Although I am strongly pro-life, I don’t follow the movement closely, so I’ve been puzzled by a barrage of emails, Tweets and Facebook posts that I’ve been paying semi-attention to over the past week about an internal furor over HR 1797: The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. According to the executive summary of the bill:
H.R. 1797 generally prohibits the abortion of unborn children at twenty weeks after fertilization or later, the stage during which a substantial body of medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain. The bill provides exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, or from incest against a minor, as long as such incidents are reported to the appropriate law enforcement or government agency prior to the abortion. H.R. 1797 also provides an exception when the life of the mother is in danger. The termination of a pregnancy under the exceptions generally must be done in manner that provides the best opportunity for the unborn child’s survival.
A person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion prohibited under H.R. 1797 will be fined, imprisoned for less than five years, or both. However, H.R. 1797 prohibits the prosecution of a woman who receives an abortion in violation of the bill.
This seems like a no-brainer pro-life position to me, so I couldn’t tell what all the fuss was about from inside the pro-life movement. Today, however, noted pro-life activist Rebecca Kiessling linked to an open letter by Dan Becker to the pro-life community. I read it, and discovered that the anger comes from a perceived schism within the pro-life movement.
In a provocatively timed New York Times Opinionator post (just before Father’s Day), Laurie Shirage argues that fatherhood ought to be optional. The kernel of her argument comes from 2005 paper in the Journal of Applied Philosophy:
If women’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a fetus, then men’s partial responsibility for pregnancy does not obligate them to support a resulting child.
The logic is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far.
Abortion involves a lot more than merely declining to assume a moral or legal responsibility. It involves the ending of a human life.
Having a child isn’t like acquiring a pet. Children are human beings who have their own rights. Among these rights is–or ought to be–a right to support from their parents.
The position ignores the social and psychological implications of human biological dimorphism and assumes that women and men are equivalent participants in sex, each gaining, receiving, and perceiving exactly the same things from copulation.
So the position is logically consistent, it’s just totally divorced from reality. Which, all things considered, is about what I’d expect from “the Journal of Applied Philosophy.”
There’s an old rule: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I think we could retrofit that for bloggers as: “If you don’t have anything new to blog, don’t blog at all.” The trouble, of course, is that in that event most of us would stop blogging.
For example, I’ve wanted to write a post about the myth of evil for quite some time. What I mean by this is the belief–reaffirmed by media in the wake of every horrific crime–that evil acts are committed by evil people, and that evil people are a different kind of entity than good people. In other words, it’s the opposite of what Sirius Black tells Harry Potter: “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” Contrast that with, for example, the hopeless attempt to use DNA to find out what caused the Sandyhook shooting. That is the 21st century equivalent of looking for demonic possession: an attempt to reaffirm the myth that those who do great evil are essentially different from the rest of us.
When I started writing the post, however, I decided to do a quick Google search first. Turns out, there’s already a book: “The Myth of Evil explores a contradiction at the heart of modern thought about what it is to be human: the belief that a human being cannot commit a radically evil act purely for its own sake and the evidence that radically evil acts are committed not by inhuman monsters, but by human beings.” That took the wind right out of my sails. I don’t know if the book actually makes the same specific arguments I was going to make, but I would feel like a fraud for not reading it first to find out. And if I have to read a book before I write every single blog post…
This isn’t an isolated incident. When I was 10 years old I wrote a piano song of my very own, and then heard the melody played on the radio a couple of days later. Once I spent an entire semester working on a complex systems project that turned out to be just recreating the basics of reinforcement learning. I’d never heard the term before, and neither had most of the folks in the class, but when I gave my final presentation one of the other students pointed out that there was already a textbook. In grad school I spent a lot of time thinking about economic equality and came up with the idea that it had to be measured in terms of opportunity to make any sense. Turns out, that’s part of what got Amartya Sen his Nobel Prize. Everyone’s heard the idea that there are no new stories, but there are new facts and new theories. I just keep thinking up old ones instead. So: why blog?
Slate has a great set of interactive maps for exploring abortion and contraception laws around the world. One of the stubborn bits of misinformation that I regularly come across (even with otherwise politically informed and aware individuals) is the idea that the United States has moderate laws on abortion that only allow abortions under certain exceptions. This is not true. As the very first selection on the very first map indicates, abortion is legal in the United States for any reason whatsoever.
The useful thing about these maps, of course, is that they come from Slate. I don’t think anyone accuses Slate of having a pro-life slant. Slate, for its part, credits a variety of sources running from ostensibly neutral, like the UN, to the overtly pro-choice, like the Guttmacher Institute. (The Guttmacher Institute is a branch of Planned Parenthood.)
