by Matthew Walther
My mother became pregnant with me when she and my father were both seventeen years old. A glance at the relevant figures reveals that the year of my birth coincided with the highest annual rate of abortion in American history. This was the early 1990s, an era of right-wing scaremongering about so-called “welfare queens” and the scourge of teenage pregnancy. (It is almost hilarious in retrospect how many scenes from my childhood—four children aged seven, five, four, and three piling into an old Lincoln, Dr. Dre is blasting from the CD player—appear like something out of Newt Gingrich’s worst nightmares.)
I remember at one point in my early teens I asked her straight up: “How come you didn’t have an abortion?” She sobbed. We have never discussed the subject since.
Since then I have never wavered in my own opposition to abortion. One occasionally meets with pro-life libertarians, but I can reasonably claim to have spent most of my late adolescent years as an insufferable but thoroughgoingly anti-abortion Marxist (like Stalin himself). I can recall a time when I was unable to articulate the reasons for my position, and even a brief period when I might have argued that it was a bad thing, though not quite on the same level as murder. (I specifically remember saying, in response to a supporter of the Iraq war in 2003, that while abortion was “arguably” the taking of innocent life, the killing of civilians in wartime certainly was.)
So much for me, the lucky survivor of one of Moloch’s foulest harvests. What about the roughly sixty percent of Americans who say that they support abortion? They seem to me to fall into four groups.
The first are, not to put too fine a point on it, eugenicists. These are people who carry on the proud tradition of Margret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who once addressed the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan. They include, inter alia, the authors of a bestselling economics textbook, who argue that Roe v. Wade led to an observable decrease in crime, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who once told a journalist that abortion was legalized because people were worried about “growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
Few people these days are willing to be so forthright, but racial disparity in abortion rates speaks for itself. As I write this, more black children are being aborted than born in New York City. When it comes to traffic stops, criminal sentencing, test scores, access to food and clean water, and other areas where there is widespread divergence between outcomes for black and white Americans, sociologists and liberal journalists insist that racism is the only meaningful explanation. Not so with abortion. Instead the only persons of my acquaintance who routinely draw attention to this horrifying truth are those patriotic followers of Dr. Farrahkan who hang out near Washington D.C. metro stations shouting and waving signs emblazoned with slogans like “KLANNED PARENTHOOD.” Liberals, meanwhile, say that black women have abortions at higher rates because they are less likely to have access to contraception, which is in turn supposed to be the fault of evil conservative politicians. This is not only false; it also assumes that by default black people should be using contraception rather than seeking to have children at all and that black births are simply evidence of technocratic failure. This is eugenics and no mistake.
The second, and almost certainly the largest, group of American abortion supporters are those who have not actually given the matter any thought. When they repeat slogans like “You have no right to tell a woman what to do with her own body,” they are doing the same thing as people who say “Actually, dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives!” What these casual defenders of the worst kind of human viciousness are actually telling us is that they would prefer not to consider the matter at all. Because of the way the abortion debate is framed in this country—a handful of misogynistic clerico-fascists and their illiterate followers vs. the political, social, business, and educational establishment and all who aspire to it—many of them will never be forced to do so.
But there are reasons to believe that there is always a certain amount of double-think going on here. I have always found it striking that Lena Dunham, an outspoken proponent of abortion “rights,” chose not once but twice not to give abortions to characters in Girls, her award-winning HBO drama. (One character considering an abortion ended up having a late menstrual cycle; the other, the protagonist played by Dunham herself, ended up choosing to have her baby.) I also have my doubts about the extent to which private support for abortion actually exists among those who have viewed ultrasound images of their own children in utero.
The third group is perhaps the most baffling set of all. These are people who say they oppose abortion except in cases involving rape, incest, and the life of the mother. To take these in reverse order, in virtually one-hundred percent of cases, supposedly life-saving “abortions” are a matter either of removing an already-dead fetus from the womb or an unintended consequence of treating an ectopic pregnancy; no actual opponent of abortion, including Pope Francis, opposes such procedures. Suggesting otherwise—and referring to them, as many medical professionals do, as “abortions”—is simply a scare-mongering tactic. As far as the other apparent exceptions go: if abortion is evil because all children deserve to live, I do not know why this principle should not extend to those who are conceived under such horrifying circumstances. I also wonder why the persons making these claims are not opposed to in vitro fertilization.
The last group of abortion supporters are those who affirm what many of its opponents have long insisted—namely, that abortion is an occult ritual like the child sacrifices carried out by the Caananites who “built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech.” In some American neo-pagan circles abortion is called a “sacrament.” (The same word has been used by the famous abortionist Patricia Baird-Windle.) Needless to say, these people give me the willies.
Do any proponents of abortion have good arguments for their position? In my experience, the answer is no. The one that is considered the best by academic philosophers, in part because it contains the essence of all the others, runs like this: Suppose you woke up one day and found that a famous violinist was attached to you by a series of tubes and would die if he did not stay there for the next nine months. Would you have a right to remove him? I am not sure this is the first question I would be asking myself if I were to become the first person in history to develop spontaneous dependent fiddlerism. This is the sort of thing Orwell (who loathed abortion) had in mind when he talked about certain arguments “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe.”
Is opposition to abortion likely to increase in the coming years? Things have certainly changed a great deal since the the early 1970s, when evangelical leaders like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell considered abortion at worst a regrettable part of youth culture, like long hair or smoking dope. I cannot predict the future. I can only hope and pray.
I can also say thank you, Mom and Dad.
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