The abortion distortion in current US politics

A friend took exception to this part of something I posted on Facebook yesterday morning:

Still in Putin’s pocket. Still bashing his domestic political opponents during meetings with foreign heads of government. Grotesquely incompetent and/or gallingly disloyal to our country: Could be either. Could be both. No way it’s neither.

He wants to be re-elected. And some of you will vote for him because you reduce all politics to abortion and reduce all public policy questions around abortion to a caricatured contrast between supporting life and supporting murder—and, to be fair, because the Democratic presidential candidates tend to reduce all disagreement over abortion to self-determination for women vs. patriarchal repression of women.

Could everyone please think harder?

We really need less obstreperous nonsense and more analysis and consensus-building. The consensus is there—carefully conducted polls tell us that. We just need a presidential candidate to name and claim the consensus while managing the smaller area of important residual disagreement. We must not re-elect a president who conducts foreign relations in this criminally egocentric manner.

By the way: As a matter of Christian ethical belief, I have reservations about the consensus position on which pollsters tell us 80 percent of us agree. But I do not believe that it is my right or responsibility as a Christian to compel others to live according to the stringent requirements of Christian morality, sexually or otherwise. Christians must be guided by Christian morality in what they advocate in the public square, but they must not try to enforce some selected aspects of the higher righteousness of Jesus as secular, public law—especially not while tolerating flagrant breaches of other more vital and central components of the teaching of Jesus in both the private behavior and public policy of their party’s leader. Obsessive-myopic hypocritical theocracy is not what Jesus expects of his followers living in a democracy.

My friend replied: “If you’re thinking there aren’t people who regard the most permissive abortion regime in the developed world as a moral blight on American history comparable to that of slavery, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”

Abortion is not analogous to slavery as a moral blight on US history, and it is not a valid excuse for supporting a grossly unfit president.

Here is how I replied to that (I’m touching up lightly what I actually wrote in that exchange):

No, that’s not it. I have no problem believing that. Mass abortion to terminate pregnancies brought about by mass promiscuity (? maybe not the right word—what I mean is unrestricted sexual activity outside the bounds of committed relationships that can support the bearing and raising of the new children who are the natural telos of sexual activity) is in my own opinion a double blight. The disanalogy lies elsewhere. Offhand I see three factors, any one of which obliterates the analogy.

(1) In antebellum America there was no plausible way of denying that every instance of slavery was the enslavement of a human person, but it is not plausible to claim that every abortion, from the moment of conception, is the murder of a human person. By “not plausible” I don’t mean that an argument can’t be made that a two-celled zygote is a human person; I just mean that disagreement with that argument is not obviously, and obviously culpably, wrong. In 19th-century America, and even early 20th-century America, some people said that Africans were not human, and I am willing to suppose that some of them really believed that, which means that plausibility structures existed in antebellum society to enable that belief. But the belief that an African is not human seems unambiguously perverse in a way that denial of the human personhood of a 10-minute-old zygote or 2-week-old fetus does not. Today we (rightly) call the former hate speech. The latter may be mistaken from some religious or even scientific perspectives, but it is not hate speech; it is not obviously wrong in a way that everyone can reasonably be required to acknowledge.

(2) The political movement to free slaves had a thoroughgoing righteousness to it. The antiabortion movement has throughly righteous elements. For example, my conservative-Catholic-theologian friends who in their public lives make compelling pro-life arguments, emphasizing measures that most Americans actually agree with, and who in their private lives keep fostering and adopting children who under the  regnant abortion regime might otherwise have been terminated as late-stage fetuses or suffered neglect, abuse, or poverty as children, are the best people on earth. But there is a sickening reek of hypocrisy, deceitfulness, cynicism, and manipulation about the use of abortion by the right-wing Republican movement of recent decades that has no analogy, as far as I know, in the abolitionist movement. Republican leaders have (a) deliberately used emotional, fact-distorting antiabortion rhetoric to drive a wedge into a society that could otherwise be agreeing on consensus measures to reduce the number of abortions, especially later-stage abortions, and Republican leaders have been doing so in order to get votes to enable them to effect their real agenda in unrelated areas, while (b) generally doing worse than nothing to demonstrate genuine, compassionate, and effectual concern for poor children and parents of poor children.

