Fade to Center

While the religious right broadens its campaign to undermine reproductive freedom, what’s left of the left prefers to repeat history.

By Kathryn Joyce

Commercial: Cameras open on a young father (Caucasian or light-skinned Latino; attractive but not handsome: an Average Guy) sitting in the driver’s seat of a well-kept car parked in the lot of a suburban pharmacy. The father wears a work shirt (the Honest Working Poor) and seems tired but affable as he turns to smile at his baby, strapped in a car seat in the back. The father checks his watch, then turns to look at the pharmacy doors. Cut to inside the store, where the young mother (pretty, modestly dressed) stands cowed before a white-coated pharmacist who shakes his finger at her in slow motion. The woman’s shoulders slump and she stares at a piece of white paper, her prescription, in his hands.

Cut to car, where Father looks up expectantly from Baby as a distressed Mother opens the door and gets in. Father’s face registers concern, then anger, then defeat as he listens to Mother explain. Both parents look up as the pharmacy lights go out and an employee locks the front door. Father checks his watch. Baby starts to cry.

Are you moved? Compared with opinions you may have held before, how do you feel now about a situation in which a woman is denied a birth control prescription because of the beliefs of the pharmacist on duty? What, if any, is the pharmacist’s transgression: hampering a woman’s freedom to control her reproductive decisions? Or violating the sanctity of marriage and family by interfering with private decisions? Which is more important?

Which character, if any, was more sympathetic? Would you feel the same way if the woman had instead been a teenage blonde wearing expensive, revealing clothes? Or a tattooed woman in a T-shirt that declared “No Blood For Oil”? Or a young black woman in a midriff-baring shirt with two kids in tow?

Please answer honestly. Your responses will help determine how, and to what extent, the pro-choice movement will defend women’s reproductive rights.


That commercial hasn’t been made yet. But it, or a number of variations on the same victimized good woman theme, have been proposed in the past month, since mainstream media discovered the “pharmacists’ rights” movement — the growing phenomenon of pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control because they consider it a form of abortion — and progressive pundits launched into earnest discussion on the precarious balance of rights between religious freedom and a woman’s autonomy over her own body.

Last month, The Washington Post ran a front-page story on the subject by Rob Stein. Though there was little in Stein’s article that wasn’t covered in greater depth in Caroline Bollinger’s Prevention article last August, his report was probably the highest profile yet given to the issue. Until recently, it was a grassroots-level controversy, garnering the attention of few outside the medical, pro-life or pro-choice communities. Then, last fall, a Catholic pharmacist in Wisconsin named Neil Noesen came under disciplinary review by the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing for refusing to fill a college woman’s birth control prescription at a K-Mart in 2002.

Noesen became the poster-child for the growing number of doctors and pharmacists who believe that “the Pill” is an abortifacient that causes thousands of “silent” or “chemical” abortions each year. Contrary to the opinions of all major medical associations in the country, which define pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg into the wall of the uterus, these medical workers and groups associated with the cause believe that pregnancy begins at fertilization. Birth control pills suppress ovulation; in rare cases a woman’s egg may still be fertilized. The fertilized egg could fail to attach itself to the hormonally altered wall of the uterus, but there’s no evidence of this ever actually happening. Still, many anti-Pill groups cite a paper written by Salt Lake City doctor Joseph B. Stanford, published in the Archives of Family Medicine in February, 2000, on the “post-fertilization effect”: the hypothetical failed-implantations anti-Pill groups call “silent abortions.”

When Noesen was presented with student Amanda Phiede’s birth control prescription in 2002, he asked whether she intended to use the medication for contraception. When Phiede answered yes, Noesen refused to fill the prescription. He also refused to transfer it to another pharmacist willing to fill it, or to return the prescription to Phiede, and he neglected to instruct Phiede that she could try to have her prescription filled at a different K-Mart or at a hospital emergency room. For these refusals, Wisconsin’s Department of Regulation and Licensing filed a complaint against Noesen, charging him with unprofessional conduct for putting Phiede in harm’s way and imposing upon her the risk of pregnancy by refusing to transfer the prescription.

Neil Noesen

The case caused a small media flurry at the time, but one muted by the fact that the rules by which Noesen would be judged were far from clear. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) supports the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense medications to which they have moral objections, so long as they advise patients on other ways to obtain their medicine. The former director of Wisconsin’s Pharmacy Internship Board, Paul Rosowski, testified at Noesen’s hearing that only Noesen’s failure to direct Phiede to an emergency room constituted a dereliction of duty.

But the APhA standards aren’t legally binding. They function more as a set of compromise guidelines for accommodating both a pharmacist’s beliefs and a patient’s needs. Noesen had such an arrangement with his temporary employers at K-Mart, who’d told him upon his hiring that his objections weren’t a problem and that another pharmacist would be on hand to fill the prescriptions he would not. But in his testimony, Noesen didn’t focus on his arrangement with K-Mart, or the company’s failure to provide the promised back-up. Rather, he talked about his religious beliefs. Contraceptives, he said, are “intrinsically evil”; transferring Phiede’s prescription would have amounted to “inducing another to sin.”

Anti-Pill activist groups such as Pharmacists for Life, One More Soul, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists argued that not only was Noesen in the right, but that any private company that refused to hire or attempted to fire such a pro-life pharmacist would be guilty of workplace discrimination against an employee’s religious or moral beliefs: the onus of burden for accommodating both the customer’s needs and the pharmacist’s objection could fall on the customer or the store, but never on the pharmacist, whose beliefs had to be the first consideration. In response to suggestions that objecting pharmacists should find another line of work, the groups argue that they shouldn’t have to choose between their beliefs and their careers.

Noesen’s lawyer, Krystal Williams-Oby, also argued throughout the trial that any punishment of Noesen would violate his First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religious objection, but her technical case was that since there is no Wisconsin state law or policy concerning pharmacists’ conscientious objections to filling prescriptions, there was no clear guideline that Noesen could have breached.

That’s been steadily changing, though, and largely in favor of the anti-Pill side: the publicity around Noesen’s case helped prompt pro-life groups to introduce a “Pharmacists Conscience Clause Bill” to the Wisconsin legislature, similar to bills recently proposed in at least 26 states and laws already passed in three, which allow any health care worker or institution to refuse to provide services — such as abortion or birth control — that they object to on religious, moral or legal grounds. Last November, Congress passed an institutional conscience clause — called both the “Weldon Amendment” and “The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act,” it was surreptitiously added to a 1,000-page “must-pass” omnibus spending bill the night before it came up for a vote — which allowed any health care entity, including insurance companies and corporate health management organizations (HMOs), to refuse to provide or pay for abortion services, information or referrals on moral grounds.

Up until last month, most of these developments were relegated to the back pages. But after Stein’s article, the issue went mainstream — as if all that was needed to stir the press and galvanize the left was the promise that this was the next big fight. Network news covered the story, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich swiftly approved an emergency rule requiring pharmacies to fill all legal birth control prescriptions “without delay, hassle or lectures.” The New York Times editorialized against the audacity of such over-the-counter moralizing. Arizona governor Janet Napolitano vetoed a conscience clause; California and two other states have proposed bills requiring pharmacies (not pharmacists) to fill all legal prescriptions; and Democratic senators and representatives have introduced federal bills along the same lines. NARAL seized the moment with massive new petition drives. And the “left,” broadly speaking, split its reaction between wheeling indignation; stern calls to stay on task and craft the right message from the story; and the giddy work-shopping of story boards for the killer ads that could be made out of this.

