Sliding down the slippery slope on abortion

“Killing a fetus in utero is not the same thing as killing a sentient human being.  When the right gets around to facing scientific facts and abiding by what they say, then we can have an intelligent discussion on the issue.  The US killed tens of thousands of people who were innocent but were at the wrong place at the wrong time in their country of Iraq, and those deaths are a bigger tragedy than millions of fetuses aborted in the US since Roe v. Wade–occuring as they do before the brains in those fetuses know they are alive, feel human pain and loss.  To compare these two sets of deaths is just silly.  I will never understand how conservatives have no problem with collateral damage in the wars that they eagerly support, but worry about fetuses that have less ability to feel pain or suffering than the cattle or chickens that are slaughtered to create Big Macs and McChicken sandwiches.  The morality of the right ignores the realities of pain and suffering, and thus it is morally bankrupt to anyone with basic common sense.”  — abc

I found fascinating the comment abc left on my “leftist morality” post because it is precisely the kind of thinking I had in my teens and twenties.  I was abc.  I know how I got there:  I was raised in San Francisco in liberal Jewish circles and schooled at Berkeley.  What’s more interesting to me is how I left that kind of thinking behind.  My purpose in analyzing my changing attitudes is to say that there is hope for everybody.  Even abc, whom I suspect is rather young, might come to revisit his cherished Leftist dogma.

American Jews are probably amongst the most devout abortion supporters in America.  Those Jews who vote on the abortion-ticket like to point to a very old rabbinic tradition holding that, if a woman is dying during labor, it is acceptable to kill the child, provided that the child has not yet seen the light of day.  Later rabbinic thought expanded this holding to place the child’s life over the mother’s at all times.

These were always narrow exceptions, though.  Pragmatic considerations had to be balanced against God’s injunction to “choose life” and to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Also, in pre-modern times, abortion was both unpopular and risky, and medicine limited a physician’s ability even to assess the risks a pregnant woman was facing.  The early Jewish philosophers were dealing with anomalies that justified abortion, not with Planned Parenthood clinics in every neighborhood.

Although the rabbis wouldn’t recognize abortion today, modern Jews rely on ancient and narrow rabbinical strictures to embrace an ideology that allows abortion, not only in life and death situations, but at all points in time during the pregnancy, and for all reasons.  I grew up, therefore, in a very abortion-friendly milieu.

I also grew up in a Holocaust milieu.  Without exception, all of the older Jewish people whom I knew when I was growing up had a connection to the Holocaust, whether they’d escaped it or lost people to it.  The Holocaust was a defining backdrop to my childhood.

With the Holocaust come questions:  How can a nation deliberately target one entire group of people for extermination?  Please understand in thinking about this question that the dead were not simply unlucky enough to be citizens of a country that was at war, which would make them the ordinary, tragic, collateral damage of traditional warfare.  Nor were these people being killed for acts in which they had engaged, as would be the case with someone tried, convicted and executed for murder, or someone who willing takes up arms against another nation.  Instead, they were targeted simply for being. It was an existential — or, rather, de-existential — slaughter.  You are, therefore you’re dead.  I always knew that acquiescing to the death of innocents simply as a housecleaning matter is evil.

What I tried to tell myself, though, was that abortion, unlike the Holocaust, wasn’t the death of innocents just for housecleaning purposes.  It was the salvation of women, keeping them from abusive relationships, dark alleys and coat hangers.  Except that’s not true.  Or at least, not so true to justify unlimited abortion.  Yes, there are women for whom abortion is the difference between life and death, a situation the rabbis would have recognized and one with which I still feel comfortable.

Living in the Bay Area, however, I knew women who followed the Hippie lifestyle, got too drugged-0ut even to contemplate birth control, and then had an abortion as ex post sexto birth control.  One woman I know did this 11 (yes, eleven) times.  When she finally married and wanted children, she couldn’t get pregnant for love or money.  Nature (or God) has a sense of humor.

The next stage in my development was to be troubled, not by abortion itself, but by the wholesale abortion industry.  I just couldn’t explain away industrialized abortion as something that sat squarely with decency or morality.  I tried another rationalization:  to the extent a human fetus, in its early stages, is indistinguishable from a chicken or dog, it should have at that time in its development the same rights as chickens or dogs — and we shoot chickens, don’t we?  (That’s a rhetorical flourish.  I know that we behead them.)

The argument that the fetus isn’t a person went out the window when I had my own babies.  As I’ve mentioned here before, seeing my daughter’s 16 week-old spine on a scan, something that looked like the most delicate string of pearls, made it impossible for me to deny the fetus’ humanity.  It’s a person.  Likewise, watching my children grow-up and my mom grow old — seeing the connection between baby, toddler, child, teen, young adult, middle aged person, and old person — forced me to recognized that there is a continuum here.  An honest, intelligent person cannot say that the fetus is entirely separate from the baby or the grandmother.  They are one and the same, just at different developmental stages.  To kill a fetus is to kill an old person.

But what about Iraq war?  abc says it’s much better to kill 163 million non-human girl fetuses than it is to kill 100,000 Iraqi civilians.  I disagree.  If we killed civilians simply to houseclean, abc might have an argument.  But as with the rabbis’ distinction between gratuitous abortion and necessary abortion, sometimes we take lives to save lives.  If the Allies had acted against Hitler when he went into the Rhineland, even had that meant killing thousands of Germans, clipping Hitler’s wings would have saved the 20,000,000 lives that WWII destroyed, including the 6,000,000 Jews, the gays, and the gypsies casually exterminated for Aryan housekeeping purposes.  As the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto came to understand, it’s better to fight for your life than to be annihilated because of mindless, evil prejudice.

I have no problem with striking down evil people, whether they lead a nation, operate in a terrorist cell, or kill children in a ghetto.  Since I believe in free will, those who have embraced evil — the Nazis or the Islamists or the gangsters — have forfeited their right to walk freely amongst mankind.  That others are killed alongside them (the woman and children with whom they surround themselves, or those who cannot leave, whether because the system imprisons them or because they know no better) is a tragedy, but it doesn’t lessen the fundamental morality of destroying the evil that creates those prisons.  To quote my favorite Bookworm post:

But what about the innocent lives lost as a result of Pharaoh’s, the Nazi’s, and the Japanese high command’s intransigence? As the Japanese tale shows only too well, the innocents were always going to die, with the only question being whether they would die quickly or slowly. The same holds true for the Germans, whom the Nazis had long ago designated as cannon fodder to support their intensely evil regime. That’s the problem with an evil regime. If you’re unlucky enough to live under that regime, whether or not you support it, you’re going to be cannon fodder. Pharaoh will let you die of plagues, and the Nazi and Japanese leadership will let you be bombed and burned — as long as they can retain their power.

Iran is no different. Although the people bleed and cry under the brutish regime, no plague, including rioting in the streets, has come along that is bad enough to break the back of that tyranny. The people continue to die by inches, and the regime threatens everyone within bombing distance.

Liberals believe that it is immoral to impose serious consequences against the Iranian regime because there are innocents who will suffer from those consequences. What these liberals fail to understand is that, when power doesn’t reside in the people, but resides, instead, in a single group that is insulated from all but the most terrible strikes, imposing small plagues against the country (freezing a few bank accounts, public reprimands, vague threats) is utterly useless. These small plagues, no matter how much they affect the ordinary citizen, do not affect the decision-making process in which a tyrant engages. The only thing that will move the tyrant is to destroy his power base. Everything else is theater.

The Bookworm Turns : A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land, available in e-format for $4.99 at Amazon, Smashwords or through your iBook app.