Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?

A couple of things have occured to me over the past several days, and while I'm sure they're not original to me, I hope you'll indulge me by letting me state them anyway.

The first is this use of the label "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion" by those opposed to abortion rights. Now, most political strategists, and arm-chair quarterbacks would probably say that the use of the term "pro-life" is much more palatable to the masses than "anti-abortion"; "pro" is much more positive than "anti". And "life" is more positive than "abortion".

But it occurs to me that there is a secondary basis for using the term "pro-life", aside from its immediate better sounding quality. This secondary basis is the need or desire to give the impression that the anti-abortionists are not only concerned about abortion, but are in fact concerned about any and all policies and behaviors that thwart the "culture of life". And the term "abortion" in particular is especially problematic because since abortions can only be performed on women, it makes the whole anti-abortion crusade seem like a crusade against women's right. Which it is. So, by shifting to the label "pro-life", the anti-choicers can make it seem they're really crusading on behalf of all life, and not "just" against women's reproductive rights. And so this results in other causes being superficially brought under the anti-abortion umbrella, like "assisted suicide" and "right to die" policies. But it seems to me that these additional concerns are really just a sideshow, a fig leaf for the overall cause, which remains abortion laws, and the rights of women. And if you turn into a "pro-life show on TV, like EWTN's "Defending Life" you see that every episode is about abortion. Not the death penalty. Not war or genocidal slaughter (at least when the offending country is at least nominally Christian). And for the most part, assisted suicide rarely makes the cut either. So long story short, when we hear "pro-life" we almost are always concerned just about abortion laws.

My second brilliant observation flows from the first. It is the seeming confusion presented by the "right to life" crowd's abhorence for Roe V. Wade and other abortion rights rulings and statutes, contrasted with their relative lack of focus on the people actually getting abortions--women. Specifically, Roe V. Wade could be the law of the land, but if every woman considering an abortion this year, chose not to have one, there would, obviously, be no abortions this year, Roe V. Wade or no Roe V. Wade. Roe V. Wade is in some ways, irrelevant to the problem at hand for "pro-lifers". Roe V. Wade isn't making women do anything. It isn't even providing much of an incentive. The responsibility is on the woman herself. But the anti-abortionists seem to ignore this. They'd rather angrily denounce Roe V. Wade, "liberals", Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court, this or that SC Justice, certain abortion procedures, the "culture of death", "feminist abortionists", and so on, rather than those directly responsible for the act.

Again, like the substitution of "pro-life" for "anti-abortion", I suspect this is a politically calculated strategy. Attacking women in general and women who've had abortions in particular might not be a wise strategy, one designed to win friends or influence people.

But there is undoubtedly a second point to consider. And that is, for the "anti-abortionists", women are not really people. They don't, or shouldn't have legal or political standing. So in a way, women aren't really responsible. Lauren from Feministe touched on this in her comments section sometime last week. Anti-abortionists act as if the women themselves are not really part of the equation when it comes to abortion. This can be seen in their apparent disinterest in subjecting women who've undergone abortions in a hypothetical regime where abortion is illegal, to any sort of criminal penalties, especially the most applicable one, murder, which is the only penalty one could reasonably assumes applies in circumstances where abortion is "murder" and the act of abortion, the continuance of a "holocaust" tatamount to the days of Hitler. Again, openly declaring that they're ready to hold women accountable for murder reflects a conscious political strategy, to make people think the rolling back of Roe V. Wade would not be that significant, would not be a horrible transgression of individual liberties. But it also no doubt reflects the underlying assumption that women are not really people, responsible for their own decisions.

This is a refutation of Reagan era conservatism, which holds that individuals, and not the government or the person's environment, are responsible for a person's actions.

So either modern anti-abortionism is not conservative in the modern or Reagan era definition of the term, or else that conservatism is continuing to mutate into something else.

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