Pax Vobiscum, Infans

Even the most cynical pro-lifers—the types who are jaded enough about abortion politics to not feel much surprise over it all—must occasionally re-confront the quaint horror of abortion, and the effect that abortion has on the moral fabric of a community or a nation. NPR has the scoop on some new abortion laws in Arizona:

Many states have what proponents call Born-Alive Infant Protection laws, but Arizona is now taking its rules further. It’s defining what are signs of life, like a heartbeat or the movement of voluntary muscles, and requiring doctors follow set procedures to resuscitate if any of those are present…

One mother, who had her daughter aborted when it was discovered that the child would have serious health problems, is not okay with this:

If [my daughter] was born [under this law], I felt like then they would have tried to, in my definition, torture her by trying to resuscitate her when I wanted to give her a peaceful death.

It does nobody—pro-lifers, pro-choicers, anybody—any good to claim that abortive women (at least of this variety) are bad, or evil, or monsters of any type: while the realities of abortion are clear-cut and inarguable, the motives behind it are often confused, murky and stupid, and are thus understandable though not condonable. Case in point: the mother in this example has grown up in a world where it’s considered acceptable to kill your child rather than try to help her live. You can make a distinction between the moral center and the sociological actuality, but it is often difficult if not impossible to separate them in the moment. A personal attack against this woman, or any abortive woman in similar circumstances, is both counterproductive and ultimately wrong.

Just the same: consider for a moment. Consider what abortion politics does to people: it may not make them monsters, but it does, sometimes, every so often, make them seem like monsters, insofar as it makes people do and believe things that, in other circumstances, we would properly consider monstrous. Put another way: the mother in this case chose to “terminate her pregnancy” at 23 weeks because of her unborn daughter’s serious health problems. But suppose these serious health problems were discovered only upon birth? Would it be acceptable for her to give her daughter a “peaceful death” under those circumstances? The law says no—for now—but it’s not clear why; nor is it clear why we draw a moral line between a human being inside a uterus and a human being outside of one. If a woman gave birth to a sick child and then elected to pull her child apart limb from limb, or inject the baby with poison, all in order to give her a “peaceful death,” we would gasp and say, “That’s monstrous.” If a woman does the same thing with the child inside of her, we nod and sympathize and say, “That’s sad.” Just consider this for a moment.

Ultimately that is the great horror of abortion politics, and any politics that reduces human beings to mere units of practical consideration: it allows and encourages good people to do awful things, blurring the line between the person and the thing in a way that is meant to be deliberately obfuscatory. We know killing innocent people is bad, after all—everyone knows it—but the politics of the current moment also obliges us to pretend that killing innocent human beings falls under the rubric of “a woman’s choice.” So most of us clam up, too afraid to state the obvious, becoming ourselves somewhat complicit in the whole mess, a mess wherein attempting to save a little newborn baby’s life is equated with “torturing her,” and where a public radio broadcast can leave unchallenged and unremarked the proposition that it’s okay for a mother to proactively kill her own baby in order to give her a “peaceful death.” It is easy to be jaded these days—but sometimes it is impossible not to be appalled.


  1. David

    Daniel, I’m sure you know me well enough by now to know I would almost certainly respond to your opinion on this blog entry but this is your blog & therefore you get to control the topic. Two basic points need to be made.

    My first point is the contortions that “pro-lifers” go through to try & declare the innocence or even victimhood of the mother who would be driven to so heinous an act as to abort her own progeny & to place the blame on those who would provide her with the means to carry out her desires. This is a ridiculous act & demonstrates a hypocrisy of the pro-life position. If killing a child in the womb is a crime, how is it that if a person destroys the life in their own womb is innocent of the crime when the accessory to said destruction is the actual guilty party? This would be akin to prosecuting a gun manufacturer for providing the gun to a woman who was so desperate that she shot herself in the womb in order to abort her fetus & we already have very specific laws to prevent that.

