I will never, ever vote for any candidate who is not pro-choice. No matter what else a candidate may have going, if he or she opposes a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion, I’m outta there.
This came up recently in a discussion with a “Bernie or Bust” guy who was saying he sees no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Setting aside the fact that such a remark is either absurdly disingenuous or appallingly ignorant, I pointed out that even if on every other issue Clinton and Trump were identical (which of course they aren’t), Clinton is pro-choice, and that should be sufficient to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.
This man then proceeded to lecture me – one might even say to mansplain – how abortion rights is an important issue, but income inequality is really the greatest challenge faced by Americans today and why it is narrow-minded and “selfish” (his word) for me to assign a higher priority to reproductive freedom. Eventually and perhaps inevitably he played the “you’re just voting with your vagina” card, at which point the conversation was over.
I quietly seethed over this exchange for a while and had almost forgotten about it until yesterday, when Donald Trump declared that as president he would seek to ban abortion and punish the women who had them. This seemed par for the course for Trump and for the GOP candidates in general, all of whom are rabidly anti-choice and who unquestionably delight in the idea of retribution against women who have abortions, but are politically savvy enough to express those intentions in code. What truly sparked my outrage was not the comment from Trump but the response from the messiah himself, Senator Bernie Sanders.
In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders agreed that what Trump said was “shameful” and reiterated his position that “women have the right to control their own bodies.” But he then launched into a diatribe explaining why we shouldn’t be distracted by the proposals of a major presidential candidate about the limits of women’s authority over their bodies so that we can focus on the real issues.
“But what is Donald Trump’s position on raising the minimum wage? Well, he doesn’t think so. What is Donald Trump’s position on wages in America? Well, he said at a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high. What’s Donald Trump’s position on taxes? Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself billions of dollars in tax breaks . . . Any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week. Maybe, just maybe we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”
Um, say what now?
Let’s get something straight here. I am a woman who has past her reproductive usefulness. The likelihood of my getting pregnant, even if I wanted to, without extensive and very costly medical intervention is effectively zero, and even with such intervention would still be remote. Abortion services are just not something I am ever going to need for the remainder of my days. But whether I personally would be inconvenienced by the inaccessibility of abortion is not the issue.
The proposition to restrict or deny women access to abortion is only partly about the actual act of abortion. The more insidious and more relevant implication of anti-abortion policies is this: They declare women to be less than fully human. A policy that says decisions regarding whether to proceed with a pregnancy are better made by distant bureaucrats with ideological axes to grind and political agendas to advance, rather than by the woman whose body, health, and future are at stake is a policy that relegates all women, no matter their reproductive status, to a lower class standing. It is a philosophy founded on and inextricable from the idea that women are inherently incapable of making sound moral decisions and are not entitled to the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy. It is an unambiguous declaration that women are neither capable nor deserving of self-agency. In other words, it’s not really about abortion so much as it is about what value our society assigns to the life of a woman.
I agree with Sanders that we do indeed need to have “a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.” I for one can think of no more serious issue than whether my government will continue to view my person – and that of my daughter – as entitled to equal treatment under the law as a full citizen of the United States and as a human being. Because a discussion about income inequality is moot if women are forced out of the workplace to have babies and raise children they can’t afford, or into prison or an early grave for opting for an illegal abortion.
Now that I have stopped seething over it, I feel compelled to respond to Dwight Longnecker’s September 15 article explaining why abortion is “more serious than simple murder.” Yes, that’s right, folks: The destruction of a clump of non-viable cells with no consciousness or nervous system is a worse transgression than the mere deliberate taking of a living, breathing, sentient human life. While Longnecker’s position does appear to be in line with Church doctrine, which allows priests to absolve the sin of murder but requires a bishop to absolve the sin of abortion (the pope’s year of mercy notwithstanding), it is nonetheless reprehensible and further evidence (as if we needed it) of the yawning chasm between religious dogma and basic human decency.
