I know many of us have been mulling this over for years: Why do “pro-life” people usually oppose not only abortion but also birth control, health care for the poor, and pre-natal care for pregnant women? And why do they usually favor the death penalty, the military budget, and foreign wars?
Really, it’s a mystery.
In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman’s column “Why I Am Pro-Life” lays it all out: those in the news recently–not just random people but elected officials–who believe that God intends rape, the there is no such thing as abortion to save the women’s life, that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t become pregnant. “Borderline crazy” statements, as he says.
Then he really gets warmed up:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”
“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax….
Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected — not only at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life….
I met Friedman once, a dozen or so years ago. I think his analysis has become more incisive since that time, when he centered on globalization and tended to begin columns with lead-ins like: “Yesterday, as I was having breakfast with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia….” We had a nice chat, since the students I was with didn’t seem so interested. This was during the Bush II administration, and he was telling me where the government was going wrong, with such sensible centrist positions that I said: “I think the administration could profit from reading you more, maybe they should give you a job advising them.” And he said: “Oh, no, they hate me.” Now I see why.
People who agree with Friedman should not use the expression “pro-life,” but “anti-choice.” Mitt Romney is anti-choice, whether or not you catch him on a day when he says he believes in exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life (I don’t think he talks about fetal deformity, which is another exception that some abortion foes “allow”).
Our esteemed Secretary of State, who has so distinguished herself this year in her knowledge of voting law, said she was “pro-choice” in 2006, when she ran for State Senate district 19 and was overwhelmed by Andy Dinniman. But it turned out, for her, “pro-choice” meant she felt abortion was justified only in the three “exceptional cases,” above, which (when I looked it up at the time) accounted for only 7% of US abortions.
Just for perspective, here is the relevant passage in the 2012 Republican party platform (pp. 13-14):
… we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children…. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.”
Nothing there about any exceptions. And nothing about any of Friedman’s points about “pro-life” measures for the living, such as Head Start. Rather (p. 13):
… we recognize the individual responsibility to safely use and store firearms. This also includes the right to obtain and store ammunition without registration. We support the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a lawabiding citizen has a legal right to be…. We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines….
and (p. 16)
We will end the EPA’s war on coal”
and there is a whole section (p. 19) on “Reining in the EPA,” as well as a denunciation of the Obama administration’s insistence that climate change is relevant to national security (hmm, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow before Sandy gets here; I’m hastening to post this before the power goes off…).
So here’s my point: when someone chooses or rejects a label or idea, we need to ask questions and do our homework. When we don’t, it allows candidates to have it both ways, saying whatever they want to different audiences while assuming that the vast majority of voters won’t notice.
The upcoming election is a good chance for voters to show candidates that they do notice.