The American Feminist
As a pacifist in the great tradition of American feminism - from the anti-war suffragists of the World War I era to Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement - I oppose abortion because I know it is wrong to take human life with weapons. If it is wrong to kill with guns, bombs, or poison, with the electric chair or the noose, it is most tragically wrong to kill with the physician's tools.
American culture, as we all know, promotes and glamorizes violence: our entertainment industry produces the most violent films in the world. Our right to own guns is considered sacred, while the homicide rate continues to soar. Capital punishment is on the increase, althought its lack of deterrent value has been proven many times. And blatant militarism has once again become chic. As H. Rap Brown said in 1966, "Violence is as American as cherry pie," and it always has been. It is little wonder that the violence of abortion is so easily acceptable to many.
The analogy between abortion and war is all too real. In each case, the violent society takes refuge in euphemism to legitimize its evil, to pretend that either the killing isn't killing or the people aren't people. The 1991 Persian Gulf war, so quickly forgotten, didn't have body counts or even "casualties"; it had "collateral damage." The people on the receiving end of our "smart bombs" were not killed; they were "taken out," as we "softened their positions" by means of "surgical strikes." Likewise, we pretend that abortion does not kill babies. It "removes pregnancy tissue" or "corrects contraceptive failure." And if even the word "abortion" is too candid, we have the "D & C" or "the procedure." In a saline abortion, the woman does not give birth to a dead infant, she "passes the fetus."
It does not matter whether we dehumanize the enemy by killing hundreds of unseen civilians with remote-control bombers, or by aborting a parade of nameless infants on a clinic assembly line. Whatever we may pretend in order to hide from the slaughter, the killing is killing and the people are people. Against all the apologies for death, we must stand in undeceived resistance. Euphemism kills.
Sadly, once we have accepted an ideology that legitimizes violence, whether it is the rhetoric of "victory" or of "choice," our hearts are hardened and we begin to not see the realities that lurk behind those noble-sounding names. At the same time, we become all too ready to glorify the technology that seems to promise a quick fix for difficult human problems. We should know by now that war never settles political or ethnic or economic conflicts; it leaves only an ever- increasing legacy of bitterness and destruction. Abortion, too, only seems to "solve a problem." Its legacy also is oppression and trauma -- not only for the aborted infants, but also for women. It is tragic to see how this act, which is actually a symptom of social conflict, has been successfully sold to the public as a solution for it.
The feminist pro-life position recognizes that abortion is a matter not only of individual, but also of social choice. As Faye Kunce of the Seamless Garment Network has said, we are called upon not so much to make abortion illegal as to "create a world where abortion is unthinkable." To achieve this goal, we must look beyond individuals and their rights toward the creation of a new community, in which all of us collectively take responsibility for the weakest among us -- the profoundly disabled and chronically ill, the abandoned elderly, the mentally handicapped, and children of all races, as well as the unborn. According to pediatrician Consuelo Sague, while abortion is now protected as a constitutional right, "no one in this country can even claim a constitutional right to prenatal care - or even a roof over an infant's head."
What does this horrid truth reveal about our national priorities? Surely pro-life and pro-choice advocates should be able to unite in demanding a public policy that promotes better health care, prenatal counseling, primary education, and day care alternatives for children and parents of every social class. Until we turn from our ethic of violence and pay more than lip service to these humane goals, the scourge of abortion will continue whether Roe v. Wade is overturned or not.Barbara Newman
Reprinted from The American Feminist, Summer 1994