By Charlie Johnston
I have engaged in discussion the last few days with some pro-abortion folks on Twitter. It has been simultaneously frustrating, enlightening and a little heartening. Some friends say it won’t be long before Twitter bans me for some bit of fact they don’t like. We’ll see. The winds of change are blowing there, but the deal has not yet been consummated.
The conversation is frustrating because of the enormous amount of logical fallacies, misinformation, ad hominems, and bald assertions masquerading as facts or evidence coming from that side. I linked to a Yahoo News Item (NOT a conservative site) to provide video of hysterical protesters in front of Supreme Court Justices homes and the response from several was a disdainful, “Oh that video is from Fox News.” What?! So prejudiced against Fox News that they will not even look at video proof if it has appeared on the Fox Network?! That approaches invincible ignorance. The only problem that the left can possibly have with Fox is that it is moderately conservative, not that it is inaccurate. Over the last six years, Fox has proven to be far more accurate than CNN, MSNBC and the rest of the establishment media – so the left’s aversion to Fox is just a visceral emotion rather than a considered decision. (I was kind of amused because I have more than a few problems with Fox, myself, but lefties generally don’t get nuance. Their narrative is that conservatives are racist, misogynist, redneck watchers of Fox News and NASCAR races. It is a bigoted caricature rather than an effort to understand any arguments.) While it is frustrating to me, it is crippling to those so afflicted. What you don’t know will, indeed, ultimately hurt you.
It gave me a key insight into something that has puzzled me for over a decade. Back when I was doing heavy politics, one of the things I was valued for was my ability to get into the minds of the opponents and figure out what course they would likely take. About a year into the Obama presidency that ability started taking a steep nosedive. I just couldn’t figure out what they were thinking. The thing was that back in the day, most conservatives and most liberals (not all) worked from a set of foundational principles. Their actions would differ based on their interpretive prism – but those actions were in service to their principles, and so they were coherent. Modern leftists (and some conservatives) have appetites – and their principles are only of use in service to their current appetites. That is why a month ago leftists were passionately opining that you had to be a biologist to know what a woman is and that men could get pregnant – while now they passionately opine that you must be a woman to have a say on abortion, at all. Their current appetite changed – and so did their principles. For genuine conservatives (and genuine liberals of 30 years ago) principles are pylons sunk into bedrock to serve as the foundation of the intellectual and philosophical structure they build atop it. For leftists, principles are just gear in their toolbox, to be casually taken up and set aside as their appetites demand. The latter approach is inevitably arbitrary and capricious, without any consistent coherence. This is why I cannot easily predict their course: there is no intellectual foundation on their side from which to work. One simply has to hypothesize where their appetites will take them next. Since their appetites are arbitrary and capricious, that is not as reliable as working with an actual intellectual foundation. One side has malleable actions in service to their principles; the other has malleable ‘principles’ in service to their appetites.
Even so, the interactions gave me some heart. Most people simply no longer have the tools they need to do serious critical thinking. This is why so many want to abrogate their responsibility as a free citizen to an ‘expert,’ usually someone as uninformed as they are but with a credential. Philosophy has been seriously impoverished since the Enlightenment 300 years ago. It still bears occasional nuggets of insight, but is largely superficial and shallow – when it does not entirely engage in building castles in the air. Ironically in this age of “reason,” the best philosophy comes from serious theology (though I must concede that some of the worst modern philosophy comes from crackpot theologians). As my friend, Eschatologist Desmond Birch often says, most modern problems are the result of bad philosophy. Add to that the entire collapse of emphasis on evidence, logic and reason in the academy of ‘higher’ and lower learning and you have a whole generation of people who won participation medals without learning or having to seriously strive to actually win much of anything. They come to intellectual debate almost entirely unarmed with any facts or consistent logic. So it is not entirely surprising that they should seek to make every controversy a contest of will and raw, often, violent power. They are incapable of any other sort of discourse.
