April 15, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Pro-life politics isn’t as moral as you think

It sidesteps, or accepts as necessary, a profound moral problem.

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Once upon a time, I was a straight news reporter freelancing for a new national religion publication. My assignment was to attend religious services in my area to see what faith leaders were saying on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election.

I decided to go to a Roman Catholic Church here in New Haven that offers mass in English, Polish and Latin (obviously, not at the same time). The Latin Mass, if you’ve never experienced it, is truly moving what with the incense and cathedral setting and so on. I was enjoying myself all the way up to the homily. It was in English. I got my notepad. “Abortion is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes,” the priest said. The message was clear: don’t vote for the (Black) candidate supporting infanticide.

I don’t think abortion is murder, but I can see why others do. I can see why people see it as a “humanitarian crisis.” I can even see why some think of the pro-life movement as a civil-rights movement. For these believers, life begins at conception, meaning a person becomes a person at what they believe is a sacred moment. Even if you don’t think it’s murder, you might credit the view with having a profound moral weight.

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival.

Yes, yes. I know. Anti-abortion politics is really about putting women back in their place in the natural order of things.1 It’s about maintaining the local authority of white man, for the most part, and their dominance over women, especially the women in their lives. This, to me, is transparently true. Even so, abortion is what it is. It’s not like the pro-life movement is based on nothing serious. There is a moral foundation, no?

What if it’s not what you think it is? The energy driving 40 years of partisan politics, to strike down Roe, has been described as a moral crusade. The moral dimension has been strong enough to wedge apart liberals and social-gospel Catholics, wrote Christopher Jon Sprigman. “But for so many I knew, the struggle over abortion overwhelmed their other political commitments. For many, it was the Supreme Court’s constitutionalization of abortion that turned disagreement into a great moral schism.”

Again, what if it’s not that? What if the question is not centered on the morality of ending a pregnancy but on something quite different? Most liberals don’t even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person. But what if a fetus is a person, as pro-lifers say? Then what? Well, then we have a titanic ethical dilemma no serious person in the pro-life movement talks about. And by refusing to talk about it, they give up the game. This isn’t really about babies.

Think about it. The pro-life movement wants the government to outlaw access to abortion, the result being women carrying out pregnancies. Put this together with the belief that a fetus is a person. What are pro-lifers asking for? That the government force one person to permit another person to use her body. Though it’s true this person requires another person’s body for its survival, that doesn’t change the fact that forcing one person to permit another person to use her body for its survival is a moral question as profound as the question of whether ending a pregnancy is good or bad.

Here’s the tip jar!

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be downright disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival. These are different moral problems, sure, but they are equally problematic. If the pro-life movement is not ignoring one in favor of the other, it’s deciding one is OK while the other is not. And the consequential burden of either decision falls entirely on who? Pregnant women.

If abortion really were a “great moral schism,” its opponents would be struggling to untangle the vexing moral knot of a government forcing one person to use another person’s body. But I don’t see serious abortion opponents doing that. What I do see is what everyone else sees—debate over whether the US Supreme Court will strike down Roe, or enfeeble it, out of the profound moral conviction that abortion is wrong.

But abortion is not a “moral debate.” It’s a one-sided moral debate. It’s a debate over which one side won’t look at the moral implications of winning the debate. Or it’s a debate over which one side understands the moral implications and accepts them, because accepting them is in keeping with its view of the natural order of things. What’s sacred isn’t so much the life inside the mother as her presumed social role.

John Stoehr

1

God over Man, men over women, parents over children, white over Black, etc.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

6 Comments

  1. Dave Mikulec on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    What if it’s not what you think it is? As a recovering Republican, I was there. And I agree, there’s nothing moral about any of this.

    For far too many, their concerns for life end at the birth canal. I mean, their actions give them away: they won’t support any of the government’s social programs designed to feed, house, educate and keep people healthy. They flat out refuse to support any kind of national healthcare initiative. But they do love their wars. Pro-life evidently ends at the US border.

    That’s my opinion.

  2. jibal jibal on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    “Most liberals don’t even bother asking the question. ”

    In my experience, liberals frequently raise the issue of bodily autonomy and offer analogies to parasitism. forced organ removal or blood transfusions to save the life of another, hooking up one person to another to maintain their life and the right to disconnect despite the other person dying, etc. The forced-birthers rarely give honest responses to such questions … at bottom, forced-birth is a political wedge used to elect Republicans.

    • Dave Mikulec on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

      “…forced-birth is a political wedge used to elect Republicans.”

      Exactly! They don’t want to address actual issues related to life and well being. They just want to milk this thing to death.

  3. EllTeacher on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    How dare you assume you know what “most” liberals think. “Most liberals don’t even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person.”

    ~ I am a California liberal raised as a Morman. My whole family was raised on the virtues of the Democratic party as the party that cares for the working class, but we never were taught to deny a fetus is a person.

    ~ Before the landmark Roe v. Wade case, my mother had an abortion because her baby was sired by her Mexican lover. My righteous father, who put the right in righteous long before the current tide of “moral majority,” decided she had to have that abortion or he’d divorce her.

    ~ My mother had to sit in front of a panel of white, male doctors who decided that she should be allowed to have an abortion. For the sake of her family. Evidently, it wasn’t right that my father should have to care for a child not his own, or even have to suffer my mother’s pregnancy.

    ~ For the sake of her family, my mother went through the procedure. Of course, my siblings and I knew nothing of this at this time. However, a few years after this episode, my father left my mother and took my brothers with him, leaving me, his only daughter to live with my mother because, at the age of 13, I was obviously a whore or going to be a whore–just like my mom.

    ~ He told my brothers about my mother’s abortion with all the vitriol and repulsion he could muster. I no longer blame my brothers for the lies told about me at school. They were only acting out my father’s rage.