(3) Slavery was such a central element of the whole American economic and social system, and there were so few other issues that were both morally and practically so pressing, that it made sense to focus exclusively on slavery as a political issue. In our situation today, there are other issues that are morally and existentially so pressing that focusing exclusively on abortion is morally and practically wrong. Climate change and the entire environmental crisis is one. Nuclear proliferation in conjunction with the global fascist resurgence is another. Right-wing pro-lifers are not wearing the seamless garment of my Catholic friends. They are wearing an antiabortion blindfold that makes them willing to follow a regime that cares little or nothing about abortion, pursues putatively antiabortion strategies (like appointing corporatist Supreme Court justices) that will not end abortion or reduce the number of abortions but will enable plutocracy, and is dangerously wrong on the other important issues.

So, to sum up in my characteristically concise, disarmingly cheerful, and utterly winsome way: Abraham Lincoln was not a sociopathic fraud cynically using misrepresentations of the truth about slavery as a wedge issue to disable opposition to, and conscript “Christian” support of, his real agenda of plundering and war-mongering in service to his efforts to consolidate the power of a fascist-leaning plutocracy and claw his way into unmerited membership in the highest ranks of said plutocracy. But that is exactly what Donald Trump is and how he relates to “pro-life.”

Having said all that, I must also say this:

The persistence of most Democratic candidates in reducing abortion to a matter only of a woman’s right to control her own body, as though another life or potential life does not even enter into the question, is a damnable mistake that may well get Trump re-elected. Democrats need to take responsibility for fixing that, and they need to fix it fast.

3 thoughts on “The abortion distortion in current US politics

  1. As always, a model of conciseness, disarming cheer, and utter winsomeness. I do wonder, however, what a turn it might take were you ever to awaken on the wrong side of the bed needing to vent just a bit. Joking aside, I appreciated your summary and critique, and your willingness to rope in the Blue Side by taking a left jab at its own deleterious reductionism. It is always a wise idea in these days of bellicose, rigid binaries to be an equal opportunity critic. One is always in danger of becoming a propagandist for a party especially when one of them is twisting itself into contortions seemingly intent on becoming the international icon of moral, spiritual, political incoherence. But a question. You say that “I do not believe that it is my right or responsibility as a Christian to compel others to live according to the stringent requirements of Christian morality, sexually or otherwise.” I do not disagree. Not by a long shot. However, that statement triggers my inner Anabaptist which squeaks out this troublesome question: Does the prohibition against “compelling others” extend to the Democratic principle of 50% + 1 overriding and thus “compelling” the 49% who are the weaker, the least, the losers, the minority (from the perspective of our American system based on the right of the many to dictate over the few)? And if not, why not? Even asking the question makes me feel like a Quaker who has “laid down” all influence over the ‘other’ in deference to what they perceive (I think wrongly) to be the cruciform pattern of Christlikeness. But yet I am stumbled by the realpolitik of life in a broken world and sinful political systems and the limits and extents of compulsion.


    1. I appreciate your opening sentences. The columnists and bloggers whom I admire the most never fire off in quite the way I did in this 2019 Facebook post.

      As for your question: the idea that 51% get to make the laws is not (capital D) Democratic. It is constitutional. And it is better than the Republican notion that 35 or 40 percent of the population should be empowered, by dirty tricks like gerrymandering, vote-suppression tactics, and filibustering, and by archaic and antidemocratic though constitutional mechanisms like the equal allocation of Senate seats between the states and the Electoral College, to block legislation favored by 60 or 70 percent of the populace.


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