Let’s begin by reiterating, for the gazillionth time, that about 90% of abortions in the U.S. occur within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, with nearly half of those being within the first six weeks. Almost all the rest occur between 13-20 weeks, and only about 1% occur after 20 weeks. (The Guttmacher Institute has these and more statistics here.) While reliable data on why women seek abortion after 20 weeks are hard to come by, one major reason is that many of the tests that identify severe abnormalities cannot be done until 20 weeks. Remember too that the pregnancy is an embryo for the first 10 weeks of gestation. This means that for very close to 100% of abortions, what is being destroyed is not the chubby-cheeked, fully-formed, full-term infant shown in anti-choice propaganda, but a tiny lump of tissue somewhere between an eighth of an inch to three inches long that has no nerve endings and is completely unable to survive on its own outside the woman’s body. And this is what we are told is worse to destroy than an actual person. Let’s look more closely at the qualities he says apply only to abortion and see whether they are not also true of “simple murder.”
The crime is pre meditated [sic] – Even if the woman in the crisis pregnancy is young and ignorant, the others involved in the crime are not. The person procuring the abortion–maybe the father of the child or the parent of the woman who is pregnant–know what they are doing. The abortionist and his staff know what they are doing and usually the woman also knows what she is doing. If the crime is planned and premeditated the culpability is greater.
In June of this year, a Maryland woman poisoned her young son by forcing him to swallow at least one full bottle of pills, and then once he was dead she stuffed his body into her car before setting it on fire. She has been charged with first degree murder – and yet is somehow less culpable in the boy’s death than if she had had an abortion.
The helplessness of the victim – An unborn child is unable to resist the crime. They are trapped in the womb and completely vulnerable. A crime against a helpless victim is worse than one against a person who can fight back or resist in some way. This is a raw action of violence of the strong against the weak and so the crime of killing is compounded.
In November 2014, a 255-pound man killed his seven-month-old infant son by kneeling on him and crushing him to death because the baby had been “fussy.” I wonder how Father Longnecker presumes this baby was able to “fight back or resist” an assailant who outweighed him by a factor of 20, or by what criteria he determines the baby was not “completely vulnerable.”
The innocence of the victim – An unborn child did nothing wrong. The unborn child did not offend against anyone. The unborn child is innocent of any crime at all and yet it is destroyed by the guilty. A crime against the guilty is bad, but a violent crime against the innocent cries out to heaven because of its wanton wickedness.
Homicide accounts for 7.2 infant deaths in the United States. However, whereas their embryonic counterparts “did nothing wrong,” these babies apparently have had the opportunity to commit some offense that makes them less innocent. Or perhaps the mere act of emerging from the womb taints them with original sin, making their killings cases of “simple murder” rather than of “wanton wickedness.”
The natural duty of care for a child by the parent is violated – a mother and father have a natural and inborn duty to care for the child they have conceived. This natural duty of affection, love and protection is violated by abortion. In abortion a mother and father kill their own child. Therefore the killing is compounded by the sin of betrayal of trust and the destruction of one of nature’s most strong and inviolable relationships: the relationship between mother and child and between father and child.
Six-year-old D’Naja Fields was beaten to death by her parents in July. The aborted embryo feels no fear or pain and is unaware even of its own existence, let alone any bond with parents. Little D’Naja felt every bit of the terror and physical and emotional pain that her parents inflicted on her over the course of her short life and horrific death, yet we are to believe that the betrayal against the embryo is the worse offense.
The sanctity of the family is violated – The family is the locus for human flourishing, security, peace and happiness. Abortion violates the family bond and destroys the happiness and security that should begin in the womb and extend to the home. If the womb is not safe for a child, why would the home be safe for a child? If the womb is a place of violence and killing how can the home be a place of love and security?
In the fall of 2014 three-year-old Scott McMillan was tortured by his parents for three days until he died. He was safer in the womb than outside of it, where he had neither security, happiness, nor peace.
The sexual act is violated – A child is the result of what should be a self giving, secure and tender act of love between man and woman. The child should be the fruit of that action. An abortion not only kills the child it violates and interrupts the natural fruit of the sexual act.
Children are not just the result of the sexual act; they are frequently victims of it. 80% of perpetrators of juvenile sexual abuse, evidencing the ugly fact that all too often sex is not a “tender act of love between a man and a woman” but a traumatic and sometimes fatal act of violence between an aggressor and a helpless victim – a victim like Allorah Warner, whose father raped and murdered her when she was only 19 days old.