    We also have numerous laws to protect people against many forms of involuntary servitude & slavery. I have previously brought up the self-defense argument with you in regards to the right of the woman to protect herself in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Let’s face it, on a very basic level an infant is a parasite in the sense that it demands virtually everything necessary for its survival from its host & provides no material benefit in return other than a vague promise of perpetuating ones genetic code. For some people that is sufficient reward in exchange for the burden of caring for a new life. I honor & respect those who would make that sacrifice. We should however, not indulge the illusion that this burden of taking responsibility for another humans life is not likely to be the most significant obligation that a human can assume. Given that you have previously declared the position that such burdens should be the obligation of individuals & not the obligation of society as a whole makes it clear that you support my position that people should not be saddled with this burden against their will. Maintaining the legality of abortion & ensuring that the act can be performed safely is nothing more than maintaining the same right of protection against involuntary servitude that our laws provide for in most other circumstances.

    To consider parallel situations, why do we not have a law requiring children to care for ailing or destitute parents? Most of us believe that this is a proper act for children to perform but we do not have laws to ensure it & we do have various programs, both governmental & private, to assume those responsibilities in cases where no family member is willing to provide the necessary care.

    • Daniel Payne

      1) I don’t believe an abortive woman is “innocent.” I believe abortive women should be prosecuted under criminal statute. I have written about this at length. What I noted in this article—and what you’d have noticed if you’d read more carefully—is that I believe there are narrow circumstances where one can more readily understand (though not condone) the behavior of abortive women.

      2) We don’t have laws requiring children to care for their parents, no. But we most assuredly have laws against children *actively killing* their parents, which is what abortion does to younger humans. Try putting a scalpel in your ailing geriatric mother’s throat or injecting your senile father with a caustic saline solution and see if the court will let you off easy.

      Your analogy is deeply flawed and ultimately reveals the moral horror of abortion more clearly than I did in this post.

        • David

          You do realize I trust that there are passive ways to “kill” ones parents that are not (so far as I know) against the law. All you have to do is not be present when they get to that stage of life where they are not able to function without assistance. If you (or at least somebody) isn’t there to feed them, they starve. Is that a form of murder? Anyway, this is moving the discussion towards a different, albeit related, topic.

      • David

        Hmm, I hadn’t seen your previous discussion on the belief that abortive women are guilty of (& therefore would be justifiably prosecuted for) murder. Every other conservative I’ve observed on the topic puts the blame on the doctors, etc that perform or market the procedure.

        So, given that you have walked through that door & have already made clear that you believe that life begins at conception, let me make a partial list of circumstances to verify that you would like to see all of these prosecuted as murders:

        The abortion of a fetus that has such severe defects that it cannot survive more than a few (minutes, hours, days – please fill in time value if any) outside of the womb. If it can only survive while dependent on the mothers bodily functions, how long would you medically delay birth to keep the infant on “life support?”

        High risk ectopic pregnancy

        A fertilized egg that didn’t implant in the uterus.
        – would you institute laws requiring fertile unmarried women who weren’t virgins to collect all of their emissions just in case they had had sex & were passing a fertilized egg that didn’t implant in their body? Why wouldn’t that be murder?

        A pregnant woman who engaged in extreme activities, either physically or dietary in order to “sour” her womb in the hopes of miscarriage?

        Would you investigate a woman who had a miscarriage to verify that she didn’t induce the miscarriage?

        Perhaps you would place single women in to protective custody or institute chastity belts to ensure that they either, could not have an egg fertilized or if they did that the fertile egg would be protected?

        When it is a choice between the life of the mother or the life of the fetus, does the fetus always take precedence?

        Given that you apparently don’t believe that a pregnant woman has the right to defend herself from physical, economic or bodily harm by killing in self-defense, how is it that you justify other people killing in self-defense? Is it solely based on the intent of the apparent perpetrator? Does that mean their lawyer has to establish that the perpetrator clearly communicated various degrees of intent? Do those intentions need to be conscious intentions or could they merely be implied intentions? Perhaps the perpetrator only intended to rob the victims of their valuables & meant no physical harm? Perhaps you just believe that a zygote has more of a right to life than does a person?

        To revisit grandma for just a moment, if an elder (or any patient) requires mechanical means to survive, is it ever justified to withdraw that mechanical support? At what point does it become permissible? When the bank accounts of their relatives become drained?

        Is war for any purpose justifiable? If this is just a matter that you consider yourself a pacifist in all circumstances, how do you justify (if you do) imposing your views on the rest of humanity?

