Skip to comments.A House Divided Cannot Stand: The Looming Civil War Over Abortion
Posted on 10/31/2002 10:38:05 PM PST by WarSlut
In my opinion, the agitation about abortion will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half "prochoice" and half "prolife." I do not expect the United States to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all another.
These are not my words. They are the barely altered words of Abraham Lincoln, from his famous "House Divided" speech of 1858. Our house today is as deeply divided over abortion as it was then over slavery. And Lincoln's prophecy seems to me freshly applicable. Either Christianity shall rebaptize the heart of the nation, or secularism shall drive out Christianity, but there will be no peace until one or the other is victorious.
Why do I say so? Christianity is the historical source of the laws against abortion which existed prior to Roe v. Wade. When Christianity was born into the Roman empire, it made novel and severe moral demands on its converts, demands fundamentally at odds with pagan practices. The world governed by Rome used all sorts of birth control, from prophylactic to medicinal to magical, and accepted abortion (as well as infanticide, divorce, homosexuality, and suicide). Christianity rejected all of these, and as it evangelized society over the next millennium, all of these practices eventually became prohibited by law. That our society has until recently outlawed abortion (and the other practices mentioned) is intelligible only because Christianity was the historical source of our moral, and hence legal, fabric.
Christianity's rival, a secularist counter-movement was born five hundred or so years ago. The Christian moral arguments were attacked by the new intellectuals, and their views slowly de-evangelized Western society. The transition from Christian to un-Christian laws (legal birth control, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and now, with partial-birth abortion, infanticide) has happened right before our eyes in the 20th century. But the rising stream of secularism had been eroding the moral banks cut by Christianity and washing away its moral boundary markers for some time. Roe v. Wade in 1973 was a shocking highwater mark but not an aberration.
The result for us is a body of law pulling in two different directions. Our legal fabric now is an increasingly stress-worn patchwork of rival and incommensurable arguments. The root of this rivalry is surprisingly simple: Christianity believes that a human being has an immortal soul with an eternal destiny; Christianity's rival believes that a human being is just one more animal - albeit an interesting one - that lives by accident and in death is extinguished. The former has everything to fear and everything to hope for from another life; the latter's hopes and fears are all in the hereand-now.
The irreconciliability of these positions is clear in relation to abortion. If a human being is defined by an immortal soul that he receives at conception, and the child, mother, and father all have eternal destinies, then (1) the abortion of the child amounts to murder and (2) the mother and father will be willing to suffer hardship in this life, not only because the child is human but also because they fear the eternal consequences of the sin of murder. But if a human being is just a body, then (1) we are, in or out of the womb, just one more configuration of ultimately lifeless matter - just another animal, and (2) the mother and father will be far less willing, if willing at all, to suffer hardship on behalf of a child, for they have only this world's pain to dread.
Since there is no common measure of a human being between these rival views, there can be no common measure by which their claims can be adjudicated. Thus, there can be no compromise, and no peace. The controversy over abortion is not just a political battle but a veritable moral war.
We may begin to see, then, the fundamental difficulties with the strategy set forth by many prolifers. Since the Supreme Court imposed abortion in an exercise of raw federal judicial power that overrode state laws, we will have more success, so the argument goes, if we return the abortion war to state battlefields. This was Lincoln's early (but later abandoned) position: Keep states already opposed to slavery slave-free, allow no new states to adopt slavery, and contain the slave states themselves. Do this, Lincoln had argued, and slavery will eventually vanish.
It didn't turn out that way with slavery. Nor should prolifers be sanguine about such a strategy in regard to abortion. First, Lincoln's strategy was plausible because living in a non-slave state and traveling to a slave state to use one's slaves would be unfeasible; whereas, with modem mobility, driving across state lines to get an abortion is very feasible indeed.
Second, factors contributing to the institutionalization of Southern slavery (the particular culture and climate, and the high-maintenance nature of certain hot-weather crops such as cotton) were confined to definite regions, but the causes of historical de-Christianization are not confined to particular regions and they observe no state lines. The institutionalization of abortion is nationwide.
