Pro-Life

   I was converted to being fully pro-life in the late seventies. I had been what I call a “grim options” person. In other words, I believed that it is a terrible thing, but sometimes all the other options are so bad that you have to do it. But being persuaded that we are dealing with a human life, I saw the wrongness of balancing taking a human life against other considerations in that sort of way. The more I learned about abortion and began to think about the way it had affected women I had known, the more horrified I became. Yes, there is the simple fact that it is taking a human life and that is wrong in principle, but the depth of my distress over what was going on behind closed doors in those abortion clinics had something to do with my feelings as a woman. Underneath the antiseptic surface I saw violence and violation ending in emptiness and an irretrievable loss. Surely we could do better by women and their un born children. Naturally, I felt alienated from those feminists who took easy availability of abortion to be one of their most central goals.

   That some hard as nails feminists of the “I’m going to get mine and walk all over anyone who gets in my way” type should think that way about abortion did not surprise me in the least. But I became very puzzled when I encountered Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice which painted a picture of the “feminine voice” in ethics that I found very congenial, but yet failed to follow it through consistently and see its pro-life implications. The ecofeminists, who developed some of Gilligan’s ideas and applied them to our relationship with nature, failed to see that their celebration of our interconnectedness with each other and with other living things, and their idea that female energy is biophilic, stood in contradiction with their position on abortion. Pacifist feminists like Sara Ruddick likewise seemed blind to the violence of abortion. All these feminists seemed to be trying to claim the moral high ground for being more caring, non-violent, and in harmony with nature, and portrayed men as individualistic, competitive, dominating, violent, exploitative of nature, and so on. I felt they should not be allowed to get away with claiming the moral high ground while allowing and even contending for easy access to abortion. My article “Abortion and the ‘Feminine Voice’” was an attempt to persuade them that on their own principles, they should take a pro-life position. In a postscript written in 1993, I traced some further developments in the thought of Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings, arguing that they had become unfaithful to their most valuable insights, with the result that the ethics of care became eviscerated and lost its critical edge -- i.e.its capacity to challenge our society's materialism, violence, and selfishness.

   Coming to the issue of abortion, then, by the path I have followed, I am deeply troubled by the fact that as a result of the peculiarities of American politics the pro-life movement has become linked in people’s minds with hawkish foreign policy and indifference to the welfare of the poor and the claims of the environment. We need to re-frame the issue and locate it where it belongs – namely along with those progressive social movements that strive to protect the vulnerable, help the poor, end violence, respect and preserve nature, and to recognize the dignity of every person regardless of color, social class, disability, etc.

   My most recent essay, co-authored with Philip Devine (“Abortion: A Pro-Life Communitarian Perspective” in Abortion: Three Perspectives), combines these sorts of arguments with some core philosophical arguments about personhood and a critique of Roe v. Wade. It attempts to synthesize the ‘feminine voice’ and ‘masculine voice’ versions of the pro-life argument, in order to address real men and women while developing a position fine-grained enough to deal with hard cases.

Resources

In light of the scarcity of healthy dialogue about the issue, I have written a series of op ed pieces entitled “Answering Pro-Choice Arguments” in which I reply carefully to a number of pro-choice arguments in a way accessible to the general reader. Pro-choice people have legitimate concerns. I believe they are wrong, but we need to listen to them and respond. Feel free to download and use these essays. Just give me credit for authorship. Another resource I have available for pro-life activists is a little leaflet I put together along with four evangelicals from His Way Ministries in San Francisco. It is entitled: “What’s the Big Deal About Abortion: Questions Teenagers Ask” and is aimed at junior high school or high school students. It is informative and low key in its approach. No preachy text, no gory pictures. I can send you a sample upon request.