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A ‘positive good’

Pro-abortion rhetoric is starting to sound like the antebellum defense of slavery


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Several of my Facebook “friends” are flaming liberals whom I seldom engage. Part of the reason is that I don’t want them to unfriend me, but a bigger reason is that I can’t begin to unpack some of their bizarro-world statements. One of these acquaintances—I’ll call her X—posted a brief meme last month: I love abortion! Clear and forceful as a punch to the stomach, but I felt no need to respond because so many already had. A man (M) who sympathized with X’s cause criticized her method: “That’s not the best framing for the issue.”

X replied: It’s how I feel. M: OK, but we’ve got a political fight to win, and inflammatory statements bolster the opposition’s arguments. X: It’s the truth. M: Fine, but we have to be practical. On it went, with other voices jumping in, mostly on X’s side. X finally expressed pity for M’s wife, and M signed off with, “Whatever.”

In other words, a normal Facebook debate. But it echoed a shift in rhetoric on the pro-abortion side, rising with the legislative stakes. “Loud and proud” is the new strategy: #shoutyourabortion has been trending for months. On May 17, late-night TV host Busy Philipps tweeted, “Let’s do this. If you are also the 1 in 4 [women who have had an abortion], let’s share it and start to end the shame. Use #YouKnowMe and share your truth.”

New York Magazine that same day boldly unfurled this title: “Abortion Is Morally Good.” The writer, a former evangelical named Sarah Jones, contradicted old-school strategists: “The assertion that nobody wants an abortion, ever, directly affirms the anti-choice narrative.” Anodyne terms like “safe, legal, and rare” are mere popguns when legislatures from Ohio to Missouri are passing heartbeat laws and outright bans. Lock and load, ladies: Stop pussyfooting around. Abortion is not a sad thing, a bad thing, or a mad thing. It’s good.

I don’t think we’re headed for a shooting war, but a showdown is coming, probably within the next 20 years

As if to second that motion, a picture of three beaming young women with a sign hand-lettered, “Parasites don’t have rights,” made the rounds on social media.

Way back in 1837, Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina made an infamous speech in response to the rising abolitionist movement. Thousands of anti-slavery petitions had poured into the Capitol, and for Calhoun, it was time to draw the line. A generation earlier, some of the most respected minds of his region—Jefferson, for one—regarded slavery as an unhappy necessity that would soon, one hoped, outlive its usefulness (becoming safe, legal, and rare?). Calhoun wasn’t having it. Hangdog expressions of the “unhappy necessity” played right into the opposition’s hands. It was time for the slaveholding interests to declare their peculiar institution, “instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.”

From our perspective that speech sounds insane, if not evil. But Calhoun correctly predicted the bloody conflict looming for the United States. He blamed it on the abolitionists—the “anti-choice” cohort of his day—who were poisoning minds. The nation would be ripped apart unless men of good will, North and South, accepted his judgment about the “positive good” of slavery and passed no laws to hinder it.

Calhoun made his speech as a direct response to the abolitionist threat 49 years after the U.S. Constitution grudgingly allowed slavery in the Southern states. The “positive good” abortion rhetoric is coming 45 years after Roe, with the threat of a realigned Supreme Court. In both cases, a regrettable fact of life, due for extinction or severe reduction, did not go away. Instead, the justification for it grew more extreme until the indefensible became, not just defensible, but desirable.

I don’t think we’re headed for a shooting war, but a showdown is coming, probably within the next 20 years: It won’t be won with guns, or words, or rage. My first response to in-your-face memes and signs about parasites is first anger, then sorrow. These are sheep without a shepherd, who know not what they do. If they only knew what makes for peace.

Then I pray for them.


Janie B. Cheaney Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD's annual Children's Book of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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