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Victimless Crimes

A familiar argument, abortion as a class issue: if abortion is criminalized, only the poor will be affected, as the rich will be able to always get an abortion. In her article "Abortion: The Left has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life," which appeared in the September 1980 issue of The Progressive, writer Mary Meehan asks why this argument can't be turned upside-down to read: why can't we give rich unborn children the same kind of legal protection we give to poor unborn children?

Criminalization may or may not succeed--the so-called "War on Drugs" is failing miserably. On the other hand, one million cars are stolen every year--does this mean we should legalize auto theft? First we have to determine whether or not the activity is "victimless," before debating criminalization.

Respected pro-life columnist Nat Hentoff is a self-described "liberal Jewish atheist." Not your stereotypical pro-lifer! The pro-life movement desperately needs religious diversity, and someone like Hentoff gives it credibility in secular circles.

Eighteen years ago, in an article appearing in the Atlantic Monthly, George McKenna wrote: "Within the liberal left, from which the Democrats draw their intellectual sustenance, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the absolutist dogma of 'abortion rights.' Nat Hentoff, a columnist in the left-liberal Village Voice, wonders why those who dwell on 'rights' refuse to consider the possibility that unborn human beings may also have rights."

Another liberal Jewish atheist, Peter Singer, concedes this point. Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, is not liked even by pro-life liberals, including some on the Democrats-For-Life e-list, because he advocates not just abortion, but infanticide and euthanasia as well. Bill Samuel, who was raised a Quaker and a lifelong vegetarian and president of Consistent Life (a liberal pro-life group), once compared Peter Singer to Hitler. (There is a sad irony here, as Peter Singer lost three of his four grandparents in the Nazis' concentration camps.)

Pro-life feminist Mary Krane Derr (1963 - 2012), who credited me with having caused her to become a vegetarian, called Peter Singer's Should the Baby Live? "intellectualized racism", because he advocates euthanizing handicapped infants.

I'll always respect Peter Singer as the author of Animal Liberation (i.e., for stating in secular philosophical and to some extent political language what we ethical vegetarians have always known to be true), but disagree vehemently with him on the issues of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.

Anyway, in his article, "Taking Life: the Embryo and the Fetus", Singer quotes a report of a British government committee inquiring into laws about homosexuality and prostitution, which concludes: "There must remain a realm of private morality and immorality that is, in brief and crude terms, not the law's business." ("Not the Law's Business?"--the Wolfenden Committee-- issued the Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, Command Paper 247, London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1957, p. 24)

Singer goes on to quote John Stuart Mill (in his essay "On Liberty") as having said: "...the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others..."

Singer writes that "Mill's view is often and properly quoted in support of the repeal of laws that create 'victimless crimes'--like the laws prohibiting homosexual relations between consenting adults, the use of marijuana and other drugs, prostitution, gambling and so on. Abortion is often included in this list...

"The fallacy involved in numbering abortion among the victimless crimes should be obvious," concedes Singer. "The dispute about abortion is, largely, a dispute about whether or not abortion does have a 'victim.' " So even Peter Singer, who can hardly be called a right-to-lifer, concedes that the abortion debate centers on whether or not abortion is "victimless." Nat Hentoff's observation is correct!

I think you'd be impressed with many who make up the liberal wing of the pro-life movement. Again, not all of us are rabid right-wingers.

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