So how can I be heartened? Despite the lack of factual evidence or the needed discipline for logical inquiry, some of them genuinely want to seek the good. They have simply been deprived of the necessary tools to do so with any precision by several generations of deficient – and often malicious – pedagogues. Unless they are gifted auto-didacts, it is unlikely that they can suddenly develop clear, consistent, and precise ways of thinking to build a solid foundation of coherent principles, either conservative or liberal (NOT leftist – which is profoundly anti-intellectual). Over the years I have had some very warm friendships with bona fide (and even prominent) liberals. Perhaps the most prominent was the late Sen. Adlai Stevenson III. We had some lively, intriguing conversations but that was because we both understood the basic foundational rules of actual facts, evidence and consistent logic. That can no longer be assumed. One time, I was charged with briefing a colleague who was going to meet with a prominent public figure who had been mixed and muddled on the issue of abortion. Suddenly it dawned on me that what my colleague should do was to focus on the basics – that we in the pro-life movement often assumed others to have far more basic knowledge on the subject than they actually do. My friend thought that was an inspired idea – and went with it. After the meeting, he called me and told me with some astonishment that he thought we had a real convert. Turns out the public figure had a top advisor with him, who confirmed all the factual information. The man got mad midway through – not at my colleague, but that he had been played for so long. So I think it may well be time to go back to some basics and fundamentals – not just making our case, but explaining the basis on which we come to it. There are some people we can never reach. They live like an exposed nerve and get some weird excitement out of raging all the time, even at the price of constant misery. A good chunk of those we can reach will still disagree, but will at least do so on more solid intellectual ground and tone down the desperate emotional angst. But some, given the tools for critical, rational thinking, will have a genuine conversion experience like the public figure I mentioned. I am not too naive, I don’t think. Certainly, the majority of the left love their ad hominems and non sequiturs, thinking it brilliant when it doesn’t even rise to the level of rank sophistry. But there is a small remnant of people there who want to find the good and live it rather than just slavishly work to protect their own perceived privilege and power.
Since most of the discussions I reference have happened on Twitter – where it is difficult to make a sustained and nuanced discussion of any depth, I am going to apply the technique to the issue of abortion next. This is just a cursory examination – but it is a start.
The only question that matters in the abortion debate is whether or not the fetus is a human person. If he is, he is entitled to the rights that all other persons are. If not, he is not entitled to any of the rights other persons are. Until that question is answered, everything else is a distraction and a deflection.
Both science and orthodox Christian theology are in lockstep that the fetus IS a fully human person at an early stage of development. A very few avant-garde philosophers disagree, but they get into some very strange corners – such as Peter Singer who often argues that a mother should have a “right” to terminate her child up until it is a year old.
Despite this, a whole host of deflecting arguments are raised that cannot stand the most basic test of examination. The first is that abortion is a woman’s right. That fails to understand what a right is and who can guarantee a right. The rights embedded in our Constitution are based in natural law theory. They precede the existence of the state and cannot be revoked. They are granted by God or, if you will, by natural law. That the founders chose this basis was subtle genius for several reasons. First, whoever grants a “right” can also revoke it. Thus, any right granted by a government would be insecure and subject to the transient whims of that government. If you believe that the state is the grantor of rights, you may protest when it revokes it, but you have no grounds to complain that they have done anything untoward whether you agree with the result or not. He who grants a right has authority to revoke it. This is why the very idea of a government granting rights founds those rights on sand. Acknowledging that all genuine rights exist with the person before the existence of the state both secures individual rights and establishes a demanding test for the legitimacy of any government. A government that does not defend actual rights is, prima facie, illegitimate.
What governments can grant are indulgences, privileges and entitlements. But again, these can be legitimately revoked by the same authority that granted them in the first place. You may want universal health care, but it cannot be a right because it is not something endowed to you before the very existence of a government. You may vote for – or a sovereign may decree – universal health care, but the same can be repealed by another vote or the contrary whim of the sovereign. It is not the same thing as a right, which cannot be legitimately impinged upon by any person or state.
The only limits to rights are if one person’s right impinges upon that of another person. Thus, I have the right to freely swing my arm at will, but that right ends at the tip of another’s nose. No one has the right to deprive another of any of their rights except with due process of law for criminal behavior. There are some areas that seem to obviate this, such as the doctrine of eminent domain, which allows a unit of government to forcibly take a person’s land without their approval – but even this can only be done for a compelling public good following due process and with just compensation. The fundamental doctrine is that no person or institution may do violence to the rights of another person. Thus, if a fetus is a human person, as both science and orthodox Christian theology agree, then no other person has the right to deprive him of his fundamental right to life. That means neither the father nor the mother – nor anyone else – can legitimately deprive that unborn person of his rights, for there can be no right to deny the rights of another innocent person or class of persons.
A spokesman for a pro-abortion institute once argued with me when I had him on my Chicago radio show that we could all just agree that, in this case, life begins at birth – and that would solve the problem. It does not. Philosophical principles must be coherent and consistent or they can be expanded or contracted in arbitrary and capricious ways that, ultimately, can target the very person arguing for an arbitrary definition. Arbitrary definitions always begin the slide away from the rule of law and towards the raw will to power.
