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The Evil That Runs Through Everything
Some months ago, a friendly acquaintance saw a casual remark I made on a politics forum about how Democrats will never win in states like West Virginia because they are anti-unborn. My acquaintance objected: "Democrats aren't anti-unborn. We just believe medical decisions like whether or not to have an abortion are best left to be decided between a women and her doctor."
I replied, without rancor:
This is like saying that Roger Taney wasn't anti-Black.
In fact, it's exactly like that.
Now, I get it: you don't think unborn people are people, and think it's not just reasonable but necessary (for gender equality) to exclude them from legal personhood, the protections of the Constitution, and the 14th Amendment. Okay, that's where you stand. We all know how abortion debates crash and burn in this thread, and we don't need to have one tonight.
But declaring that you think the unborn have "no rights the [born] man is bound to respect" makes you -- and the mainstream Democratic Party -- anti-unborn. This is as plain as the fact that triangles have three sides. Please don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.
(Roger Taney was the Supreme Court justice who authored Dred Scott v. Sandford.)
My acquaintance was infuriated. He demanded I apologize for my "insulting, disgusting" comparison to "a slave-owning SCOTUS justice" and contended that I had attacked the basic rules of civil discourse by drawing that parallel. He stated that there was no similarity between abortion and slavery, because of course everyone has always known that Blacks are full-fledged human persons, but nobody knows or ever can know whether unborn children are full-fledged human persons, in large part due to their limited cognitive abilities.
I answered (intemperately, this time) that if he was uncomfortable being compared to Taney and the slaveholders, he should stop relying on the same logic, the same arguments, and even the same legal theory as the slaveholders. I said that, like the George Floyd protestors (who were on the streets at the time), and like the great William Lloyd Garrison, I had lost patience with being called uncivil just because I said plainly that our society should stop murdering kids. I noted that, in fact, White Europeans like us had spent centuries pretending not to know that Blacks are full-fledged human persons. You saw it from the theological debates of the 15th century over whether indigenous people had properly human souls, to the scientific racism of the 20th century, which claimed Blacks lacked Whites' cognitive abilities.
At this point, my friendly acquaintance ended our conversation, unfriended me on social media, and never spoke to me again.
This is not the first time I've had a conversation go like this.
I think the last time it was when an abortion rights advocate insisted that parents should be able to abort if there's evidence that the child has a serious defect, like Down's Syndrome. I responded with a comparison to lebensunwertes leben ("life unworthy of life," the 1930s progressive ethic used by the Nazis to justify euthanization of the disabled).
The time before that, it was when I noted that Roe v. Wade's death toll eclipses that of the Holocaust, and that those who support Roe have some of that blood on their hands. (62 million American children have been killed under the Roe regime. 12 million died in the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews.)
In each case, once I drew the comparison, the conversation was derailed and the relationship seriously damaged.
Now, you are free to criticize my approach for being imprudent. I, too, wonder whether I could have caught more proverbial flies with more honeyed tactics.
What you can't really dispute, though, is the logical basis for my comparisons. If unborn-rights advocates are right about our core claim, that fetuses are people, then it's impossible to see the abortion-driven eradication of people with Down's Syndrome as much different from Aktion T4. It becomes impossible to see your local Planned Parenthood as substantially different from a death camp. It becomes impossible not to recognize the thread of logic that runs from Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson through Roe and Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt.
Inherent in the unborn-rights position is the conclusion that we, as a nation, are guilty of one of the greatest crimes in human history.
Yet, when I say this very obvious thing out loud, my interlocutors always seem completely stunned that I would think such a thing. Even if they started out believing that they wanted an open, honest, constructive dialog with a pro-lifer, they are so outraged that I actually, seriously, for real think fetuses are people (and that people who kill fetuses are actual, serious, for real murderers) that many of them end our relationship on the spot.
And I'm, like, dude, you knew I was pro-life! How did you think I saw the willful murder of 62 million innocent children? How did you think I saw your complicity in it?
Yet I think their shock is real. Most pro-choicers really can't believe you think they support atrocities... and they really can't imagine carrying on a friendly relationship with you afterward. Who could possibly be friends with a Nazi or a slaveowner or even a run-of-the-mill modern racist? And didn't I just tell my friends that they are Nazi-grade monsters? Who could possibly be friends with someone who sees them as a monster?
And here, finally, is the point I've been meandering toward: I suspect there's a real difference in how abortion abolitionists and abortion defenders generally view the world. We don't just differ on the question of whether and how to protect fetuses and their mothers. Our understanding of abortion informs our whole approach to good and evil.
For those who oppose unborn rights, I have to imagine that the story our culture tells itself about evil seems more or less true:
Most people are basically decent folk who just want to prosper and raise their families in peace. But a few people are monsters. Your basic Adolf Hitlers or Simon Legrees don't just make bad choices; they are utterly depraved. Everything about them serves evil. Even when they do a good thing, it's mere hypocrisy, which actually underlines their depravity. Is there anything more infuriating than a slaveholder taking the slaves he tyrannizes six days a week to Christian church services on the seventh?
These rare monsters, the story goes, have a knack for finding other monsters and giving them power, whether big fish like Joseph Goebbels and Sen. John C. Calhoun, or mere thugs like Karl Frenzel and Isaac Franklin. Worse, these monsters are sometimes able to convince superstitious, less-educated decent folk to follow them, often by exploiting their poverty and ignorant prejudices. These decent folk can be saved through education, welfare, and outreach. The monsters may perhaps be mentally ill, in which case they can be treated. However, many of the monsters can only be ostracized and destroyed, so that the decent folk who make up the overwhelming majority can live in peace. Think of how our society regards Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis -- the modern ones, who don't have the excuse of living in a time when that sort of thing was more acceptable.
