Logicians know that when you deduce a contradiction, your premises are broken. When human beings express a contradiction, it usually means their true beliefs are not their stated or conscious ones; they’re rationalizing a position which they may not be fully aware of.
The ‘pro-life’ right has a very simple story about abortion. Human life is sacred, and begins at conception. Killing a fetus is murder and should be prohibited. But almost all ‘pro-lifers’ will admit, when pressed, that they’d allow abortion when the mother was raped.
Excuse me? If all human life is sacred, why is the child of rape an exception? It’s not like any fetus chooses to have a rapist as its father. Pro-lifers say all fetal life is sacred, but they don’t follow through as they would if they actually believed that. So they must actually believe something else.
Rape is sex the woman didn’t want. Therefore, the obvious candidate for something else is “Women who want sex (and only women who want sex) must be forced to bear children whether or not they want to.” Gee, that doesn’t sound as appealing or noble as “All human life is sacred”, does it? It’s not about the fetus at all.
This is why I put the term ‘pro-life’ in sarcasm quotes. The core issue revealed in the actual behavioral prescriptions of ‘pro-life’ types (as opposed to their rhetoric) has nothing to do with the fetus itself and everything to do with the belief that sexual desire is a sin and should have heavy consequences.
Alternatively, what pro-lifers may be be most afraid of is the thought of people having sex just to satisfy desire, without the intention or potential result of childbirth. The Catholic Church follows this premise through to its conclusion explicitly, rejecting all forms of contraception.
I’m going to surprise a lot of my readers now by observing that being afraid of conscupiscience is not crazy. In fact, this kind of fear, and the suppression of non-procreative sex, may be an evolutionary advantage. Most of the developed world outside the U.S. is on a fast train to demographic collapse because the populations of Europe and Japan are not breeding at replacement levels.
The trouble with standing athwart this particular tide the way the Catholic Church is doing isn’t so much that they’re wrong, it’s that the attempt is failing. Catholics everywhere have refused to comply with the prescription and the reasoning. Evidently, if we want populations that reproduce under modern conditions, we have to find a more effective form of behavior modification than trying to moralize people out of having sex for pleasure.
But the standard form of ‘pro-life’ rhetoric is worse than merely ineffective, because it’s dishonest; the people uttering it won’t or can’t admit what their real issue is. Instead, they dress up their desire to control others in religious clothing.
By contrast, the “keep your laws off my body” rhetoric of the pro-choice side looks far more consistent and reasonable, even though it leads to the repugnant conclusion that there is no moral issue with killing an infant that has humanlike brain activity but happens not to be due to exit the womb for another five minutes.
(I sometimes think, by the way, that the whole abortion debate would change radically if Le Boyer birth were normal in our culture and people could see babies being born with their eyes open, smiling, aware of what is happening.)
Voltaire said, “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” He was right, and both extremes in the abortion controversy demonstrate that. But the ‘pro-life’ side has a worse case of absurdity than the pro-choicers, and that won’t change until (at a minimum) they face up to what they really want.