There are other useful maps as well. The second one reinforces the point of the first one: every possible exception category is included in the US (because no reason at all is needed). Farther down, the “Abortion: Laws by state” map has a setting for “Trigger laws” that helpfully illustrates the fact that overturning Roe would not, by itself, make abortion illegal. Only 6 states (including my home of Virginia) have bans that would automatically go into effect if Roe were overturned.
And, just to preempt objections from folks who are familiar with Roe but not with Doe, it was the two court cases working together that created our present circumstance where no reason at all is required for an abortion in the United States. Although Roe ostensibly allows states to enact regulation based on trimester, they are forced to leave open a “health” exception. Doe, handed down the same day as Roe, defined “health” so broadly that basically anything goes and–in addition– left the determination in the hands of the woman’s doctor. Which is to say: the abortionist gets to decide if the abortion is for the woman’s “health”, with no oversight or penalty. This is, in effect, abortion without any restriction whatsoever.
There are some states, of course, that ban late-term abortions, but these bans are in tenuous legal territory. Pennsylvania, where Kermit Gosnell operated his clinic, has a law against late-term abortions without a health exception, but when the PA law was challenged in the Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood v Casey), Planned Parenthood decided not to contest that aspect of the law. Since it was not challenged, it remains on the books. Does that mean late-term abortions are illegal in PA? Well, you tell me. Kermit Gosnell was performing them for decades without any enforcement. He was only ever charged with illegal late-term abortions during his trial for murdering infants after they were born. I haven’t found any prosecution of an abortionist for illegal late-term abortions independent of the death of an adult patient. I would argue that if no one is ever independently charged with violating a law against late-term abortions (even when they obviously conducted thousands and are on trial for other, related charges) it’s safe to conclude that late-term abortions are still legal in practice.
Which brings me to the final map I found interesting. It’s still the “Abortion: Laws by state” map, but this time the “Abortion providers” filter. What this illustrates is how few and far between abortion providers are. The real difficulty in securing an abortion in this country (when it exists) is not about legality. It’s about the fact that so few doctors are willing to perform abortions. To what extent this is from pressure by the pro-life movement vs. the internal psychological toll of killing human beings for a living is a topic I’ll leave for another day. (If you think the psychological toll is not important, however, I suggest you try reading this paper, which gives a pro-choice abortionist’s perspective on the matter.)
[NOTE: This post updated at about 5:30pm Eastern to correct an error. The original post stated that Kermit Gosnell was never charged with illegal late-term abortions, but a friend of mine who attended the trial told me that he was. She also provided this article.]
Aside from wishing that people would simply not talk about Kermit Gosnell at all, pro-choice groups in American politics would really like everyone to understand that Kermit Gosnell was a horrific aberration. As a group, the pro-choice movement tends to circle the wagon around late-term abortionists and idolize them. George Tiller, for example, was considered a hero even before his murder made him a martyr. So, when the late term abortion is legal, you’re a women’s rights crusader and paragon of sacrifice and bravery. But, if you take the exact same fetus and more or less the same method of execution and carry it out outside the womb, then all of a sudden that is something completely and totally different. So: killing human beings inside the womb at (for example) 24 weeks and killing human beings outside the womb (also, for example, at 24 weeks) are basically unrelated practices, as far as the pro-choice movement is concerned. One gets you awards and fame, the other gets you a life-term prison sentence.
The pro-life side is, to put it mildly, rather skeptical of this bright-line distinction.
When pro-choice individuals are honest, of course, they also admit that there’s not much of a distinction at all. Pro-choice philosophers openly call for infanticide (aka “after birth abortion“), so have Planned Parenthood spokespersons, and most notably there’s an extensive article called “Second trimester abortion provision: breaking the silence and changing the discourse” by an abortionist about the personal trauma she feels when carrying out late-term abortions. The truth is undeniable: abortion–and especially late-term abortion–is an act of savage and barbaric violence that dehumanizes everyone concerned: the woman, the abortionist, and of course the unborn (or born, does it really make a difference?) human being.
This may seem judgmental to women in crisis pregnancies, but the pro-life movement has from the earliest days of woman’s suffrage understood that abortion is a means for exploiting women who, because of an unplanned pregnancy, are in an incredibly vulnerable position. Rather than the stereotypical angry abortion clinic protester yelling at women or calling them murderers, the pro-life movement as I have known it my entire life is best summarized by this bumper sticker I once saw: Abortion has two victims: One killed and one wounded.