Society is damaged – A healthy birth rate means a healthy society. To kill the next generation is to kill the future. Society cannot prosper without children and young people and if the children and young people are killed before they are born society, in the long term, is damaged.
Abortion is not killing the next generation in the US: Of the roughly 6.6 million annual pregnancies in this country, about 18% end in abortion, roughly the same percentage as end in miscarriage. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of abortions are sought by women who already have at least one child, making the argument that humans will go extinct due to abortion rather absurd. Additionally, one wonders whether Longnecker considers the fact of homicide being in the top five causes of death for children aged 18 and under as a sign of a damaged or a healthy society.
The human person is devalued – Instead of seeing each life as sacred abortion treats the human being as a weed to be pulled–a problem to be solved. When the child in the womb is killed every human being dies a little. The result is a change in our attitude to individuals. Those who are weak, vulnerable, helpless and poor can be trampled on. Those who are needy, dependent, disabled and suffering can be eliminated.
The culture of American right-wing evangelicalism has done more to trample the weak, vulnerable, and poor than legal abortion could ever do. Consider the high degree of overlap of the states with the highest religiosity and those whose legislators refused to expand health care for the poor under the Affordable Care Act; those with the most permissive gun laws (and most gun deaths); and the highest numbers of death penalty executions.
The human body is violated – Even in death the human person is to be respected and the human remains treated with dignity and respect. Abortion shreds a baby’s body. It chops up a baby and sucks or scrapes it out of the mother’s womb. The remains are burnt, sold, shredded or just thrown away. If human bodies are treated like scrap humans will be treated like scrap.
First, I’m not sure how often Longnecker visits the current decade, but non-surgical abortions have been available in the US for fifteen years now and account for about a third of all abortions. But what if 100% were surgical? Those of us who are old enough remember well the case of Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy who was abducted, strangled, and decapitated in Florida in 1981. But we don’t have to go back 34 years for an example of a child’s body being “chopped up” – just a week before Father Longnecker wrote his article, the severed head of a toddler was found in Chicago; more body parts have since been recovered. Or, he could Google “dismembered children” and still have to choose – the one in Colorado? Or Louisiana? Or the other one in Louisiana? Or California? Is the termination of an embryo that does not even have limbs (let alone a functioning nervous system) really more gruesome than the dismemberment of a living – or dead – child?
God’s law is intentionally disobeyed One of the first commandments is “Be fruitful and multiply”. A new child is life. A new child is a gift. A new child is the future. A new child is hope. A new child is innocence. A new child is a blessing. Abortion kills all these things and in disobeying God, God is also aborted from life and society. It is not a co incidence [sic] that where abortion thrives atheism soon follows.
I seem to recall another of god’s commandments making reference to not committing murder. Then too are the passages in the bible that indicate life begins at the first breath (Genesis 2:7), and provide a recipe for abortion (Numbers 5:12 – 31). These would seem to contradict the good father’s claim that abortion is a more grievous sin in god’s eyes than the killing of the already born. With regard to his claim that “where abortion thrives atheism soon follows,” this is of course refuted by the fact that women who obtain abortion are only slightly less religious than the overall population of American women, and that the most religious states in the union do not have the lowest rates of abortion. Or did Longnecker accidentally give away the game with this statement, revealing that his true concern is not with the lives of the unborn, but with the growth of non-belief?
One has to wonder what kind of person thinks that it is preferable for a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and then murder her infant than for her to take some hormone pills at 6 weeks gestation to expel a tiny clump of cells from her uterus – which is, of course, precisely the claim that Longnecker has made. In the morally normal universe such outrageous cruelty would be swiftly and unequivocally rejected and its sponsors relieved of any further claim to moral authority. But as is forever evidenced by the statements and behavior of the faith-deranged, we do not live in the morally normal universe – we live in the universe where people honestly think abortion is worse than murder, and where those people hold political power and cultural influence. And that, friends, should frighten us all.
This article was originally published by Rationality Unleashed on October 16, 2015.