get much sicker or more morally repugnant than that, but let’s back up before we get to that.

First, here’s an article from Secular Pro-Life showing how Planned Parenthood is aggressively expanding to increase their abortion numbers despite an overall decline in abortions nationally. At the same time, the work PP likes to be known for–cancer screenings and prevention services–are going down.

856 - Planned Parenthood 01

The graphic comes from a report by another pro-life organization (Americans United for Life) which (according to SPL’s summary):

covers a huge amount of ground: how Planned Parenthood is running away from its less profitable contraception and cancer screening services; how it is siphoning abortion business from its competitors, allowing it to take a greater share of the market even as nationwide abortions plummet; how it is putting its proverbial eggs in the basket of “mega-centers” that commit abortions six or seven days our of the week instead of just one or two; how it is developing those mega-centers by deceiving local authorities; and how our tax dollars are the scaffolding for the whole twisted enterprise.

Planned Parenthood likes to pass itself off as a woman’s health organization, but the reality is that it is (now moreso than ever) a highly profitable commercial enterprise founded on killing human beings.

Then there was this article from the WaPo that I thought was very interesting in light of the controversy over the Confederate battle flag: Planned Parenthood: The next relic from our racist past that must be purged. Steve Deace points out that, as racist legacies goes, Planned Parenthood’s is a stand out in all the worst ways possible:

Sanger left behind a documented legacy of racist screeds. Long before Democrats got a former grand wizard of the KKK named Robert Byrd elected to the U.S. Senate, Sanger proudly proclaimed the following:

“(We) are seeking to assist the white race toward the elimination of the unfit (blacks).” (Birth Control and Racial Betterment, 1919)

“Birth Control to create a (white) race of thoroughbreds!” (Subhead to Sanger’s magazine The Birth Control Review)

“We are paying for and submitting to an ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings (blacks) who never should have been born at all. That our wealth is being diverted from the progress of human civilization … Our eyes should be opened to the terrific cost to the community of this dead weight of (black) human waste.” (The Pivot of Civilization, 1922)

“Birth control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks–those human weeds (blacks) which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.” (New York Times interview, 1923)

“I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan … I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses … I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak … In the end, through simple illustrations (explaining the problems with inferior races), I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered.” (Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography, 1938)

Sanger established her first full-service “clinic” in Harlem in 1929. Why Harlem? Because, silly, that’s where a lot of the black people she often referred to as “human weeds” lived. Sanger described it as “an experimental clinic established for the benefit of the colored people.” In this case, she defined “benefit” as the overall reduction of the black population.

You might say this is all in the past, but the fact is that Planned Parenthood–which Sanger founded–still names its most prestigious award after her.

854 - Margaret Sanger Award

That kind of legacy explains photos like these:

855 - Hands Up, Don't Abort

So, all of this would have been bad enough, but yesterday we learned that Planned Parenthood is in the business of harvesting and selling body parts from the unborn human beings they kill. This isn’t just some fringe benefit, either. According to undercover video, they decide exactly how to perform abortions in order to avoid damaging the most valuable body parts that are currently on order. Here is Dr. Deborah Nucatola (Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood since February 2009) describing her own procedures for ensuring optimal organ harvest from the abortions she personally performs:

For example, so I had 8 cases yesterday. And I knew exactly what we needed, and I kinda looked at the list and said okay, this 17-weeker has 8 lams, and this one — so I knew which were the cases that were more probably likely to yield what we needed, and I made my decisions according to that, too, so its worth having a huddle at the beginning of the day and that’s what I do.

This Breitbart article goes into more details, including Nucatola’s discussion of how to get the ban on Partial Birth Abortions. These abortions, which involve crushing the head of an unborn human being before delivering the rest of the body intact, are optimal because they allow everything (other than the head, obviously) to be resold. She says: “The Federal [Partial Birth] Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation. So, if I say on day one, I do not intend to do this, what ultimately happens doesn’t matter.”

There is some doubt about whether or not the body parts are technically sold since, as you can imagine, selling human body parts is not legal. Not even, I was surprised to learn, body parts from aborted humans. Snopes lists the allegation as “unconfirmed,” and for its part, PP has replied with a statement claiming that no body parts are sold, but that “tissue” (their euphamism) are donated for a fee:

In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

Consider me skeptical. The idea that there is “no financial benefit” is the same thing that PP would say about all the abortions they perform, since PP is ostensibly a non-profit, after all, and just in it for the health of women. Besides, as Hot Air summarizes the actual content of the video:

The context of the video was clearly not reimbursement for transportation of random tissue. Nucatola talks extensively about the demand for specific body parts in relation to price. “A lot of people want liver,” Nucatola states, and then explains how they train their staff to perform these abortions so that PP clinics can harvest organs to meet specific demand, and then make the sale. At one point, Nucatola even talks about body parts being on a “menu.”