And yet, some liberal writers, such as Amy Sullivan of The Washington Monthly, were wary of the emotionalism raised by the story, and transferred that skepticism to the issue itself, suggesting that it might be a matter of a few, rare injustices falsely whipped up into melodramatic controversy. I disagree with Sullivan’s perspective, a variation on the new Democratic line espoused by pro-choice advocates from Francis Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice — who denounced the “triumphalism” of pro-choicers flaunting their right with “I had an abortion” T-shirts, and urged the movement to talk more about the tragedies that necessitate abortion — to Hillary Clinton — who’s recently called for finding “common ground” with pro-lifers and is sponsoring the “Prevention First Act” (advertised by NARAL in the conservative Weekly Standard as a way to stop abortions) — that “defends” abortion rights by denouncing the scourge of abortion and arguing that liberalism is better at preventing them. But Sullivan’s conclusion, that this problem is largely hype, is an understandable miscalculation, given that this mounting movement has only existed in the margins of the press.

In contrast to Sullivan’s skepticism is the open delight of liberal strategists who see the story as PR-dream come true: a scandal of encroachments on the very institutions conservatives claim to hold dear, such as personal freedom and the sacrosanct privacy of family and marriage. A real gotcha. This, at last, goes the thinking, could sway a number of middle-of-the-road voters.

Such a take came from Russ Baker on Tom Paine.com. Baker counsels pro-choice advocates to further develop this issue in the framework of “Who’s doing more to prevent abortions?” He also urges pro-choicers to publicize the overreach of their opponents with “simple ads” that stress how anti-Pill groups are attacking society’s most fundamental relationships — “Husband & Wife” and “Patient & Doctor” — with emotional visuals that depict victimized women wandering the streets after having their prescription denied.

“We’ll know we’re on the right track,” writes Baker, “when zinger TV ads air that express our views…. Social issues aren’t just for mobilizing fanatics anymore. They’re for recapturing the moral high ground and bringing it back where it belongs: with the sane, the reasonable, the decent and the fair.”

For pro-choicers, that might seem, at first blush, like sound strategy. Show the public how average folk will be affected by this. Work moderates’ sensibility with appeals to their pity — see this good woman made desperate? Hasn’t she suffered enough? Doesn’t she deserve a break? — or their territoriality — Who’s this pharmacist to come between a man and his wife? Just get the focus off those brazen abortion T-shirts and show how this issue is about everyday people. Not fanatics from either side.

Compared with this sort of giddy strategizing, I prefer blunt, name-calling outrage, or even the blinkered nay-saying of those hesitant to acknowledge the threat for fear of coming across as reactionary leftists, immoderate. Outrage can burn itself out, and tactical skepticism can leave people blind to real danger.

But neither gives me the same sense of vertigo that comes from watching people unfazed by history rushing to repeat it.


Here’s another zinger commercial. It ran in Arkansas in 1986 as part of a National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) ad campaign created to combat a popular anti-abortion bill after a series of focus group sessions with conservative voters who opposed abortion, but were sympathetic to rape victims as “sexual innocents” and, more importantly, were hostile to the thought of government intrusion in family affairs. The NARAL commercial showed a chaste young schoolgirl walking home with her books, then sobbing in her mother’s arms, and then cut to a photo montage of the trusted authority figures in the girl’s life — her father, her mother, a kindly old doctor — who no longer had any control over whether the girl could obtain an abortion. A male voice narrated: “‘Imagine, your fourteen-year-old child, your own sweet daughter, is raped and pregnant…. Imagine, too, the government says they’ll make the decision. Never mind the circumstances. You, your doctor, your preacher, your daughter have no say in this personal, private tragedy.'” Zing. It worked. The bill failed. But not without a cost: It was no accident that, in the list of those who ought to have a say, the daughter came last.

In Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, William Saletan describes how in 1973, Roe v. Wade created overnight “a nationwide regime of abortion rights for which no consensus had been built.” Only four states had previously allowed abortion, and especially in conservative states, there was little sympathy for feminism and the idea that a woman was entitled, and had the moral capacity, to make her own reproductive decisions.

As pro-life opposition began mobilizing in earnest in the South and Midwest, pro-choice groups tried to broaden the appeal of their argument to win the support of voters who were hostile to feminism. In the early 1980s, arguing for abortion as a woman’s right would likely alienate conservative southern men who, at best, could care less about women’s liberation, so a number of pro-choice groups, namely NARAL, reframed the debate as a matter of decision-making and power. The argument wasn’t about abortion; it was about protecting individual choice from Big Government interference, and the “right to choose” was sold as a matter of protecting private family decision-making from outside coercion.

This was powerful code, especially in the South, where the slap of forced integration still stung. NARAL and other pro-choice strategists tapped that resentment with their deliberately vague battle cry: “Who Decides — You or Them?” Some feminist groups protested the strategy, arguing instead for a more ideologically pure campaign that stressed women’s rights and competency to make their own reproductive decisions. “Trust Women,” was the slogan they suggested, but it was quickly shot down by pragmatists in the movement who claimed — and were probably correct — that associating abortion rights with feminism or the sexual revolution would be the quickest route to defeat. Roe was on the line, said the pragmatists; this wasn’t the time to fight for women’s lib.

And so “Who Decides?” became the winning slogan. In its ambiguity, the mantra was nearly invincible: “you” could be anyone, a blank slate representing any voter as the one who should decide. “Them” was similarly broad: a nefarious bogeyman without qualities that could stand in for any beholder’s fears. It traded on peoples’ existing beliefs and grudges without seeming to threaten gender roles or the status quo. It worked precisely because it was empty of any meaning. For a while.

Pro-life activists learned from their defeats, and soon responded to “right to choose” rhetoric by focusing their campaigns on the “rights” of those secondary parties first courted by NARAL: A “parent’s right to be consulted,” “a husband’s or boyfriend’s right to have a say,” and “a taxpayer’s right not to pay for an abortion.” “The weights of these rights tilted the seesaw in their favor,” writes Saletan, “leaving the woman suspended in the air. What would defeat the abortion rights movement wasn’t the right to life but the pro-family, anti-government version of the right to choose.”

A pro-life version of the “right to choose” had existed since 1973, when the first in a long list of state and federal conscience clauses was passed, starting with the federal Church Amendment, which gave individuals and medical facilities the right to decline to provide abortion or sterilization procedures because of their moral or ethical beliefs. States legislatures quickly followed suit, and today, 46 states grant conscientious exemptions for doctors who are morally opposed to abortion, excusing them from performing or training for the procedure.

When many of these bills were passed, they were aimed at “pervasively sectarian” institutions like Catholic hospitals, where patients could probably expect to find limited services. But the rise in managed and corporate health care since the 1980s, as well as the large number of hospital mergers (pdf file) between Catholic and non-Catholic institutions in the ’90s, has restricted patients’ options and shifted the burden of accommodating conscience clauses to them. Still, most recent legislation doesn’t consider this growing burden on patients, instead emphasizing further expansions of refusal rights, such as a provision attached to the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which extended the right of refusal to health care insurers.