Today I read tragic news from Texas that confirms the pro-life understanding of abortion (especially late-term abortion) as a dehumanizing practice. WARNING: THIS NEWS IS GRAPHIC.
This is one of those comparisons that, once made, seems so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it before. The NRA is hell-bent on preventing even the most moderate and reasonable gun-control regulation because they believe that any incremental shift today will lead to a gradual erosion of the Second Amendment over time and, to the NRA, there’s nothing more important than the Second Amendment. Well, how about pro-choice groups that oppose even the most moderate and reasonable abortion regulation because they believe that any incremental shift today will lead to a gradual erosion of the right to choose over time. Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it? (I picked out NARAL–the National Abortion Rights Action League–just because of the acronym is somewhat similar to the NRAs.)
What’s really surprising, however, is that this comparison is being drawn in a piece at The Daily Beast, of all places.
The piece, by Kirsten Powers, is obviously written from a pro-life slant. After all, one of her main points is the frank assertion that “late-term abortion is infanticide”. That’s an explosive-enough charge that I’m sure it’s going to make the entire article radioactive. The problem is: she’s pretty obviously right. In the first place, serious pro-choice thinkers and activists can’t tell the difference themselves. That’s why plenty of pro-choice philosophers like Peter Singer (there are others, too) build on the legacy of Judith Jarvis Thomson to openly argue for infanticide. But it’s not just academics, Planned Parenthood representatives will say the same thing, and Gosnell’s inability to see the significant of the before/after line when it comes to birth is not unique among abortionists who perform late-term abortions. So, explosive as the accusation may sound, it’s born out in reality.
But even setting aside that particular argument, Powers’ is clearly relatively moderate on this issue. She believes life begins at conception, but has also never voted for anyone but a Democrat and says this proves “overturning Roe v. Wade is not one of my priorities.” What isn’t moderate, however, is current American law. Powers draws the contrast with Europe to make that point:
But medical advances since Roe v. Wade have made it clear to me that late-term abortion is not a moral gray area, and we need to stop pretending it is. No six-months-pregnant woman is picking out names for her “fetus.” It’s a baby. Let’s stop playing Orwellian word games. We are talking about human beings here.
How is this OK? Even liberal Europe gets this. In France, Germany, Italy, andNorway, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks. In addition to the life-of-mother exception, they provide narrow health exceptions that require approval from multiple doctors or in some cases going before a board. In the U.S., if you suggest such stringent regulation and oversight of later-term abortions, you are tarred within seconds by the abortion rights movement as a misogynist who doesn’t “trust women.”
As with the gun-control issue, the fundamental problem seems to be Constitutionality. When an American law is questioned in a way that makes people think the Constitution is directly involved, the stakes go through the roof. Gun-control legislation clearly fits the bill because of the Second Amendment, and also the well-publicized statements from many leaders of the gun-control movement that their ultimate aim is to confiscate and ban virtually all civilian weapons. Until Roe v Wade, abortion wasn’t a Constitutional issue, and across the country in the 1970s the democratic process was working to liberalize the laws in fits and starts in the usual process of moderation that would likely have resulted in laws similar to what exist in Europe. But Roe v Wade, in further evidence that it was one of the worst SCOTUS decisions in history, short-circuited this democratic legislative process. It handed the pro-choice side everything they could have asked for and more and, as an ironic consequence, meant that from that moment forward the pro-choice side had nothing to win and everything to lose.
Which leads us directly to Gosnell.
There has never been evidence of a back-alley abortionists prior to Roe who operated with the same callous disregard for humanity (not to mention racism) of Kermit Gosnell. To the extent that pre-Roe abortions were dangerous, it was a reflection of overall dangerous surgical practices and not the legality of abortion. No, the real horrors or back-alley abortions have only happened after and as a result of Roe v. Wade.
As a general rule when I’m talking about the abortion issue I’m talking about it primarily in America. And, within that context, I usually refer to those who want abortion to be kept legal as “pro-choice”. I use that term for three reasons. The first is that, in my experience, it is generally accurate. Most people who call themselves pro-choice are genuinely concerned with the welfare of women and with ensuring women have the power to determine their own destiny. The second reason is that I generally think it’s a good idea to let your political opponents describe their own positions, including naming it. And the last is that trying to advance alternative names (e.g. “pro-abortion”) ends up doing nothing but creating silly, endless debates about terminology that accomplish nothing. Usually: it’s a waste of time.
But, while most ordinary Americans are really pro-choice, the specter of forced abortions is a real human rights concern both here at home and also internationally. Here are three stories from three very different countries (the US, Ireland and China) that don’t attempt to be at all comprehensive, but just look at different impacts of forced abortion policies on women and society.
