The Manichaeism of the “Prolife” Movement Has Rendered It Ineffective

Here is some all-too-typical rhetoric from an ordinary prolife apostolate:

2019 was the Year of Infanticide in the United States of America.

Never before were politicians or abortion supporters advocating to leave a baby girl who survived an abortion to die. It’s sick and pure evil. 

“Pure evil”. Such rhetoric is slung around constantly. It assumes not merely that those who disagree with prolifers are wrong or mistake, but that they are wilful, perversely, diabolically committed to what they themselves know in their heart of hearts to be gravely evil. And because they are given over, body and soul, to monstrous evil, there is no point in trying to reason with “pure evil”. There is only war to be made and victory to be won over such monstrous, sadistic, wilful, babykilling enemies.

Only, here’s the thing:

Does Jewish law state that life begins at conception? No, life does not begin at
conception under Jewish law. Sources in the Talmud note that the fetus is “mere water”
before 40 days of gestation. Following this period, the fetus is considered a physical part of
the pregnant individual’s body, not yet having life of its own or independent rights. The fetus
is not viewed as separate from the parent’s body until birth begins and the first breath of
oxygen into the lungs allows the soul to enter the body.

 Does Jewish law assert that it is possible to murder a fetus? No, Jewish law does not
consider a fetus to be alive. The Torah, Exodus 21:22-23, recounts a story of two men who
are fighting and injure a pregnant woman, resulting in her subsequent miscarriage. The verse
explains that if the only harm done is the miscarriage, then the perpetrator must pay a fine.
However, if the pregnant person is gravely injured, the penalty shall be a life for a life as in
other homicides. The common rabbinical interpretation of this verse is that the men did not
commit murder and that the fetus is not a person. The primary concern is the well-being of
the person who was injured.

 According to Jewish law, is abortion health care? Yes, Jewish sources explicitly state that
abortion is not only permitted but is required should the pregnancy endanger the life or health
of the pregnant individual. Furthermore, “health” is commonly interpreted to encompass
psychological health as well as physical health. NCJW advocates for abortion access as an
essential component of comprehensive, affordable, confidential, and equitable family
planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services.

 What does Jewish law say about the rights of the person who is pregnant and the
rights of the fetus? Judaism values life and affirms that protecting existing life is paramount
at all stages of pregnancy. A fetus is not considered a person under Jewish law and therefore
does not have the same rights as one who is already alive. As such, the interests of the
pregnant individual always come before that of the fetus.

 Do abortion bans unduly favor one religious viewpoint over another? Yes, different
religions believe that human life begins at different stages of development. Science can
explain developmental timelines, but philosophic and religious viewpoints largely determine
what exactly defines “life” or “personhood” for each individual. NCJW believes, as the First
Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees, that no one religion should be enshrined in
law or dictate public policy on any issue — including abortion.

Here, O Prolifer, is the core problem of your easy breezy assumption that any person who disagrees with the Church’s teaching about abortion is “pure evil”. Until you can address the intrinsic anti-semitism of your assumption and find a way to argue for your position that does not presume the essential evil and bad faith of your opponent in this debate, you are not arguing. You are simply calling for the crushing of all religious conscience by main force and the imposition of draconian tyranny in the conviction that the ends justify the means. And I speak as one who opposes abortion and who agrees with the Church’s teaching that life is sacred from conception.

The “prolife” movement is almost entirely a heresy that will burn down the world and all sanity and liberty in monomaniacal pursuit of one good end. It has lost the good of the intellect and can no longer argue its case. It seeks conquest by mindless brute force, not the moral persuasion of free people.

After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. – G.K. Chesterton

Once the MAGA prolife movement abandoned the good of the intellect in favor of the hope of trampling all their enemies with raw power, they gave up moral suasion. If they ever have a prayer of making a coherent case for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, they will have to return to the hard work of thinking and persuading, not lust for stupid, nihilist power and blind contempt for their enemies. I don’t see that happening anytime soon while they remain in the grip of MAGA fever. But maybe someday, when God has crushed this evil cult and its slaves have repented, the prolife movement will return to the Catholic intellectual tradition it has abandoned and try addressing those who differ with it as though are are thinking being capable of reason and not “pure evil”.

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29 Responses

  1. The NCJW language is interesting for several reasons. I suppose that everyone in this space knows that the Bible does not discuss abortion — the verse in Exodus thus becomes the basis for Talmudic discussion on the matter.
    Among observant Jews, when a pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, terminating the pregnancy is not permissible, it’s required (because the life of the mother is valued more highly, see Exodus.)
    So the final paragraphs are the point; different faiths draw different conclusions on the starting point of human life and the law ought not to favor one religion over another.

    1. I have heard that argument before, Lise, but what does it mean ”that law ought not to favor religion over another”? Of course civil law will ”favor” one set of opinions over another. That’s the nature of a law. It prohibits some things and makes others obligatory.