Third, while the Supreme Court may indeed have used raw judicial power, that power was used effectively. Whatever America was before 1973, the very availability of abortion since then has produced an abortion-dependent national culture. This leads to the final - and deeper - difficulty in preparing an anti-abortion strategy. It is my conviction that abortion will never be removed until artificial contraception itself is rejected, for the sexual habits and values entailed in contraception lead inevitably to the desire for abortion. Again, acceptance and use of contraception are not limited to certain states or regions.
Setting aside the question of whether to fight on the national or state level, when we examine the nature of the abortion debate itself, we see why there will be no peace. Many partisans of abortion have tried to settle the war by declaring that each woman has a right to decide for herself whether abortion is immoral. Consider whether the following argument is persuasive:
"It is no argument to say that abortion is an evil, and hence should not be tolerated. You must allow the people to decide for themselves whether it is a good or an evil." The prochoice side both "denies the right of Congress to force the acceptance of abortion upon people unwilling to believe it is moral" and "denies the right of Congress to force the prohibition of abortion upon people unwilling to believe it is immoral." The "great principle" is the right to choose, "the right of every person to judge for himself whether a thing is right or wrong, whether it would be good or evil for him to do it; and the right of free action, the right of free thought, the right of free judgment upon the question is dearer to every true American than any other under a free government." The argument continues: "When that principle is recognized, you will have peace and harmony and fraternal feeling between all the States of this Union; until you do recognize that doctrine, there will be sectional warfare agitating and distracting the country."
Are these stirring words from a statement by Planned Parenthood? No, they are the words of Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's rival for the presidential nomination. I have altered them only by substituting "abortion" for "slavery." Douglas's original words were spoken in 1858 as he argued that each state could adopt or abolish slavery as it saw fit. (We may add, in warning to all the Mario Cuomos out there, that Douglas held a personally-against-it-but-I-have-no-right-to-impose-my-opinion-on-others position on the morality of slavery.)
Lincoln, answering Douglas in debate, pointed out the flaw in this approach. "I suggest that the difference of opinion, reduced to its lowest terms, is no other than the difference between the men who think slavery a wrong and those who do not think it wrong." The contradiction in Douglas's prochoice position on slavery, Lincoln continued, is that it can never satisfy those who regard slavery - or today, abortion - as a moral wrong. Such "popular sovereignty," as Douglas called it, is really a thinly disguised victory for one side, said Lincoln. It allows people to "have slavery if they want to, but does not allow them not to have it if they do not want it." Similarly with abortion: The presence of legal abortion, even if one does not get an abortion oneself, is stiff a grave moral offense to those who consider it a moral - evil. Lincoln concluded: "When Judge Douglas says that whoever or whatever community wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."
The hypocrisy of such a prochoice view of morality is easily seen by substituting any other moral claim in the blank: "I am personally against x, but I have no right to impose my personal moral views on anyone else." Robbery? Rape? Racial discrimination? But, the prochoice side will say, the latter three are different: They all involve other persons, whereas abortion involves only a woman and her body. Again we can return to the year 1858 to find the same argument there. In that year the Supreme Court under Justice Taney denied freedom to Dred Scott, a slave, on the grounds that black slaves had been considered by the ratifiers of our Constitution to be "a subordinate and inferior class of beings," and therefore Scott himself was not a person but "lawful property."
In 1973 in the Roe v. Wade opinion, Justice Blackmun wrote, "The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a 'person' within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus's right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment" The successful appellant, Norma McCorvey, alias Jane Roe, has become an anti-abortion activist in recent years. Her own words are direct and clear: "Have you ever seen a second-trimester abortion? It's a baby. It's got a face and a body...." It is that simple.
It is indubitable that a "fetus" is a human and a person. But the calluses on our nation's conscience are thick from years of abuse, and our society, as the Supreme Court in Casey v. Planned Parenthood correctly observed, is now structured around the availability of abortion. Just as Southern society, built upon slavery, could not remain intact when slavery was removed, so it is with our society today. Eliminating abortion could cause a disruption as great as that caused by the removal of slavery. Yet how can it be avoided? Just as the nation could not endure having slavery in some states and not in others, so it will not be able to endure having abortion in some states and not others. Just as the nation could not endure having a slave count as property, so it cannot endure having the unborn count as property.