I’m not a lawyer, but from what I’ve seen I doubt that Planned Parenthood is going to face a criminal investigation over this any time soon. The regional franchise might, but the national organization has been careful to keep its nose clean. But it’s equally obvious from the video that the only thing stopping them from whole-hearted retail is legal stricture. A change in the Supreme Court, as Nucatola says, and then it’s a different ballgame.

The whole thing is pretty grisly business, but none of my friends in the pro-life movement are at all surprised. This is what Planned Parenthood is. This is what they do. If you want to watch the video itself, here it is below.

Why Social Conservatives Fight the Culture Wars

875 - Family Portrait

I just read David Brooks’ most recent column: The Next Culture War. In a nutshell, he argues that Christians ought to abandon their decades-long, fighting retreat against the sexual revolution. “Consider putting aside,” he writes, “the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” Channeling Disney’s Frozen, he argues that Christians should just let it go. After all, aren’t there enough other problems to tackle? “We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed,” he writes.

I have a lot of respect for David Brooks. He’s one the people I’d most love to have a lunch conversation with. But, he doesn’t seem to understand that his suggestion asks for Christians to bail the water out of a sinking boat while ignoring the hole in the hull.

You see, the sexual revolution is the reason that we live in a society that is “plagued by formlessness and radical flux.” In The Social Animal, Brooks argues against the atomization of society on both the left and on the right, with each side focusing myopically on divisible, separable, self-contained individualism. The left argues that human individuals can construct their own gender and sexual identities free from repercussions and it therefore sees free birth control and elective abortion as fundamental rights. The right views collectivism with a hostile gaze, channeling Ayn Rand at times, and argues for personal responsibility sometimes to the point of callousness. These are twin heads of the same coin, and Brooks is right to focus on it. It is one of the defining philosophical tragedies of our age.

But what he seems to fail to grasp is that this radically individualized view of human nature follows in part directly from the sexual revolution. To the extent that the sexual revolution has been about excising sex from the context of marriage and family, it has been an assault on the biological family unit. And this unit–including the bond of husband and wife to each other and also to their children–comprises the two most essential bonds in human society.

To put it simply, social conservatism is animated in no small part by the conviction that biological families are irreplaceable. And so, to the extent that Brooks’ invitation is for social conservatives to give up and try to replace them, he is asking something of us that we simply cannot provide.

As a brief caveat, it’s not entirely clear that that is what he’s asking. He writes that we ought to “help nurture stable families.” I’m just not sure how he imagines this should be accomplished in practice. At one point, he suggests that conservatives abandon the culture wars while at another point he says that “I don’t expect social conservatives to change their positions on sex.” Which is it? Because conservative positions on sex are their participation in the culture wars. It may be the he merely thinks we should keep those beliefs quiet, but again: how does one practically “help nurture stable families” while abandoning resistance to the sexual revolution? Subjective sexual morality, open relationships, sex before marriage, pornography: these are not incidental things that happen to exist alongside “formlessness and radical flux.” These are the acids in which the stable family–as a normative and aspirational social beacon–dissolves.

And this cuts both ways, by the way. To the extent that social conservatives are unwilling to abandon their commitments, their opponents are equally unlikely to let the issue go. Thus, I have to express a deep skepticism of the upside of Brooks’ plan. His idea is that–if we assume for a moment that it is possible to meaningfully nurture families without participating in the culture wars–that suddenly religion will be well-thought of in the world. All of a sudden, we would be known as “the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.”

This is impossible, because the commitment social conservatives have to their values is mirrored by the commitment social liberals have to their mutually contradictory values. And as long as social liberals dominate the opinion-making sectors of our society their animosity will continue to be expressed in part by ongoing negative characterization of social conservatives as backwards bigots. And, make no mistake, social liberals do dominate the opinion making sectors of our society: academia, the press, the entertainment industry, and the Internet. Even if social conservatives did go quiet on their beliefs, I have very, very little confidence that our image would suddenly be rehabilitated.

Graph from Business Insider article about political makeup of American industries. Click image for link to article.
Graph from Business Insider article about political makeup of American industries. Click image for link to article.

