Gathering my thoughts about being pro-life and Catholic in a post-Roe America

I wrote this in response to watching Heather Cox Richardson’s video which I posted here yesterday.

Her discussion of the history that lies behind Roe and the uses of the unborn as human shields for an entire complex of authoritarian, racist, misogynist, and fascist agendas in play is essential for anybody trying to think clearly about what is really going on here. It is a tale of the seduction, exploitation, and corruption of a lot of decent people operating from honorable motives, as well as the scheming of a lot of truly horrible people who will gladly kill as many people as possible, born and unborn, to cling to lawless, nihilist, fascist authoritarian power. What it is not about in the slightest, for the entire GOP leadership and an awful lot of what passes for “prolife” leadership now, is the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. Any Catholic who is trying to defend that needs to do a radical rethink of their view of means and ends, of Christ’s teaching about seeking first the kingdom and about selling one’s soul to gain the whole world, and of Uncle Screwtape’s gleeful declaration “To get a man’s soul and give him nothing in return–that is what truly gladdens the heart of Our Father Below.”

Meanwhile, for those on the Left, the core problem facing it is and always has been is that if you are going to very rightly celebrate the expansion of human rights to more and more people over the history of the Republic and (again very rightly) oppose the right’s fascist attempt to limit rights and power to the rich and powerful, then sooner or later that has to collide with the human rights of the unborn too. The majority of Americans intuit that, which is why “Abortion without apology for any reason” zealots are nearly as small a minority as the “Outlaw abortion and jail post-abortive women” crowd. Most Americans (60%) are deeply disquieted by abortion while also insisting that it should remain legal because most Americans regard it, not as a positive good, but as an inevitable evil, rather as they regard the need for a military. Lefties who hope to make allies in the struggle againstnutjob authoritarian “prolife” fascists need to face that fact if they want to have allies among those who regard abortion as evil, but regard criminalizing it as even more evil and stupid. Excommunicating the 60% of Americans who think abortion should not be criminalized for also thinking it an evil and the unborn to be human beings would be very on brand for the self-destructive hard Left, but a lousy way to beat crazy fascists.

Our economic system is one which has historically directed responsibility and violence down the ladder of power and money. It was designed to make the powerless bear the burden of violence the powerful inflict on them. That’s how slavery worked. That’s how unrestricted capitalism works. And that’s how abortion works too.

But there is also grace at work in the world and it has slowly and doggedly fought to expand rights to protect the weak from the powerful. That process is slow and opposed by the powerful at every turn. The Civil War was, as Richardson points out, a moment when real gains were made, but those gains where limited. Same with the Labor movement. Same with the successful fight against fascism and Nazism. At every turn, the resistance to these gains tries to figure out a way to cling to power and tries to provide pressure release valves for the pain they inflict so that the system will not overheat and destroy them. So poor whites are taught to turn their fury away from the rich whites who hurt them by directing it at brown people (a hugely successful strategy). And a system that punishes the poor is devised to battle the New Deal and the Great Society, not by expanding pay for families and poor women (thereby burdening the powerful and rich), but by directing the violence down the ladder to the weakest: the unborn. So abortion becomes an “essential right” because care for women in crisis and their children are emphatically not essential rights (since such things would put a burden on rich and powerful people, especially white males).

The insanity is that the “prolife” movement responds to this, not by demanding expansion of enfranchisement, money, and power to the weak and poor, but by pitting the unborn against every form of human life the GOP wants to rob, harm, and kill. And they are now so committed to that, the real goal of conservative politics, that the unborn now only matter to the average MAGA cultist insofar as they act as human shields for that. That is why the Cult simultaneously asserts that no law (against women) is too draconian “if it can save just one baby” while simultaneously fighting even the most trivial inconvenience to themselves concerning masks or vaccines, no matter how many children, infants, or unborn babies and their mothers have to die of COVID for the sake of their Freedumb. As they famously, and with supreme stupidity, declared:

So we now live in a time when, nine times out of ten, those on the Left passionately support the same goals the Catholic tradition does in virtually all matters pertaining to the fundamental human rights of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable while conservatives (often with deep sociopathic spite) oppose the Church, hate the Pope, and urge the Greatest Catholics of All Time to reject any parish that teaches social justice. Consequently, when it comes to the protection of the unborn, the Left is so frightened by the authoritarian, racist, fascist and murderous goals of the Right that they cannot see past it to a vision of the human person as sacred from conception to natural death. Both left and right pit the unborn against the rest of the human race instead of relating them to one another.