      1. If the only arguments supporting a proposed law are drawn from one particular religion, then that proposed law is a bad one. A good law ought to have at least some rational support, not just religious support, and certainly not support from just one particular religion.
        We can support laws against theft, because there are clear rational arguments in support of such laws, not just support from the 10 commandments.
        But we cannot support laws against abortion, because the rational arguments against abortion are inconclusive, and the religious arguments against it are drawn from only a handful of traditions.

      2. @joel

        I’ve had this discussion with Ben as well, and perhaps there is something I don’t understand about the American legislative process or the American psyche, but I must confess I find this reasoning frightening.

        I prefer a democracy, where the people are sovereign, and not a society where atheists or other interest groups decide which laws are valid and which are not, based on an ad-hoc analysis of whether said laws are ”religious”.

        A country is not a theocracy because its laws reflect the teaching of one religion or another. It’s only a theocracy when the clergy decides what the law is. In the same vein, a country where atheist decide that only laws they deem ”rational” are valid, is simply a dictorship.

      3. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. – First Amendment to the US Constitution.

        I understand that this sort of sharp divide between government and religion is not typical of most western democracies. But it is fundamental to the US.

      4. @ Joel

        Broadly speaking, between *government* and religion, yes. The interpretation of similar provisons play out somewhat diferently, depending on the country. I don’t think this US amendment would allow for the Belgian practice of subsidizing the clergy of some religions, but not others.

        The particulars can be debated, of course, but what this amendment does *not* due is limit due democratic process only to those ideas and convictions deemed worthy by some particular section of the population. In fact, even an amendment or the constitution itself are subject to this democratic process. Their provisions can be repealed.

  2. Let’s see if this helps. I propose the following legislation for the State of New Jersey:

    “Inasmuch as the Holy One (Blessed be) has instructed His people through the Torah and through His inspired scholarship, that human life begins when a person draws his first independent breath, therefore be it enacted, that a woman may terminate a pregnancy at any point when she and her physician determine that her health is at risk.”

    1. It doesn’t really help. I am just baffled at how many here seem to think that laws should not favour the ideas of one group of citizens over the ideas of another group. I don’t even see how you *can* make laws that ways or have a legislative process.

      1. The American Constitution contains explicit language that our country has no established religion. There is no Church of America that sets law and customs, and it is against Constitutional principles to make the rules of a particular religion official for the entire population. For a while, the Congregational branch of Christianity was the Official Religion of Massachusetts — this was disallowed under the Constitution.

        Practical example from another country might help here. Abu Dhabi has Islam as the official religion. In Abu Dhabi, by law, all restaurants are closed between sunrise and sundown during Ramadan, regardless of who owns the restaurant and who’s hungry. It’s against the law for a citizen to buy pork products; they are not generally offered for sale. (There was/is a Pork Store in AD City, but a person had to prove that s/he was a foreign national to even go inside,)

        A person who lives in Abu Dhabi regardless of personal religion, has his life officially regulated by Islam, because in that country there is an established religion and laws conform to Islam and can’t be made contrary to Islam. They can make a law forbidding the presence or reading of the Christian Bible, for instance (there were at one time such laws in Saudi Arabia and may still be.) It is a sufficient rationale to say that something is required or forbidden in the Koran.

        By contrast in the US, they can’t outlaw the Koran, nor can they force people to fast during Lent. There is no official religion that everybody has to observe by law, and no fringe religion that is prohibited by law. (There are laws that forbid snake handlers from including children under 18 in their services, for example, but adults who want to pray with copperheads may do so.)

        It is insufficient under the American system of governance to say that a law must be made because God says so. Your larger point is correct, that people express their will through their representatives. So the people of a state through their representatives could, I suppose, express their political will to outlaw the consumption of pork products. But what they can’t do is make a state officially Moslem or determine that all marriages must be made in accordance with the Koran — even if every infidel in the state moves out.

      2. You and I have had this conversation before. It is a little disingenuous to call purely theological concerns simply “ideas of one group of citizens“. The whole point of a secular state is that the religious viewpoints – and by religious dewpoints, I mean strictly theological concerns — of one group are not favored over the pirely theological concerns of another group.

        A good deal of the history of Europe up until about 200 years ago was about which of the purely theological concerns of one group would gain hold dominion in law over the purely theological concerns of another group.

        In the case of abortion, I would give a lot more credibility to the antiabortion side of things if they were doing other things to prevent the need for abortion. But fighting birth control, sex education, and adoption by same-sex couples, or adoption by religious people who don’t share the religious beliefs of sponsoring adoption agency, are all things which pro ote abortion.

      3. @ Lise

        I think that’s correct. What the US constitution calls ”no establishment of religion” is quite similar to the French idea of ”secularité”, at least in many aspects.

        I think the key point of what you mention about Abu Dhabi is that ”laws can’t be made contrary to Islam”. Iran’s clerics have written entire volumes on the primacy of Islamic jurisprudence in civil law. I’m not in favor of putting any religion and its clergy in a position where they have the final word in such matters, not even when said faith forms a plurality.