Part of the problem is that there’s no clear constitutional precedent for determining this balance of competing “rights.” Proponents of broad conscience clauses argue that the exemptions are a legal right based on the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom: the religious right to refuse providing certain reproductive services trumping a woman’s right to obtain them. But the Constitution gives no definitive answer: Refusal clauses function to provide exceptions to the rules, exemptions from duty, but these exemptions are neither mandated nor forbidden by either of the First Amendment’s religious freedom clauses, the Free Exercise Clause or the Establishment Clause. The Free Exercise Clause protects religious expression, but has not been interpreted to exempt individuals from following laws simply because they conflict with one’s religious beliefs. It does not, concluded the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project in its study of the issue, make “each conscience…a law unto itself.” Conversely, while some pro-choice advocates have challenged refusal clauses under the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another, by claiming that the clauses give certain religious groups special privileges of refusal not granted to others, the Supreme Court has held that the clause allows for broad religious exemptions.

Compounding the ambiguity of the debate is the fact that women do not have a federal constitutional right to receive health care or insurance from any given institution. The ACLU study proposes a compromise solution that considers the burden placed on people who do not share the conscientious objector’s religious beliefs — in the ACLU equation: the lesser the burden, the more acceptable the exemption — as well as whether the exemption protects individuals and pervasively religious institutions (i.e., Catholic hospitals), or rather public institutions with weaker ties to a specific church or religion. The ACLU argued that exemptions for individuals and religious institutions were more acceptable than those for institutions that existed, foremost, in the secular world.

But with the rise of HMOs and a fresh wave of conscience clauses created in the ’90s in anticipation of President Clinton’s universal health care proposal, distinctions such as those proposed by the ACLU study are difficult to make. In this light, the expansion of conscience clause eligibility in last year’s Weldon Amendment was a logical next step for anti-abortion activists: expanding the right of conscientious refusal — and the definition of what type of entity can be qualified as having a conscience — from an individual or a religious institution to any health care entity claiming moral objections to abortion, including nonreligious hospitals, clinics, health insurance companies and HMOs.

Though the aim of the bill was to effect institutions, anti-abortion groups, such as the National Right to Life Committee, lauded it in the press as a just protection of health-care workers’ rights in response to “an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions.” They mocked abortion rights advocates who opposed the bill for claiming to be “pro-choice” even as they opposed unwilling institutions’ choice to refuse abortions. “The champions of ‘choice’ worked to deny the choice of health-care providers to choose not to perform abortion,” said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Here’s more evidence that ‘pro-choice’ really does mean ‘pro-abortion.'”

According to the USCCB, the new measure was necessary because non-religious hospitals in New Jersey, Alaska and New Mexico had already suffered the kind of financial discrimination for their pro-life policies that the Weldon Amendment would prohibit.

Who were these besieged health care workers being forced to violate their consciences? In New Jersey, it was a public clinic that merged with a Catholic hospital and agreed to stop providing abortions but was ordered by a court to establish a trust fund for patients who sought sterilizations, abortions or related referrals that would no longer be available from the clinic. In Palmer, Alaska, it was a group of religious conservatives elected to a local hospital board that voted to end abortion services and were subsequently sued by an obstetrician-gynecologist who performed abortions at the hospital, and wished to continue. In New Mexico, it was a county commissioner who altered a public hospital’s long-term lease agreement to limit abortion as “a method of birth control,” and whose inserted clause was later ruled unconstitutional by the state finance board.

Abortion rights advocates decried the legislation as a sneaky attack on Roe v. Wade that went well beyond the “conscience clause” it had first been advertised as. It employed such a vague definition of discrimination that it could be used against any federal, state, or local government that tried to ensure basic reproductive health services to its citizens, argued House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; though she tempered her protest by emphasizing her support for prior conscience clauses as an important protection of the religious freedom of Catholics. But the new provision wasn’t playing by the rules: it didn’t mention religion at all.

In a press statement, Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt also argued that the bill wasn’t about religious freedom. Besides, she said, it was unnecessary: There was no law that required health care providers to perform abortions. The situation just wasn’t what the pro-life groups said it was.

Pro-choice groups like NARAL seemed to sputter, like Pelosi and Feldt, with disbelief: How could Congress pass an amendment violating the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship? If pro-life groups were arguing for a doctor’s choice, how could they support a bill that would take it away? How could they use such disingenuous rhetoric as coercion, discrimination, protection, freedom, rights and choice when they were really furthering a specific ideology the whole time?

It must have seemed a bitter irony to veterans of the pro-choice movement, watching their old strategic language come full circle and be used against them. But a yet harsher pill to swallow was the response given by Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the pro-life group National Right to Life. Regarding NARAL’s charge that the Weldon Amendment would limit the freedom of doctors who support abortion rights, Johnson’s answer was a shockingly cold abandonment of the rhetoric that shaped and promoted the bill: he dismissed all concerns about constraints or coercion of pro-choice doctors as a matter that could be handled by the free market. “‘An employer can set its policies,'” he said, “‘and that means that a doctor can go work elsewhere if he doesn’t like that policy.'”

With pro-life exemptions newly secured for all health care entities, Johnson candidly dropped the rhetoric that health care workers shouldn’t have to choose between following their beliefs and keeping their jobs. In the private sector, pro-choice doctors would have the same options as anyone else: They could accept the new terms of their jobs, or leave. Business is business, after all. You see, unlike the left, which has struggled for 30 years to disguise what it was fighting for to the point where it seems not to remember itself, Johnson and the pro-life movement never forgot the ultimate goal their adopted rhetoric served.


That’s the long slice of history I think of when I hear proposals like Russ Baker’s commercial; a long series of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, redefinitions, reclaimings of language and terms of the debate, and clever plans for winning the fight not by changing people’s minds, but by changing what we’re willing to fight for to meet those minds wherever they are. Then and now, it boils down to the same thing: selling a women’s right to abortion has gone hand-in-hand with selling out the basic belief that women are morally complex beings who should be trusted to control their own bodies.

But maybe it’ll work this time? There’s a special weariness I feel, reading the punditry of amateur centrist-Democratic strategists fond of telling liberals which of their principles or issues can be saved — are politically viable — and which must be sacrificed for the greater good. This fatigue is matched by hearing grown-up Democratic strategists and politicians following the same jaded game-plan. It’s not just the soul-sadness of seeing a young generation of would-be players who have already traded a sense of justice for the perceived maturity of practicality, or more bluntly, ideals for ambition, but the more general anemia of moral imagination that presupposes the worst in people, and thus guarantees that the worst is what they’ll receive; the self-reflexive, and self-fulfilling, assumption that, because they aren’t willing to take a risk over mere questions of right and wrong, over beliefs, no one else can be capable of such a leap of faith.

Or if not faith, how about educated change of mind? As Garret Keizer argued in Mother Jones, the left has abandoned its best weapon: its “dogged willingness to teach; to raise consciousness.” It’s the same slow, slogging task of public education that birthed unions, women’s liberation, and civil rights. It meets people where they are, yes, but in order to show the connections between personal experience and the larger fight, not to confirm popular prejudices and wallow in the status quo. For those who doubt that “the American public” is capable of listening and learning, of coming to a conviction based on something more than gut-level reaction, Keizer offers the cautionary tale of his visit to a large, conservative evangelical church, where the poor congregation took notes throughout their pastor’s presentation, as not long ago, they might have paid attention to labor leaders or other witnesses for the left: proof positive to him that the will to learn is still there, but also that the populist teachers have changed.

