New York state just legalized so-called “late-term abortion”—to the applause of the Democrats in the state legislature.
To judge from the nearly universal condemnation throughout the Big Conservative media, i.e. the Big Con, pro-lifers are fit to be tied.
For sure, left-wing Democrats deserve every bit of the blame for this travesty that they’ve received. But pro-lifers, particularly those pro-lifers in the Big Con, are entitled to their own share of blame for the fact that we’ve reached the point at which the legalization of infanticide is a cause for celebration within one of America’s two national political parties.
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For decades, “conservatives” who self-identify as “pro-life” have facilitated the systematic, mass murder of the unborn by doing with respect to this subject what they do with respect to every subject:
Conservatives have framed their position in the terms selected by their opponents.
Even now, President Trump’s characterization of the Democratic Party as the party of “late-term abortion” is representative of the view of Big Con punditry. In other words, even now, pro-life conservatives insist upon identifying their opponents’ homicidal policy in terms that their opponents prefer, terms that obscure the reality—the ugly reality—of that policy.
For starters, pro-lifers invariably refer to the very act to which they object as “abortion.” Presumably, it is precisely because abortion consists in the destruction, the killing, the murder of an innocent human being—the most innocent, the most helpless of human beings—that abortion deserves our contempt.
And yet, pro-life conservatives, in their refusal to call the act of killing the unborn for what it is by instead referring to it as “abortion,” perpetuate the illusion that the unborn is fundamentally not of the same ontological and moral status as that of the rest of us who have succeeded in making it beyond the womb. Consider: When, for example, Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage and massacred 20 children and six or seven of their adult teachers at an elementary school in Connecticut a few years back, no one said that he aborted them.
When, in other words, post-natal humans are killed, everyone, irrespectively of partisan predilections, say that they were killed. When the killing in question is murderous killing, we say that such folks were murdered.
No one says that they were “aborted.”
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Medical professionals who work in hospitals, for instance, know that patients who die under their watch don’t die; they “expire.” And everyone knows that the government of their country, via its military, never kills, much less murders, its enemies’ citizens. Those deaths haven’t anything to do with killing, much less murder; they are “collateral damage.”
But these exceptions, far from undercutting the rule, confirm it: In each case, euphemisms are appropriated for the sake of veiling an ugly reality.
The term “abortion,” like the terms “expire” and “collateral damage,” serves this same function.
That those who declare their commitment to the cause of the unborn continually identify the object of their alleged contempt as “abortion” suggests one of two things: Either they aren’t thoughtful enough to recognize that the label of abortion undermines their case or they too, along with their ostensible opponents, prefer to conceal from view the true nature of the act that they profess to oppose.
The logic here is rather quite simple. To repeat what has already been said: From the vantage point of the pro-life movement, abortion is an evil to be opposed first and foremost because it consists in the unjust killing—the murder—of a human being in his or her mother’s womb. The only difference, then, between human beings who have yet to be born and those who already have been is a difference in degree, a difference in development and appearance. This sort of difference, though, is as metaphysically and morally relevant as are differences in stages of development and appearance between toddlers and the elderly:
That is to say, they are utterly irrelevant.
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This being so, if a human being within his or her mother’s womb, at whatever stage of pregnancy, is just as much a human being as a human being at any other stage of life, then the very same set of reasons that establishes the wrongness of killing the one should equally establish the wrongness of killing the other.
To put it another way, if the act of hacking to death a three year-old, 13 year-old, 53 year-old, or 93 year-old is murder, then, since a human being in the womb is just as much of a human being as his or her post-natal peers, the act of hacking to death a human being in the womb is a murderous act as well.
Both descriptively and ethically, we are dealing here with essentially one and the same type of act.
So, why, then, do those who purport to be champions of the unborn insist upon joining the champions of “a woman’s right to choose” in calling the act of killing the unborn abortion?
If the act of hacking to death a little old lady for her bingo money is murder, then so too is the act of hacking to death an unborn human being an act of murder. Conversely, if the latter is an abortion, then so too is the former.
Recently, a pro-life author writing under the pseudonym of “Bill Kilgore” argued in the pages of The Federalist that it’s high time that “pro-lifers” acknowledge that “they’re losing.” Kilgore’s argument, which meticulously documents a plethora of humiliating defeats for the pro-life movement, losses that the author links to the indistinctness of the movement’s goals, though discouraging to hear for those of us who are pro-life, is nevertheless compelling.
The problems to which Kilgore draws readers’ attention, I submit, are ultimately a function of the fundamental incoherence that lay at the very heart of the pro-lifer’s stance.
Why is “abortion” immoral?
This is the first, the most basic, of questions that Big Con pro-lifers must revisit.
While they’re at it, though, they should follow it up with a second:
Why, after the better part of a half-of-a-century, is it imperative for pro-lifers to revisit the first?
Jack Kerwick [send him mail] received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture.