The Liberal Case Against Abortion
From The Writings of
Vasu Murti

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The Liberal Case Against Abortion

Pro-Life Liberals

In an article appearing in the September 1980 issue of The Progressive entitled, “Abortion:  The Left Has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life,” Mary Meehan wrote:

“If much of the leadership of the pro-life movement is right-wing, that is due largely to the default of the Left.  We little people who marched against the war and now march against abortion would like to see leaders of the Left speaking out on behalf of the unborn.  But we see only a few, such as Dick Gregory, Mark Hatfield, Richard Neuhaus, Mary Rose Oakar.  Most of the others either avoid the issue or support abortion. 

“We are dismayed by their inconsistency.  And we are not impressed by arguments that we should work and vote for them because they are good on such issues as food stamps and medical care...

“It is out of character for the Left to neglect the weak and the helpless.  The traditional mark of the Left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor.  The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient or the boat people on the high seas.  The basic instinct of the Left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves—and that instinct is absolutely sound.  It is what keeps the human proposition going.”

Meehan stated elsewhere that:

“Writer and activist Jay Sykes, who led Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 antiwar campaign in Wisconsin and later served as head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, wrote a ‘Farewell to Liberalism’ several years ago.  Sykes cited several areas of disagreement and disillusionment, then added, ‘It is on the abortion issue that the moral bankruptcy of contemporary liberalism is most clearly exposed.’  He said that liberals’ arguments in support of abortion ‘could, without much refinement, be used to justify the legalization of infanticide.’”

In her article, “Abortion and the Left” which originally appeared in Religious Socialism (Spring, 1981), Juli Loesch, founder of Pro-Lifers for Survival (an anti-nuclear group) described the response to Mary Meehan’s article in The Progressive:

“The Left...is profoundly divided on abortion...in October 1980, Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace organization that includes feminists and socialists, approved an anti-abortion resolution at its national assembly by virtually unanimous vote.

“Weeks later, Sojourners, a Christian peace/justice magazine, featured Daniel Berrigan, Shelley Douglass, Jesse Jackson and others arguing for opposition to abortion integrated with a more radical commitment to non-violent feminism and human dignity.

“Possibly abortion never was a Left/Right issue,” concluded Loesch.  “Soon after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision one of the most progressive Senate Democrats, Harold Hughes, joined one of the most progressive Republicans, Mark Hatfield, in co-sponsoring a Human Life Amendment (H.L.A.).  Both were opponents of the Vietnam War.  Both opposed abortion because of, not despite, their other political views...Michael Harrington once called pro-life one of the only true grassroots movements to emerge from the ‘70s.”

“I have always thought it peculiar how the liberal and conservative philosophies have lined up on the abortion issue,” observed Rosemary Bottcher in her article “How Do Pro-Choicers ‘Fool’ Themselves?” which originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“It seemed to me that liberals traditionally have cared about others and about human rights, while conservatives have cared about themselves and property rights.  Therefore, one would expect liberals to be defending the unborn and conservatives to be encouraging their destruction.”

Rosemary Bottcher criticized the American Left for its failure to take a stand against abortion:

“The same people who wax hysterical at the thought of executing, after countless appeals, a criminal convicted of some revolting crime would have insisted on his mother’s unconditional right to have him killed while he was still innocent.

“The same people who organized a boycott of the Nestle Company for its marketing of infant formula in underdeveloped lands would have approved of the killing of those exploited infants only a few months before.

“The same people who talk incessantly of human rights are willing to deny the most helpless and vulnerable of all human beings the most important right of all.

“Apparently these people do not understand the difference between contraception and abortion,” concluded Bottcher.  “Their arguments defending abortion would be perfectly reasonable if they were talking about contraception.  When they insist upon ‘reproductive freedom’ and ‘motherhood by choice’ they forget that ‘pregnant’ means ‘being with child.’  A pregnant woman has already reproduced; she is already a mother.”

At a speech before the National Right to Life Convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on July 15, 1982, Reverend Richard John Neuhaus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said:

“I have a confession to make.  I am a liberal.  More than that.  I am a Democrat...I know that among some pro-life advocates liberalism is almost a dirty word.  I know it and I regret it.  I know that among others there has been a determined effort to portray the pro-life movement as anti-liberal and, indeed, as reactionary.  I know it and I regret it.

