By Dave Andrusko
For decades the abortion lobby has swung back and forth between a full-throated embrace of abortion for any reason or no reason at any time in pregnancy and hedging its bets (so to speak) with more qualified language that speaks, for example, of abortion as a “necessary evil.”
Whatever the public posture (and most of the time the language floats somewhere in between these two extremes), their evil genius is in improvisation. Like chameleons, pro-abortionists change colors rhetorically to adapt to the political environment.
Recently we’ve written a number of stories about Planned Parenthood’s decision to pretty much discard the “pro-choice” moniker and replace it with a kind of warmed-over “who decides?” idiom. PPFA’s critics hammered the nation’s largest abortion “provider” for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Don’t they know THEIR man—Barack Obama—was just re-elected?
Of course PPFA does, but they also know that state pro-life groups have already shrugged off the loss and are busy attempting to pass more protective language. PPFA knows that the public may have seemed to have been in their corner last November but that was a function of special circumstances. PPFA also knows that while younger pro-abortion feminists demand a different brand of leadership, as the senior partner they still largely control the messaging.
One of the most famous pro-abortion essays ever written was penned by Naomi Wolf. Her 1995 essay is very worth revisiting because it remains a case study in how pro-abortionists pretend to accept the “ambiguity” of abortion but never a single protective measure.
In what Wolf called this “time of retrenchment,” she wrote a remarkable New Republic essay entitled, “Our Bodies, Our Souls.” Did I say “Souls”? Indeed I did. Words such as “sin” and “iniquity” and “evil” (albeit necessary evil) actually make an appearance. Wolf’s firmly pro-abortion, but she stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition from abortion supporters. (Sound familiar?) But exactly why?
Granted, she makes a string of breathtakingly candid admissions, but pro-abortionists missed that Wolf offered assurances that if they placed abortion in a “moral frame,” it would “consolidate rather than scuttle abortion rights.”
Typically, in those days the question pollsters asked was whether people believed the abortion decision ought to be “between a woman and her doctor.” But, Wolf observed, if this is reformatted to be a matter “between a woman, her doctor, her family, her conscience and her God,” support jumped a whopping 30%! “Clearly,” she advised, “abortion rights are safest when we are willing to submit them to a morality beyond just our bodies and our selves.”
Wolf went to great length to show that because most people are acutely uncomfortable with abortion, “amoral rhetoric” is hugely counterproductive. Such insensitivity conveys the impression that women are destroying their babies for “self-absorbed reasons.” To Wolf, this cedes discussion about right and wrong to pro-lifers. “Pro-choicers,” she maintained, need to frankly talk about “good and evil.” This signals that they are not making up their morality on the run, but are, in some sense, accountable.
But even if Wolf comes down with the “right” pro-abortion conclusion, it’s easy to see why her pro-abortion feminist colleagues were very unhappy. For in the process, she demolished the traditional foundations of the case for abortion and painted a Dorian Gray-like portrait of the “pro-choice movement.”
“Too often,” she wrote, “pro-choice rhetoric leads us to tell untruths,” leading to three destructive consequences: a “hardness of heart, lying and political failure.” For example, the feminist movement has insisted on treating the unborn as a nonperson. The result is “a lexicon of dehumanization.” And to “revile” pro-lifers for showing disturbing graphics or to dismiss as “propaganda” the “incontrovertibly true” slogan that “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” is the very height of hypocrisy,” Wolf admonishes.
After contrasting the language which writes off the unborn as a “mass of dependent protoplasm” when unwanted with the lengths to which “overscheduled yuppies” will go when they have a baby they want, Wolf sharply asked, “So, what will it be. Wanted fetuses are charming, complex, REM-dreaming little beings whose profile on the sonogram looks just like Daddy, but unwanted ones are mere ‘uterine material’?”
