June 27, 2005

John Kerry and The Modified Pro-Life Position

Here's a blast from the past. I wrote this article before the 2004 election, but it was deemed too "political" for publication on LifeWay.com. It's not so much about John Kerry as it is about a particularly prevalent pro-choice perspective (say that 5 times fast), which demands a response. More recently, and somewhat related to this article, is Hillary Clinton's comment that she'd like to make abortion a "rare" thing. And without further adieu...


Before the last presidential election, Democratic candidate John Kerry made a curious statement. Curious, not because he had never said it before, but because it represented a belief that ran against the grain of his entire political record on the matter. Kerry is not alone in his cognitive dissonance; his turns out to be a popular, though poorly reasoned, position.

Kerry has been an unquestionable champion of "a woman's right to choose," and "the right to privacy" – these being slogans of abortion rights advocacy. In fact, NARAL and Planned Parenthood have given Kerry a perfect 100 percent rating for his strong voting record on this issue. But in an interview that ran in the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald, Kerry told the paper, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

Now, I don't mean to pick on Kerry specifically – though it is fair to take our potential leadership to task on critical issues – I only wish to use him to point out a common sentiment among "pro-choice" advocates and to act as a surrogate for the philosophy I mean to address. Kerry's statement represents what pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf terms, "the modified pro-life position." Basically, he has a personal problem with abortion, but thinks that each woman should have the freedom to make her own choice about it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for giving women choice: the choice to marry vs. stay single, to seek employment vs. being a stay-at-home-mom, to drive a minivan vs. an SUV, etc. The question here is, "what are we giving these women a free choice to do and what might be so wrong with it?" The answer to the first question is so obvious and uncomfortable to discuss that abortion advocates much prefer to keep the attention on the word "choice"; everyone likes choices. The question as to what might be so wrong with choosing to "terminate" a pregnancy is implicitly answered in Kerry's statement.

Kerry says he doesn't like abortion, and has even said elsewhere, in more abortion friendly discussions, that he would like to make it "rare." So what's not to like about abortion in his view? Is it like removing tumors, where he'd rather not have need of such operations? No, it can't be that, because removing a tumor is a good thing. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with such an operation; it's the development of tumors that we'd like to avoid. But the analogous question here might be, "once a tumor is discovered, what ought we to do with it?" When we think on this, the profound differences between a tumor and a developing child begin to emerge.

I think we can all agree on the idea that avoiding unwanted pregnancies is the ideal, even though we may disagree on how best to address this issue, but it is a separate discussion entirely as to what to do once a woman has found herself to be pregnant. The key to answering this question is found in Kerry's own words: "I believe life does begin at conception." With this statement, Kerry has voiced the foundational belief on which the pro-life position is built, though he doesn't seem to affirm the implications of what he has said.

Overall, Kerry's comments imply that he doesn't like abortion because he believes that life begins at conception. This gives him less wiggle room. He's affirming, up front, that it's not just a "tissue mass" that we're talking about here (as Planned Parenthood would have us believe); it's "life." We don't typically lament the removal of unwanted tissue – when's the last time you mourned over your toenail clippings or after having a wart removed? – we only lament the loss of something of value. And if that unwanted tissue turns out to be a human life, then we've got ourselves a real problem. However, if it's not life, then what's to lament or discourage, especially if the woman doesn't even want the pregnancy in the first place. So the fundamental question becomes, "what is the unborn?" If it is a human life, then no justification is adequate for killing it; if it is not, then no justification is necessary.

Kerry says he thinks it is a "life," and he "opposes" the idea of taking it. Senator Kerry's overall position might be paraphrased as follows: "I am personally opposed to abortion because I think it takes the life of an innocent human baby, but I think every woman should have the right to do so if they choose." Now, I'm sure that he would never be caught stating it so blatantly, but when you put it all together and remove the spin, it seems apparent that this is exactly what he is implying.

So, if abortion is morally equivalent to murder, why in the world would he ever support anyone's right to commit it? Can you imagine someone saying, "I think Africans are valuable humans, but I think everyone should have the right to enslave them if they choose" or, "I think Jews shouldn't be exterminated, but every country should have the right to practice their own policies in the privacy of their own borders"? Perhaps some held to these views, but their names are certainly not listed in the honor rolls of history. If abortion really is murder, then America's 1.3 million abortions per year represent its own modern holocaust. Kerry can only seek to escape the logical conclusion of his belief by fleeing down one of four tenuous paths.

