The Real ‘Pro-Lifers’ Are in For a Rude Awakening

Tools in for a rude awakening

Some pro-lifers who are celebrating at the banning of abortion in several states and perhaps soon the entire United States, because they sincerely believe that all fetuses at whatever stage of development are human beings with souls, are beginning to press for public help for pregnant women. This is logical enough, indeed it is morally compulsory if you are going to prohibit abortion by law. But they are in for a rude shock, because most of their comrades-in-arms do not really share their beliefs. The pro-choice feminists were right about the latter group all along: their interest is in controlling and punishing women, not in helping “unborn babies.”

Even if “pro-life” politicians and activists were all completely sincere in their insistence that a fetus is the same thing as a human being, and had no ulterior motives, their passionately held beliefs would still not deserve automatic deference from everybody else. While scientific or quasi-scientific arguments can be brought to bear on either side of the issue (when a fetus is “viable” outside the womb, when it can feel pain, etc.), what is “human” is really a philosophical issue, which is to say, a religious matter. The anti-abortion position fundamentally arises from Christian beliefs about the soul and when a developing fetus undergoes “ensoulment,” even if some non-Christians might agree with these perspectives. Other religions, such as Judaism, do not share this approach at all. In general, more traditional or Orthodox Jews are less approving of abortion, but not on the grounds that a fetus has a soul. It follows that even for the most Orthodox Jews, there is absolutely no question that if the mother’s life is danger, abortion is not just permitted but mandatory, under the bedrock Jewish principle of piku’ach nefesh: the commandment to preserve life, or literally, saving a soul. So anti-abortion laws that allow no exceptions even to save the mother’s life are unquestionably a violation of religious rights, as well as being grotesquely inhumane. I am not familiar with the position of other non-Christian religions, but there is no reason to believe they necessarily share Christian beliefs about a fetus’s “ensoulment,” either.

Philosophical and religious arguments aside, however, the obvious disinterest of those who hold real power on the anti-abortion side in doing anything at all to help pregnant women who might want an abortion to bear the child instead is telling. You don’t hear these people demanding that their states improve nutrition and maternal care for pregnant women or even that they get serious about making absentee fathers pay child support. Far from it; they are betraying their real motivations by scheming to prevent pregnant women from leaving their anti-abortion state of residence, passing vigilante laws to turn their states into East Germany with a Stasi agent in every family where pregnant women are concerned, and fulminating about how 12-year-old girls raped by their stepfathers must be forced to bear the child.

This is of a piece with the way the powerful men (and a few women) orchestrating the MAGA-fascist rage fest are manipulating all the so-called culture war issues for their own ends. Traditional-minded people who are disoriented and distressed by the dizzying pace of twenty-first century cultural and societal change are easy marks for demagogues vowing to turn the clock back, and the billionaires who fund them and stand to gain the most. But turning the clock back is a logical and practical absurdity. The 1950s, the 1920s, the 1890s, and the antebellum slavery days are never coming back. Masquerading as reactionaries, just like the original fascists and Nazis of the early twentieth century, today’s MAGA masters are in fact revolutionaries of the far right, and the future they want to construct is a totalitarian nightmare of universal tyranny. One wonders how many of the marks, such as the sincere pro-lifers, will ever understand how they were used.

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