The Right now thinks they have a shot at imposing an authoritarian regime committed, not to the dignity of the human person, but to the perks and draconian power of a tiny minority of the wealthy and powerful. Their goals are not and never have been the dignity of the human person (that is for the suckers in the rank and file who have bought the Lie). The idea that a misogynist sex predator dudebro like this guy is interested in respecting the dignity of the human person is contemptible:

What they want is money and power and freedom from the onerous burdens of having to care about the weak that reforms dating from 1865 through the New Deal and the Great Society imposed. The goal is the destruction of that, not the protection of the unborn. And the moment human beings, born or unborn, get in the way of that, the “prolife” movement leadership–and the bulk of the prolife movement–could not care less because the GOP could not care less. That is why the biggest enemies those who hold the Church’s Consistent Life Ethic face (including, especially, Pope Francis) are not the advocates of choice in abortion, but MAGA “prolife” advocates who have, for 35 years, declared the Consistent Life Ethic anathema and who now hate this Pope’s living guts.

Until the “prolife” movement is, in fact, dedicated to the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and not simply to making the unborn a fig leaf on the conservative struggle to repeal every enfranchisement and act of economic reform back to the 14th (and for some, the 13th) amendment, they are going to discover the truth that you cannot do evil that good may come of it, nor can you gain the whole world while you lose your soul.

I place a much bigger burden on Christians here than I do on non-Christians for a very good reason: Jesus does. Those to whom much is given much will be required. The servant who knows his Master’s will and does not do it will be beaten with more blows than the one who does not know his Master’s will. Prolife Christians have been trying for 50 years to impose by force a fragment of Christian morality on a population that does not share their presuppositions about the dignity of the unborn. But that same sect of Christians have also done a huge amount to make war on the dignity of every human person inconvenient to GOP authoritarianism, fascism, mammon-worship, racism, misogyny, and violence. Unsurprisingly, those who do not hold the faith see no reason whatsoever to listen to them. Who can comprehend the mysterious mind of the unbeliever?

Yet, paradoxically, the expansion of human rights, both political and economic, to more and more human beings is at the very heart of the Left’s vision of the human person, with one huge blind spot concerning the human being in the womb. That is why they have such a high regard for the Holy Father. They see an ally because they see the teaching of Christ lived by him and by those like him. Those of us who hold a Consistent Life Ethic should realize that we have a huge amount in opportunity in that and should labor to build on it.


11 Responses

  1. “I gave up on religion years ago, and my political views are liberal in most respects, so my friends are sometimes surprised to learn that I am against abortion.  What possible rationale could I have for this? Here it is in a nutshell:
    In 1940, more than two decades before the Endangered Species Act, Congress passed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  At that time it was already evident that our national symbol was disappearing and the Act was intended to prevent its extinction.  The Act specified that it was illegal to “wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb” eagles, or their eggs.
    Why were eggs included?  From, say, a toddler’s perspective, that’s a puzzle.  Eggs aren’t eagles.  You don’t see eggs depicted on coins.  Yet the act provided penalties for eagle egg destruction equal to the penalties for killing eagles.
    Which leads us to the question of abortion.  I am resolutely agnostic on the question of when life begins, and I do not say abortion is murder.  But I note that fetuses are the only objects in the known universe that have the potential to become human beings, which leads to the utterly straightforward conclusion that fetuses are as valuable as humans, regardless of whether they are actually human themselves.  If eggs are protected as equal to eagles, then fetuses should be protected as equal to people.
    BUT WHAT ABOUT SITUATIONS WHERE THE WOMAN’S LIFE IS ENDANGERED BY THE PREGNANCY?  This is a no-brainer.  Save the woman.  Making triage decisions is part of what doctors are trained for, and if due diligence has been done to eliminate all other options then I see no ethical conflict here.
    WHAT ABOUT RAPE AND INCEST?  OK, I do see ethical conflict here.  There are people in the world today who were conceived through rape. I do not say that these people should not be alive, nor that their personhood is in any way compromised by the circumstances in which they came to be.  But, at the same time, being raped is one of the most traumatically violating experiences anyone can have, and if a woman believes that aborting the resulting pregnancy is the only way she can gain closure from the experience, then I don’t want the law to stand in her way.  Also, many people would quite reasonably have trouble raising a child knowing that the father is a sociopath.  So I would support a right to abortion for rape victims, though I have qualms about it.
    WHAT THEN?  ARE YOU SAYING ABORTION SHOULD BE ILLEGAL?  No.  Most people in the US disagree with me about this, and I believe in democracy.  When a government ignores the will of the majority of its people worse things than abortion can result. No free country can enforce an abortion ban and remain free.”