Convincing people that women should have a right to control their reproductive decisions — not just a vague, rhetorical right “to choose,” but the right to an abortion and birth control, as they say, “on demand” — will take a long, frustrating time. Arguing for abortion as a woman’s right, and not the product and privilege of tragic circumstance that needs to be stopped, will not be a convenient position in an election year, but a lot of election years have come and gone since 1973, and all the half-measure defenses used instead have led to where we are now: not such a long way at all from the nation that first bristled at Roe v. Wade. We’ve put off the real work for long enough, and now it’s time to begin. The right to choose is the right to abortion, birth control and bodily self-determination. So stop squirming when pro-lifers say it, and start telling people why it’s a worthwhile thing. If reproductive freedom is to survive as anything more than an empty slogan, that’s the only choice we have. If we believe what we say, it’s the only one we need.

Kathryn Joyce is managing editor of The Revealer.

39 thoughts on “Fade to Center

  1. burke

    Nice job, Kathryn.
    It seems that in addition to the political maneuvering you mention above, conservatives have been tremendously successful of late in defining when “life” begins.
    Particular conservative arguments: that fertilizaton=life, therefore, abortion=murder, are predicated on the belief that the entity within the mother’s body is a “life” worthy of protection.
    All talk of women’s reproductive rights, then, can be easily trumped by the moral indignation that attends homicide.
    We see this not only in abortion debates, but also when conservatives talk about euthanasia (cf. schiavo).
    In recent years, conservative bioethicists have grown more sophisticated in their learning and their approach. Meanwhile, the left doesn’t talk about “life” it talks about “choice,” which can lead to their characterization as selfish, morally repugnant relativists.
    When ID theorists started cropping up, slowly, but surely less ideologically bent scientists took them to task, and demonstrated that the ID’ers propositions are not scientifically valid. To some extent, I have seen this work here in the conservative middle of Pennsylvania.
    Liberals and women’s rights groups can learn from this. They are never going to “win” so long as they let conservatives define “life.” There is a host of scientific evidence available for countering the notion that a fertilized egg represents a human being. People should hear it.

  2. jeffy3000

    Ms. Joyce is correct, women have to stand up for their rights. Where are the women picketing the K-Mart? Where are the women blockading big box non-denom Nuremberg arm waving churches that want culture of rape hegemony over our society’s values? I think women are going to have to fight very hard to keep contraception, let alone abortion, because authoritarian rhetoric has already claimed so much of the high ground. Ms. Joyce is correct to say the institutions supporting women’s rights have debated around the core value. What is really disturbing is that many women, including my lawyer step-sister, who have been denied having their contraception prescriptions filled, still support the politics of conservatism, leaving them at the mercy of scum like Noesen.
    Birth control and abortion opposition need to be debated, not with the ‘I feel your pain’ style of the milk toast Kerry and advocated by Ms. Sullivan, but with a strong ‘talk to the hand’ style which frames the debate as one of enforcing belief on others with state police powers. Since no one forces abortion or contraception on anyone, the debate should never veer from the fact that the culture of rape wants to MAKE women NOT have abortions. Making a woman not have an abortion is morally equivalent to making her have one. The pro-choice establishment needs to keep repeating this fact over and over.

  3. Bob Smietana

    You’ve made a very cogent and forceful argument here. “Reproductive freedom” as you’ve defined the prochoice establishment you’ve defined it is not going to continue without a fight. And it’s not just against conservatives.
    Whether you agree or not, there is a large segment of American society that sees a fetus as a developing human being. That’s how a fetus is described in embryology texts for medical students, and how it is often commonly understood. Is it a being with the same rights as it’s mother. People disagree on the moral status, but only a minority believe that ending that life is morally nuetral, or in the case of the makers of the “I had an abortion” t-shirts, something to be celebrated.
    The dilemna for the choice movement will be whether the best way to ensure reproductive freedom is to wage a take no prisoners battle to maintain unrestricted access to abortion and birth control or to find ways to compromise and accept some restrictions as the price of being in a pluralistic society.
    There are risks on both sides, but a take no prisoners approach by pro choice groups and a take no prisoners approach by prolife groups will end up with a winner and a loser. Is that risk worth it, in your eyes?

  4. danhq

    re: abortion, 1 thought:
    — the question “when does life begin?” will always be the ultimate question for abortion foes and supporters. how one answers that question determines where one stands on the issue. unfortunately this is a purely metaphysical question; for those who are dualists, the physical component of life is only half of the equation (ie. the fertilized egg) and the spiritual component is too difficult to place in the development of the baby. when does the body receive a soul? nobody knows. to ‘play it safe’ the most conservative say ‘at conception.’ we cannot discount this position because, as i said before, nobody knows. this is something we can never know, and so the ‘believers’ will always, always be against abortion (the most conservative, all forms of birth control). what we will know someday however, is what a developing baby thinks, feels, and experiences. this is scientifically and medically feasible, and i think this is what will ultimately decide the fate of legal abortion. at some point in the future i believe society will look back at (especially mid and late-term) abortion as a lamentable consequence of scientific and medical ignorance. my hope is it will one day take its place next to ice-pick lobotomies and fever-bleedings as a barbaric relic of a medically unsophisticated age.

  5. jeffy3000

    In a pluralistic society disparate parties must be allowed to practice reproductive freedom without interference from either party. The party who believes their embryo is a human being is allowed to be pregnant and give birth. The party who believes the joining of two gametes is the cause of cancer, SHOULD be allowed to terminate the zygote and prevent undesired pregnancy. Each party’s belief is legitimate, yet because of the particular time we live, one is given moral value over the other because of a majority. Pluralism means learning to tolerate behavior and institutons not acceptable to the majority.
    In the future, it is not unimaginable to think over population will become a problem and not unreasonable to think people’s beliefs about reproductive rights will change. I wonder if Mr. Smietana would then accept the majority’s decision to restrict all reproduction and force people to have abortions against their will, and call it a compromise if women are allowed to have only one child. Turn the tables on authoritarians who encourage the culture of rape and show how a lack of true reproductive freedom for women can be used under different circumstances.
    The most interesting thing about the future is that the same type of people sitting on the fertility boards are just like the authoritarian religious and political leaders of the present who want to prevent birth control and abortion. It does not really matter what the issue is, control is what these people desire.

  6. Jeff Sharlet

    Bob Smietana’s argument that a growing number of people, now or soon to be a majority, believe that a fetus is a human being (actually, Bob says “developing human being” — which is it?) with all the attendent rights, is ironic in that it thoroughly undermines any religious case against abortion.
    There is nothing more humanist than the idea of “rights”; they are human-made, and many of the fundamental rights we as Americans believe in are at odds with scripture (show me the biblical case for free speech; or, for that matter, for the right to bear arms). If we decide based on rights, then, and we say that the fetus is something called a “developing human being,” we have to guide us only the conflicting rights of this “developing human being” and the developed human being bearing it.
    The majoritarian argument is even more defiant of scripture, and of rights, and of the tradition of American history. The religious right — of which Bob is not a part — is lately giddy with the prospect of a majority it can use to bludgeon the minority — an irony, given that the religious freedom of the very same Christian conservatives, long a minority, is based not on majority rule but on those rights crafted — and maintained — by fully developed human beings.

  7. Idi

    I would like to thank Ms. Joyce and The Revealer for continuing to write about this issue. When I first read about it in Prevention Magazine I was appalled at the gall of Mr. Noesen, but had no idea it was going to become a national issue with governors issuing edicts preventing pharmicists from exercising provincial power and state legislatures passing laws codifying pharmicists’ moral superiority. America’s incongruence originates from religious and political leaders who use emotional moral issues, best left for individual contemplation, to manipulate the electorate into imposing their majority values.

