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Vegetarianism - It's ProlifeBy Vasu Murti
Voices for a Just Future
Vol. 8 No. 3 February 2003
While it is known that the feminist movement initially opposed abortion as "child-murder" (Susan B. Anthony's words) and as a form of violence that women were forced to turn to in a patriarchal society, a society that shows virtually no concern or respect for new mothers, it is generally not known that many of the early American feminists - including Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton - were connected with the 19th century animal welfare movement. Together, they would meet with anti-slavery editor Horace Greeley to toast "Women's Rights and Vegetarianism." Many of the early American feminists thus saw animal rights as the logical next step in social progress after women's rights and civil rights.
Count Leo Tolstoy similarly described ethical vegetarianism as social progress: "And there are ideas of the future, of which some are already approaching realization and are obliging people to change their way of life and to struggle against the former ways: such ideas in our world as those of freeing the laborers, of giving equality to women, of ceasing to use flesh food, and so on."
The case for animal rights and vegetarianism should be readily understandable to the millions of Americans opposed to abortion on demand. "Although I may disagree with some of its underlying principles," writes prolife activist Karen Swallow Prior, "there is much for me, an anti-abortion activist, to respect in the animal rights movement. Animal rights activists, like me, have risked personal safety and reputation for the sake of other living beings. Animal rights activists, like me, are viewed by many in the mainstream as fanatical wackos, ironically exhorted by irritated passersby to 'Get a Life!'
"Animal rights activists, like me, place a higher value on life than on personal comfort and convenience, and, in balancing the sometimes competing interests of rights and responsibilities, choose to err on the side of compassion and nonviolence."
Both the anti-abortion and animal rights movements consider their cause a form of social progress, like the abolition of human slavery or the emancipation |of women. Leaders in both movements have even compared themselves to the abolitionists who sought to end human slavery. In his 1975 book Animal |Liberation, Australian philosopher Peter Singer writes that the "tyranny of human over nonhuman animals" is "causing an amount of pain and suffering that can only be compared with that which resulted from the centuries of tyranny by white humans over black humans." Similarly, Dr. J. C. Wilke, former head of National Right to Life, entitled a book Abortion and Slavery.
Like abortion opponents drawing a parallel between the Dred Scott decision and Roe v. Wade, Dr. Tom Regan also draws a parallel between human and animal slavery in The Case for Animal Rights:
"The very notion that farm animals should continue to be viewed as legal property must be challenged. To view them in this way implies that we cannot make sense of viewing them as legal persons. But the history of the law shows only too well, and too painfully, how arbitrary the law can be on this crucial matter. Those humans who were slaves were not recognized as legal persons in pre-Civil War America.
"There is no reason to assume that because animals are not presently accorded this status that they cannot intelligibly be viewed in this way or that they should not be. If our predecessors had made this same assumption in the case of human slaves, the legal status of these human beings would have remained unchanged."
Both movements see themselves as extending human rights to a disenfranchised class of beings. Both movements claim to be speaking on behalf of a minority group unable to defend themselves from oppression. Both movements compare the mass destruction of, in one case, the human unborn, and in the other case, the mass killing of animals, to the Nazi Holocaust.
Both movements have components that engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and both have their militant factions: Operation Rescue and the Animal Liberation Front. Both have picketed the homes of physicians who either experiment upon animals or perform abortions. The controversial use of human fetal tissue and embryonic stem cells for biomedical research brings these two causes even closer together.
Both movements are usually depicted in the popular news media as extremists, fanatics, terrorists, etc. who violate the law. But both movements also have their intelligentsia: moral philosophers, physicians, clergymen, legal counsel, etc. Feminist writer Carol J. Adams notes the parallels between the two movements: "A woman attempts to enter a building. Others, massed outside, try to thwart her attempt. They shout at her, physically block her way, frantically call her names, pleading with her to respect life. Is she buying a fur coat or getting an abortion?"
