Self-righteousness is one of the perks of being a moral crusader. Any time one goes about trying to improve someone else’s behavior one’s focus is, by definition, pointed away from oneself and onto that other person. However, one always risks those others turning that harsh beam of moral judgment back on oneself. Hence, for instance, if one is a loud proponent of the war in Iraq such that one calls into question the patriotism of those who oppose the war, one begs the question: “If you’re so in favor of the war, why don’t you join up?” Coming at the heels of the common refrain of “I’m too old” is the follow-up: “Are you encouraging your children or your grandchildren or your nieces or your nephews to join?” More than likely, this question will shut up most of the pro-war crowd. It’s so much easier to be for something when other people you don’t care about pay the price.
Yet despite the downside of moral crusading in general, there are some crusades that have no downside. These are crusades that don’t beg questions or beg questions that are easy to evade. Abortion is one such crusade.
It’s not easy to expose those who claim to support the unborn. Claims of support don’t lend themselves to quick and easy rejoinders such as, “If you’re for the unwanted unborn being brought to term why don’t you volunteer to carry them?” Unlike the military where either oneself or one’s younger relatives can enlist, most people either can’t be faced with an unwanted pregnancy because they can’t get pregnant (all men, all women past menopause, and all infertile younger women) or they are not faced with an unwanted pregnancy at any given moment. Since embryo transfer is not possible, one can safely play the advocate for the unborn without it costing one a minute of time, a penny of money, or a smidgeon of effort, other than of course the infinitesimal amount of energy it takes to open one’s mouth. Talk is cheap and support for the unborn is almost always a matter of talk.
Of course, there are always those pro-life women who will self-righteously claim that they did in fact face a desperately unwanted pregnancy and chose to bring it to term despite the cost to themselves. For this they claim a higher moral status. One is supposed to accept their claim that the unwanted pregnancy was in fact unwanted rather than simply unplanned. But how is one to judge?
The question one must ask is this: Who is the pregnant woman and what does she stand to lose by carrying her pregnancy to term?
There is a huge difference between the pregnancy of a poor girl with no ambition for whom a pregnancy, even an unwanted one, may alleviate boredom and guarantee a welfare check, and the pregnancy of an aspiring Olympic athlete for whom a pregnancy spells the end of a dream one had worked for years to realize. To the first girl, an unplanned pregnancy may indeed be little more than an inconvenience. As Bob Dylan said, when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. To the second girl it is a tragedy of immense proportions.
Similarly, there is a big difference between a woman whose husband makes $100,000 a year facing an unplanned, “unwanted” pregnancy and a woman whose husband is unemployed or making next to nothing facing the same. The first woman may indeed feel constrained by the unplanned pregnancy, yet surely she will still be able to pay the rent, pay the doctor, get her teeth fixed, make the car payment, etc, if she were forced to bring the pregnancy to term. For the second woman, begging or worse may be her only alternative.
Those who claim to support the unborn could do something tangible, if not with their bodies, at least with their money. They could offer poor pregnant women cash to continue their pregnancies: payment of their medical bills for starters, and perhaps payment of maternity-related expenses, including lost wages, in the early weeks, months, and years after their children are born. This would go a long way toward promoting childbirth rather than abortion, especially among pregnant women with little ambition, but those who advocate forcing women to give birth are often the very same people who believe that a pregnant woman is entitled to no support whatsoever, a particularly vicious contention when you consider the tremendous costs associated with carrying, bearing, and rearing a child.
And speaking of costs, while pro-lifers try to prevent the willful destruction of the unborn, millions die naturally without any attention paid to their plight. Since the world spends billions trying to prevent the natural destruction of humanity by disease and disaster, why not spend billions on the unborn who are also destroyed by the vagracies of nature?
At the very least, those who claim to support the unborn should make sure they never participate in an abortion procedure by getting, performing, paying for, or aiding or abetting one (like driving someone to an abortion clinic) and never condone or in any way sanction such behaviors by others. To be consistent they would have to refrain from using IUDs or any form of contraception (like birth control pills) that can sometimes interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg. Lastly, they would have to make sure they didn’t use in-vitro fertilization or in any way support or condone those who do.
All of this may be doable for some, but the clincher is that one must also apply this lack of support and sanction to one’s own relatives and friends. To condemn family and friends is costly, of course. One risks alienating them. It is so much easier to condemn strangers and pretend that one doesn’t have friends and relatives who have abortions.
Logic would dictate otherwise. Tens of millions of women have had abortions, tens of millions more have used IUDs and forms of contraception that can interfere with implantation, and hundreds of thousands, soon to be millions, have employed in vitro fertilization. Most pro-lifers, if not all, have close family members and friends who have had abortions, used IUDs and oral contraceptives, or employed in vitro fertilization, whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not.
How many pro-lifers have even inquired as to whether or not their friends and family have had abortions? How many of them don’t want to know? Again, moral judgment of one’s friends and relatives comes with a price that not many want to pay.
Even allowing for at least 50 million American women who have destroyed or attempted to destroy the unborn doesn’t capture the magnitude of the acceptability of abortion, in practice rather than in theory.
Approximately 10% to 20% of all women are infertile or sub-fertile even in their youth. Beyond this, millions of women have partners, husbands or boyfriends, who are infertile or sub-fertile. As a result, I think it is eminently reasonable to suggest that at least a quarter of all premenopausal women either can’t bring a pregnancy to term or are highly unlikely to do so as a result of a mistake. This means that chastity, careful use of birth control, and/or concern for the sanctity of life often has nothing to do with why a woman hasn’t had an abortion. Conversely, I would not be at all surprised to learn that a majority of highly fertile pro-lifers have in fact had abortions or otherwise destroyed the unborn when it was convenient for them to do so. Only now when they are not facing unwanted pregnancies do they choose to sanctimoniously play the sanctity of life card.
After all is said and done, there is little more tangible support for the unborn, for bearing and assuming responsibility for unwanted children, than there is support for the impossible moral imperative of “turning the other cheek,” which makes me believe that the true goal of “pro-lifers” is not to support the unborn but to do something altogether different.
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