    I posted that on Facebook 12 years ago. I still basically stand by it, though today I would reference the fact that poverty is the most powerful abortifacient, and that the most effective way to reduce abortion is to strengthen the social safety net and enable the poor to have better security and dignity in their lives. The US is doing it backwards: first banning abortion, and then making handwaving gestures towards maybe someday giving the poor better options. The poisonous malevolence of the R Party is on full display in this.

    – joel

  2. >Yet, paradoxically, the expansion of human rights, both political and economic, to more and more human beings is at the very heart of the Left’s vision of the human person, with one huge blind spot concerning the human being in the womb.

    I detest the left about a lot. But one thing that they have right is about abortion.

    The left’s view about abortion, afaik, is that a mother should not be forced to birth a child she does not want. The left (other than maybe marginal extremists) has never argued the view that the state should make pregnancy decisions for the mother.

    If at all that view comes – that the state make the decision to abort a child – that would not be from the left. It would come from the extreme libertarians, under the cover of “market forces” and “economic factors”. (From the same people who say that “if you don’t have medical insurance you have to die”)

    Paradoxically, the left’s position on abortion is a mix of conservative values. That state should not have control over people’s bodies, and morality cannot be legislated. It is a down-to-earth view that the fetus rights cannot be guaranteed without infringing the rights of the mother.

    It’s worth noting that the right’s only philosophical rationale for this infringement is that the mother consented to give up her right’s when she had sex. But that is the basis of the right’s theory – “consent to sex is consent to pregnancy”. That’s how the right threads the needle of liberty with infringement of a women’s rights over her body.

    The right does not bring this up at all because it’s a political loser. I don’t have to tell anyone how hard a sell the theory that consent-to-sex-is-consent-to-pregnancy is, in this country or anywhere in free societies. That kind of theory usually holds in societies where stoning or death is punishment for adultery.

    What @joel said – “No free country can enforce an abortion ban and remain free.” is the result.

    The real motive of the abortion battle has always been oligarchy. A destruction of workers rights and extreme exploitation of labor.

    The last 50 years of history has enough of these abortion fights play out, and I would challenge anyone to produce one case where abortion restrictions has won and a plunder of labour has not followed.

  3. Interesting to see how little you seem to have said recently on Ukraine and American involvement and funding and NATO. I guess you’re more of an interventionalist and war hawk than I thought, or simply that as a man of the Left you mirror Bernie Sanders’s similar views on the subject. I’m kind of disappointed as I thought you’d be more of an ally of those of us who are against the national security state/ neocon state of George Bush, color revolution in ukraine in ‘14, etc…maybe it’s simply because this proxy war w Russia is an obama-biden creation and thus enlists your sympathies. I get that but still…HUD says homelessness could be solved with $20b, or just half of what we just planned to ukraine.

    1. Hi Rob!
      Where you live, are there Senators advocating for a few billion dollars to eliminate homelessness? Or even, to address it?
      Tell us all about it please, I haven’t heard and would like to.

      Also, could you take a few minutes to explain how Barack Obama led the Russian invasion of Ukraine? I totally missed that.

      Oh but, can’t just hand wave and say “Hunter Biden ” unless you can use it in a sentence

    2. Or maybe he just doesn’t think Russia should invade Ukraine?
      Not all.of us are wedded to a politicL ideology.

  4. I sometimes wonder whether I’m the only person worrying over issues of consent in a culture that’s positively soaking in sex. Memes. Celebrities. Mass culture.

    In this context, fallible human beings are making romantic or sexual or neurotic choices, and now comes a wave of politicians and busy bodies saying, exclusively to women, “Well hell, there are consequences to your bad choices.”

    They might be wrong but dammit to hell they are not to blame.

  5. “…impose by force a fragment of Christian morality on a population that does not share their presuppositions about the dignity of the unborn…”

    I’m not sure I agree that it’s Christian morality in particular that’s being imposed. The basic commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is part of the natural law. And FWIW I’m fairly sympathetic to the consistent ethic of life movement, and disillusioned with both the Republican and Democratic parties.

  6. Broad assumptions can lead to mistakes. Many assume that all religions, or the Catholic religion, have taught from eternity that a fertilized egg is considered to possess full human rights and dignity. That’s not true.

    Traditional Jews hold that the value of fetal life is less than that of adult life based on Deuteronomy (there’s no mention of abortion, it’s how fines are set for unintentional killing. The Bible doesn’t mention abortion.) Full equality starts with the first breath.

    Aquinas believed that an embryo was not sufficiently developed to really have a soul, til about the time of “quickening”; which is about three months gestation. Other faiths see or have seen it differently still.

    That’s why the issue can be framed as putting beliefs into law — there is not one rule from forever.

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