“We are today engaged in a great contest over the meaning of liberalism, over the meaning of liberal democracy, indeed over the meaning of America...Will it be an America that is inclusive, embracing the stranger and giving refuge to the homeless?...Will it be a caring America, nurturing the helpless and protecting the vulnerable?

“...The mark of a humane and progressive society is an ever more expansive definition of the community for which we accept responsibility...The pro-life 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.

“There is another and authentically liberal vision of an America that is hospitable to the stranger, holding out arms of welcome to those who would share the freedom and opportunity we cherish.  ‘Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’

“The unborn child is the ultimate immigrant...The analogy between the unborn and the immigrant may seem strained.  I fear, however, that it is painfully to the point.”

According to Dr. And Mrs. J.C. Willke’s 1988 Handbook on Abortion, a poll was conducted at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, CA, asking:  “Should there be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing abortion?”  It was found that only nine percent of all delegates to the Convention supported such an Amendment, even though it was supported by 46 percent of all Democrats nationwide.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson once observed that the “privacy” argument used in Roe v. Wade to justify abortion “was the premise of slavery.  You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned.”

In an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Are Black Leaders Listening to Black America?”, J. Perkins wrote:  “Black leaders react in traditional, knee-jerk liberal fashion to issues across the board, even though, in general, black Americans are decidedly conservative on a number of issues.  The Black Caucus, for example, advocates a ‘right’ to abort, whereas 62% of blacks oppose abortion (National Opinion Research Center, 1984).”

According to Mary Meehan, “...abortion is a civil rights issue.  Dick Gregory and many other blacks view abortion as a type of genocide.”  For every white baby killed by abortion, for example, two minority children die.  Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) insisted, “The methods used to take human lives, such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc., amount to genocide.  I believe that legal abortion is legal murder.”

According to Hamer, “These are still our children.  And we still love these children.  And after these babies are born we are not going to disband these children from their families, because these are other lives, they are...and I think these children have a right to live.  And I think these mothers have a right to support them in a decent way.”

A pamphlet distributed by Milwaukee S.O.U.L. (Save Our Unwanted Lives) points out that under current U.S. law, corporations are considered legal persons, while humans in prenatal development are denied this moral status.

In her essay, “Life and Peace,” Juli Loesch wrote:  “In a revealing article published in Seven Days, Michelle Magar suggests that the New Right’s relationship with Right to Life has been ‘more a marriage of convenience than true love.’  She suggests that the anti-abortion position adds ‘a certain moral luster’ to the New Right, which otherwise has a distinctly different set of priorities (threatening war for the possession of Persian Gulf oil, and so forth).  Magar points out that, in a practical sense, the New Right’s concern for the unborn gives it access to the ‘grassroots anti-abortion network of the Catholic Church—a ready-made constituency which they had so far never been able to win.’”

Public attitudes towards abortion were revealed in a March 1991 Gallup poll.  66 percent of those polled did not think financial hardships justify abortion.  68 percent did not think “abandonment by partner” is a valid reason to abort an unborn child. 

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta reported that over two-thirds of all women seeking abortions in 1983 were not using any kind of birth control, while 40 percent of all abortions that year were performed on women who had already had at least one before.  Nonetheless, 88 percent of Americans polled said they opposed abortion as a “repeated means of birth control.”

91 percent of Americans polled said they opposed abortion as a means of sex selection (prenatal sexual discrimination), while 69 percent supported parental consent legislation and viability testing on fetuses after the fifth month of pregnancy.  This is significant because only 58 percent of Americans are aware that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion during the entire nine months of pregnancy, and not just during the first trimester.

Informing a new mother about human prenatal development and the alternatives to abortion was supported by 86 percent of those polled, while 52 percent of the women polled felt the right to life of the unborn child outweighs the mother’s freedom to kill.

The American public is only familiar with the conservative Republican opposition to abortion.  Columnist Tom Goff called the 1992 Republican National Convention “a gathering of loonies.”  The intelligent, rational, secular, liberal opposition to abortion goes unreported by the popular news media.

Columnist Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice, a self-described “liberal Jewish atheist,” wrote an article in 1988 entitled, “A Liberal’s Journey to the Pro-Life Side.”    In a 1992 article entitled, “Pro-Life Feminists:  Celebrating Life’s Greatest Liberty,” Hentoff wrote that R.W. Apple, Jr., in the New York Times, had described then governor of Pennsylvania Robert Casey as “a conservative Democrat.”

According to Hentoff, however, Casey made Pennsylvania one of the first states to mandate help for young, disabled children (with $45 million for the first year).  He set up a model child-care program for state workers; he had been pushing for family leave legislation; and he had put together a program to assure health care to every uninsured Pennsylvania child up to the age of six.

“This ‘conservative’ governor has been lauded by the National Women’s Caucus for his persistence in naming women cabinet appointees (40 percent) and in increasing the participation of women and minorities in state construction contracts from one percent to 15 percent.  He is also a friend of labor (a phrase that used to be said more often with regard to Democratic politicians).

“I asked Governor Casey how he felt being preserved in the New York Times Index as a conservative.  Casey laughed.  ‘Well, that’s the mind set of a good many people, in and out of the press.  If you’re pro-life, you must be conservative.’

“The press has been cautioned about its bent toward stereotyping pro-lifers,” noted Hentoff.  “...many readers and viewers have a decidedly limited sense of the diversity of pro-lifers.  Feminists For Life of America, for example, includes women who came out of the civil rights and anti-war movements and now work for what they call ‘a consistent ethic of life.’...(then Feminists For Life president) Rachel MacNair has been arrested at least 17 times—for protesting against nuclear plants and nuclear weapons...”

In a September 15, 1992 article appearing in the Village Voice entitled, “The Excommunication of Robert Casey,” Hentoff observed that the Democratic Party had abandoned free speech by not allowing Casey to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.  According to Casey, “The Democratic National Committee has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Abortion Rights Action League.”

Casey said he would strongly support Lynn Yeakel who was then running against Republican Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.  Yeakel favors abortion but, Casey said, “we agree on all the other issues.”  Casey stated further that he would not leave the Democratic Party.  The anti-abortion Republicans, he insisted, “drop the children at birth and do nothing for them after that.”

Unlike Republicans, pro-life liberals advocate real social support for pregnant women and mothers.  In Pro-Life Feminism:  Different Voices, editor Gail Grenier Sweet calls for:

easy access to contraception, sufficient maternity and paternity leaves, job protection, job-sharing and flex-time, aids to women who wish to stay home to raise young children, tax breaks and subsidies for women caring for elderly relatives at home, community based shelters for pregnant single women to learn parenting skills and finish their education, upgraded pension plans to alleviate the poverty faced by many elderly women, humane care of the handicapped and elderly in nursing homes, hospices for the terminally ill, medical care for infants born with handicaps, shelters for battered women, childcare programs, etc.

Similarly, in the December 1993 issue of Harmony:  Voices for a Just Future, in an article entitled “How Will we Revere Life?”, editor Rose Evans writes: 

“This editor has long been aware of the relative success of the Dutch support system for pregnant women, compared to that of the U.S.  The Dutch abortion rate is a minute fraction of the American.  I believe the rate for young women in their teens is about one-twentieth of the U.S. rate.  And this is done not so much by restrictive laws (although there are some restrictions) as by real social support for pregnant women and mothers.

“The situation for pregnant women in the U.S. who don’t have assured income, family support and medical insurance is abysmal and getting worse.  Choice is a joke.  Women don’t have money for decent food, decent housing, or decent medical care, nor adequate support after the child is born.”

Some argue that abortion is a necessary evil to prevent the United States from becoming an overburdened “welfare state.”  At present, however, there are over two million couples and one million single people wishing to adopt.  Figures from Planned Parenthood show welfare costs of $13,900 for each birth.  Compare this to the figure of $50,000 each American ends up paying in taxes as an adult.  Moreover, the average time a family stays on welfare is only 27 months.

Persons concerned about a return to “back-alley” abortions if abortion were made illegal again should first read Aborting America by Dr. Bernard Nathanson.  1983 data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics show one would have to go back to the pre-penicillin era to find more than 1,000 maternal deaths per year. 

During 1965 to 1966, the period right before states began to legalize abortion, the number of total deaths were down to 120 per year.  In 1970, the figure was 128 per year.  A Kinsey study in 1960 showed that 84 to 87 percent of all illegal abortions were performed by reputable physicians. 

Dr. Mary Calderone of Planned Parenthood once stated, “Ninety percent of all illegal abortions are presently done by physicians.”

The majority of pro-life activists also regard the mother seeking abortion as a victim and not a criminal.  Looking back on over two hundred years of legal history, the American Center for Bioethics concluded that women have never been prosecuted for abortion; only the abortionists.  This is analogous to our current laws which arrest drug dealers and prostitutes rather than their clientele.  If we continue to imperfectly enforce laws like these against what are arguably victimless crimes, why can’t we take steps towards protecting the human unborn?

One widespread argument against recognizing the humanity of the unborn, is that we must then oppose all forms of contraception, since this also means the destruction of human life.  Sperm and egg, however, like saliva and other bodily excretions, are genetically identical to male and female respectively, while a newly formed human zygote is a separate individual human being, genetically distinct from both parents. 

There is no environment anywhere in which an individual sperm or an egg cell could be placed and made to grow into an embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, adolescent, etc.  Doing so would be as absurd as placing a nonfertile chicken egg into an incubator and expecting a chicken to hatch!  Eating a fertile chicken egg, on the other hand, as all vegetarians know, effectively kills a chicken.  Similar reasoning prompted the federal government to enact a law imposing a $5,000 fine for destroying any fertilized bald eagle egg.

“Is birth control an abortion?”

“Definitely not.  An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.”

---Planned Parenthood pamphlet
    August 1963

While there may be religious reasons to oppose contraception, divorce, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation, oral sex, etc. there are no rational, secular arguments against such practices.

Gays Against Abortion (now known as PLAGAL, or the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians) was formed in 1991.  They issued a statement: 

“We acknowledge that, from conception, the fetus is a human being entitled to basic rights, including the right to life.  We hold that abortion denies that right and destroys that human being.  We know first hand, from homophobia, what it is to have our rights denied...Like homophobia, abortion tries to get rid of the persons who are considered undesirable...We volunteer time and energy to pro-life pregnancy centers and pro-life agencies...”

Similarly, in the May 1992 issue of Harmony:  Voices for a Just Future, in an article entitled, “Coming Out of the Closet for Life,” Donna Marie Kearney wrote:  “It is difficult to understand why so many gay and lesbian people can support the so-called ‘woman’s right’ to abortion.  While living as oppressed people, they are blind to the subversion of the rights of the unborn, the weakest and most powerless among us.”

Kearney is a lesbian Christian peace activist, a member of the Faith and Resistance Community, and has been arrested in protest against nuclear weapons storage, and arrested along with Daniel Berrigan and others for trespassing at a Planned Parenthood building.

 “Want to Stop Abortions?”: asks the June 1995 newsletter for the Colorado Peace Mission in Boulder, CO.  “Make them unnecessary.  Provide everyone with:  A choice of whether to have sex...and with whom; Comprehensive sex education; Non-coercive family planning; Safe, affordable birth control; Open, honest talk about sex; Loving parents...”

In a 1991 article entitled “When No News is Bias,” Reverend James Burtchaell, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, drew comparisons between civil disobedience directed against abortion clinics and “the far more controversial sit-ins and freedom marches of the 1960s, the raiding of draft board files in the 1970s, the denting of ICBM nose cones in the 1980s, the blockading of the South African Embassy in 1984...”

According to Reverend Burtchaell, these demonstrators had their rights violated:  “A 72-year-old bishop in West Hartford, Connecticut, was seized, cuffed behind his back, then lifted from the ground by billy clubs between his wrists...17 female college students had their clothes ripped off and were forced to walk in the nude, in some cases crawl.

“Some of them were sexually assaulted...arrested women were strip-searched and cavity searched; others were stripped to the waist and dragged through the jail by their bras with breasts exposed...prisoners in Atlanta were forbidden to pray together in jail...”:

Reverend Burtchaell noted further that “whereas actor Martin Sheen was given three hours of community service for his 18th conviction for anti-nuclear protest, a first-time abortion protester in Fargo, North Dakota, was sent to prison for 21 months.  Militant homosexuals who had invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral and disrupted Mass were fined $100; the organizers of the New York and other pro-life protests have been fined $450,000.”

Anti-abortion clergy and protesters must be given the same level of respect (and equal time to air their views through the news media) given to animal rights activists, environmentalists, feminists, civil rights activists, anti-nuclear activists, anti-capital punishment activists, antiwar activists, “militant homosexuals,” etc.

In These Times, a progressive political newspaper in Chicago observed in the late 1980s:  “Our reaction to scenes of anti-abortion activists engaging in civil disobedience outside of clinics is similar to that of many on the Left:  ‘What are THEY doing using OUR tactics?  One major factor may be uncomfortable for many of us to admit:  that many of them ARE us.’”

