A reader writes:
“Mark, I ask you this with all due respect. Are you really suggesting that the Pro Life movement did the wrong thing in fighting to get Roe overturned?”
I appreciate the courtesy of this question. As I will discuss in a moment, not every reader is courteous, or even bothers to ask. They go straight to accusing.
In answer, I reply: No. I am saying, not suggesting, that in selling its soul to the MAGA cult, the prolife movement turned itself into a monomaniac heresy at war with almost the entire social teaching of the Church and using the unborn as human shields for all that. As a result, they are now committed to a policy agenda that puts enormous pressure on the poor to abort. That’s why abortion rates rose 8% under Trump, reversing a 30 year decline that saw the greatest drop under the hated Clinton and the lowest point under the hated Obama/Biden–and they don’t care one bit.
If we want actual results and not mere empty culture war gestures, what we should be focusing on is reducing demand rather than killing more women while doing nothing to save the unborn.
In sum, the problem is that, with the honorable exception of Consistent Life Ethic people, the bulk of the now nearly totally MAGAfied “prolife” movement is not about defending the unborn, but about using the unborn as human shields for a GOP crime syndicate devoted to greed, cruelty, selfishness, and nihilist power.
That is what I oppose, not being prolife.
Indeed, I have always been prolife. Always. Long before I was Christian or Catholic, I opposed abortion. Becoming Christian and, again, Catholic only reinforced that. It seems to me obvious that one implication of the words, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit” is that when God became human, he hallowed human life from the moment of conception. I agree wholeheartedly with Pope Francis:
“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.”
Nothing in that view has changed in the slightest. But because I am morally convinced that the MAGA Cult will do nothing for the unborn and will instead use them as human shields to inflict grave harm on women, I am now commonly slandered by the People of the Lie in the MAGA “prolife” cult who, like their orange god, think nothing of practicing the politics of personal destruction and lies in order to achieve their ends.
Here, for instance, is a far more typical expression of the life-loving Christian love of the MAGA cultist from my mailbox:
Gonna keep hiding comments that call you out for being a pro-abort, you fat slob? Fine. Enjoy your hug box. You’ll need it as you stumble towards Hell.
The tactic of the Righteous Destroyers is to call me (as I was called just the other day), a “stinking liar” because I said that the GOP, and most especially Trump, had no interest in or intention of overturning Roe. I based that on fifty years of the GOP, and most especially Trump, demonstrating no interest in or intention of overturning Roe (given that they are 100% responsible for the creation of our abortion regime and exploited their base all that time by harvesting support for all their real policy interests while delivering nothing but participation trophies).
And indeed, Trump has made clear that he himself is shocked by and extremely worried about the people he clearly sees as extremist religious weirdos turning the GOP into the dog that caught the car. He knows how galvanizing this pyrrhic victory will be because even he, dumb as he is, has the animal cunning to see further than his blind, vindictive conservative MAGA antichrist religion base. He reflects the cynical consensus of the GOP leadership for the past fifty years and I was not and am not wrong to say “They never meant it to come to this.”
So when people write, as a reader did yesterday, to say:
Your prior moral certainty on this topic was that Roe would never be overturned. You didn’t hedge. You were certain.
This certainty colored your assessment of the folks on the pro-life side. They were rubes, they were suckers, they were hopeless idealists who couldn’t see cold hard reality like you could. Others (GOP politicians in particular, vile reprobates like Donald Trump) knew that Roe couldn’t be overturned and wouldn’t try and were cynically exploiting the naive but good people.
You were certain. You were wrong.
Your best move now is to examine what brought you to this point: What did you assume to be true that turned out not to be true?
I answer that I am happy to comply. Where I erred was in making the mistake of forgetting that the GOP justices, like Trump, are liars. So when they lied that “Roe was settled law” I took them at their word and assumed they would focus their energies on enacting the policies the GOP actually cares about while ignoring Roe, as the GOP had done for fifty years. That was indeed a blunder on my part, not a lie. The lies was on the part of the GOP justices. But since it characteristic of the MAGA cult to use accusation as a form of confession, I am not terribly surprised that the cult blames me for believing the lies of the GOP justices rather than blaming the justices who told the lie that they viewed Roe as “settled law” in order to get their seats. The more fool I.
What I failed to see was that Roe is the first, but by no means the last, shot fired in a campaign against the 14th Amendment that means to go far beyond abortion. It remains the case that the far right has no real interest in the unborn, except as human shields for that. But the monomaniac heresy that is the MAGA “prolife” movement is blind to all that. And one small hopeful sign is that some, at least, appear to be figuring that out.
So, for instance, another person who frequently targeted for such personal destruction–to the point where the Cult has physically threatened his family in their super prolifey zeal is David French. He has the number of the MAGA “prolife” cult and writes in his Dispatch “Roe is reversed and the Right isn’t ready: A movement animated by rage and fear isn’t ready to embrace life and love.” After praising the fall of Roe, he gets down to reality:
But that’s not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. The two sides of the great American divide are now staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” The answer from pro-life America should be clear and resounding—the commitment to life carries with it a commitment to love, to care for the most vulnerable members of society, both mother and child.