What's in store for us? A great civil war, a war that I pray will not see violence done by the prolife side. Unimaginable, unconscionable cataracts of innocent blood have been and will be shed by the prochoice side - more blood, I shudder to say, than was drawn by the slavemaster's lash and by the War Between the States combined. Any act of violence by those who call themselves prolife will only thicken the moral callousness of the other side. But there must be, and indeed already is, nonviolent protest and political warfare, and there must be, as there already is, spiritual warfare, and it must be fought with the weapons of a Mother Teresa: unassailable holiness, tireless care for the unborn and the born, unflagging re-evangelization, and the courage to speak out.
Mother Teresa was one of the great generals of the prolife army, but it will take thousands of unsung footsoldiers to win the war. I end, for inspiration, with the true story of one such warrior. Angela Baird, a sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College, a vivacious young woman and bright student very active in the prolife movement, was hiking with a group of fellow students recently when she lost her footing and tumbled to the rocks below. She broke her spine, legs, and arms, and suffered massive internal injuries. Others went for help and managed to summon a rescue helicopter. While she waited, Angela and another student who had climbed down to her prayed. They prayed a rosary that was, Angela said, not for her but for the unborn. Angela died later that night, a true spiritual warrior, precious to the Church and to the unborn. The great civil war in which we are now engaged will demand from us courage and selflessness like hers.
-- Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1983
The "I think abortion is wrong but the government has no right to tell a woman she can't kill her child" (your declared position) is just another way of saying "This is someone else's problem, not mine".
This is our nation's problem. Modern medicine, wishful thinking and timid, half-hearted moral objections are't going to make it go away.
Literary reference, credited to Andrea Peyser (re: Christiane Amanpour). Heat of the moment thing at the time, it just stuck.
That is a parallel to the "we don't need laws against abortion, we need to change hearts and minds" (paraphrase) position.
The fact is, laws affect behavior. Are laws alone enough? No. Social conditions too must change, and popular sentiment also.
But judicial rulings, and then laws, are a critical part of the mix.
Contraception leads to abortion, only if we allow the perception to persist that abortion is a form of contraception, as in the old shell game/obfuscatory game of abortion is birth control, contraception is birth control, therefore abortion must just be a form of preventing a new life to come into existence. In actuality, at conception a new individual human life begins and pregnancy is life support for an already existing individual human life. Contraception is the prevention of a new human life coming into existence; abortion is termination of an individual human life already existing and on life support not by that individual's own choosing but by the actions of two other individual human beings willingly or unwittingly.
I will proffer that to radically reduce abortion (to make it what the liar-in-chief once called legal and rare, or some such double-speak as that) requires an awakening of the people's understanding regarding the nature of pregnancy. Pregnancy is life support, support of a new individual life already in existence in need of support to continue, not in need of support to come into existence. That may seem simplistic to state such a thing, but that is the true nature of the confusion and dissonance orchestrated by the despotic democrat party and those in the pubby party who wish to avoid speaking truthfully as to how they perceive abortion, choice, and life. It is time to stop playing obfuscatory games and call the 'thing' what it is: pregnancy is life support and terminating pregnancy is killing an already existing individual human life. Is it enlightened social policy to champion killing of existing individual human lives as if 'for the betterment of society as a whole and the individual family in particular' ... or would it be more enelightened to adjust our way of dealing with nascient individual human life, giving support all along the continuum of individual life from implantation (I would ask for 'from contraception to') to grave? This is the defining issue of the human race, fellow Freepers. This issue will not resolve itself, we will have to speak out to change the environment around life support.
You can smell the decrepit moral relativity in the air there.
So long as pro-lifers ignore fathers who don't want their babies aborted, the movement will lack both a visible protagonist and a necessary sense of personal connection to particular, specific situations.
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