Pusillanimity, Price and Pro-Life

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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about LUCC’s pending decision on the recognition of a pro-life group on campus. In so doing, I argued for why such a group would be a boon to campus, and why I believe abortion is anti-human and anti-progress. Since then, I’ve received responses both public and private — thank you to all who have done so — and it seems useful to the campus discourse to elaborate further on why I think the way I do about such an ethically and emotionally difficult subject. 

Madison Price wrote an excellent rejoinder to my article in last week’s edition of The Lawrentian. While I’ll be disagreeing with much of what she wrote in the following lines, this is not to say what she expressed was not quality work nor worth serious consideration. In truth, I’ve spent the last several days reading her submission and wrestling with her criticisms. To her, I really do raise my glass. 

Central to our debate is abortion, and it is how we view the parties involved that decides how we come down on the issue. I will strive to be as deferential to my opponents as possible because most people want to do right by others. In my opinion, people who are honest with themselves should be able to acknowledge that abortion is a unique and extraordinarily gray moral matter in the human experience, with no real analogs elsewhere.  

On the abortion-rights side of things, the most sympathetic interpretation is that they are deeply concerned about the perceived negative effects of an unwanted pregnancy on a woman’s life. Furthermore, because a woman contains the developing human life within her body, she has the right to decide if that developing life may continue to exist within her — she should not be forced to keep something on or within that she does not want — similar to any other growth or portion of her body. This relationship between the unborn and the woman becomes all the more strained when she had no choice in the impregnation.

On the pro-life side, it really comes down to the unborn’s being attached to, but fundamentally separate from, the mother. I will not make a religious claim here, because it’s not necessary. The unborn contains its own DNA and acts independently of the mother. Reproduction has happened with the egg’s fertilization, and abortion literally interrupts a typical biological process. As this is a human life, it should be afforded the same right to life that anyone else has.  

Abortion advocates say this removes a mother’s right to autonomy, which is true — and that’s the rub. With an abortion or a stay of abortion — otherwise called a normal pregnancy — someone’s rights are getting reduced or outright violated. However, the unborn’s rights are permanently violated when aborted, and the mother’s full rights are temporarily violated without the option of abortion — furthermore, it should be noted that the mother most often consents to the act which results in pregnancy (Guttmacher).  

Adding to this tension of rights, pregnancy can only happen to people with functioning uteri. I am not at risk of getting pregnant, and so while abortions end the lives of unborn boys and girls, it’s only those with uteri who must confront this reduced autonomy. That’s a heavy load to bear, and there’s no getting around it. While I don’t agree that only women can have an opinion on abortion, as matters of protecting rights are of the collective interest, it’s understandable why abortion rights activists decry the input of individuals i.e., most men, who will never be confronted with the terribly difficult choice of keeping one’s unborn child and suffering the economic, personal and relational consequences. 

I’m fully in favor of tightening paternity testing and obligations. People who engage in unprotected or under-protected sex should and must support their partners and offspring. Furthermore, I’d like to see the cost and complication of adoption reduced so couples that wish to raise a child could do so without shelling out $30k+ and years of their lives for the privilege.  

So here we stand, teetering on the edge of whose rights are supreme, and what we do about the fringe cases where a woman was unable to consent to sexual intercourse. 

Madison is incorrect or oversure on a number of items she uses to critique me. The first, that abortion is not and was not rooted in eugenics, racially-tinged eugenics at that. Madison writes, “I would like to point out that concern about overpopulation is not a reason individuals seek abortion, and that abortion as a method of population control is not an argument the pro-choice movement makes.” Margaret Sanger, who in the early 1900s founded medical institutitons that would become Planned Parenthood, certainly flirted with eugenic thought for some of her life, writing that the “consequences of breeding from stock lacking human vitality always will give us social problems and perpetuate institutions of charity and crime.”  

Anyhow, while Sanger has been disavowed by some parts of the Planned Parenthood organization, it’s within the realm of possibility that this denouncement is little more than a PR stunt given that more Black unborn babies are aborted per capita than any other racial group, per the CDC’s Abortion Surveillance Report. Plus, given a supermajority of abortion clinics — PP pre-eminent among them — are within walking distance of minority neighborhoods, I believe it to be targeting.  

But doesn’t Planned Parenthood offer all sorts of non-abortive healthcare? Some of those services have been declining precipitously for the past decade or so (Susan B. Anthony List). One thing they’re doing more of at PP is abortions. Madison mentions harassment by pro-life activists when visiting PP locations. While I have no patience for such hostility, these folks aren’t righteously indignant about pap smears and breast cancer screenings.  

As to her criticism of my claim that we no longer suffer mass starvation in the United States and other developed countries, she over-corrects. Certainly, there are children who go home from school wondering where dinner will be found. However, we do not see the distended stomachs and related medical issues from malnutrition that some less fortunate countries and their citizens endure. More often, a child’s lack of consistent meals comes from a parent’s mismanagement of government assistance, a failure mostly on the guardian’s part for which I have little patience.  

Madison also condemned my rhetorical lashing of LUCC, and here I somewhat agree with her. I may have gone too far; on the other hand, there’s value in publicly denouncing that base and vindictive body of carrion I see in LUCC. Those who ask to control the lives, as I believe LUCC as an institution do, of others deserve little patience and less mercy when they act in such a way. I do not condemn individuals, but the group’s collective decision.  

I believe the student government’s grounds for dismissing the pro-life group’s request for recognition was as baseless as it was craven. Certain people intimately familiar with LUCC’s decision were adamant when talking to me that the decision was made not on the merits, but on ideologically hostile grounds. Pusillanimous, indeed. 

Welp, I’m well behind my deadline and need to get this submitted. I hope this was useful, either to confirm my derangement in your eyes or to illustrate why abortion debates are so monstrously difficult and emotionally charged.  

If you disagree or agree, let me know at abell@lawrence.edu. Cheers! 

An apology: I forget that the physical copy of The Lawrentian is once again available and that the hyperlinks I imbed are not there for print readers to explore. My submission had multiple such links, but I went to the website and saw they were not included. Apologies to our readership for this oversight. I would like to provide as many sources as possible to support claims made. The Editorial Board has been informed of this mistake and will be including hyperlinks in the online version moving forward.