Wednesday, March 21, 2007
(10:33 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Sanctity of Life[Cross-posted from An und für sich.]
In an online discussion forum, someone linked to this article as an encouraging sign that evangelicals are breaking out of the Republican mold. I was skeptical, due to the frequent references to the "sanctity of life" as the core commitment motivating, for example, environmental concern. Similar arguments are often made to try to convince Christians that they should oppose the death penalty or the war in Iraq. We all know, however, that if opposition to abortion is at the core of Christian political action, everything else is ultimately dispensible -- witness the crass threats made by certain Catholic bishops against anyone who would vote for a pro-choice candidate in 2004.
One might argue that it's merely a contingent fact that opposition to abortion leads inexorably toward supporting reactionary politics. I'm not so sure, though. If we're thinking in the most abstract sense possible, then being in favor of "life" does seem to cohere well with opposing the death penalty, war, pollution, etc. But let's look at what this means in practice: being in favor of outlawing abortion means being in favor of giving the state the authority to force a woman to give birth to a child against her will. It means being in favor of giving the state the authority to claim that whenever a woman engages in consensual sex (since we know that there is no 100% effective birth-control method), she is implicitly consenting to become pregnant and give birth to a child -- that is, the authority to determine that sex is always necessarily related to procreation. In this sense, opposition to homosexuality and contraception is much more coherent with opposition to abortion than is opposition to war or the death penalty.
On a more conceptual level, the rhetoric of the pro-life movement posits each individual "life" as standing in direct and unmediated relation to the state. I am not denying that the fetus is in some sense a "life" -- though it is so largely as a potentiality rather than an actuality. But what is so pernicious about pro-life rhetoric is that it gives the state a claim over that minimal potential life from the very moment it comes into existence -- a claim that gives the state the right basically to coerce the woman into preserving that minimal life until it emerges into a fuller actuality. What this ignores is the particular situation of pregnancy, the fact that a human life cannot emerge into actuality without a woman being party to it in a very serious and sometimes even life-threatening way. I have had discussions with pro-lifers, however, in which they viewed the fetus's dependence on the woman as a simple matter of "location," meaning that it was morally incoherent to allow a "life" to be "murdered" based on the contingent fact of its "location" -- as though the woman is simply a machine for producing babies.
To refuse to devote one's body to allowing that potential life to emerge is doubtless never an easy decision, nor should it be -- this is where the rhetoric of "choice" is often much too simplistic. Yet the rhetoric of "choice" is much closer to the truth than the sheer moral idiocy that equates abortion with murder and with the Holocaust. The idea that the state should be in the business of regulating "life," birth, sexuality, is much closer to the ideas that stood at the root of the Holocaust than is the idea that a woman should not be forced to bear a child against her will. Look at how often the opposition to abortion -- so often coupled with opposition to homosexuality and contraception in these cases -- is couched in terms of demography and relative racial advantage. ("The Mexicans will overrun us if our women keep extinguishing our beautiful white seed!") One could argue that this extremism bears no relation to the moral concerns that motivate many pro-lifers, but that is much too equivocating a position -- the pro-life movement is always necessarily complicit with a biology-based nationalism because it ultimately always instrumentalizes the female body.
In principle, then, I hold that one must be rigorously anti-family and unequivocally opposed to the "sanctity of life." (I responded as such to the posting of the article on the online forum, and I received no responses.)