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.