Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
What is meant, respectively, by these monickers, pro-choice and pro-life?
If by the former we refer to someone who generally believes abortion to be morally acceptable, and by the latter we mean someone who finds the procedure morally abhorrent, then I, for one, am certainly pro-life.
However, pro-life and pro-choice are not simple states of thought or feeling about the relative moral acceptability of abortions. In public discourse these labels primarily denote policy positions, i.e., administrative propositions, and/or degrees of objection to or concurrence with same. They are answers to the question what is to be done about community business, about who is to be on the pitching and whom on the catching ends of officialdom, and in the case of abortion policy the greatest convenience to the greatest number is derived by giving prenates (babies, if you please) the short end of the stick. Yet these mundane considerations are almost always referenced in intangible moral terms. Granted, the pro-choice side tends to base their arguments on utilitarian grounds, but their bottom dollar is on an alleged, essentially sacred right to abortion that the government, by its very purpose as an institution, is entrusted to ensure. And those who are pro-life argue that legalizing abortion violates an alleged and no less sacred right to life that the U.S. government is uniquely ordained by History to protect.
This hinging of rationales on intangible moral authority stems from America’s claim to actual authority being rooted in a supernatural supposition, that men have intrinsic (“natural”) rights and that governments are instituted among men for the purpose of securing them.
An alluring induction, this high-flown catechism upon which Americans (meaning, nearly every modern bourgeois on the planet) base so many of our operative assumptions about propriety in the conduct of temporal affairs, falls far short of probability—though it raises (and manages to settle in its proponents’ favor) the prosaic line of inquiry, what is to be done?
But if I possess something intrinsically, what need is there for a third-party guarantor? And if this guarantor’s powers can only be considered just if derived from the consent of the governed, what happens if I don’t consent? We know the answer: the Whiskey Rebellion. Ruby Ridge. A 5150 hold. Criminal syndicates that reject the premise get more leeway than political opponents who accept it.
But as individuals and families, either you buy this notion that some terrestrial party other than you is responsible for securing your rights, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you have no business demanding the government implement justice, not for baby seals or baby humans or victims of airstrikes or of faulty airbags. If the government happens to be tolerably just and responsible, great. If not, make a contingency and suffer what you must. Rights are as ethereal as the soul, and with mine I prefer not to bargain.
But even if neither God nor nature entitles us to x, y or z by simple virtue of our humanity, is decent treatment not a manifest good? Must we capture this Sasquatch and christen him Rights, or will a positive ID suffice? Say, the Golden Rule? What if the government took it as its job to simply enforce a consistent measure of decorum and propriety? Could we then declare ourselves pro-life, or pro-choice, or advocate for animal rights or a minimum wage, without thereby appointing a terrestrial arbiter of first things? And anyway, by advocating for this or that policy, aren’t we simply attempting to shape the notion of propriety we’d like to see enforced?
If you consider yourself a stakeholder in the business of enforcement, then yes.
A thought experiment: God forbid, your school-age child is raped by his or her soccer coach. You know right where this man lives, you own a gun, and can easily kill him, or kidnap and torture him horrifically. Knowing that the government forbids and very effectively punishes kidnapping, killing and torture (this is a hypothetical), and that it also forbids child-rape but that official punishment for the latter, though forthcoming and harsh, would be insufficient to satisfy your sense of justice—what is to be done?
Now, let’s pose this exact scenario, assuming (to be certain) that no one other than you is in a position or would be willing to break the law to exact a vengeance that would more nearly approximate your idea of justice than the government’s exertions, but in this case the kid isn’t yours, and the rapist isn’t your kid’s soccer coach. Do you avenge this crime, with the near-certainty of punishment (of you) vengeance entails, if the victim is your child’s classmate? What if he lives in the same neighborhood? The same town? What if he lives three towns over? Or in another state? If not, why not?
If you’re pro-life, I expect you’ll agree that the state sanction and subsidization of prenatal infanticide is pure madness. And that there are fashionable, highly educated people out promoting the mental gymnastics required to believe this abortion regime is a symptom of some virtue inherent in our system of government is maddening. But life was cheap back when Tamerlane was lopping off heads, and you want me to believe the intervening centuries have made it less so?
Granted, life in the US can be pretty expensive. As someone who works in EMS and has lived abroad I can say that the extent to which this notion is taken seriously (that we’re all equally entitled to a modicum of decent treatment) is impressive, and so are its results. There are many complaints that can be made about the insufficient and deteriorating maintenance of public health, order and education here, but all things considered, it isn’t half bad. I hear public order is kept better in China, where abortion is mandated by law. In America, it’s encouraged and subsidized. The latter regime maintains control with psy-ops, the former with bi-ops. You want hamburger, or egg fu yung? But the proliferation of supposed rights is inversely proportional to the steady deterioration of civilized life we’ve been witnessing post-WWII (others would date it further back, but that’s my opinion). How many more of us do we really want out walking around with these laundry lists of rights? Granted, giving babies the shaft is stupendously chickenshit, but them’s the times, and I don’t make the rules.
How did we get here? The way I once countenanced the proposition that “all men are created equal” was by crediting it as a slightly overwrought recapitulation of Marcus Aurelius’ “Neither have I seen my own soul, and yet I honor it.” You have to be a very thwarted little knit-picker to quibble with the Emperor on that score. Of course it is self-evident that we all intrinsically possess some unqualifiable dignity as creatures. And creatures come in all shapes, sizes and capacities—who are any of us to quantify these differences?
Then again, it’s inevitable that in the course of human events they will be. And this intrinsic dignity is reduced to so much pathos and puerility when it takes up the pitchfork and the petition. From its inception America ordains government as arbiter of the ethereal. At least Shylock’s pound of flesh was a clear-cut matter of principle. The more far-fetched these pitchforked petitions become—the right to public funding and social approval when subornning a physician to commit prenatal infanticide, the right of poofters to adopt little boys, first from Thailand, then from Church orphanages; the right of the well-off and late middle-aged to harvest their preciouses out of cut-rate rental wombs abroad—the clearer it becomes that, like Marx’s bourgeoisie, the tendency of this enterprise is to round ever southerly Capes and open ever newer markets. If the prenate is an “undifferentiated clump of cells”, what does that make the Congolese miner? The Bangladeshi seamstress? The migrant produce picker? The Pakistani drone victim? Always diluting its shareholders’ stock, by-and-by this Beelzebub eats its own head. Like the Church, democracy is always locating and innovating temporality onto the transcendent, and vice versa. When it isn’t a lead pipe, the consent of the governed is a conjurer’s sorcery, and we’re happy to be entranced. We tell ourselves that 120 million more hungry, subliterate mouths would be something we could live with, or that infanticide is a right enshrined in the Constitution which devolves to us from the Mother Gaia. I, for one, would rather minimize my involvement with Beelzebub than see him co-opted to my way of thinking.
So, though I and Hippocrates know (he without aid of the advanced insights into embryology that inform us) that abortion is murder, a natural crime and a morally reprehensible act; though I would make every effort to dissuade a loved one from committing it (and possibly attempt to restrain them physically), I cannot concern myself with the pretend moral arbitration of an authority that bases itself on uncorroborated claims, without as a consequence recognizing them. And since it only recognizes my rights—my soul—as a product of its protection, I would rather secure my own, such as I am able.