Here is the reality: social conservatives are fighting the sexual revolution–despite it being a losing proposition thus far–because we believe that nothing does more good for children than being raised by their biological parents and that very little does more harm than for little children to be deprived of this natural right. This belief necessitates viewing sex as more than merely a recreational activity or even a question of strictly intrapersonal, subjective meaning to be negotiated between the willing adult participants. The belief that immature human beings have a strong moral claim on their parents for protection logically requires a view of sex as a deeply significant act for which consenting adults–male and female together–ought to be morally, socially, and legally responsible.

There is certainly room for compromise and innovation within this conflict. The idea that social conservatives want to wholesale turn back the clock to an imaginary 1950s is an unfair stereotype. Much of the progress–both for women and for minorities–since the 1950s comes to us as precious treasure, dearly purchased and should be treated with humility, gratitude, and respect. Many of the contentious technologies that have fueled this debate–from the pill to IVF–are morally neutral technologies which can certainly coexist with a thoughtful, robust view of normative sexual ethics. There is room for these views to be better articulated within social conservatism, and for some social conservatives to take them more seriously and moderate their positions.

And so I do not want to meet Brooks’ call with a hardline refusal. It’s worth considering. What I wish to convey is that social conservatism is restricted in its freedom to adapt. That is not a design flaw. The point of having principles at all is that–while they may be interpreted or applied in innovative or flexible ways–there is a limit to that flexibility. There are some things that a person cannot do without abandoning principle. For social conservatives, the central principle is the care and protection of society’s most vulnerable, which means our children (before and after birth). An additional article of faith is that no institution can replace the biological family in filling that role. As a result, social conservatives not only will not abandon their opposition to the sexual revolution, they cannot do so and remain social conservatives. Can we do more without abandoning that opposition? I’m sure we can, and I hope we never stop being motivated by that question.

An Interview with a Product of Surrogacy

903 - Breeders

I found this interview at Chelsea Zimmerman’s Reflection of a Paralytic blog, and I’m re-using her post title. I’m fairly certain that she’s intentionally riffing on one of the most notorious euphemisms from the abortion debate: “products of conception.” The point of that euphemism was to elide the humanity of the unborn human being by (1) picking such an opaque term and (2) conflating the developing human being with the other “uterine contents” like the placenta. The term “product of surrogacy” is an ironic twist on that, referring to the way in which surrogacy tends to commoditize and thus dehumanize the children who are purchased this way.

This all sounds like fairly strong language, of course, but I think it’s important to let the children who have grown up in this system speak for themselves. And that’s what this interview is about.

The video features Center for Bioethics and Culture President and Founder Jennifer Lahl interviewing Jessica Kern. It’s an important interview, I think, and full of insights that I had never considered. Jennifer and Jessica have also worked together on the film Breeders which I haven’t seen yet, but hope to see soon. You can watch the entire video here.

Thoughts on the Speed with Which America Changes Her Mind

905 - Americans Change Their Minds

Bloomberg Business has an interesting post about the speed with which Americans change their minds on major social issues, complete with misleading graph above. I say misleading primarily because the graph stops at major milestones (Constitutional amendments or SCOTUS cases), and this gives an unjustified sense of finality to the change of mind, as though–having gone one direction–the transition is ultimately a complete switch.

Calling it misleading might be a little harsh. It does show exactly what it purports to show, and the authors even note that “the movement to legalize abortion is something of an outlier here. It ultimately may have followed the same pattern as other issues—but we’ll never know, because in 1973 the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade cleared the way for legal abortions.” That’s a reasonable characterization, but it s somewhat contradicted in the following paragraph: “By acting before a critical mass of states was in support, the Supreme Court pre-empted what had been a steady popular movement in the states toward abortion rights.”

Just how steady and popular has that movement been in the decades since? I considered that question over a year ago when I contrasted the fate of interracial marriage and abortion (two controversial-at-the-time social issues) up to the present date.

As you can see, support for interracial marriage rose on a more or less steady trajectory from only 4% in 1959 to 87% in 2013. Abortion, on the other hand, has been flatlined (more or less) for the past 40 years. So if the Bloomberg Business chart were really “tracking the pace of social change” they should have picked not state-level support (which is kind of meaningless) but rather polling data, and then they should have carried it forward as far as possible instead of just stopping at the point of legalization. If they had done so, the graph would show two different kinds of rapid social changes. One, like interracial marriage, would show a genuine change in America’s views over time. Others, like abortion, would show that this change has stalled and would instead show lasting controversy.