    ~ So, this liberal respects others who believe that life begins at conception. I don’t understand why they can’t respect my right to choose to have a safe and legal procedure. (Or the rights of my friends, daughters, granddaughters, and their daughters after them.)

    ~ Why do the beliefs of one political party supersede the beliefs of another?

    ~ I live in the deep, deep south. If I ask the women in my circle, “Should the government be in charge of people’s sex lives?” The answer is no. If I ask if the tenets of one’s religion don’t prohibit abortion, should the government make it illegal? Invariably, at this point, I will hear at least one person say, “I don’t know, I don’t like the government telling people what they can and can’t do–but I believe that abortion is wrong.” I usually nod my head to show I understand and accept their beliefs.

    ~ I’m truly horrified that the issue of abortion is being used to drive a larger societal goal: minority white “Christian” rule over everyone else. That is why Trump is still so beloved by the Republicans deep, down south. This attitude promotes dominion over others. It does not offer a helping hand. It accepts children in cages.

    ~ Respecting life is important. It’s why I think the death penalty is wrong. I think being killed at a traffic stop is wrong. I think being killed while on duty in law enforcement is wrong. I am happy to respect the beliefs of others. But don’t my beliefs deserve respect?

    ~ My liberal beliefs include the best pre- and post-natal healthcare for all women. I believe in great public education, which includes preschool so that all children begin school ready to learn. I believe in great care for our veterans–not just talk. [ As a corollary, I believe that the spouses and children deserve real support when their military members are deployed. I’d like to see less spent on weapons and war contracts and more on these social programs.]

    ~ Sadly, in my community, I’m called a Demon-crat. I pass road signs that say I’m evil. Because I’m white, it’s assumed I am in the cult of Republicanism. I cope by trying to stay under the radar. But in all honesty, I feared for my life if Trump got re-elected–because I thought Gilead would right around the corner.

    ~ So please John, do better, don’t lump all liberals together. Assumptions can be dangerous things.
    `

  4. LIBA on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    Three things:
    1) IMO, abortion rights is the most underrated political issue in America. So many people just vote on that issue alone, especially on the anti- choice (or as I like to call it, no-choice) side, voting for Republicans.

    2) Some people think that overturning RvW will tamp down the passions on this issue nationally because then the call would go to the states. I’m not so sure about that… If RvW is overturned, you would see a divide between solid pro-choice states and no-choice states, but then there’d be a big ol fight over the “purple” states on this issue. (You’d also have a potential fight over admitting new states like DC & PR. Will they be pro-choice states or no-choice states?) Overturning RvW could potentially lead to a schism reminiscent of the of the antebellum period.

    3) There’s only one point that I’ve run across makes the no-choice side squirm: the punishment aspect– specifically punishment for the woman who gets an abortion after its banned. I find it absolutely amazing that the MSM and even pro-choice groups allow the no-choicers to on the one hand claim that any and all abortion is murder and therefore it must be banned, but on the other hand say that there will be “no punishment” for the woman who aborts after it is banned. That makes no sense whatsoever. If it’s murder, then the woman must be charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. If they were honest, no-choicers would have no problem with the logic of this. Unfortunately however, they know that the logical outcome of classifying abortion as murder would be to throw women in jail as first-degree murderers. And while Americans are kinda iffy on abortion rights (often depends on how various poll questions are worded), they seem to be solidly against the prospect of throwing women in jail for years, decades, or even life for aborting. Recognizing this, no-choicers switched tactics about 20 years ago, going from fire-and-brimstone to making the blatantly illogical claim that there will be “no punishment” for women who murder their unborn child.
    Remember when Donald Trump in 2016 said there should be some sort of punishment for women who abort after its banned and no-choice groups flipped out? They didn’t flip out because he was wrong, they flipped out because he exposed the Big Lie that no-choice groups have been telling for years. Of course he later walked it back, and that was that, unfortunately. But why does the MSM and even pro-choice groups allow the no-choicers to get away with this nonsense? Its well past time to make no-choicers answer for this, yet no one wants to do it. Why? Allowing no-choicers to make this blatantly contradictory statement without meaningful pushback has been utterly key to their success over the last 20 years in restricting access to abortion and (possibly very soon) outlawing it not only in certain states, but potentially the entire country depending on what SCOTUS does. Massive fail by the MSM and pro-choice groups.

  5. Mark L Taylor on July 30, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    You raise an interesting question but I would urge you to use the more accurate term “anti-choice” instead of “pro-life”. Viewed from the perspective of George Lakoff (his book, “Don’t Think of An Elephant” is an excellent introduction to neurolinguistics), words are not neutral; they carry opinion-shaping emotional weight. When the term “pro-life” is used there is an automatic bias built in –after all, who but a monster is against life?

    The more accurate “anti-choice” would actually strengthen the good point you are making in the column.

    Republicans and the right have mastered neurolinguistics. Thus a reasonable “inheritance tax” becomes the more repugnant “death tax”. Climate damaging legislation has terms like “clean air” or “clean water” slapped onto them. The cozy “climate warming” (everyone loves to be warm) was a term actually chosen and promoted by the oil industry to stem the use of more accurate terms like “climate crisis” or “climate collapse”. The media fell in line and Democrats don’t have a clue about neurolinguistics.

    As a former journalist I know there is a great newsroom pantomime about supposed objectivity. Yet at the same time editors will slap an extremely biased and inaccurate term like “pro-life” onto a headline on a story that most readers will not read (most readers of newspapers and websites scan headlines). Like dripping water drilling its way through stone, biased language does form and deform public perception, debate and policy. We journalists need to use the power of language to reflect reality.

    Really, check out “Don’t think Of An Elephant”.

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