Whose Body, Whose Profit?

Is abortion a matter of economic justice?

Matthew Loftus notes Miles Smith’s recent article in Public Discourse, American Abortion, American Freedom, and the economic objectification in abortion.

Try it at home: take any argument for slavery, substitute the word “fetus” for “African-American”, and see what happens!

“Abortion’s growing comfort within the capitalist order is not surprising. […] As in the case of slavery, economics proves to be the biggest motivator for abortion’s disciples. Political and social considerations prove to be little more than smokescreens.

In particular the article builds off of a recent piece in the New York Times from Lindy West, citing (again) the notion that abortion is a matter of  “economic justice.”

Smith turns the West article into an examination of political ideology, akin to that of the Southern defense of slavery.

Like slavery, abortion has become in the leftist mind the central political issue, on which the economic and social liberties of the modern United States all hang.

Well, yes, but it misses the real point in West’s work, that economics should drive the decision. Here, Smith would’ve been better to actually pulled the neo-liberal trigger. The notion that abortion is necessary for economic reasons is not simply hearkening back to slavery, but is a participation in a globally oppressive economic order, one that reduces people and their values to commodities, so that a privileged few can have “experiences” (evidently, our new Veblen-esque word for wealth impacts).

In this world, the problematic employment is assumed — can’t do nothing about it — so abortion provides a ‘freedom’ a human right. West’s argument assumes the economic status quo with its emphasis on consumerism. The path of economic justice lies in another direction, that of better wages, better maternal care, better pre-schools etc. There’s a lot to be done for women, it’s just that we don’t want to.

So we get the argument for the status quo, where one body is sacrificed so another — the investor class — can enjoy its consumer privilege borne from cheap wages and a poor social contract. The Christian response at the least allies, if not adopts the neoliberal criticism: arguments of spurious economic rights mask the real actions that can be taken for justice. To do so reduces the woman to an economic producer, a widget (in classic Roman terms, a “tool that thinks”) — and here we are in fact not that far from Smith’s link to slavery.

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Abortion and the Rise of the Religious Right

Allison Vander Broek picks at one of the puzzles of the Christian Right, viz. it’s relation to the anti-abortion movement. Did the Christian Right really arise as a reaction to Roe v. Wade, as the common internal narrative would have it? Or should we follow along after Randall Balmer, and think of the Christian Right as emerging out of the reaction to the civil rights movement, and particularly the emergence of the white Christian schools? Vander Broek notes the absence of evangelical engagement on the question of abortion (something Balmer does as well) and proceeds to ask a couple of questions,

Why did evangelical leaders create and perpetuate the narrative that abortion is what spurred them to political activism? … Why might American evangelicals craft an origin story that’s so off base from reality?… Could it be that it’s a much more heroic tale that evangelicals got into politics to defend babies rather than to oppose desegregation?

Vander Broek decides that the racism narrative is the dominant one, the secret sin of evangelicals. This may be a case of reading our history through lens of the present: the Christian Right drew from several streams.

What Balmer omits is the role of Orange County, where the children of the Okies took on Northern California elites, waging war over several cultural issues, while holding to a virulent anti-communist ethos. This was a movement grounded in the sociology of the sunbelt suburbia, whose issues were not schools but the cultivation of American values. In their emergent mega churches they shaped a politicized faith that elected Ronald Reagan to the governors mansion. Their rise and impact is nicely document in Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt (Norton: 2010); the flavor of the movement can be caught in None Dare Call It Treason.

A second stream that plays an important role in the evangelical church and in national politics are those immigrant churches of the Upper Midwest. These were organically Republican communities that also incorporated a high degree of religious motivation to their politics. Social issues were important, but often with a slightly more communitarian shape; and while there was a caution about racial issues particularly in urban areas, nonetheless the community maintained an openness to civil rights. These were the churches that self-defined as evangelical and not fundamentalist, a community that maintained numerous academic institutions: Bethel, Calvin, Trinity Evangelical, Wheaton, and others.

And then there are is the southern revivalist stream that Vander Broek and Balmer identify, whose life was shaped by the reaction to the civil rights movement. Even this has a deep root. The southern revivalistic church was a populist phenomena, with the weight of that racial narrative; it shared the rejection of the post Civil War centralized state. This is the seedbed of Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and the nascent Moral Majority.

The genius of the Paul Weyrich was to find the issue that took these three regional movements and organized them to a common political purpose. As Balmer relates

“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

This new movement would indeed become powerful, but not all at once. It’s politics grew not only from political strategy but for a host of cultural reasons. It was the long march of a generation, a topic for the next time.

 

Can the Middle Be Claimed? pt. 1

Thomas Groome argues for a broader understanding of the abortion issue among Democrats. The hard line of the platform and of current orthodoxy makes it impossible for Catholic sympathizers to get on board. The key issue here is that of building a centrist coalition. The righteousness of opposing the President appears to remove any necessity of claiming the center. However this path of orthodoxy only feeds the polarization of the present, long-term growth demands a broader, more inclusive stance.

Mom goes missing

The always eloquent and gracious Matthew Lee Anderson takes on the question of why pro-life focuses so exclusively on the baby. At it’s core, it is something akin to a marvel at the promise of this life, a promise which we must then honor. As noted, he is nothing if not eloquent. It is a thing of wonder — wonder, which Abraham Heschel reminds us, is at the core of our approach to the world. And in its own hidden way it also informs our politics.

