Why “Pro-Life”?

Some long thoughts in response to two posts by the always interesting Matthew Loftus:

If Anything is Pro-Life, Nothing Is
pro-life, anti-abortion, and a consistent ethic of anything

 

There is a much stronger case to be made for the term Pro-Life than what has been argued in this and the earlier post.

Even when considered in its narrower fashion, as you have it (against the lawful yet immoral intentional killing of innocent people), “pro-life” has always understood the problem of abortion more systemically. The reasons that drive women to make this choice are often anchored in economic insecurity, lack of proper medical care, fear, hopelessness, and on occasion a moral carelessness. To say that one is “Pro-Life” is to make a claim about the woman, that she is more than the act of will, but that her life is conditioned by a host of difficulties, difficulties that if properly addressed change the calculation about the decision to end the pregnancy. In a final form, Pro-Life thinks in terms of prevention not proscription: the day after abortion is banned women will still seek abortions; unless one addresses the conditions driving the decision to abort, the law is inadequate, after the fact.

Secondly, Pro-Life is a far healthier platform than the nominalist, proscriptive approach when it comes to the changing world of bio-technology. The landscape we now face (e.g. the consideration of CRISPR technology) is radically different if faintly forecast at the time of Roe v Wade (see Leroy Augenstein’s Come Let Us Play God, 1969). Our fertility science has outrun the conventional framing of anti-abortion with cloning, in vitro fertilization, and the shift to chemical as opposed to surgical abortions. One can see the inadequacy of current approaches with the confusion over hormonal contraceptives generally, and over Plan B in particular. The questions about the boundary of life and of what it means to be human will only increase with advanced technology — we need some way of thinking holistically and redemptively about these challenges, and that I submit, is the term “Pro-Life.”

Third, there is a practical, political reason for preferring the term “Pro Life” as opposed to the more functional “anti-abortion.” Evangelicals in particular need some way of separating themselves from the partisanship of the present day, all the more when it comes to social policy and the contentiousness of issues surrounding abortion. The terms of common good and of anti-abortion prove inadequate since both reference one or the other side. Where Evangelicals desire to contribute to the public discussion on left as well as right, let alone to make critical distinctions on the right as well as the left — they need a third place to stand, a place that is their own. Pro-Life again offers such a space. It offers the possibility of engagement and critique that is holistic, systemic, and critically, that is technologically alert.

In this final framing, Pro-Life provides the robust framing for “doing good to all,” for coordinating and informing our actions. I believe that properly understood, “Pro-Life” is less a position on abortion (though that), than a way for Evangelicals to properly speak of what others mean by “common good.” It is less a stalking horse for proscription than an invitation to flourishing, a window to the Kingdom.

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A Democratic raid on the country club?

Neil Carlson on Facebook points to a Jennifer Rubin column on the possibility that so-called County-Club Republicans may be in play. Carlson goes for the heart of Rubin’s column,

“These voters want a good education system, college tuition that does not break the bank, investment in R&D, a dynamic economy (which requires trade, immigration and U.S. leadership in the world), fiscal sanity and a spirit of sensible compromise. They want the U.S. to be respected in the world and not to bask in the approval of tyrants. They don’t want the government doing everything, but they know we aren’t going back to the pre-New Deal era. They support a safety net but want programs to “work” (meaning, result in fewer impoverished people). These are people who navigate in their daily lives by persuasion and compromise, not bullying and insults. They want, in short, some semblance of civil and effective government and international leadership grounded in American values.”

He then adds a point about pro-life that should not be missed by Democrats.

Got me about pegged; add something about respect for faith and respect for life without rigid dogmatism about how policy must reflect such respect, and you’re very close.

Pro-life and concerned with building the common good: I do miss those folk, but I wonder. As a Dem, I’m not sure I want this group, but not for the political reasons one might imagine. Our nation and neighborhoods get far better when two sides can dialogue and even disagree. A discourse expands the potential set of ideas, defeats groupthink, and builds a broad consensus — a real patriotism.

In the meantime, the dangers of a small nation leadership (Make America Great, indeed!), are such that yes, Dems should pursue this group. Regarding Carlson’s point about pro-life, one of the real tragedies has been the shrinking of the pro-life base so that it becomes an ideological property than a matter of common approach. There is a world of good that could be done. In the meantime, as a Dem, welcome.

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.

Gender Selection and Abortion

Bill Vis passes along a report on video sting of abortion clinics: would thy support a gender specific abortion? The video of course, serves up its point, but with reservations.

Specifically, I can think of three:

1) Statistics do not support that any such discrimination is taking place in the United States. M/F sex ratios have slightly declined in the past 30 years from 1052/1000 to 1048/1000.

2) Sex determination takes place relatively late in a pregnancy. In terms of abortions, more than 95% of all abortions take place before that point, that is, women are aborting for other reasons, not sex selection.

3) What they do abort are special needs children. There is an important report from the liberal American Prospect on this. It notes (naturally) that some politicians who claim to be pro-life on abortion issues are quite willing to cut funding for services for special needs children. The fly in the ointment? States that have relatively low funding for services also report higher abortion rates for Down syndrome kids. You can guess how the pro-lifer in me gets rankled, so let me pull up a pro-life Republican instead:

“I’m sorry to say that a lot of my fellow pro-life people are tax-cuts-at-any-cost people,” says Bill Otto, who represents Kansas’ Ninth House District, in the rural east-central part of the state. “There are lots of people who believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. It’s really beginning to rub here. If you’re pro-life, you need to be whole life.”

Pro Life Metaphysics

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy

The metaphysics of the matter–the matter of the fertilized egg, to be specific–have to be evaluated and our ethical reflection and public policy brought into line accordingly.  Even within a liberal democracy, where our differences of opinion apparently extend even to our own minds, we must resolve the question of who will be admitted.

I’m interested in this link between metaphysical status and moral obligation. Things are messier than what apparently is assumed. First, the metaphysical status of the new life is initially not directly known; we may assume that status of the fertilized egg understood generally, but we are blind as to status of any particular egg in the woman’s womb. And this blindness as to the actual state of the developing life continues into the early weeks of the pregnancy.

This it seems raises the second question, that of the nature of the moral obligation. When is it properly and consciously assumed by the woman, that is, when does she become a moral actor? Or more generally, can I have a moral obligation which I am fundamentally and physically unable to know about?

And in turn, this brings in the State and its coercive power. Obligation to the State (i.e. public policy) properly ought to flow from what can be seen, tested or validated. This is the principle of equity. If there exists a general class of “fertilized eggs” that ought to be protected, then how do we effect the State’s gaze, this the prerequisite for any action? The blindness as to the actual state of the pregnancy in the earliest days seems to bar State action apart from the most dystopian policy. (Indeed, in reductio absurdum if we follow the logic that metaphysics must determine policy, do we not end up with the State literally in the bedroom making sure that every act of sex be seen as creating legal obligation and so justifying intrusion?)

To summarize, it is not at all clear that metaphysical status generates the practical moral, let alone legal obligations.