The Seamless Garment Network (SGN) is a coalition of peace and justice organizations on the religious Left.  The SGN takes a stand against war, abortion, poverty, racism, the arms race, the death penalty and euthanasia.  Animal rights, like ecology, nuclear power, gun control, or the drug war, is a topic of serious discussion among SGN members.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama has signed the SGN Mission Statement. 

Carol Crossed, then Executive Director of the SGN, wrote in 1994:

“In the last 27 years, I have engaged in civil disobedience and risked arrest in over 20 demonstrations around issues as varied as civil rights in Washington, D.C.; anti-Vietnam War actions; and sleeping outside the City Hall in Rochester, N.Y. to call attention to the plight of the homeless.  Most recently, I was arrested in opposition to the Gulf War.  Five of these arrests were in opposition to aborting children.  Rescues are not a monolithic expression by a single group.  Many participants, even leaders, are feminists, Quakers, and Pacifists from Catholic Worker communities.”

On January 21, 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the sanctions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) could be applied to anti-abortion protesters.  According to Carol Crossed, “It is an inescapable fact that activists today engage in acts of civil disobedience remarkably similar to some of the acts of pro-life protesters which N.O.W. (the National Organization for Women) would like to transform into federal felons...

“Environmentalists chain themselves to trees; plowshares activists damage warheads; and animal rights activists sit in at stockyard feed lots.  A current bill (HR 1815) called ‘Hunter Harassment’ is under consideration which would not only criminalize actions against hunters—assaults, seizing guns, blocking entrances to hunting grounds, etc.—but speech directed at hunters as well.

“A Washington Post editorial ‘Shouting and Shooting’ (12/3/93) says, ‘The point of picketing, protests, demonstrations and boycotts is to make people who are targets so uncomfortable that they will change their politics or behavior.  So it is with the opponents of hunting, as it has been with civil rights, labor unions and abortion protesters.’”

When the RICO decision was issued, Carol Crossed saw it as a threat to the whole range of nonviolent protest, and warned others of the threat that the RICO decision posed to all forms of nonviolent protest and peaceful dissent. 

Signers of a newspaper ad protesting the decision included Erwin Knoll, editor of The Progressive; Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; Philip Berrigan; Liz McAlister; Leonard Peltier, American Indian Movement; Joseph Lowery, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; civil rights leader Will Campbell; environmentalist Wendell Berry and others. 

Organizations signing included the International Black Women’s Network; the Fund for Animals; Koininea Partners; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.); Sojourners and others.

Anti-nuclear plowshares activists have met with Operation Rescue activists and even “pro-life” and “pro-choice” activists have met to find common ground.  Why shouldn’t there be an ongoing discussion between animal rights and anti-abortion activists?

Columnist Colman McCarthy, a liberal Catholic writer, is an example of an animal rights advocate who may literally be called “pro-life.”  McCarthy teaches filled-to-capacity classes on nonviolence in high schools and colleges in the Washington, D.C. area.  He speaks eloquently about the rights of “our fellow Earthians, whom we call animals.

“How many of you had a corpse for lunch today?” he asks his students.  “What part of an animal did you eat?  A leg?  A rib?...I never call it meat—that’s just a euphemism.  You know why I avoid dairy products and eggs?  Because they’re sexist; it’s the females in the barns and henhouses.  What do you think of that?”

McCarthy has even drawn fire for advocating vegetarianism.  Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) once accused McCarthy of having communist ties, after he had urged Americans to skip turkey and eat bulgur at Thanksgiving.  In one of his columns, he wrote that American society “chews on the cadavers” of nine million animals a day, and quoted Nobel Prize winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer on the subject of vegetarianism.

McCarthy writes about public education, the violence of our meat-producing and chemical-agriculture industries, and the wasted millions of dollars spent on the military buildup and high school ROTC programs.  He has also expressed opposition to abortion.

“Have you heard the new pro-choice strategy?” he asked in the spring of 1989 after a huge abortion rally in Washington, D.C.  “Now they’re all saying nobody wants abortion, but that it’s important to keep the option open.”  (He shakes his head)  “That’s like a general who says he doesn’t like war, but wants to keep it as an option, just in case.  You don’t find peace through war, and you don’t enhance life through killing babies.”

Labor leader Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, like Colman McCarthy, was also an ethical vegetarian opposed to abortion.

Go on to Part 4: Vegetarianism: It’s Pro-Life
Return to
The Liberal Case Against Abortion

We welcome your comments and questions

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