1) Perhaps he doesn't really believe that a fetus represents "life." Either he is being disingenuous when he calls it that, or he is simply unable to make a firm mental and emotional connection between the idea of a valuable human being and a hidden "thing" within a swollen belly. But trust me: if wombs had windows this debate would never even have gotten started. That's why Planned Parenthood does not use ultrasounds or visual aids: so that mothers can make "informed decisions" without being confused by such extraneous facts as what exactly it is they are thinking about terminating. Unfortunately for them, un-politicized science is friendliest to the pro-life cause. By textbook definition, "life" begins at conception. We're not talking hamsters or eggplants here; human parents beget human life, even if that human may undergo various stages of development.

2) Perhaps he subscribes to the idea of "degreed personhood." This modern ploy separates the concept of "human" from "person"; and a human is not a person until they reach some arbitrarily defined stage or show some degree of possession of one or more key attributes. Now, last I checked Webster's dictionary defined a "person" as "A living human," so this tactic smells of an ad-hoc metaphysical redefinition for purely political purposes. It is this kind of philosophical gymnastics that facilitates the idea that adult monkeys are more persons than one-year-old humans, or that Africans and Jews are non-persons that may be enslaved or exterminated, or that mentally handicapped and Alzheimer patients fail to pass the test of "personhood" and are thus candidates for euthanasia. This is a frightening road with an ugly destination that has been traveled at least once in recent history.

3) Perhaps he thinks that the "pro-choice" position is a "neutral" stance – that government just shouldn't be involved in the decisions of individuals in this matter. Abortion advocates reflect this attitude when they say things such as, "don't like abortion, don't have one." But this misses the point of the objection and is as vacuous as saying, "don't like murder, don't commit one." You can only make choices within the boundaries of what has been deemed permissible by the government, and with Roe v. Wade the government has not taken a neutral stance in this debate; it has declared that the unborn is not a member of the class of protected citizens in this country. Declaring someone a "non-person" is not a neutral act; it is a potential death sentence. Stepping aside to allow someone to extinguish what you believe to be a human life is not neutral; it is an example of moral negligence. And to advocate public funding for such a thing (which Kerry and others have sought to do in certain cases) is outright complicity and a slap in the face for a large taxpaying demographic who feel that abortion should not be an available choice in the first place.

4) Perhaps he believes that even if the unborn really is a human life, the mother's rights trump those of her baby. This position is loosely represented in the claim that the mother has the "right to control her own body." The implication is that the fetus – connected to and contained within the mother, as it were – is merely an appendage or property of hers. First, this results in the absurd conclusion that a woman may have four arms, two heads, and, in some cases, a penis. The fact that things like the DNA and blood type of this "appendage" are different from the mother's only compound the difficulties. Second, arguing this way is really just another manifestation of position 1, which amounts to a claim that the fetus is not really a human life after all. Third, it is a gratuitous claim to say that while the child is within the womb his or her life is owned by the mother and is at the mercy of her desires or convenience. This is illustrated by the fact that after birth, even if it is a dramatically premature one, it is a criminal offense to assault the baby. The idea that a ride down a canal or a snip of a cord can bestow human rights borders on the mystical. If one can be convinced that the child may be killed a day before delivery, it is not a substantial leap of reasoning to conclude that it can be killed a day (or more) after delivery. Further alarming conclusions follow from there.

I am disposed to think that John Kerry's position on the issue of abortion is simply an attempt to appease the Right with his rhetoric and the Left with his legislation, but if I can't succeed in being generous to him personally, I am at least confident that there are others who sincerely hold to the modified pro-life position. Unfortunately, the "neutral" high ground taken by some individuals is of no benefit or consolation to the lives lost to the politics of tolerance. Abortion rights legislation empowers individuals to exercise their will to do that which is believed to be murder. It is a bit like telling your son you hate murder, but that he is free to come to his own conclusion about it and then unlocking the gun cabinet, just in case.

Ultimately, the modified pro-life position is a rational and moral failure, and those who hold to it are accomplices to the crimes that they claim to disdain. While the mother's hand may ultimately control the gallows (often encouraged or pressured by the hand of the father, parents, or social agencies), John Kerry and company are among those who are helping to insure that the gallows exist for any who may choose to make use of it.



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