Gosnell and Abortion, Part 1 of 3

Less than a week after Kirsten Powers’ USA Today piece, the concerted pro-life effort to get the Gosnell trial the media attention it tragically deserves has succeeded. Sort of.

There are a lot of articles being written about Gosnell, but the vast majority are focusing on the coverage of the trial, not the trial. To be fair, some of these pieces delve into the grim details. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic pointed out that in addition to dead babies, the story included: “The Exploited Women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures.” And yet Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff still thinks this is a “local crime” story, at least as far as her Twitter feed is concerned.

2013-04-16 Sarah Kliff Tweet

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones concurs, dismissing the pro-life outcry as “working the refs” and “a hustle”. The Daily Caller even covered an attempt to delete Kermit Gosnell’s Wikipedia page because it was just a “local multiple-murder story in Pennsylvania.” (The attempt failed.) According to Drum, the lack of coverage doesn’t even need an explanation. Why wasn’t it covered? “Beats me. I’ve often wondered just what it is that causes some local crime stories to become media sensations and others to molder in obscurity.” Just one of those things, right?

Friedersdorf, also pro-choice but possessed of some journalistic integrity, tried a little harder and came up with 14 theories. The most interesting comes near the end of the list:

13. Horrific as It Is, This Case Doesn’t Speak to Anything Larger About Abortion.

Is Friedersdorf claiming that it was horrific enough to be covered, but that was cancelled out because it says nothing about abortion? Try that logic out on other horrific stories: “Yeah, we were going to cover a school shooting, but then we realized it wasn’t related to abortion so we packed up and went home.” It sticks out on the list because it doesn’t even answer the question. Or make any kind of sense at all.

The reality is that the Gosnell story isn’t ignored because it says nothing about abortion, but because it says a lot about abortion. Friedersdorf had previously dismissed the idea that “Pro-Choice Journalists Are Willfully Ignoring the Story to Avoid Giving an Advantage to Pro-Lifers” (theory #9 on his list), but that’s not how cognitive biases work. Their entire function is to pre-empt the pain of cognitive dissonance by filtering out the uncomfortable evidence before you’re aware of it. They lead people to do and say irrational things like, I don’t know, propound entirely senseless theories just because they are reassuring. Pro-choice journalists (a close synonym for just “journalists”) aren’t willfully ignoring the story, but they were definitely ignoring it, and now that they can’t do that they are mostly changing the subject by going meta.

The Gosnell case isn’t threatening because it’s intrinsically pro-life,but it’s definitely kryptonite to the pro-choice status quo. Starting today and continuing to posts on Thursday and Friday, I’ll do a run-down on how the Gosnell story is a clear and present danger to the myths and doublethink necessary to preserve America’s abortion status quo.

1. America’s Abortion Laws Are Very Extreme 

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Reminder: Human Beings Are Not Commodities

Earlier this month, the New York City Health Resource Administration unveiled a series of posters designed to combat teen pregnancy. The posters have drawn widespread criticism, including drawing fire from both sides of the abortion debate. The primary complaint is that they stigmatize pregnant mothers, and that’s valid. There’s an even more sinister message, however, but it’s not drawing as much attention because it’s much more subtle.

2013 03 15 I'm Less Likely To Graduate

Think about the logic of that statement: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because ou had me as a teen.” The unstated question is: As opposed to what? By waiting, could you have had this child at a later stage in your life, a stage when this child–this particular curly-haired kid–would have had a better shot at life? No. You couldn’t have had this child at any other time. You would have had a different child.

What the poster is implying is that human beings are interchangeable. If you get pregnant at 17 your kid is more likely to have a bad life. If you get pregnant at 27 they have a better chance. But it’s not the same child. Conception is the moment when a new organism is created. Unless you save that particular sperm and that particular egg for 10 years, we’re not talking about improving the life of a specific child. We’re talking about two entirely distinct children.

Does that matter? Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because Madonna going around and adopting children like they were Pokemon (“Gotta catch ’em all!”), parents in India and China sex-selecting their chidlren by killing off the girls, the fact that 95% of babies with Down syndrome get aborted, the entire industry of IVF that tends to treat children as an upgraded model of those purse-dwelling toy dogs, and the looming biothethical quandary of designer children all contribute to the commodification of human beings.  Implicit in all of this is the idea that–as long as you terminate the pregnancy before birth–you can have a do-over. As though a human being were like a laptop or a car or a cup of coffee: a purchase you can postpone by returning the merchandise or a transaction you can unravel if the situation changes.

Yes, I’m pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to be troubled by this trend. Even those who think abortion should be legal can recognize that a living human organism has some moral value, and that we ought to treat them as something qualitatively distinct from products. I’m not saying that these posters are creating that perception, but they sure are disturbing reflections of it.

Secular Pro-Life Founder on WBEZ

My friend Kelsey Hazard founded a pro-life group to help diversify the largely religious tenor of the movement called Secular Pro-Life.  I think it’s a great new voice to add diversity to the pro-life cause.

Secular Pro Life Header

A couple of days ago she was interviewed along with Erin Matson (representing the pro-choice side) by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. Check out a recording, and read Kelsey’s thoughts on the interview.

Euthanasia As Hedonism

Canticle for Leibowitz CoverThere’s a gripping scene near the end of one of my favorite books, Canticle for Leibowitz, where a priest tries to convince a mother not to kill herself and her daughter after they have received a probably lethal dose of radiation during an atomic war. The government has set up euthanasia festivals–looking for all the world like state fairs–where parents and their children can go to ride a carousel or a Ferris wheel before going to the final tent to end their lives. He begs and cajoles her not to go, but in the end is left to watch, powerless, as she takes her little girl’s hand and leads her toward the colorful tents, the delicious food, and the end of their lives.

Walter M. Miller, Jr (the author of Canticle), you will not be surprised to find out, was a Catholic. I am not a Catholic, but I have a deep love and admiration for the moral and intellectual courage of that tradition, and nowhere is that courage and sensitivity in starker display than in Catholic teachings about suffering and death. The Catholics understand, as so few in our modern age do, that suffering itself is not the measure of a life. They realize that, no matter how deceptively noble and sympathetic the arguments for euthanasia may be, in the end condoning suicide is indistinguishable from embracing shallow hedonism.

A heartbreaking news story brought this back to the forefront of my mind on Monday. Two brothers, aged 45, were killed by Belgian doctors at their request after finding out that they would go blind. The identical twins were born deaf, and they were unable to face the pain of never being able to see each other again. I have absolutely no condemnation for their decision, tragic as it might be, but I am deeply disappointed at the behavior of the doctors who ended their lives. 

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