A few examples:
- State of development. If you argue that there are some states of development before or after which a person is not entitled to human rights, what is to prevent anyone from extending that state of development before which a person can be lawfully killed? In Peter Singer’s case he advocates for obvious sentience – which could extend to a year or more after birth. What if the standard was extended to the capacity for independence? Then you could euthanize some healthy teenagers. What principle could limit this standard from being extended if a sufficient number of the body politic – or if the sovereign – decided to extend it? It is building on sand – and quicksand, at that.
- Dependence. There is no doubt that an unborn child has a unique and complete dependence on its mother that can be a real burden on the mother, particularly if she is unhappy with the situation. This is often used as justification for abortion, usually by arguing that a baby has no right to life unless he is “wanted.” Take care again. Given this standard, on what basis do we prosecute women who have killed their born children? Clearly the children were now unwanted. Going further, how do we protect anyone who is in a position of dependence on another? Follow this argument to its logical conclusion and relationships between mankind simply become a complicated form of animal husbandry – with the shepherd’s hold on his dominant position ever in peril. There are safe alternatives to this. In another age, the way to prevent such an unwanted dependence was through contraceptives or abstinence. What a general abortion regime demands is that no one exercise any self-restraint or accept any consequences for that lack of self-restraint. That is not a “right;” simply a demand for absolute, unchecked privilege over another human being.
- Interest. It is often argued that fulfilling the demands of pregnancy imposes an intolerable burden on a woman’s interests – delaying schooling, impeding her career or other such arguments – all of which are an argument against interest. Yet if you posit that there are circumstances when one person can freely kill another person because that person impedes the interests of the first person, you have set out on a slippery slope that ultimately ends in the decriminalization of homicide. It would make for a hitman’s paradise.
These are just a few of the philosophical conundrums one gets into when trying to justify abortion on demand.
Whenever one group of people sets out on a course of genocide against some other class of people, the instigators insistently work to dehumanize those they would exterminate – and studiously try to avoid and deflect from the key question: the humanity or lack thereof of their proposed victims.
Even the slogans adopted by such movements are designed to deflect from that question. Peruse the Congressional Records of the 1850’s – particularly of the senate, and you will be shocked at the familiarity of the slogans to today’s pro-abortion slogans. “Don’t agree with slavery? Don’t buy one,” southern senators often taunted their northern colleagues., completely dismissing any question of the humanity of the enslaved. Southern officials often tried to argue that northerners had no say over the matter at all since they could not own slaves and were not affected by it. This subtly ignores the humanity of the enslaved by arguing that only those who were directly involved – who were perpetuating the peculiar institution – were allowed to have a say at all, thus hoping to completely bar those who would speak for the enslaved from speaking at all. For many decades, the two camps lived in uneasy tolerance of each other, but then the Dred Scott decision forced northerners to help enable and protect slavery as well as southerners. It is equivalent to the Roe v Wade decision in our own time, which forced all states to allow abortions, whether the people of the state agreed or not. The American founders had limited slavery to those states which had it at the founding, in hope that it would ultimately die out of its own accord. But the advocates of slavery insisted that it was the divine right of every white man who wanted to own a slave – and they desperately wanted to expand it. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 sought to give power to the individual states under the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” as articulated by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas. Of course, it was another effort to elide the question of the humanity of the people enslaved entirely – as they would have no say in the matter whatever. “Let the people decide,” was Douglas’ cry – except, of course, for the people who were most affected, black people. It was the 1850’s version of the “pro-choice” mantra of let the woman decide. On a question of humanity and human rights, ALL people have a say.
In the immediate aftermath of Roe v Wade, there was no talk of a woman’s right to choose. Abortion, according to advocates, was just the removal of an undifferentiated clump of tissue with no moral dimension at all. I must concede that I was naïve about this. I thought that as time and scientific advances demonstrated the humanity of the unborn, the advocates of abortion would step back from the abyss to which they had led us. To my horror, in 1982 (or it might have been ’83 – early in the Reagan administration) Planned Parenthood recognized that their “clump of tissue” argument was no longer…ahem…viable because of the rise of ultrasound technology. They sent out a confidential memo to their affiliates advising them to abandon the “clump of tissue” argument and start describing abortion as a “woman’s right,” in order to protect their business model.