But life and love are countercultural on too many parts of the right. In a time of hate and death, too many members of pro-life America are contributing to both phenomena. Is that too much to say? Is that too strong? I don’t think so.
In deep-red America, a wave of performative and punitive legislation is sweeping the land. In the abortion context, bounty-hunting laws in Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma turn citizens against each other, incentivizing lawsuits even by people who haven’t been harmed by abortion. The pro-life movement, once solidly against prosecuting women who obtain abortions, is now split by an “abolitionist” wing that would not only impose criminal penalties on mothers, it even calls into questions legal protections for the life of the mother when a pregnancy is physically perilous.
The culture of political engagement centers around animosity. Church and family life is being transformed, congregation by congregation, household by household, by argument and division. The Dobbs ruling has landed in the midst of a sick culture, and the pro-life right is helping make it sick.
Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat rightly cautioned that “the vicissitudes of politics and its own compromises have linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right — some libertine and hyperindividualist, others simply hostile to synthesis, conciliation and majoritarian politics.” That’s true, but it doesn’t go far enough. The vicissitudes of politics haven’t just linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right, they’ve transformed parts of the anti-abortion movement, making many of its members as toxic as their “libertine and hyperindividualist” allies.
[T]he Republican branch of the American church is adopting the political culture of the secular right. With a few notable exceptions, it not only didn’t resist the hatred and fury of the MAGA movement, it was the MAGA movement. And this is the culture that’s going to lead the effort to heal our nation, love the marginalized, and ask young women to face an uncertain future and endure a physical ordeal for the sake of sacrificial love?
This brings me to a vital last point. It is a simple truth that when it comes to moral leadership, actions speak so much louder than words. That’s a truth that’s been instilled in me since my youth. Walk your talk.
And yet. Consider the last two years.
We are slowly but surely emerging from a deadly pandemic. It’s not that the disease has disappeared. Far from it. But the combination of mutations, vaccinations, and prior infections is making it far less deadly. Yet at every point in the pandemic, it was pro-life red America that loudly declared its bodily autonomy, disproportionately shunned even the slight inconvenience of a mask before the vaccine, and then disproportionately rejected the vaccine when it miraculously appeared mere months after the pandemic began.
Parts of pro-life red America moved from skepticism to outright defiance. “How dare you tell me what to do. This is my decision between me and my doctor.” They trafficked in pseudo-science and bizarre conspiracy theories. The cost was staggering. It was horrifying. Look at this chart, from the Brown School of Public Health:
When I bring this up, people get furious. The conventional wisdom on the right has hardened into adamantium. If you condemn the anti-vaxx movement, then you’re an elitist. You hate anti-vaxxers. How dare you question their decisions? Everyone knows the real cultural tragedy of the pandemic was the way the terrible blue states imposed extended lockdowns and kept schools closed too long.
To criticize the anti-vaxx movement isn’t to hate or look down on its members any more than criticizing the pro-choice movement means hating or looking down on its members. Strong disagreement isn’t hatred, even when you believe the contrary position contains grave moral flaws.
I also can agree that blue state restrictions went too far, but I cannot get that staggering death toll out of my head. And that’s not a random 319,000 people, it’s 319,000 of our most vulnerable citizens. The elderly. The infirm. People with immune disorders.
In the face of that wave of death, a wave of death created by a staggering amount of Christian fear, disinformation, and defiance—millions of the same people who created that culture now loudly demand that other people sacrifice for life.
It’s time for another caveat. When we talk about national movements, we invariably talk about generalities. Huge movements are made up of millions of people, and many of those millions have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They’ve spent their lives sacrificing for others, in ways large and small. They resist the hatred of the times, and even though I might disagree with some of their votes, they put me to shame in their service for others.
But the sad reality remains: When American culture burned with partisan hatred, all too many institutions of the American church fueled the fire. They fuel the fire to this day. There is a cost to this combat, and that cost is born in our ability to reach out to people outside our tribe and to have people believe us when we say that we care for them, that we want to see them flourish, and that we love their families—both red and blue.
So I was refreshed by the letter of common courtesy that sought to find out my views rather then simply tell me what they are or, worse, smear me with lies behind my back as is now far too often the practice of the Righteous. And I am morally certain that what French describes will be the norm of a spiteful and misogynous MAGA cult drunk on victory and ready, not to help the unborn or care about anybody but themselves, but to enact draconian punishments on those they hate. The Consistent Life Ethic is the despised minority view of the now-ascendant MAGA “prolife” movement. Abby Johnson, not “Love them both” is the dominant view of the Cult:
And that is why I am accused of “supporting abortion” by that Cult, despite the fact that I am now and always have been prolife.
More tomorrow on some of the rhetoric being deployed by the MAGA “prolife” cult and what it reveals about the coming disaster the GOP means to preside over with the blessing of that Cult.