Imagine the debate if liberals opposed abortion
If liberal individualists had campaigned against abortion, it would have become unacceptable years ago. It’s not impossible, given a different light to the one liberal-individualist society avails of normally, to see the rights of the unborn child in “human rights” terms – this being, in other contexts, one of liberal individualism’s prime instruments of agitation.
If you miss the hidden coherence of liberal logic, it seems conceivable that abortion might easily have become, like racism or homophobia, an individualist “sin”. Liberal causes generally appear randomly selected until you see the common factor: reaction against tradition.
Thus, it is not the intrinsic merits of the particular cause but the fact that it offers an opportunity to tear down a tradition that recommends something to the liberal mind.
This is why liberal concerns can sometimes appear inconsistent, almost senseless, and why, for example, liberals appear to choose their victim-figures arbitrarily and without any visible pattern – mothers over fathers, children over mothers, the state over children, lesbians over gay men and so forth.
On Friday last, in Washington on other business, I was persuaded by friends to accompany them to the March for Life happening that day. This was the 40th March for Life, the first having taken place in 1974, the year after the historic Roe v Wade decision of the US Supreme Court.
Since then some 56 million abortions have taken place in the US. Last Friday half a million marchers filed in sub-zero temperatures up Constitution Avenue towards the supreme court building on Capitol Hill, where the decision in Roe v Wade was handed down on January 22nd, 1973. A USA Today/Gallup poll recently found that 53 per cent of voters want Roe v Wade to hold, with 29 per cent wanting it overturned.
One striking feature of the march was the high visibility of faith and religious groupings. This may seem a superfluous observation the way present-day culture is set up, the presence of crosses and rosaries provoking the tautological idea that objection to abortion is simply an expression of religiosity. This short circuit offers the culture a shallow explanation for the “pro-life” position.
In my experience, people do not oppose abortion because they are religious – they see the killing of unborn children as self-evidently barbarous for the same reasons that they recognise the religious dimension, which essentially relates to an acceptance of dependence and a certain view of human dignity.
But modern culture filters and edits out such interventions by filing what it calls “fundamentalist” beliefs as hangovers from an obscurantist past.
Observing the marchers, I tried to see them with a liberal eye, and recognised again that it is impossible for the human rights dimension of abortion to penetrate modern culture while the “religious” aspect remains uppermost in the mix. The purpose of the demonstration was being disabled by virtue of the fact that the uncommitted observer had been condition by culture to respond: “Ah, God botherers marching against abortion!”
A familiar feature of the march was the prevalence of videos and posters depicting dead, torn and discarded foetuses. It’s an aspect of pro-life strategy to which liberals frequently object, declaring it offensive and hurtful to women who have had, or might have, abortions.