        What Joel and ben are suggesting, however, is something else entirely. They explicitly favour a system where what they call ”religious” or ”purely theological” ideas have by definition less validity in the public sphere and in politics. That’s not how a democracy works. The will of a sovereign people is only limited by their basic law or constitution, and by previous treaties and legislations, and this only to a degree. Even a consitution can be amended, and treaties expire or can be abrogated. Most countries have a number of safeguards against various forms of majority tyranny.

        In other words, there is no ground whatsoever for this atheist and anti-Christian fantasy of keeping so-called religious ideas down. The fact that sunday rest has its roots in the tradition of the Christian week, doesn’t make it undemocratic. Ben and Joel should have the right to pit their ideas against mine, and are entitled to the same voting rights as I am (making abstraction of our respective countries’ voting laws). What they don’t have, is the right to establish a made-up set of political ideas, then label them as ”religious”, and finally ban them from politics altogther because they just don’t like them.

      4. @ Ben

        No. The point of a secular state is to avoid granting undue power to clergy, not to classify an entire category of citizens and their convitions and ideas as unworthy. The US consitution’s ”no establisment of religion” doesn’t strictly deal with separation of church and state, though it is related. It merely states that the US will have to state Church. I assume the founding fathers did not find this opprtune, considering the religion of many of the first immigrants.

  3. The point is, as always, that we (yeah, us, Catholics and others) fail to convince people (our own and others) that there is any sanctity not only to pregnancy but to sexuality.

    The culture has effectively decoupled sex from pregnancy. Which leads to more moral issues than abortion. And which won’t be changed at all by forbidding abortion. The problem is much further upstream.

    1. Note what he does not say. He does not say that those who support abortion rights are absolutely evil. That is the essential failure of the US “prolife” movement.

      1. Perhaps I am just splitting semantic hairs, but no human being can be “absolutely evil.”

        An act can be absolutely evil. A person cannot be.

      2. @ Mark, Marks

        I agree that the distinction between sin and sinner has to be made, though the orginal quote calls the act of *supporting* abortion pure evil, not the folks supporting it.

      3. @Artevelde

        Yeah, that’s where I got confused as well. The original quote is clearly calling the advocacy evil not the advocates thereof. Otherwise it would have read: “They’re sick and pure evil.” Instead of, “It’s sick and pure evil.”

  4. To say that a baby doesn’t have rights until it draws its first breath is ancient hogwash.

    Abortion is *always* wrong unless the mother’s life is in danger. Whether she is morally culpable is another issue. Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous country. There are a lot of “pro-lifers” out there beating their breasts over the crime of abortion who are more culpable for the life of her child, than the poor woman who inhabits our brutal system. We don’t cherish life.

    The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is the father of the child.

    1. @ Taco. Absolutely! Can’t say that often enough. If there’s one thing that keeps coming back in abortion statistics, it’s this. Good for you.

    2. As a practitioner of a religion that is often insulted and misunderstood, I would not be in a hurry to refer to the teaching of another religion as “ancient hogwash”.

      1. Don’t you agree that when it comes to abortion, the Catholic response to Jewish law should be similar to that what jesus said about divorce in Matthew 19:8?

      2. Well clearly it’s not *all* ancient hogwash.

        God is patient. Trying to tame humans is like trying to herd cats.

        Anyway, I’ve heard nonstop complaints about the Catholic faith for much of my life. Learning how to sift through the sacred from the hogwash is what keeps me (and my kids) Catholic. WWJD seems to be the ultimate hogwash detector.

        The next time you hold a newborn ask him if oxygen is what made him a human being.

        I bet head hunters in the middle of the Amazon forest would call b.s. on that one. Just because they are our big brothers in the faith doesn’t mean they haven’t said and done some pretty shi**y things in the name of God.

        and they don’t have an exclusive on it. Catholics are virtuosos when it comes to doing shi**y things in the name of God.

    3. “To say that a baby doesn’t have rights until it draws its first breath is ancient hogwash.” – taco

      “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – God

  5. Firstly, your evidence upon which you base your argument doesn’t say what you claim it says. The “it’s” in the statement “it’s pure evil” is obviously referring to the act not the people. By your own admission in the comments, you are not apposed go criticizing the act of abortion or calling it pure evil. Secondly, claiming that prolife rhetoric is inherently anti semitic because Jewish Law does not acknowledge the personhood of an unborn child is utter absurdity. Should the abolitionists have lightened their criticism of slavery and slave owners because American law did not recognize slaves as human beings before 1865? Should Pius XII have lessened his criticism of Nazi Germany because their laws allowed for the deportation and murder of Jews? When a law/legal body refuses to acknowledge reality, it is on them to change their laws not on those who criticize it to lessen their criticism.
    But let’s go back to the first point. Nobody called anyone “pure evil.” The only name calling was “evil cult” and “slaves.” Oh wait, wasn’t that you?

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