Within the pro-life outlook, the hiddenness of the fetus is a microcosm of our social relations. As Gracy Olmstead observed, the Women’s March on Washington’s proclamation that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” perfectly distills the pro-lifer’s beliefs. “Defending the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized, is priority number one,” Olmstead suggests

Yet this eloquence has a blindness: the mother goes under-addressed. If the embryo presents a society in all its tentativeness, the  social setting of the mother is no less important. She is not only the bearer, but an active agent, too.  Wonder cannot negate agency. Further, there remains the question of our relationship to our bodies an the control that I may or may not exert with  respect to my body.

These are not a counter to the essay so much as limning, an edging. There is yet more to be said. In that score, the term “pro-life” is an attempt to get a more fully-orbed sense of the issues, not only that of the embryo, but of the mother, her setting, and yes, her body. To stop at the baby is to leave the topic smaller.

Gosnell and Abortion

Slowly, like a prodded beast, the media has begun to turn its attention to the Gosnell case, the infamous abortion mill that was little more than a late term abbatoir. Rather than review the entire, sorry mess of evil, let’s give this to Conor Friedersdorf. Of more interest has been the hesitancy of the media to cover this case, here the work  of Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion has played a major role (this is her latest).

Yet, prodding the media seems futile. Why do they turn down such a seemingly juicy story? Friedersdorf, again has some ideas. The best idea been that of “mushiness” — the uncertainty of the general public (and so the reader) on the question of abortion itself. No matter how the conservative would trumpet Gosnell as an exemplar of what abortion “means” the reality may be something different.

The problem with that framing is simply that most abortions take place far earlier (90 percent in the first trimester), and were one to grant the framing of Plan B as an abortifacent, then far more than 90 percent. This shift of weight to the early stages of a pregnancy certainly undergirds public experience and understanding of the issue. Ironically, then the use  of the term “abortion” to cover everything from infanticide in the Gosnell case, to birth control in Plan B undercuts potential outrage and framing of Gosnell as about “abortion.”

Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a useful note about the Evangelical love of the anti-abortion position, one he finds a bit at odds with the character of evangelical thinking itself, as he explains

It’s always fascinated me that by contrast American conservative evangelical Protestants have come to be if anything more extremist on abortion than Catholics (certainly in terms of rank-and-file opinion) without any of these factors: they do not regard Church traditions as dispositive, have been lukewarm or hostile to “natural law” as a foundation for doctrine,

He goes on to link to a very interesting article in Religious Dispatches by Jonathan Dudley. Broadly the history seems right, but then…

Speaking from the Evangelical side of the aisle, the article misses some of the major aspects of Evangelical support for anti-abortion. While Evangelicals of the South certainly framed it through their battles on civil rights (there’s a long, long history their among the S Presbyterians especially, now in Presbyterian Church of America), in the Upper Midwest, the Evangelicals were often members of immigrant based churches. Their reaction was shaped far more by the cultural battles over the ERA. There is also within these communities a large consensus on the justice side of the issue — these communions were one of the homes for the Pro-Life Democrats.

Also, within these communions, Francis Schaffer did have a pull, not because of this last film, but because of a generation of work in Europe. Many young Evangelicals found in him the first person who seemed to possess a cultural engagement. Whatever his flaws, at L’Abri he pioneered a vision of Evangelical thinking that inspired a number of evangelical and non-evangelical scholars. His film had impact because of his previous brand, as it were.

Among northern Evangelicals (well, at least in here in Michigan), the decisive push to a more radical position takes place in 1988 and Pat Robertson’s primary run. This was the contest that showed the political potency of the Right to Life, from that point on, that was the beat that the Evangelical Right had to move to (also note that the Evangelical Left, prominent in the late 70s had collapsed — another story).

Finally, we should probably also noted the impact of the change in abortion itself, from surgical to medical, and with it a shift to earlier abortions. The violence of the abortion methods in the 80s played a role in fueling the Evangelical stance. In that light, the Evangelical adoption of the metaphysical fundamentalism of the Catholics represents more a political alignment, and a lessening of the community’s early horror at the practice and with it, a concern for justice.

Holy Innocents

Today is the Commemoration of Holy Innocents, an odd sort of event, sandwiched between Christmas and the New Year. Almost sure to be forgotten.

And there’s truth to that. Nominally, the date refers to the massacre of young boys by King Herod recorded in Matt. 2:13-18 — a way to stop the salvation history unfolding outside of his control: the price of this control is to be the suffering of innocents. But then again, do we need another day to tell us what we already know about Power or Force?  Rather Holy Innocents asks us to look in a different direction, toward the themes of childhood and justice. And for Evangelicals those themes come together a little later in January, on Life Sunday(Jan 20) and the Martin Luther King commemoration (Jan 21) — Holy Innocents by another name.

That January juxtaposition like Holy Innocents today asks for a better ethical vision. It is easy to overlook the ways that we rob children of their innocence. It’s not just the massacres (or abortion), though there are more than enough, but it is also the acts of continuing of injustice, from the child soldier to the exploitation of children in the workplace. All over. Holy Innocents can seem sentimental or perhaps narrow, but it is finally about our obligations to each other and our opportunity to be a shelter, to give justice room in our poor manger.