It seems increasingly likely that same-sex marriage will soon become the law of the land. It is much less clear which of these two categories it will fit into: eventual universal acceptance or long-lasting controversy.

On the Current Concerns of Social Conservatives

Photo by Loor101 on DeviantArt.
Photo by Loor101 on DeviantArt. (Click for original source.)

My friend Tom Stringham has an excellent post at his blog Virtuous Society in which he outlines a secular argument against same sex marriage. It’s the single best argument I’ve read, not because it’s new or innovative, but because it’s the most concise expression of all the key points that so many of the same-sex marriage opponents have been focusing on. It begins:

If marriage is a real thing, then before we can decide what the rules of eligibility are, we have to know what it is–what marriage is. We want our marriage law to deal with real marriage, in the same way that, say, our criminal law deals with “real” crime, and not just anything the government wants to call crime.

This is a deft analogy. We all recognize that, technically, whatever the government decides to make criminal is a crime. But we all generally recognize that this technical definition misses something deeper. To the extent that the criminal code is arbitrary, it loses it’s moral force and we stop seeing it as a “real” crime. And so the question becomes: what lurks behind marriage that makes it something worthy recognizing in the first place? This isn’t a historical question, because there’s no point in the history of the institution of marriage at which a bunch of scholars or lawyers or politicians sat down and decided to hash out marriage law from first principles. Marriage laws are a product of evolution, along with much of our legal code, rather than intentional design. But that doesn’t mean that they are arbitrary.

Please read Tom’s post for the rest of his argument.

In the meantime, here are some more thoughts.

First, I think secular arguments tend to be the best kind of arguments because (1) they appeal to a broader audience and (2) by not relying on the claims of any particular religion, they are more compelling. I don’t have anything against specifically religious arguments, but I find that–even as a religious person myself–if it’s a matter of public policy it’s preferable to state the argument in the broadest terms possible. That’s what I’ve always done when it comes to the abortion issue, and it’s what makes sense with the issue of same-sex marriage as well.

Second, I just thought I’d note some other interesting articles I found on the topic recently.

How Same-Sex Marriage Makes Orphans of Us All – This is an article from The Federalist that digs a little deeper into some of the philosophical ramifications of same-sex marriage: “To obliterate the sexual-difference feature of marriage is a radical repudiation of its character and, ominously, of the character of the human person it acknowledges and protects.” Going on:

So not only does same-sex marriage ideology redefine parent, but also child. For on its account, a child comes into the world not naturally related to anyone, but only transactionally connected to the persons responsible for fetching him through various means. No child in a same-sex household derives from the relationship of the partners in that home; every such child has been torn from at least one parent. Rather than a child’s dissociation from parents being a tragedy, it is a necessity and design feature of the same-sex regime.

I realize this is not going to be a remotely well-received argument because of the conclusions it draws, but the logic is fairly straightforward: either biological relationships are intrinsically valuable, or they are not. I believe that they are. That the mere fact of biological relationship–parent to child and also to siblings, cousins, and other kin–means something. And if it does, then deliberately creating children in a way that deprives them of this connection is morally troubling in a way that, for example, adopting children in need is not.

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage? – We may as well expand outward from gay marriage to the family generally to questions of fairness and privilege. Thus, this article from The Philosopher’s Zone which argues that–along with economic and gender and other forms of systemic inequality–having a loving family is also a source of inequality that society should rectify. On the one hand, I appreciate that the philosophers who tackle the question are shooting for a moderate position, they contrast private school (which they believe cannot be justified because it is unfair) with reading to your children (which they say is unfair, but cannot reasonably be stopped.) OK, so they aren’t saying that you can’t read to your kids because of the unfair advantage it gives, but (1) they still think you should feel bad about what you’re doing and (2) moreover the “right” to read your kids bedtime stories is in their conception contingent. The fact of the matter is that having a serious discussion about whether or not to ban bedtime stories is intrinsically alarming, even if the philosophers decide that (based on their particular criteria), reading to your kids is permissible for now. The implication is clear: the right of parents to provide the best environment they can for their own children within the walls of their own home is not absolute, but rather depends on a particular argument that happened to turn out this way today, but could–in the future, under different analysis–turn out in another way.