        I could go on but I hope by now that you see that your apparent attempt to see the world in black & white does not mesh well with the reality of God’s creation which has infinite shades of grey. I might refer you to an excellent book, if you have not already read it: Reading Lolita in Tehran. It received praise from both conservatives & liberals for its excellent observations on dictatorships, both theocratic & otherwise as well as being an excellent presentation on the power of literature as an agent of change in society.

        • Daniel Payne

          1) In the very rare cases where a woman’s life is threatened by a pregnancy, I believe the woman has the right to an abortion.

          2) In cases where a human might not survive very long post partum, I don’t believe it should be legal to murder that human. If your ethics permit the murder of a human being because that human being has a poor life expectancy, you should consider how monstrous that makes you sound.

          3) In the instances where (a) a fertilized egg does not implant in the uterine wall or else (b) a woman has a miscarriage, I don’t believe this constitutes murder. I am virtually certain that not a single pro-lifer believes as much either. It is such a deeply stupid attempt at a “gotcha” that it is a wonder any pro-choicer still trots it out. You should be intellectually ashamed of yourself for playing this dumb hand. Involuntary bodily functions over which a woman has zero control at all cannot *possibly* count as culpable behavior. No legal system or pro-life ethic could possibly sustain such an argument, nor would they ever desire to.

          Let’s imagine a corollary: suppose I say, “If you deliberately run someone over with your car, I think you should be prosecuted for murder.” You smartly come back and say: “Oh yeah? Well what if someone has a completely unexpected seizure while driving and subsequently runs someone over during the epileptic fit? Should *that* count as murder? See, it’s not all black and white!”

          Give me a break, David. You’re better than this. Or—maybe you’re not. I don’t know. If you’re not, stop commenting on my blog.

          4) I believe people have the right to defend themselves, including with lethal force, against aggressors who mean to do them harm. An unborn human being is not an aggressor and does not intend to do a woman harm. Ergo, she does not have the right to use lethal force against it. This is not difficult.

          As for the question of women who feign miscarriages so that they may have abortions—that’s an interesting and necessary consideration. But it’s also moot to the larger question of whether or not abortion should be legal. People regularly try to make murder look like suicides or accidents in order to get away with killing someone; we don’t throw up our hands and say, “I guess all murder should be legal!” as a result.

          • David

            Sorry Daniel, I just wasn’t sure how far you are willing to take your position. I suppose, from my point of view & even though I intend to treat you with respect, I don’t respect your position on this matter so perhaps I let my examples get a bit too outrageous.

            You still seem to insist that being required to carry a pregnancy for 9 months against one’s will & then being required to pay for the expenses of an unwanted child after it is born does not constitute an economic, physical or emotional burden comparable to the other forms of “takings.”

            You are not a pacifist, you declare that someone has a right to use deadly force against someone who intends you harm. Do you require a person to verify that the person they are killing truly intends them harm? Perhaps it is just Jean Valjean needing to feed his family? If you allow that the taking of property is a sufficient harm then how can you not appreciate how much the unwanted child is intending to take from its mother? The fact that the child’s intention has no personalized target in mind does not lessen the taking that is being intended. Many persons intent on taking property from another do not choose their victim for personal reasons but for reasons of opportunity. How is it that you cannot see the unhappily pregnant woman as a victim of her circumstances rather than guilty for her choices?

            You say that she chose to have sex (not that it seems to matter to you what she chose) & so she must deal with the consequences. How is it that you see those consequences as being any less substantial than if an adult were to take her property against her will or the government taking her property against her will?

  2. David

    Just to tie up a loose end, I wanted to comment that the issue of caring for grandma or granddad is not just an issue of active murder, it is an issue of murder by neglect. I can readily see medical technology which would allow for a pregnant woman to either prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg or to cut the umbilical cord after it has developed. Such an action would amount to denying nourishment to the fetus rather than actively killing it. How would you square such an action with your conservative views? Is murder by neglect any different for the fetus than for grandma? Your conservative economic views seem to espouse the right of individuals to not have to assume responsibilities for others who cannot support themselves. Is this only a matter of decrying government intervention to force those responsibilities? Otherwise, where should the legal (not necessarily moral) obligation begin & end?

  3. David

    Sorry, one aspect of the technology already exists in the form of what is commonly referred to as “the morning after pill” which prevents implantation.