Dishonesty in the abortion wars | WORLD
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Dishonesty in the abortion wars

Amid lies about their motives, pro-lifers must make a reality-based case for life


Pro-abortion protesters rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 5, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer

Dishonesty in the abortion wars
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The abortion issue is more beset by the Orwellian use of political language than perhaps any other controversy in American politics. As an example, we have witnessed decades of verbal dueling over the nomenclatures of “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Following lines suggested by the thought of Alasdair McIntyre, neither side is willing to grant anything about the other’s premise. But why is it so hard to get into the truth of the issue, and what is the truth?

If you read the literature of the controversy spanning the past half century, it becomes clear very quickly that the battle is fought in part by assigning motives to those who have resisted the liberalization of abortion. Team pro-choice finds it very difficult to accept the most obvious explanation for the opposition of pro-lifers to abortion, which is that they are determined to protect innocent life from being extinguished. Instead, advocates of legal abortion doggedly insist that pro-lifers are obsessed with controlling women’s bodies and that the denial of abortion is simply a way to turn back the clock and return to a kind of domestic imprisonment.

The move of constantly stoking the fire of suspicion about the motives of pro-lifers serves to prevent the public from thinking more deeply about the issue. Thinking more deeply can easily yield some uncomfortable comparisons. Nearly three decades ago, The Atlantic ran a long essay comparing the fight against abortion to the battle against slavery. That analogy is difficult to resist upon reflection. The unborn child is treated very much the way the slave was in antebellum America, which is to say that their fate turns entirely upon the desires of the parent/owner. Somehow, we continue to live in the bizarro world of a culture that simultaneously includes some parents of unborn children placing 4-D ultrasounds on their refrigerator while others go to a facility to have the child destroyed. To employ the language of Hadley Arkes, this is not a moral choice of the same weight as choosing chocolate over vanilla ice cream, yet a laissez faire approach to abortion treats it that way.

Now, there is a different strategy being employed to impugn the motives of pro-lifers as they try to make use of the post-Roe legal regime. The new approach has to do with the impact of abortion politics upon the political culture of the United States. From the president on down, pro-choice advocates have insisted that the reversal of Roe v. Wade has damaged democracy in the United States. With even an ounce of reflection, it should be obvious that such a claim is entirely wrong-headed. The reality is that the Dobbs decision returned the abortion issue to democratic consideration instead of enshrining it within the province of decision-making by a group of nine philosopher kings we call the Supreme Court. To return the issue to voters required humility and faith in self-government on the part of the court. Dobbs reinvigorated democracy rather than damaging it.

Part of avoiding the miserable reality is to pretend that the people complaining about it don’t mean what they say or are hypocrites.

Oddly enough, while attacking pro-lifers for destroying democracy by ending the judicialization of the abortion issue, the pro-choice side has clearly benefitted. Despite their victories, they claim that the pro-life movement will further undermine democracy by making false claims about their intent. If one thing is clear, it is that there is an effort to foment deep distrust of the people who seek to protect the most vulnerable population on the planet. The more people who take pro-lifers seriously, the more likely it is that we will stop to think more deeply about what abortion really is, which is—in the vast majority of instances—the unjust taking of an unborn life. Orwell pointed to our growing tendency to use political language to avoid moral realities. That aspect of the modern world is more evident with regard to abortion than virtually anywhere else. Part of avoiding the miserable reality is to pretend that the people complaining about it don’t mean what they say or are hypocrites.

We are in a new period of politics with regard to abortion. Pro-choicers simultaneously chalk up electoral victories while reviling those who brought the issue to the people. But the answer for the pro-life community is simple. Refuse to take the bait with regard to the constant flurry of claims about motives. Make a case based on simple reality. We live in an era which knows more about the development of the unborn child than any before us. There are no illusions about what is happening inside the womb. And there is no magic moment when the unborn child goes from being a non-person to a person. If we will continue to make that case honestly and compassionately, we can continue to push toward a future in which the most developed society in the world stops sanctioning the killing of the unborn.


Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the provost and dean of faculty at North Greenville University in South Carolina. He is the author of The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul. His work has appeared in a wide variety of other books and journals. He is formally affiliated with Touchstone, the Journal of Markets and Morality, the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, and the Land Center at Southwestern Seminary.


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