The blind eye the media largely turned to the Gosnell story is only one example of the subtle but pervasive media bias in the traditional media establishment. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s merely a reflection of homogeneous politics. Journalists and their editors are overwhelmingly from the left of American politics, and they see the world through a center-left lens. So when a someone who claims affiliation with the pro-life movement shoots an abortionists, this is head-line news. It fits a pre-existing narrative. But when someone who claims affiliation with the pro-choice movement shoots a non-violent pro-life protester that gets much less coverage because it doesn’t fit a pre-existing narrative.
In a center-left view of American politics: the right wing is associated with violence, authoritarianism, and oppression.
So here’s another story that will get limited coverage because it doesn’t fit that mold. Anyone remember the shooting spree at the Family Research Center that wasn’t? I say “that wasn’t” because an armed security guard managed to stop the attacker (Floyd Corkins II) immediately, but the HuffPo (hat tip for going against the political grain) has some information on what the shooter’s objective was:
A security guard subdued Corkins in the lobby of the Family Research Council in August after he pointed a pistol at the man. Corkins fired three shots, and the guard was the only one wounded. Corkins, who was carrying nearly 100 rounds of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, later told authorities that he had planned to kill as many people as possible and then to smear the sandwiches on their faces as a political statement.
According to the government’s case against Corkins, if he had not been defeated by the security guard he “would have almost certainly succeeded in committing a massacre of epic portions.” And smearing each corpse with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Why a Chick-Fil-A sandwich? Well here’s some video of Corkins being interrogated by FBI agents in which he discusses why he targeted the Family Research Center.
So, a would-be mass shooter picked the FRC by looking at the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s list of anti-gay organizations (the FRC opposes gay marriage). Now the Chick-Fil-A thing makes sense, since the attack happened around the time that some people were boycotting Chick-Fil-A because the CEO gives money to socially conservative causes that opposed gay marriage. So Corkins thought a good, pro-gay marriage response would be to kill a few dozen people and rub it in their faces, so to speak.
Does Corkins represent the pro-gay marriage side of the debate? Absolutely not. I’m not interested in trying to tar an entire half of the political spectrum with this man’s craziness. I just think it’s instructive how much the news cycle depends on pre-existing stereotypes to news coverage. And this isn’t always friendly to liberals, either. There is absolutely no doubt that if you’re a pretty, young, blonde girl who gets kidnapped you’re going to get wall-to-wall coverage, but if you’re a black girl from an inner city forget it. The center-left political lens of American journalists is, after all, also calibrated to a mostly white, college-educated cohort.
I just think it’s useful to keep in mind that violent people come from all parts of the political spectrum, and I can’t help but wonder what some of the national debate on political issues would look like if the violence of conservatism wasn’t taken as axiomatic…
In the first post, I introduced the theme that pro-choice journalists are unconsciously avoiding directly covering the Gosnell case because it would cause cognitive dissonance and provided the first example: the Gosnell case would reveal just how liberal and out-of-touch the abortion status quo is in this country. In the second post I got to the heart of the issue: the extreme laws on abortion make it impossible to distinguish between abortion and infanticide, leading not just Gosnell but also pro-choice leaders (including President Obama) to openly call for infanticide. Gosnell’s problem: he followed through on the logic.
There’s one last myth that cannot survive the Gosnell story, and in some ways its the hardest for the pro-choice lobby to accept but also the most important to understanding the pro-life perspective. So here goes.
Yesterday I wrote the first in a series of 3 posts discussing why the mainstream media has been reluctant to cover the Kermit Gosnell case. Rather than suggest that there’s some kind of conspiracy or willful deception, my belief is that journalists (who are overwhelmingly pro-choice) are simply unable to confront a case that threatens to upend the misconceptions and doublethink required to support the status quo of abortion in America. For example, most people do not realize how radical the current laws are. The vast majority of abortions are for birth control. They are elective. And, while late term abortions are rare, they are effectively unregulated. Only in the most extreme circumstances–where a doctor injures or kills a pregnant woman–is there any really legal danger to the abortionist.
But there’s a simpler and much more dangerous truth that the Gosnell case would threaten to drag into the limelight. Before I introduce it, however, I ought to include a warning that I will be quoting from some very graphic accounts of abortion. There are no photos or videos or audio, and my source is an abortion doctor who remains adamantly pro-choice to this day and was writing in defense of her career, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read. Having thus warned you, let’s get right to the simple reality:
2. Abortion is a violent way of killing human beings