Fortunately, in our enlightened times, we have much better education, mental health care, material wealth, and empathy than our forebears. Evil may still occasionally erupt into our lives—Donald Trump and his supporters are often treated like an inexplicable, unanswerable darkness of this sort—but modern civilization has made it difficult for real, Nazi-level, slavery-level evil to gain a foothold... and, if it does, we may rely on the legions of Educated Decent Folk to beat it back into the hole it came from. Then the world returns to decency. We're certainly not perfect, but we're trying, and, for the most part, we muddle through to doing the right thing.
This is not the world a pro-lifer grows up in.
When I was growing up, the heart of my neighborhood was on Ford Parkway. When I was around ten years old, if you'd asked me to list the major landmarks on Ford, I would have said something like, "Well, there's the Blockbuster, the bookstore, the hobby store that has Star Trek cards, the old 31 Flavors, the library, the place where they kill babies, and the Pizza Hut they're turning into a Dairy Queen."
I never had nightmares about abortion clinics or anything, they were just a daily fact of existence, a constant reminder that evil wasn't some distant eruption of darkness. Evil lived in my neighborhood. It had an address and a business permit. When I once naively suggested that police would help Operation Rescue protestors shut down the clinic, it was explained to me that, in fact, the police would be arresting and dispersing the protesters.
I slowly became aware that the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, not only supported the killing, but refused to put a stop to even the most brutal forms of infanticide. And, even as a kid, I knew you didn't become President without votes -- a lot of votes.
It eventually emerged that some of those voters were loved ones within my own family, people I'd known and adored my whole life. Some of the people who considered abortion rights crucial to human rights were the parents of my best friends.
These were people I knew to be Decent Folk, genuinely. They were not totally depraved Simon Legree types, doing the occasional good thing merely to underline their own hypocrisy. Nor were they ignorant rubes dragged along by Justice John Paul Stevens' soaring rhetoric and immense charisma. (/s) These were educated people, many of them churchgoing. They loved their families, gave to the poor, supported racial equality, worried about the well-being of all mankind, and occasionally even let me and my friends play extra time on the computer near the end of the day. (Which practically made them saints!) I loved them, and I still do.
Many, no doubt, were uncomfortable with the idea of abortion and tried not to think about it. Or perhaps they tried to absolve themselves by insisting that they didn't support abortion, just the choice to have one. And yet, here they were, part of the machinery of death, doing their small part to help churn out the tens of millions of crushed infant skulls upon which our "civilization," if you want to call it that, is built. Thirty-five hundred skulls a day, every day—more than 9/11, more than a really bad day of covid-19—every single day, for almost five decades and counting.
Evil is not an abstract darkness erupting in the form of some freakishly clever psychopath. Evil runs through everything. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us all together. Its ubiquity makes it banal beyond the dreams of Hannah Arendt. Take a trip to the library, and evil looms over you out the window while you read your kid Peppa Pig. Hang out with a buddy from the softball team, let the conversation veer toward "social issues," and you discover evil sits right behind you in the batting order—and you've got a dinner party with him and his wife and kids next week that you're really quite looking forward to. By the time you're my age, you can be statistically quite certain that you have friends, perhaps even family, who have personally solicited, paid for, or committed murder... even if you don't know which ones.
So that's the world I grew up in.
I suspect I felt this at an unusually young age, but, if you believe that fetuses are people, it's inevitable. This is the reality we all eventually have to come to grips with.
I suspect there are even people out there who would support abortion abolition, but can't, because the reality of abortion is simply too awful to contemplate. As Dr. Gines Gonzales Garcia, a leader of the (largely male) Argentinian movement to legalize abortion, said last month:
Here there are not two lives as some say. There’s clearly a single person and the other is a phenomenon. If it were not like that, we would be facing the greatest universal genocide, [because] more than half the civilized world allows it.
But why should that be surprising? Read The German War, 1939-1945. Read the letters of average Southerners living in the Confederate States of America. We all seem to think we'll be the first to leap to our feet and fight back heroically when atrocity comes our way, but every atrocity in every society in history teaches us the same lesson: rationalization is simple, and Murder Is Easy.
We can't answer this evil by ostracizing it. We'd have to ostracize the whole world.
We can't fight this monstrosity by hating the people who participate in it. They're our friends, families, colleagues, and teachers. We know they are Decent Folk, many of whom we'd trust with our lives... and that they are willing supporters of a crime against humanity.
We know the United States is a great country, built on high ideals, and we're proud to sing her anthems... and we realize that the U.S.A. can't seem to stop committing atrocities, skipping almost instantly from slavery to Jim Crow to abortion (which disproportionately targets Black children).
If we have an ounce of wisdom, we recognize that we pro-lifers aren't all that different. Many of us would have ended up pro-choice, at best, if things in our lives had played out just slightly differently. The evil that's swallowed the world flows through our veins, too.
If we have two ounces of wisdom, we come to realize that our only hope against such pervasive evil isn't ostracism, but love.
So if I ever compare you to a Nazi camp guard or a slaveowning Supreme Court justice, consider the possibility that I am not calling you an irredeemable monster who must be instantly cast out of polite society. Consider instead the possibility that I'm saying that the Nazi camp guard was probably a decent person who loved his family, had great empathy for all humanity, and sincerely tried to better his community—not a monster, but someone a lot like you. And a lot like me.
If only these good, decent, neighborly men and women had extended that empathy to one more small, inconvenient class of human beings. The ones they decided weren't really "people."
The ones they rationalized away.
The ones who died—the ones they slaughtered—by the thousands. By the millions.
Today is January 22nd. It is the forty-eighth anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the total legalization of abortion in the United States. 62 million people have died, and thousands more will die tomorrow. Once you understand how many good, decent people play a necessary role in making this happen, you can never see the world the same again.