The know-nothings of the pro-life movement

Pro-lifers are celebrating their success in getting abortion funding excluded from the House version of the health care bill. Kim Trobee of CitizenLink, part of Focus on the Family, writes:

Now, attention turns to the Senate, where lawmakers soon will consider their version of health-care reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said his bill will “look markedly different” from the House offering.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said pro-lifers must continue to contact their lawmakers.

“We will remain vigilant and shift our efforts to the Senate,” she said, “to ensure that these same pro-life protections are added to the Senate bill.”

The article also says:

Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said there were numerous troubling aspects of the bill in addition to the life concerns.

“Many of those fall outside our area of expertise,” she said. “That’s why Focus on the Family Action remained neutral on passage of the overall bill and focused our efforts on the important abortion funding issue.”

To which Terry Morris replies at Webster’s Blogspot:

Huh?! Educate thyself! Or otherwise get the hell out of the business of attempting to do that which you’re ill-equipped and ill-prepared to do in the first place….

This kind of thing is precisely the reason the pro-life lobby is generally looked down on and distrusted by the larger, more well rounded conservative community….

… here we have a lobbying group, supposedly “conservative,” supposedly “pro-life” which has resigned itself to the idea that the central government is somehow authorized to run roughshod over the constitution at its will and pleasure (not their area of expertise, don’t ya know), an idea which defies both its supposed conservatism and its pro-life claims. So instead of attacking the root of the problem as they should if they’re going to attack it at all, they go after single provisions in the bill …

The problem here … is that they’re willing to go along tacitly with the blatantly unconstitutional healthcare ‘reform’ package and the unconstitutional means Congress is using to effect it, so long as the feds make the empty promise, in return for their support (which they claim is a “neutral” position), that no abortion funding will be attached to the bill. That’s being “neutral,” eh? …

I agree with Terry Morris’s tough words. Indeed, based on the pro-lifers’ reasoning, we can fairly say that if a bill were proposed in Congress that would nationalize all industry in the United States, make all American adults slaves of the government, and outlaw the institution of marriage except for marriages between persons of the same sex, but the bill also contained a plank to fund abortion, and if the pro-life movement then succeeded in getting the Congress to remove the abortion funding from the bill, the pro-life people would declare victory while adding that that they were “neutral” on the bill as a whole.

It was the same with Bristol Palin last year. The fact that Bristol had not had an abortion became the sole issue for the pro-lifers, leading them into gushing approval an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. By doing so they essentially destroyed whatever was left of the social conservative, pro-family movement. Who cares about marriage and the family?, they were really saying. All that matters is that people not have abortions.

How can we explain this disastrous loss of any larger moral and political perspective, of any conservative perspective, on the part of the pro-life movement? Life in advanced modern society has become increasingly “complicated,” and it’s hard to know what’s right and what’s wrong. The pro-life people look at abortion and say, “Here is something that we KNOW is wrong, without any ambiguity, without need for further thought. In this world full of uncertainties, we will commit ourselves to the anti-abortion cause and fight for it with all our might, and ignore everything else.” Their devotion to opposing abortion takes place in a context in which they have given up knowing or caring about right and wrong generally. Which means that they are nihilists, with the sole exception of abortion.

I might have titled this entry: The Nihilism of Single-Issue Politics.

* * *

Speaking of single issue politics, see the op-ed by Kate Michelman, former president of the pro-abortion organization NARAL, and Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, in the November 11 New York Times. For Michelman and Kissling, the right to abortion transcends all other issues, and they are so outraged at the House Democrats for removing abortion funding from the health care bill that they threaten to drive the Democrats from power as punishment for their betrayal:

This, then, is where we stand as party leaders celebrate passage of the House bill. When it comes to abortion, they seem to think all positions are of equal value so long as the party maintains a majority. But the party will eventually reap what it has sown. If Democrats do not commit themselves to defeating the amendment, then they will face an uncompromising effort by Democratic women to defeat them, regardless of the cost to the party’s precious majority.

It would appear that the pro-choice true believers are as little committed to leftism as the pro-life true believers are to conservatism.

- end of initial entry -

November 16

Tim W. writes:

I agree with your criticism of the single-issue pro-lifers and the health care bill. I just thought I’d add a little detail on why the organized pro-life movement is so single-minded on this issue.

The modern pro-life movement arose in response to Roe vs. Wade and various other attempts to legalize abortion in the early 1970s, such as the 1970 legalization bill in New York. At the time, the opposition to abortion was not clearly partisan or ideological. There were a large number of otherwise very liberal politicians who were pro-life. Thomas Eagleton, McGovern’s initial running mate, was pro-life. So were Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. So was notoriously leftist Frank Church of Idaho. Connecticut governor Ella Grasso was pro-life. The Massachusetts legislature, though lopsidedly Democrat and liberal, was among the most pro-life in the country.

These pro-life liberals developed their political sensibilities during the Great Depression and World War II, long before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. As they retired or passed on, and were replaced by a generation of liberals attached to the Sixties, the ranks of pro-life liberals declined. The Massachusetts legislature, overwhelmingly pro-life in 1975, now has only a few pro-life members, even though the Democrats have had a comfortable majority there throughout the entire period.

So it made some sense circa 1973 for the pro-life movement to be single issue. There was significant ideological diversity in their ranks, though from the very beginning the media declared the movement to be part of the “far right.” Had the leaders of the pro-life movement announced at the time that they would not only oppose abortion, but also a variety of liberal boondoggles (such as a separate Department of Education), they would have just split their ranks. Instead, by remaining single-issue, they won passage of the Hyde Amendment despite big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

As time has passed, the number of pro-life liberals has declined. But there are still a few, as the easy victory of the Stupak Amendment demonstrates. It makes less and less sense now for the pro-life movement to not be part of the larger conservative movement, but they’re in something of a bind, because to abandon the remaining pro-life liberals by opposing liberalism on other issues would jeopardize the pro-life cause. If they were to come out against national health care, for example, then House members such as Stupak, Dahlkemper, Oberstar, and other otherwise liberal pro-lifers, would potentially retaliate by switching to the pro-abortion position. They’ve been stung before by the likes of Joe Biden, Al Gore, Dick Durbin, and others who were pro-life at the start of their careers and then unceremoniously dumped their pro-life stance to advance themselves in the Democratic Party.

So the pro-life movement remains steadfastly single-issue. It probably isn’t the best policy now that the left is so overwhelmingly on the other side, but it made sense in the beginning.

LA replies:

Very interesting background.

However, it was Focus on the Family which declared its neutrality on the health care bill. Focus on the Family doesn’t represent just the pro-life position, but social conservatism. It’s not supposed to be a single issue organization.

Gintas writes:

The leftist regime is more and more a monolithic juggernaut bearing down remorselessly and soullessly on any and all opposition. I can’t see how someone could be pro-life and not oppose it lock, stock, and barrel. Can a man be anti-Gulag yet still be neutral about Stalin? Dobson should pray he dies before he suffers the the utter humiliation of a show trial where he sings the praises of the full cultural Marxist program and professes his love for Big Brother.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 15, 2009 02:45 PM | Send

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