The Fur Information Council of America asks: "If fashion isn't about freedom of choice, what is? Personal choice is not just a fur industry issue. It's everybody's issue." Like the abortion debate, lines are drawn. "Freedom of choice" vs. taking an innocent life. "Personal lifestyle" vs. violating another's rights.
Animal rights activists have even proven themselves to be "anti-choice" depending upon the issue. A letter in The Animals' Voice Magazine, for example, states:
"Exit polls in Aspen, Colorado, after the failed 1989 fur ban was voted on, found that most people were against fur but wanted people to have a choice to wear it. Instead of giving in, we should take the offensive and state in no uncertain terms that to abuse and kill animals is wrong, period! There is no choice because another being had to suffer to produce that item . . . an eventual ban on fur would be impossible if we tell people that they have some sort of 'choice' to kill ... remember, no one has the right to choose death over life for another being."
Recognizing the rights of another class of beings, of course, limits our freedoms and our choices, and requires a change in our personal lifestyle. The abolition of (human) slavery is a good example of this. Both movements, however, appear to be imposing their own personal moral convictions upon the rest of our secular society.
Both movements make use of similar political tactics, such as economic boycotting. Both movements make use of graphic photos or videos of abortion victims or tortured animals. Both movements speak of respecting life and of compassion. Both movements cite studies that unnecessary violence towards an oppressed class of beings paves the way for worse forms of violence in human society - this is known as the "slippery slope." The term was coined by Malcolm Muggeridge, a prolife vegetarian.
Animal rights activists point out the health hazards associated with meat and dairy products while anti-abortion activists try to educate the public about the link between abortion and breast cancer. The threat of "overpopulation" is frequently used to justify abortion as birth control. On a vegetarian diet, however, the world could easily support a population several times its present size. The world's cattle alone consume enough to feed 8.7 billion humans.
Mostly religious in nature, the anti-abortion movement will need to become completely secular, as it attempts to convince the courts, the legislatures, philosophers, ethicists and universities that human zygotes and embryos should be regarded as legal persons. Conversely, the animal rights movement is secular and nonsectarian, but - like the civil rights movement - will need the inspiration, blessings and support of organized religion, to help end injustices toward animals. The Reverend Marc Wessels, Executive Director of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA), made this observation on Earth Day, 1990:
"It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women's suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggle to support civil rights, labor unions and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality."
Richard John Neuhaus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Editor of First Things, once said to a prolife audience: "... The mark of a humane and progressive society is an ever more expansive definition of the community for which we accept responsibility ... The prolife movement is one with the movement for the emancipation of slaves. This is the continuation of the civil rights movement, for you are the champions of the most elementary civil, indeed, human right - simply the right to be."
While there are indeed some similarities between the present day anti-abortion movement and the anti-slavery movement of centuries past, the prolife movement, in reality, has more in common with the animal protection movement - a fact which prolifers should readily acknowledge. The animal rights movement should be supported by all caring Americans.
And where should an animal rights activist stand with regard to abortion? Mohandas Gandhi, India's great apostle of nonviolence, once wrote, "It seems to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime." C. S. Lewis and other Christians have acknowledged that denying rights to animals merely because they do not exhibit the same level of rational thought most humans exhibit upon reaching full development means denying rights to the mentally handicapped, the senile and many other classes of humans as well. Herein lies the basis for better understanding and cooperation between the two movements seeking liberty and justice for all.
Vasu Murti has written on many topics, with a focus on human and animal lives. He is a founder and leader of Allies of Peace, a Consistent Life member group which defends the lives of both unborn human beings and animals:
Some of Murti's writings can be read on his website:
Murti is the author of a book, They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, which is enjoying a quiet success. It is rich in little known information about thinkers, ancient and modern, who affirmed concern for the lives of all living things. The book is spiral bound, 200 pages, $20 postpaid. To order, send $20 to:
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