  8. bob smietana

    We’ll have to disagree about whether my argument undermines any religious objections to abortions. I don’t think it does–certainly calling a fetus a developing human being doesn’t mean it’s not a human being, just that it’s developing. By human being I mean a distinct human organism, and killing that human organism is not morally nuetral. Killing them by the millions is not morally nuetral. You can make an argument that it is sometimes permissible, but not morally nuetral.
    Trying to stop, or at least limit, the termination of million of developing human beings is what motivates the majority religious right — not some culture of rape or desire to crush a minority of human beings’s rights. The “right” to abortion and reproductive freedom is one things. The current practice of abortion, about 1 in 5 practices, is another. All I was trying to say is that for those of the left–by refusing any restrictions on abortion practice or and refusing to accept limit on the practice, the “right to abortion” will likely be taken away completely

  9. Doctor Science

    Bob wrote:
    Trying to stop, or at least limit, the termination of million of developing human beings is what motivates the majority religious right — not some culture of rape or desire to crush a minority of human beings’s rights.
    I believe you are mistaken. If the “majority religious right” were really, truly focused on stopping or limiting abortion, they would be in favor of birth control: of it being available to any woman, and of her and her partners being expected to use it. If you compare the abortion rate in different countries, it has almost nothing to do with whether abortion is legal or not. What the abortion rate tracks is limitation on *other* forms of birth control.
    If you’re not pro-birth control, you are *in practice* encouraging abortion, whether you like it or not.
    The struggle against abortion is not an attempt to “to crush a minority of human beings’s rights” — it is an attempt to crush the rights of the majority — that is, women. It is about keeping women in our place, aware of our value — which is just equal to that of a single fertilized egg cell.

  10. bob smietana

    Dr. Science,
    I’m not anti-birth control; but, if I read it correctly, this piece isn’t just about birth control. I may be mistaken, but both the piece and the comments seem to speak to the broader question of reproductive freedom. I’d differ from Kathryn, in believing that there’s room for both the religious freedom for pharmacists and for the rights of patients to be safeguarded.

  11. FCL

    Mr., Sharlet,
    The notion of rights in no way negates the religious argument against abortion. The notion of rights, God-given, is deeply embedded in Scripture. You want a Biblical case for free speech? Why not turn to Luke 9:51-55? In it Jesus and His disciples are faced with Samaritan opposition and he rebukes the disciples for asking Him to bring down the fire from heaven upon these Samaritans. This is but one of many examples whereby Jesus refused to infringe upon the rights of individuals, even if their choices brought dire eternal consequences. It is historically inaccurate to claim the language of rights for humanists. It was Christianity that fully developed these concepts throughout Western Civilization.
    As to the issue itself, Mr. Smietana is quite correct when he states

  12. Jeff Sharlet

    Bob — with respect, I’ll insist on the importance of language. “Developing human being” and “human being” are distinct phrases. You seem reluctant to use the latter, simply and unadorned, with regard to the fetus. Why? I don’t mean that to score a rhetorical point.
    FCL — that’s a pretty idea, but with no basis in biblical scholarship. It’s anachronistic thinking, applying contemporary notions and ideas to people of 2,000 years ago. Bad scholarship.

  13. Bunnie

    Jeff writes: “There is nothing more humanist than the idea of “rights”; they are human-made, and many of the fundamental rights we as Americans believe in are at odds with scripture (show me the biblical case for free speech; or, for that matter, for the right to bear arms).”
    I understand that some human rights are man-made. But obviously the whole western idea about individual rights comes from Scripture, right?
    I mean, in the Old Testament when God tells people they shall not murder other people (“Thou Shall Not Kill”, etc.), what is that other than the conferring of the right to life on humans?
    Or am I not getting something?

  14. YetAnotherRick

    jeffy3000 wrote:
    “…big box non-denom Nuremberg arm waving churches that want culture of rape hegemony over our society’s values?”
    Ignorance-based hostility certainly isn’t milquetoast. You could spice it up by adding “dotting the countryside like kudzu,” or adding a snake handling reference.
    “The party who believes their embryo is a human being is allowed to be pregnant and give birth.”
    At one time, slave owners might have offered a similar argument.
    Jeff, I think the term “developing human being” is a more honest description than the often offered “potential human being”.

  15. Jeff Sharlet

    With respect for Bunnie and the Hebrew Bible, that’s an inaccurate reading of history and of scripture. First, because the ten commandments are certainly not the origin of Western Civ ideas about rights; the Greeks are, or earlier.
    Secondly, because Commandments are by definition not rights. The idea of human rights is that certain rights are inalienable, inherent to humanity. Whether we agree with that idea or not, it’s not compatible with scripture, which insists that we are nothing before God. An almighty God denies the possibility of inherent rights.

  16. Jeffy3000

    by refusing any restrictions on ______ or refusing to accept limits on _______, the “right to ______” will likely be taken away completely.
    Fill in the blanks with one of these choices: Abortion, birth control, divorce, alchohol, observe Sabbath on Saturday, right to not worship, etc. Where does it stop?

  17. David Russell

    I agree strongly with your assessment of the shortsightedness of using zingers to take on such a battle. I for one was wondering why that nice husband (with cute baby in the car) didn

  18. burke

    Concern for the individual grew out of Luther, who rejected the Catholic Church’s notion of authority through tradition; of course, Luther said sola scripture (but how is that book to be interpreted?) so it’s both true and untrue-this idea of Bible-based rights.
    What is unquestionable true, whatver FCL may say, is that the Bible is not a good guide for pluralism. Yes, Jesus said a few things about caring for the sick and poor, but the entire plot of the first half of the book is about God destroying Israel’s enemies.
    For those interested in more about the connection between religion and morality, I highly recommend Princeton philosopher Jeffrey Stout’s “The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy.” Stout is not well-known outside of religion departments yet, but he soon will be.

  19. Jeff Sharlet

    The Bible surely says wonderful things about treating each other well; but that has nothing to do with rights. The rights established by the constitution were dreamed of by men who were, for the most part, “deists” at their most religious. The founders had no intention of creating a Christian nation, and certainly not a “Christian-Judeao” nation, a concept that developed in the 20th century. FCL’s reading of scripture is a little too postmodern for me.

  20. Jenny

    I disagree that “the point at which life begins” is the core of the arguement – or needs to be. It is the core of THEIR arguement. I’m prepared to concede it to them, because I really believe it is not the point.
    The feotus is not a viable life without the support of the mother for the majority of the pregnancy. The question is not whether this is a life – who knows. The question is whether a woman is obligated to support the feotus – even if it is a life.
    An ethicist I kwew put it like this:
    Imagine that a world famous pianist (insert “brain surgeon” or “pastor” as appropriate) is dying of a rare blood/lymphatic disorder. To stay alive a living donor – a perfect match – must be found who can be hooked up by tubes to suppliment the pianists blood supply. During this process which might take months, his own system will have time to recover, but the donor will have to live, sleep and breath hooked up to him for that period. Now imagine that your doctor contacts you because you are the only perfect match they can find on their database.
    Are you obliged to support this person’s life? is it murder if you refuse – knowing that the pianist will die without your support? knowing that the world will lose a rare talent because of your decision?
    The right to lifers who suggest that a woman is absolutely morally bound to undertake this exercise are rarely willing to step forward and offer a kidney or their bone marrow to the donation programs already out there, although by the analogy above by failing to do this, they are also committing murder.
    By their own arguement they have an obligation to make the physical sacrifice with their own bodies to keep another human being alive. Whatever it takes.
    It should be obvious to most that such an obligation does not exist. This is why people (with a tiny number of notable exceptions) are NOT rushing to donate their extra kidney or offer their bone marrow – although it might save a life.

