The Culture of Death on Display at WaPo

by Michael Sean Winters

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For the second time in as many months, the Washington Post has published an op-ed that unwittingly exposes the culture of death in all its ugliness. I say unwittingly because in both cases the authors of these articles seem blithely unaware of the moral implications of their arguments.

Last month, Loren Clark-Moe wrote a column denouncing the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. I called attention to that column at the time, noting that Clark-Moe makes many, repeated usages of the first person personal pronoun – I, me, mine – without once mentioning the child.

Yesterday, the Post ran an even more remarkable, thoroughly chilling, article by Janet Harris, who now runs a news and social media analysis firm, but who previously served as communications director at EMILY’s List, the political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice women to public office. Harris objects to politicians – and others – characterizing the choice whether or not to procure an abortion as a “difficult decision” and cites her own experience:

For more than 10 weeks, I progressed from obliviousness about my pregnancy to denial to wishful thinking: Maybe if I ignore that I missed two periods, that pesky little fact will go away. Once I faced reality, though, having an abortion was an obvious decision, not a difficult one. The question wasn’t “Should I or shouldn’t I?” but “How quickly can I get this over with?”

She adds that an unwanted pregnancy at that time in her life “would have derailed my future. Making it difficult for me to finish college and have the independent, productive life that I’d envisioned.” So, if there were no moral qualms for her, why should there be for anybody else?

Harris states her case in the kind of real politique terms that would make Metternich proud:

But there’s a more pernicious result when pro-choice advocates use such [“difficult decision”] language: It is a tacit acknowledgment that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue requiring an ethical debate. To say that deciding to have an abortion is a “hard choice” implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being. It puts the focus on the fetus rather than the woman. As a result, the question “What kind of future would the woman have as a result of an unwanted pregnancy?” gets sacrificed. By implying that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, pro-choice advocates forfeit control of the discussion to anti-choice conservatives.

There is so much that is frightening in that paragraph, it is difficult to know where to start. I am not sure where Ms. Harris was educated, but the assertion that abortion is not a moral issue at all is spectacularly ignorant of history, to say nothing of modern researches into the obviously human attributes of an unborn child. An argument that does not consider both the mother and the fetus is self-evidently, and in the event, self-servingly, turning a blind eye to one half of the equation, no? It is the logical equivalent of examining race relations but denying one race “the status of being” or any legitimate interest, let alone voice, in the matter. Needless to say, “what kind of future the unborn child will have” is not a question Mr. Harris is prepared to pose or answer.

I wonder if Harris views co-workers the way she views the unborn? Surely, in her career, there have been people who have been in her way, people with the potential to “derail her future” – are they, too, to be eliminated through a gruesome procedure? If removing obstacles to one’s future is no more morally problematic than removing a hangnail, why not just off that pesky little fact of a boss who does not recognize your talent? I suppose it is harder to deny the humanity of a co-worker than it is an unborn child, but if that unborn child is not human, what is it? It is not an acorn and will not grow into an oak tree.

What is most chilling to me is that Harris seems to be encouraging women to deaden their conscience on behalf of a media strategy. She does not claim that abortion is a moral good. She does not make the case that abortion is good for the woman. Her argument is that even entertaining moral qualms is bad strategy. She is not looking for the truth, she is looking for a win, and woe to the person who gets in her way. Harris’ recitation of social science data to support her conclusion demonstrates nothing more than the limits of social science data: The fact that most women who have procured an abortion tell a pollster hired by the pro-choice industry that they “had high confidence in their decisions” could as easily be a measure of the hopelessness in which many young women, especially young and poor women, find themselves. Ah, but we can’t entertain that possibility as it might be evidence of a question, and Harris does not like pesky questions.

I am not sure why the Post is publishing these kinds of articles, but I am glad they are doing so. Sometimes, when I go into a rant about modernity, and especially the modern academy, friends tell me that I am drawing a caricature. Here, Harris unwittingly draws her own caricature. Unwilling to even admit the possibility that the unborn child might be a human person with dignity, she ends up denying her own dignity. If she thinks this is a strategy that will work, I would suggest that she is even more myopic than first thought. In the 70s, we were told that the personal is political. Now, it is the political that is personal. And that is a frightening specter for anyone, even if Harris does not seem to see the danger. The culture of death not only kills children and the elderly, it kills conscience too, indeed it kills all in its way. I do not believe Catholics should be “obsessed” with abortion, or that a political and legal solution is easy. But, I believe with all my heart that we must resist the culture of death and do so, as Pope Francis has shown us the way, by preaching a culture of life and of love, one in which we encounter the other as other and, simultaneously, as a source of blessing. Harris encounters the other as a threat to her future. We must encounter the other as a blessing.  

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