“Pro-choice” rhetoric results in lies not only to others but also “to ourselves,” she wrote. Wolf sternly chastised Elizabeth Karlin, an abortion clinic entrepreneur, who once inanely wrote in the New York Times Magazine that “There is only reason I’ve heard for having an abortion: the desire to be a good mother.”
Using Karlin as a foil, Wolf segued into an intriguing discussion of motivation and degrees of culpability, conceding that there are “better” and “worse” justifications for abortion. Understanding that this would unnerve her pro-abortion friends, Wolf quickly added that this isn’t to say that any abortions should be prevented, only that “we don’t have to lie to ourselves about what we’re doing at such a moment.” Analogizing abortion to war, Wolf concluded, “Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die.”
So how does Wolf “square a recognition of the humanity of the fetus, and the moral gravity of destroying it, with a pro-choice position”? Her too-clever answer is found in the paradigm of “sin and redemption.”
If one brings in the “G”-word (God), or anything else such as “conscience,” it disarms critics because it implies moral accountability, Wolf said. It’s even okay to see abortion, in some sense, as a “sin”; after all, in all the great religious traditions, recognition of sin and atonement “brings on God’s compassion and our redemption.”
What kinds of “acts of redemption” are we talking about? Among Wolf’s suggestions: practice safe sex, provide contraception or jobs to young girls, and (if one is a mother or father) “remember the aborted child every time one is tempted to be less loving–and give renewed love to the living child.” Talk about being morally tone-deaf!
To return to an earlier point, Wolf was not averse to invoking the “blameable other” (the “unrelenting patriarchy,” for example). But to her credit she warned that “pro-choice rhetoric “ is so adrift in “self-delusions, fibs and evasions” its practitioners run the risk of becoming what its critics charge: “callous , selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.”
But for all her keen insight, Wolf remained a willing prisoner of the pro-abortion ideology. Comprised (as this murderous assault is) of equal parts doublespeak and reassuring self-deception, it’s no surprise that even when the humanity of the unborn is (rhetorically) acknowledged, it serves as no brake on a woman’s action. Why? Ironically (for a feminist) because of biology: “woman’s equality in society must give her some irreducible rights unique to her biology, including the right to take the life within her life.” (So much for the notion that “mature” feminists balance rights and responsibilities.)
While Wolf may have conned herself, did she really believe the rest of us can be snookered into accepting that “conceptualizing” abortion in an “ethical context” will pacify the demands of a woman’s hurting conscience, let alone fool the Creator of the universe?
Is the “logical and ethical absurdity in our position” really resolved provided women do not “whitewash self-interest with the language of self-sacrifice”? Ask yourself, if a parent throws his or her child out the fifth-story window, and instead of congratulating themselves for killing their child acknowledges (as Wolf does of her own abortion) that this “was not my finest moment,” is the child any the less dead, or the parent any less culpable?
It’s as if Wolf believes that the seriousness of evil is a function of how “bad” the motives are. But the character of the evildoer is by no means the crucial element, as professor of philosophy Philip Hallie reminds us. It is rather what suffering is inflicted on the victim. Evil is not in the eye of the beholder. Evil is what evil does.
Moreover, when Wolf invokes “redemption,” she acts as if this is little more than a phone-in demand for an after-the-fact permission slip from a higher Power, who is obliged to forgive and restore you provided you breezily admit, hey, you’ve had better days. It’s fine to recognize that in doing wrong I’ve failed myself. However, in the Judeo-Christian ethic, redemption is made possible only when I confess that I have also failed God! By refusing (as Wolf put it) “to be involved with this potential creature,” the woman who aborts has refused the greatest of all His commandments: to feel more deeply for others than for oneself.
Wolf tried, and we should give her credit for coming as far as she did. But, sad to say, when Wolf implied that we sanitize an act of unspeakable brutality merely by saying that “Freedom means that women must be free to choose self or to choose selfishly,” I am reminded of author Andrew Delbanco’s observation that the “repertoire of evil has never been richer.”