  21. FCL

    Apparently Mr. Shalet has a habitual problem placing words in the mouths of others. I never said that the American founders had the intention of designing a

  22. Jeff Sharlet

    Oy, FCL, relax. You’re quite the little porcupine. And your ear for discussion — and mild sarcasam — is tin. Also, not sure why you keep calling me “secular.” Do you know something about me I don’t? It certainly isn’t my name — Sharlet, not Shalet.

  23. Joel S. Gehrke

    Perhaps it is relevant to point out the real enemy of abortion rights.
    There is embedded within the Old Testament a thematic principle which western theologians call the “Imago Dei”. The proposition that Man is a community of male and female, created in God’s image, is on the first page of Genesis.
    Restoration of the lost Eden which the defilement of that image brought is the mythology of Athanasian Christianity: the Word takes up flesh and unites with Man through the pangs of the virgin Mary. Then He redeems His family by accepting their woes on his own back. The result is a religious culture whose moral ideals are grounded in life and love. That religious culture has informed western civilzation since the Council of Nicea.
    This dogma: that all people are expressions of the Image of God, is the foundation of the principle of equal protection of the laws. Only people who define the value of a human soul in reference to a creator and redeemer God have the capacity to love and protect the weak.
    You don’t see the efflorescence of equality, the defeat of slavery, the concern for the poor, or any other impulse to equalize the strong and sustain the weak in any societies except those which subscribe to this dogma. The successes of Abolitionism, of the Allies in the Second World War, of the various 20th century civil rights movements, and of postwar feminism are all outworkings of this principle in American society.
    Any definition of human rights in terms of the convenience of people with power at the expense of the powerless is infantile, ugly, and at war with the law of love which is embodied in the Person of Jesus. Abortion is just such a value. There is no redeeming sweetness in it. It is simply and obviously revolting. Any society which respects, much less worships, Jesus is bound to reject suction curretage as a loveless, bankrupt and negative expression.
    Abortion absolutism is ugly to the point of burlesque. If a woman has a right to abort her child for any and for no reason, why shouldn’t she eat the placenta?
    What’s that you say, Cruella D’Evil? You say “Kill the puppies?” Who wants to make love with you anyway?
    Jezebel may be the Queen today. Nevertheless she is revolting. She will inevitably be thrown out the window and eaten by other dogs.
    Admittedly, many graduates of our public education system can hardly read; much less do they really understand why they are repulsed by the idea of killing in the pursuit of “happiness” defined as an endless series of inconsequential orgasms; so sure, I can understand the short term success of TV propaganda which fabricates fantasy hard case scenarios to stem the resurgence of “Life” in the hearts of young people. These ads succeed by distracting people from the baby’s blood fundamentalism which really enervates the abortion absolutist. However, this is the age of the internet. You can’t hide the pictures forever, and I strongly doubt the long term viability of the god Orgathanatos over against the power of love.
    I remember when I saw my son on an ultrasound, with my own father’s high forehead, floating arond minding his own business, feeling totally safe. Whether I had seen him or loved him or not, it was apparent that he was not simply a “potential human being”. He was then what he is now; a sweet little individual person within our family line.
    Abortion, which is death, is only viable insofar as it calls us to a divorce from any objective predicate to claim that human life has any value apart from the say so of the more powerful. Therefore it is an heretical deviation from the principle of civil rights, and it is an impossible sell in any society that values human life.
    People whose idea of a beautiful and just society involves wrapping little people like that in cellophane, and throwing them into dumpsters, will always have a very tough row to hoe. They will inevitably grow old and suffer the loss of sexual, economic and political power that aging always brings. Then they will just look ridiculous. Then they will die. Then their own bodies will be wrapped in something nonbiodegradable while they await the reward which the Lord of life has reserved for those who reject love and love death.
    I am not writing this tongue in cheek. It’s just the saddest thing in the world because the truth is that all along, God has reconciled Himself through Christ to everyone whose eyes fall on this page. It’s all SO unnecessary.

  24. Jeffy3000

    JSG has beliefs, which he is welcome to choose for himself. He believes a fetus is an actual representation of life and living. He also believes abortion kills this life. He is free to not only believe in this idea, he is free to morally challenge people who think abortion should be an available choice to women who want to terminate their pregnancies. That is where his rights end. JSG steps over the line when he wants to impose his beliefs, which he has so eloquently rationalized, upon women who do not believe the same way he does. Those women’s beliefs are just as legitimate and can be rationalized just as logically. The women who want abortions, however, are morally superior to JSG because they do not impose their beliefs on him. Women who want abortions do not want to organize and inflict their beliefs on others with political will and state police power. Why is that? Despite all the elegant prose about life and love, JSG wants to enforce his dominance over women because he is a man who thinks God has given him, man alone, the right to restore some kind of mythical lost Eden.
    I am pretty sure the slave owners were Christians, who recited the Nicene Creed and believed in their Calvinist rationale that God had already decided they were righteous. That bit about equal protection of laws, etc, didn’t quite make the slaves much better off, but the American slave owners were certain in their belief they were superior because God chose to make it that way. The biggest Freudian slip of all time must be the God made man in His Own Image line. Man made god in order to manipulate and control other men and women for his own selfish satisfaction. God creation explains the willfulness of the person exhibiting volition to the mob entrenched in a primitive provincialism. The early priests and King/Gods created mythology/theology to maintain psychological and material control over the village for their aggrandizement and amusement. That is religion’s purpose still, and those who want to make women bend to their will should be feared and ostracized.

  25. Jeff Sharlet

    Ya got me, FCL. But you still can’t spell my name, nor Gene SHALIT’s. Us Jews — our names all look alike.