Margaret Sanger, the pioneering founder of Planned Parenthood, was an enthusiastic progressive advocate of eugenics, using ‘science’ to purify human stock. She set up her first clinics in predominately black neighborhoods, instructing acolytes to use black ministers to advocate for the program in order to keep word from getting out that their aim was to “exterminate the black population.” She spoke to a lively and welcoming group of a women’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the eugenics agenda of Hitler’s Germany, publishing an article entitled, “Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need” in her April, 1933 edition of Birth Control Review (the original version of Planned Parenthood’s magazine}, penned by Ernst Rudin, Hitler’s Director of Genetic Sterilization.
The issue hits me viscerally. As a boy, in the mid-60’s, long before Roe v Wade, I had a terrible nightmare. In the dream, my then best friends’ mother had taken us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. At one point, screams broke out and she came and helped us to hide, telling us that they were putting the children to the knife. I asked her why someone didn’t call the police – and she told me the police were helping them. I was sweating profusely when I woke – and almost 60 years later, the dream still sometimes haunts me.
When I was doing radio in Chicago during the 90’s, abortion was a frequent topic. For a time, various abortion groups organized a letter-writing campaign in hopes of getting me fired – and had assigned people to monitor my show. A large part of my abortion coverage was quoting verbatim sections of Sanger’s book, “The Pivot of Civilization,” the most disgusting and vile thing I have ever read. (Sample quote: “ The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”) I urged listeners not to take my word for it, but find the book in a big library and take Sanger’s word for it. Amusingly, though the station had no intention of firing me, the harassment stopped after several of the abortion groups’ volunteer monitors took my advice, got the book and read it for themselves – and left the abortion industry.
During this time a strange phenomenon took hold. Three or four times a week I would get phone calls from random women who had had an abortion and never told anyone – and wanted to talk to me about it. The calls always went to the newsroom and, after a while, the reporters could tell. “Charlie, “ they would say, “You’ve got a call. It’s one of those calls.” I think I got them because, on air, I considered the babies as the primary victims of abortion and women as the secondary victims – and urged pro-lifers never to treat women who had had an abortion with contempt. The abortion industry already did that, seducing them with soothing phrases about how much they cared to lure them into an abortion, then discarding them like a used condom after they had their way with them. The stories I heard were heart-breaking, women who told me how their boyfriends or parents had pressured or forced them into getting an abortion. Several told me how the “womens’ center” assured them this was just a blob of tissue – and they believed it until they glimpsed their baby’s broken remains before the ‘doctor’ got them off the tray. They all felt guilty and abandoned, a terrible sense of quiet desperation they rarely spoke at all of. I came to think of abortion as a hole in the heart of women who suffered it, a wound that would not heal. In some it manifested as deep, unending and unvoiced guilt. In others, it manifested as a passionate advocacy for abortion in a desperate effort to convince themselves it was okay. I always finished the conversation by telling the women that their child was in heaven and wanted more than anything to be re-united with them there – so do not despair, talk to your Priest or Pastor and seek forgiveness for your error that you may, indeed, joyfully be re-united with your child in the next life. I once had a young woman who had passionately debated the subject with me in the studio on air. She followed me out to the car continuing the argument. Suddenly, I was inspired to repeat the same thing I told all the women who called me to share their grief. The young woman started shaking, burst into tears and hugged me. I wish I could tell you some satisfying ending to that story, but I never encountered her again, though I pray for her from time to time. I was so thankful for the formation of Rachel’s Vineyard, which helps women who have had abortions recover from the sorrow and guilt of it.
Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln wrote a compelling fragment in a private journal. He said he despised slavery for the major three types of violence it did:
First, the obvious violence it does to the enslaved.
Second, the violence it had done to civil discourse in the country.
Third, the violence it did to the slaveholder, who had to desperately deaden his conscience to justify what he was doing.
I completely concur – and may the violence of abortion pass away as completely as the violence of slavery did over a century and a half ago.
Just a few weeks left in our Easter fundraising campaign for CORAC. God bless you all for your generosity. We can pay the bills for the next couple of months and keep the instructional videos in health and well-being and gardening and home skills, while preparing to do some of the same for ham radios. We will keep connecting people across the country with each other, to be a sign of hope to each other and to our increasingly battered world. I expect to have the Brazen Serpent Prayer Cards available within, maybe, a month. You can donate here or send a check to the address at bottom. I hit the road again in about a week and a half. I will speak in Colorado Springs on Saturday, May 21 and then in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Wednesday, June 1.
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