The Church of Progress…
The Gospel of Abortion…
It has long been the reflex of the progressive axis to dismiss the pro-life argument as the off-gassing of minds distempered by religious belief. The thinking—if that’s what it is—of the proponents of abortion is that anyone who condemns the practice as morally wrong only does so out of a benighted adherence to Christian fundamentalism, without regard for the objective evidence of reason, logic, or the senses. A couple of years ago, while participating in a pro-life demonstration, I was verbally ambushed from the rear by a passer-by who shouted: “So you believe that life begins at conception? I bet you also believe in the Virgin Birth.” Like the proverbial NHL cheap-shot artist, he delivered his hit and retreated before I had a chance to respond. Just in case he reads Priceton.org: No, I don’t believe that life begins at conception; I know it does, and can demonstrate it logically. What I think about the Virgin Birth is entirely irrelevant, and none of your business.
These two questions pertain, of course, to distinct and incommensurable departments of epistemology. Nor, obviously, does a belief in the myths or dogmas of religion necessarily impair one’s ability to think and argue rationally. For roughly two and a half millennia, from Pythagoras to Einstein, almost all of the major advances in secular human knowledge were made by men of a deeply religious temperament, which failed to addle their scientific intellects (and may well have enhanced them). It is entirely possible to refute the moral wisdom of unfettered abortion without slavish reliance upon the data of faith. Whether it is advisable to do so I will leave to the strategists of the culture wars.
I note, in any case, that that was the preferred mode of argument of the early Christian Apologists. Inveighing against the pagan practices of abortion, infanticide, and human sacrifice, Tertullian wrote (ca. A.D. 200):
How many…even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once and for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the [mother’s] body for sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier form of manslaughter; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That [the foetus] is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.
A transcendently more rational, logical (and eloquent) argument than any I have heard from modern pro-abortionists.
That it is, in fact, the pro-abortion party that is typically imprisoned in the certitudes and superstitions of religious orthodoxy has been made redundantly clear since God handed down Her epochal decision in Roe v. Wade. As I wrote in these pages in May of 2008:
Over the past couple of years, on campuses across the country, a number of pro-life organizations have been denied club status and funding by their student governments. The justification offered by one Gilary [sic] Massa, vice-president of the York University Federation of Students, is instructive. Student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student space, so long as they do so “within a pro-choice realm”. Ultimately, “you have to recognize that a woman has a choice over her own body”. This is not, as Ms. Massa stipulated, “an issue of freedom of speech”. “No, this is an issue of women’s rights.”
There it is. Freedom to discuss the issue so long as it’s within the bounds of pro-choice orthodoxy (“within a pro-choice realm”). But why discuss it? What is there to discuss, within the “realm” that Ms. Massa defines as permissible?
It obviously doesn’t trouble Ms. Massa that many Canadians do want to have a discussion, inasmuch as 70% of us have consistently called for at least some restrictions on abortion. But I prefer not to get into the argument here (on this Ms. Massa and I agree). I’m more interested in the peculiar psychology of pro-choice orthodoxy that can apparently confer upon its evangelists the repose of certainty in the midst of a raging controversy.
For them, a “woman’s right to choose” is a revealed truth, beyond the “realm” of rational human investigation. There is no point in inquiring into it, any more than there is in inquiring into the nature of the Divine, which, as Plato remarks in the Timaeus, is “beyond knowing or expressing”. The absolute right to abortion is an inscrutable mystery. For feminists, it is the magnum mysterium (with apologies to Christianity); and those who raise questions about its truth or moral rectitude are trespassing on sacred ground.
The same aura of sacrosanct unintelligibility continues to cling to the pro-abortion argument to this day, of course. Consider, for example, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s gratuitous, and oddly inapposite, reaction to the Harper government’s proposal of a new foreign aid program, intended to improve maternal and infant health in the developing world. On February 2, Ignatieff convened a special news conference to announce that his support for the new initiative would be contingent upon its making easier access to abortion and birth control a priority: “Women are entitled to the full range of reproductive health services and that includes termination of pregnancy and contraception”, he intoned (employing every available euphemism in the feminist lexicon). “We’ve had a pro-choice consensus in this area for a couple of generations and we want to hold it.”
I describe Ignatieff’s intervention as “gratuitous” because I can hardly remember a time when a Liberal ever criticized a proposal to spend more money on foreign aid. Ignatieff’s sudden crise de conscience suggests that for Liberals, evangelising contraception and abortion to the natives of the pre-enlightened world is now a mission even more sacred than extorting and redistributing the earnings of Canadian taxpayers.
Confronted with the problem of improving the health of women and children in the poorest regions of the globe, most people would think of cleaner drinking water, better nutrition, more, and more hygienic, hospitals, cheaper and more abundant diagnostic equipment, vaccines, antibiotics, etc. But the first thing that pops into Dr. Ignatieff’s devoutly progressive brain is contraception and abortion. If I were a woman in Africa suffering from malaria or tuberculosis, and some earnest Canadian foreign aid official offered me a free abortion and a birth control pill, I think I’d continue to take my chances with the fetishes and incantations of the local medicine man. I’d certainly feel confirmed in the opinion that the cultural imperialists of the developed world are slightly touched in the head.
My instincts would be correct, of course. The evidence argues that not only are standards of maternal and infant health not improved by increasing access to abortion, but the reverse is true. As Professor Gentles has pointed out (National Post, Feb. 6), in Poland, since the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, maternal mortality is down 75%, infant mortality by two-thirds, the rate of premature births has decreased by over half, and the cerebral palsy associated with it, by 90%. Why? “Since 1989, Poland has virtually banned induced abortion. According to official statistics, the annual legal abortion rate has plummeted from well over 100,000 in the 1980s to a few hundred in the 1990s….Interestingly, the only other European country where abortion is illegal—Ireland—also boasts very low maternal mortality [by] comparison [to] countries where abortion is completely legal.”
Quite apart from the overwhelmingly contrary empirical evidence, there is simply no logical reason to conclude that making abortion more widely available would improve the health of mothers and children in the Third World. (A minor point perhaps, but aborted children have no health; and women who “terminate” their pregnancies are thereupon no longer mothers.) Ignatieff’s automatic linking of the two is rather the reflex of a wholly uncritical faith, grounded only in the dogmatic certitude, shared with Ms. Massa and the feminist sisterhood, that abortion is one of the divinely revealed truths that have belatedly redeemed and liberated fallen mankind.
Contraception and abortion are, in fact, the central sacraments of today’s progressive gospel, whose evangelists are piously called upon to administer them throughout the world. They have already preached that they would reduce teenage pregnancies, prevent AIDS, and solve the problems of overpopulation and world hunger. (Not even the implementation by Maoist despots of this last, monstrous idea has embarrassed progressives into a rational re-examination of their articles of faith.) Now Ignatieff proclaims that they will improve third-world standards of health. No doubt abortion will make the blind see and the lame walk, while increasing the rate of recycling.