  26. Joel S. Gehrke

    I am very sure that there are people who think the way you have characterized me. I agree that there are. I have seen them myself and I know that they are easy to despise. I am not one of them. I am not even a calvinist. I am a Lutheran.
    I made an argument. I said that abortion can never never last without a constant campaign of distraction and reindoctrination, because it is a heretical deviation from the dogma that Man is a creature of God consisting of male and female beings, equal in dignity, who together reflect his image. You responded by the standard feminist attack that the doctrine of Imago Dei is a doctrine which excludes women. Well, it surely did not exclude the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and whether you worhsip Mary, as do one billion Roman Catholics, or merely love and revere her memory, as does the rest of the church; or deeply respect her, as does the entire world, the prophecy is that “all generations shall call her blessed”. The Magnificat comes from Mary’s lips, not Joseph’s, and her dignity is her faith. As much as it may offend the world which hates the cross she shared with Christ, that faith is shown in the fact that she yielded her body to God’s design when she said, “Be it unto my according to thy word”, not in that she asserted her right to autonomy over against God. She is Mother Mary, not Lesbian Paratrooper Mary. That is why she is the ideal woman.
    Autonomy is simply not the value of the gospel. Love is. In fact, what makes Lucifer “Satan” in Christian theology is the fact that he prefers autonomy over sacrifical love. That motif is embedded in in every good story we tell ourselves in western culture; from Paradise Lost to Star Wars.
    Every Christian, male and female, is called to join Christ in a life of service. Therefore when you call me a generic sexist who wants just wants to put women down, you do my argument a disservice. It is not the agenda of sexism, but the call of God in baptism that the promoters of abortion have to fight, because the suffering and the kingdom and the patient endurance which are ours in Jesus is offered equally to men as to women in holy baptism.
    The teaching that slave owners used the Nicene Creed to congratulate themselves that God had decided they were righteous whatever they did is simply untrue to history. Indeed, it is not even fair to the slave owners. First, the doctrine that God has accounted you and me righteous on account of Christ is not a Calvinist doctrine. Calvinists are so wrapped up in predestination that they have no room for this truth. Furthermore, the doctrine of vicarious atonement has never been used by anyone to justify the economic or political status quo. That doctrine is the nothing other than the gospel, which teaches that God has reconciled himself to us through Christ notwithstanding the unjust world we have made.
    Consequently, there is no racial or sexual distinction in Christ. The gospel is the seminal proclamation of liberty to the captives, not slavery; and without it, there would never have been an Appomatox. Please don’t use the gospel to paste people who hate abortion as misogynists. It is simply untrue and no one serious is going to believe you.
    Thirdly, you judge that I am “morally inferior” because I want to “impose my beliefs” on others. I remind you that the United States Supreme Court struck down abortion laws in 50 states one morning in 1973 without notice or opportunity for public debate. This was a transgression of the normal process of participatory democracy, and they had to fabricate a new constitutional right to do it.
    The foundation of abortion in American is based on a decree which is akin morally akin to a Papal Bull. Before Gutenburg and Martin Luther, you could run people around by top down decrees like Unam Sanctam and Roe v. Wade. Since then, not so much.
    The campaign to promote abortion ever since has been based on a strategy to distract people from looking at abortion itself by the mantra of “choice”. This is the precise “None of your business” argument that snotty nose teenagers and heroin addicts use to get their way; and which the South used to justify slavery before the war. It makes for a good show in the short run. Some woman writes Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Bang! It all falls down. Long term, the “F— You” argument doesn’t fly. Abortion absolutism has this very problem, with or without the coercion of the law.
    When abortion was legalized in 1973, it was not holding back a massive popular consensus in favor of abortion rights. Abortion was bethought as a shameful thing to be done in back alleys, like prostitution and petty theft. It has taken a well funded concert of judicial constraint, marches, and propaganda to get people to the point where the act of choosing abortion is thought of as none of society’s business. The promoters of abortion would have never gotten even that far without censoring the facts about what abortion is, and who is affected, in tandem with sympathetic media.
    I did not say I want to impose my beliefs on others. You did. What I am saying is that abortion is so ugly that it can no longer survive by Wizard of Oz arguments like “You Calvinist Bastard”, such as you made here. That is so seventies.
    You have turned to the crowd in histrionic fashion. Sure, maybe you will whip up the readers of this blog into a concerted attack on me, personally. However, whenever it is done, you will still be left with the images of cryovac cellophane around little faces. That is what you are defending.
    Congratulations. I would rather be a “Calvinist bastard” than a soldier in the pay of Jezebel.

  27. FCL

    Maybe I’ll just call you Mr. Jeff or Professor. Perhaps during your hiatus I will revert to my Catholic upbringing and write your name 1000 times on a chalkboard to make sure I get it right. I do sincerely hope your hiatus renews and refreshes you. I also hope you can find a way to continue the work of this web site. It would be a shame if its unique and interesting perspective were silenced. All apologies to Gene Shalit

  28. Jeffy3000

    JSG, I did not call you a Calvinist bastard. I will call you a primitive provincialist. Whether abortion is legal or illegal, women will still seek it for their own personal, legitimate reasons. Abortion was performed prior to Roe v Wade. Abortion was performed legally in America for hundreds of years until people like you mobilized political will to enforce your dogma on women. In order for us to live together in peace I will not make you abort your pregnancy and you will not make me not abort mine.
    “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven,” has always been one of my favorite quotes, but Satan never said it. A poet wrote it. Mary never said, “Be it unto my according to thy word,” a male priest wrote it. “Autonomy is simply not the value of the gospel.” Autonomy adds no value to a priest’s authority, which is why it is condemned. Everything you believe was written by priests who had your subservience in mind, because they knew you would be unable to leave your mother’s breast and venture into the world boldly. They knew that if the love for your mother was venerated as divine you would be unable to resist their authority and seel self actualization. For those able to remove themselves from the infantile security of their mothers, the world is a fascinating place full of interesting people and ideas, and they hope to contribute to it.

  29. Joel S. Gehrke

    OK. The fact that I think this way shows that I am a product of a conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church to subjugate my MIND. In fact, they have probably planted one of those little electrodes in my head and they are telling me what to think right now.
    I tell you that I am a Lutheran by confession and a civil rights lawyer by vocation. I believe that Rome is a theological fraud upon the world. I pick fights with corporations, police officers, and errant authority figures for a living. My clients are overwhelmingly women.
    That is my claim. But no matter; for all you know, I am actually an abortion advocate disguised as a thoughtful Lutheran objector. Or, perhaps I am a fundamentalist zealot disguised as a thoughtful Lutheran objector; or perhaps I am a “Calvinist bastard” disguised as a “primitive provincialist”. Perhaps I just like to write. But is this the best you can do? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if you would address the argument that abortion is A. heretical with respect to the western moral ethos and B. Ugly?
    I can’t believe what you said about Mary. Do you get to simply make stuff up just because you are on a blog?
    The attribution to Mary of the words, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word” is recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Luke was a physician, not a priest, and his evangel is purportedly based on personal investigation. The historical accuracy of Luke is the overwhelming consensus of New Testament scholarship.
    Besides, the issue in this string is, “How do we make abortion acceptable to a new generation of little girls?”, not the historicity of Luke Gospel. Therefore, the issue is not whether the Blessed Virgin Mary actually said or did not say “Be it unto me according to Thy Word” in reply to the message of Gabriel that she was to bear a child whose Name is “God with us”. The point is that Mary’s “self actualization” is manifest in that she willingly yielded her body to ignominious pregnancy and the risks and pains of childbirth. The ethos of sacrificial love which she embodies has embedded itself into the ideal of universal womanhood. The point is that abortion is contrary to this ideal and most beautiful woman, and UGLY. The point is that abortion absolutists made a great tactical error in staking out abortion as a positive good instead of as a reluctant concession to a greater evil. The fact that it is verboten to discuss what abortion actually involves to this day in graphic terms without offending good manners is illustrative.
    I know what the abortion folks are doing. They are doing what you always do when you have a guilty client. You change the subject and say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Look over here”.
    I could accept abortion in the hard cases; all 10,000 of them per year. What I can’t accept is a generation of geezers which is now drunk with the blood of 40, 000, 0000 innocents, and which is now out to cannibalize its surviving offspring yet again in order to fund its Ponzi scheme for social security bennies so that it can die of obesity.
    The ideology which sacrifices children to pleasure carries its own internal self abortifacient.

  30. J-Money

    Jeffy wrote:
    “Abortion was performed legally in America for hundreds of years until people like you mobilized political will to enforce your dogma on women.”
    Uh, what? Abortion was performed legally for hundreds of years? If that is so, then why did we need Roe v. Wade at all, if abortion was already legal? I’ve reread this statement three times, and I have no idea what this means.
    Same goes for your Mary comment. Dude, what are you TALKING about? Priests wrote it, Mary didn’t say it?
    Please explain what you’re basing these statements on, or I’m going to be forced to conclude that you’re just making stuff up because JSG is cleaning your clock.