The Wild Ideas of Social Conservatives – I’ll wrap up with a pre-emptive response to the points I’ve enumerated thus far. One of the common rejoinders to conservative concerns about marriage, the family, and privilege arguments is that conservatives are hysterical. When have their fears ever, ever turned out to be justified? Well, in this post Douthat tackles that contention head on and points out that, well, conservative fears have been born out many times in the past.

It’s not that social conservatives are always right about where American society is going…

But there’s still a broad track record that’s worth considering. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit. Conservatives (and not only conservatives) also made various “dystopian” predictions about eugenics and the commodification of human life as reproductive science advanced in the ’70s, while many liberals argued that these fears were overblown; today, from “selective reduction” to the culling of Down’s Syndrome fetuses to worldwide trends in sex-selective abortion, from our fertility industry’s “embryo glut” to the global market in paid surrogacy, the dystopian predictions are basically just the status quo. No-fault divorce was pitched as an escape hatch for the miserable and desperate that wouldn’t affect the average marriage, but of course divorce turned out to havesocial-contagion effects as well. Religious fears that population control would turn coercive and tyrannical were scoffed at and then vindicated. Dan Quayle was laughed at until the data suggested that basically he had it right. The fairly-ancient conservative premise that social permissiveness is better for the rich than for the poor persistently bemuses the left; it also persistently describes reality. And if you dropped some of the documentation from today’s college rape crisis through a wormhole into the 1960s-era debates over shifting to coed living arrangements on campuses, I’m pretty sure that even many of the conservatives in that era would assume that someone was pranking them, that even in their worst fears it couldn’t possibly end up like this.

More broadly, over the last few decades social conservatives have frequently offered “both/and” cultural analyses that liberals have found strange or incredible — arguing (as noted above) that a sexually-permissive society can easily end up with a high abortion rate and a high out-of-wedlock birthrate; or that permissive societies can end up with more births to single parents and fewer births (not only fewer than replacement, but fewer than women actually desire) overall; or that expressive individualism could lead to fewer marriages and greater unhappiness for people who do get hitched. Social liberals, on the other hand, have tended to take a view of human nature that’s a little more positivist and consumerist, in which the assumption is that some kind of “perfectly-liberated decision making” is possible and that such liberation leads to optimal outcomes overall. Hence that 1970s-era assumption that unrestricted abortion would be good for children’s family situations, hence the persistent assumption that marriages must be happier when there’s more sexual experimentation beforehand, etc.

I’m not going to tell you that either side has a monopoly on the truth; human nature is much too complicated for that. But I will say, again, that if you look at the post-1960s trend data — whether it’s on family structure and social capital, fertility and marriage rates, patterns of sexual behavior and their links to flourishing relationships, or just trends in marital contentment and personal happiness more generally — the basic social conservative analysis has turned out to have more predictive power than my rigorously empirical liberal friends are inclined to admit.

Not surprisingly, I agree with Douthat. Social liberals tend to see opposition to gay marriage as merely an expression of bigotry. In some cases, it certainly has been. But, even if this list of social conservative fears proves nothing else, the history of widespread paranoia of social conservatives going back to the 1960s and the ensuing data should underscore the fact that concerns about gay marriage and sexual mores are not isolated outbreaks that can only be explained by appeals to fear or animosity. On the contrary, this kind of opposition is part of a consistent concern for social well-being that has, in at least some important and recent cases, proved to be well-founded.

Rape Survivor Child Custody Act

978 - Hazard Kiessling
Kelsey Hazzard (left) is the founder and president of Secular Pro-Life. Rebecca Kiessling (right) is an advocate for unborn human beings conceived through rape.

Secular Pro-Life has an important article about much-needed reform the pro-life community is pushing for that everyone should support.

A majority of states have no laws preventing rapists from obtaining custody or visitation of the children conceived through their violence. Absent such laws, a mother choosing life after rape faces the horrifying prospect of an 18-year co-parenting relationship with her rapist.

Understandably, the pro-life movement is particularly sensitive to this issue because “people in that impossible situation are under tremendous pressure to abort.” Notable pro-life spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling is leading the charge to reform these laws. Kiessling, who was herself conceived as a result of rape, is a controversial figure who opposes rape-exceptions to abortion restrictions. Her position in that regard is not always popular, sometimes even within the pro-life community. But this effort should have universal support, because there is no case in which the government should be protecting the parental rights of rapists.

Contacting your legislators is easy. Click here for your Representativesand here for your Senators. Take five minutes out of your day to email them, then tell a friend. It’s the least we can do for the families who have courageously chosen life after rape.