  31. Jeffy3000

    Abortion was performed in the American colonies almost from the very beginning of their establishment. I do not think there were any anti-abortion laws created until the 19th century.
    Mary never wrote anything down, just as Luke never did. Everything attributed to these legandary characters was written by males after they had died. Males who became priests in the early dogmatic Christian church.
    JSG, I have a video tape of an abortion. It is ugly. I taped and watched it just for this type of discussion. I have watched videos of birthing also, they too are ugly. I have watched videos of hip replacement, which are also ugly. Abortion is ugly. Making women bend to your belief system is uglier. You want to see something really ugly? Watch an illegal abortion performed by a sexual abuser with a coat hanger. If abortion is made illegal again young women will have to resort to this type of ugliness again. Why do you want that?
    The ugliest thing in the world is seeing a baby beaten to death. Joel Steinberg was a lawyer who encouraged women to not have abortions and instead give him the newborns so he could allegedly put them up for adoption. Lisa was one of those babies that Squire Steinberg took from the mother and kept for himself without ever legally adopting the poor child. Lisa was beaten to death by Steinberg over years of time. That is worse than ugly. That is creating Hell on Earth.
    I have stifled my urge to discuss the movie The Greatest Greatest Greatest Greatest Greatest Story Ever Told, in which Bette Midler played the Virgin Mary. I will just say I do not belive in immacualte conception and those who do suffer from what I wrote earlier about not being able to engage the world because of momism.

  32. danhq

    the primary consideration is not the ‘viability’ of life, but that metaphysical thing that gives all human life it’s existential meaning. if we have a responsibility to each other as human beings, then where does that responsibility begin? where does our ‘human-ness’ begin? how we define our humanity, where we place the soul in the timeline of development very much determines our position on this issue. i agree we can’t ‘know’ it, but what we believe about it motivates all of our attitudes towards one another.
    from the ‘pro-life’ position: if i believe that a developing baby has a soul and is therefore fully human (though not full-formed human), i am morally obligated to act in the same way i would if any other human life were endangered. certainly many on the ‘pro-life’ side are at best inconsistent and at worst flaming hypocrites, but that should not dissuade us from the ideal.
    in christian theology (CT) all human life has value because it has been created (corporate humanity) in the image of God. this is what gives us a soul, a spirit, free will, etc. beyond this point, CT teaches that we are a. foreknown by God and b. created (individual humanity) by God. it is in this creation that we are ensouled. if this theology is taken as a whole, the response must be to value all life, at every stage of development. this ultimately is the base of the ‘pro-life’ platform.
    only when the anti- and pro-choice sides truly try to understand each others’ positions will we have the sort of dialogue that will minimize the fervor with which we attack one another.

  33. Bunnie

    Abortion has, in various forms, been practiced, praised, banned and reviled for thousands of years.
    That has nothing to do with whether it’s moral or not. So I’m slightly confused as to why it’s being brought up.
    Also, can we PLEASE not revert to the Hitler equivalent of the abortion debate — “hangers-and-back-alleys” and what not? I would really appreciate a moral defense of abortion that doesn’t immediately flee to that hiding place.
    On that note, I appreciate Kathryn’s call for a transparent plea for abortion rights. As a pro-lifer, I sometimes am saddened by both sides’ catchy slogans and posturing.
    But what is missing from the pro-choice side is a comprehensive moral case for abortion rights. If you go to the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights”‘ website or read their literature, there is no equivalent to the Roman Catholic or Lutheran or Orthodox “culture of life” theology.
    Indeed, that is missing from this thread, too. And I wonder if pro-choicers notice that absence and whether it causes them to consider what it means about their moral position.

  34. Joel S. Gehrke

    Jeffy, I can see that it’s hard for you to speak to the merits of this subject by the way you return to the “hard case” scenarios to justify a policy of universal casual abortion; and then by the way you advert to my views in terms of some psychological affliction instead of ADDRESSING the presupposition which has produced them. All you proaborts, listen up. THIS IS WHY YOU ARE LOSING THE DEBATE.
    To date, the abortion movement has staked its legitimacy on hard case rationales which do not support an unfettered abortion right. Since 1973, it has maintained hegemony over the dialogue by changing the subject to the issue of “choice” and ridiculing dissent; by censoring the facts about abortion and impugning the mental health of people who want to consider those facts. It’s so desperate.
    You continue to attempt to justify an absolute right to casual abortion by the spectre of back alley abortions in cases of pregnancies caused by sexual abuse. Again, that is so seventies. Again I say again, (this is twice now): I am willing to accept a compromise that would condone “legal, safe, and rare” abortions in such instances. Again I say, there are perhaps a few thousand such cases every year. Again I ask: What do you say about 40 million abortions performed for the sake of convenience since 1973?
    Again I say, again (and this IS the third time): The point is not whether your unique views of the origins of Christianity are historically accurate. (News flash: They are not. Granted, they may sound scholarly. They may be getting you laid at symposia. They are also quite untenable as a matter of New Testament scholarship). The issue is, “How are you going to displace the ethos of maternal love, which you disparage as “Momism”, with this religion I call “Orgethanatos” in default of the more descriptive Saxon terms which come to mind?
    The question presented here was how to preserve abortion rights. This is all I am saying, and I would say this if I were hired as a consultant to the NOW: You are never going to sell absolute abortion rights in terms of the social “good” of radical sexual freedom, because the opportunity to go out and screw your brains out every night without any social consequence simply has no place in the scale of values which the people of this nation hold in their hearts. Universal abortion as a social good is like condoms-growing-on-trees-on-an-island-of-Swedish-bikini-models is a social good. It is a 14 year old’s fantasy vision that has no place for most real life men, women or children. Especially women. Besides, have you seen any circa 1969 movies lately? The sexual revolution is not even sexy anymore.
    Speaking of “sexy”, here is the real divina comedia: The Blessed Virgin Mother of God has it all over on your Baal priestesses of “reproductive freedom” to this very day. Pamela Anderson, the antiMarian ideal, actually contracted hepatitis-B from Tommy What’s-His-Name. How tragically ironic.
    Who is the real beneficiary of Blessed Pam’s sexual freedom, and who is paying the price? The same party who always foots the the bill in any sexual revolution; the woman. Conclusion: All this “right to abortion” stuff is just a conspiracy by geeky white males to get laid.
    You accuse me of “Momism”. When I look at a woman, any woman, whatever her station, I try to see a sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sometimes I have to squint. But who would you rather have for a son in law, someone who sees women the way I do, or Tommy What’s His Name?

  35. Jeffy3000

    Having an unwanted child is immoral. Having an unplanned child is unethical. Preventing a woman from having an abortion is immoral. Making a woman have an abortion is immoral. Interfering with a woman’s right to reproductive freedom is immoral. Abortion is a rights issue not a moral issue. If a majority can make a woman not have an abortion, then the majority can make a woman have an abortion. Logic cuts both ways on this issue, unless inherent reproductive rights belong to the individual.
    Belief the embryo embodies a cherished soul or is a developing human being or a human being is not true. It is simply a belief. The women who have had abortions do not believe it. It is immoral to impose your belief on them.
    Forty million babies’ faces wrapped in cellophane sure sounds a lot like coat hanger rhetoric to me. You are so Fifteenth Century! We will never know for sure how the origins of gods came about, but I think there is some basis in my idea of god creation explaining and justifying exceptional men’s volition to the village mob. OK, I know I am a pseudo-intellectual, but I think Mumford, Frankfort and Arendt could be used to defend my position.


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