Sunday, January 24, 2010

One has to wonder...

The March for Life was this weekend. Several of my friends here at school attended.

Apparently there was record turnout. Over 400,000 people!

While I'm glad we made quite a show...I had to wonder, upon hearing that number...what would have happened had they actually, you know, marched on Washington. I mean, stormed Congress in session, surrounded the White House and Capitol. Not even anything violent, just...refused to leave, held their ground, kept the Congressmen blockaded in there. Or even just sat down in the streets or on the steps of Congress or on the Mall...and just refused to leave.

I mean, we say abortion is a genocide. And it is. Yet many people think pro-lifers lack credibility because, they reason, if we really believed abortion was murdering babies, we'd fight to protect them, that we'd think any action justified to safe born people would be justified to save the unborn.

Now, they're wrong, we don't encourage lone vigilantes because 1) preemptive violence does not come under legitimate Defense, the attack would have to be already in progress, 2) it wouldn't usually accomplish anything anyway, as you'd be arrested and the procedure would continue; and even if you did manage to disable the abortionist or wrecked the clinic, the woman can always go to another clinic or have it on another day (that's the unique problem when you are dependent upon and attached to the one who wants you dead) and, 3) it's bad PR for the movement as a whole.

Abortion is different not because the baby is less human, but because it is dependent on and attached to the one who wants it dead (and so what can you do at that point, kidnap the mother and hold her until she gives birth? Not likely.) It's different not because the baby is less human, but because of the unique situation that the threat to its life is continuous, and the baby cannot be "hidden" from that threat at a safe-house or anything, because it is actually physically attached to the threat itself (ie, the abortive mother). Only the State would be able to effectively hold the mother in protective custody for a prolonged period until she gave birth, that would be unfeasible for a private movement.

So violence could only be justified in very narrow hypothetical cases that never actually happen; like, for example, you somehow find yourself in the room when a partial-birth abortion at 8.5 months is in progress, and have the chance to disable the doctor before he sucks its brains out and actually complete the delivery of the baby alive. Then it might even be our duty. At the same time, there is no particular obligation to seek out all evil in order to stop it, there is no obligation to try to put ourselves in that room if we have no specific knowledge of a specific threat.

However, the turnout at the March for Life made me wonder if our potential for non-violent civil disobedience is being maximized? Some pro-lifers go so far as to block clinic doors with their own bodies until they're dragged away. Of course, one person can be dragged away easily. Even 20 or 30 by police, so they've never actually prevented anyone from entering a clinic who really wanted to in the end (though hopefully they've changed some hearts in time to save some lives). But I still consider their actions right and heroic.

But there weren't just 20 or 30 people at the March for Life. There were 400,000! And all they did with that massive man-power...was march peacefully, hold some signs, and leave. What if they had parked on the steps of Congress and refused to leave!? Or even just in the streets? What could they do then? I suppose they could spray the crowd with tear-gas, or bring in the national guard to start removing people (very slowly, however: 400,000 is almost a third of the United States entire Armed Forces). But usually action like that, force against citizens doing non-violent civil disobedience...backfires on the government and increases the legitimacy of whatever cause in the public's mind, shows the followers belief and dedication. I mean...imagine them driving tanks Tienanmen-style against a peaceful crowd whose stated purpose was just to save babies! There would be incredible outrage.

The Church would be the best organization for organizing something like this. It already has the authority, for its faithful followers, to legitimize such an act, and to encourage people to go, and already is networked with all the main pro-life groups, and has the infrastructure and social capital to do it. The March for Life already has the organization, it would just have to expanded into a drawn-out sit-in. Harder, sure; you'd need to solve the food and bathroom problems, I guess, but where there's a will, there's a way. People could bring there own tents, and I'm sure some big donors could find a way to provide portable toilets and food service; they somehow do it for big theme parks and concerts and sports venues.

But why don't they? Why no civil disobedience to speak of if abortion is murdering millions? 400,000 people turned out for the March for Life! So there is no lack of resolve or man-power! We could presumably get around that many for a "sit-in on Capitol Hill". Or even more than that, if pro-lifers knew this was going to be THE thing (for example, I didn't go to the March this year, but I'd sure as hell go to that sit-in!)

So why haven't they?

I fear it's because they are cowardly and/or refuse to think outside the box like this...


Leah said...

I think that many pro-life activists suffer from a lack of imagination. They operate under the assumption that they are "decent folks" and that legalized abortion was somehow caused by a giant "left wing conspiracy" and that making a ruckus is unbecoming. However, as you point out, social change never comes unless you make a ruckus. Actually, legalized abortion was advocated by "white male doctors" not the frothing man-hating feminists so derided by folks on the Catholic blogosphere. The rationale was that doctors thought that they were the only people worthy to make decisions about abortion, not women, their husbands, or religious leaders. Most states had already decriminalized abortion by the time Roe v. Wade was passed, although even the biggest pro-abortion advocates never expected to have all of the laws struck down by the Supreme Court.

Marching doesn't really accomplish anything anymore. It worked during the Civil Rights Movement, because it was operating in an environment where sitting in a Woolworth's was considered a subversive act. Supporting civil rights could get one blackballed from work, accused of being a communist, or have one's family, person, or property attacked. In comparison, being pro-life may be unpopular in some circles, but it doesn't have the same subversive quality as being pro-civil rights did in the 1950s or 60s.

Keep in mind that during the Civil Rights Movement, practically the entire black population of cities like Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta were mobilized to fight against the status quo. Most parishes are probably lucky to get 20% of their people out to march at a local pro-life rally. The sense of urgency isn't there. The problem is that the population that is affected by abortion is silent and dependent on the very party that wants to kill them, as you said. The effects of Jim Crow were obvious and blatant. Abortion is an "out of sight, out of mind" atrocity. There is no victim to go to the police or testify in court.

One thing I've always thought would be helpful is to create an in-your-face PETA-style organization, but every time I bring the idea up, people say they don't want to be like "those crazy leftists." But PETA is actually very effective (look at their site to see examples of some of their campaign victories), much more so than the mainstream pro-life groups, because they understand how to work the media. Most adults know what PETA is, but how many have ever heard of the Pro-Life Action League or ALL?

A Sinner said...

Good points. It's not that we lack the numbers or the resolve but rather, as you say, we lack the urgency and imagination.

If we were to do things that were non-violent but nevertheless actually DISRUPTIVE, we might look more credible to society as it would show our urgency and dedication.

I think you're right, a fear of looking like "crazy" leftists who tie themselves to trees and set animals free from laboratories and go fight whaling boats...leads many pro-life activists to not want to put any teeth into our movement.

But the reason those leftists seem "crazy" is not the means they use objectively (I respect them, at least, for putting their money where their mouth is) but simply because the causes themselves are not proportionate to such actions (in our minds, at least).

But saving the lives of innocent babies from cruel cold-blooded a proportionate cause. And yet, except for some blocked clinic doors, there has been very little civil disobedience to end abortion. It really raises some questions.

I wonder sometimes if pro-lifers really do intend to have abortion illegalized and everything that implies (police intervention to stop abortions, doctors jailed for murder, women held in mental facilities until they give birth and the baby is safe) or whether the concrete specifics of what using the State's force to protect babies would entail actually embarrasses them.

I remember when that guy on Cable News started interrogating that bishop about what, specifically, illegalizing abortion would do...what punishments would be associated with it, what action would be taken, etc, and the flustered bishop totally shied away from answering concretely, speaking of it more in terms of a vague "moral stand" than about concrete actions that the police would take to protect babies and punish murderers.

I worry for pro-lifers that the whole thing is no longer about concretely saving babies or stopping their extermination...and is merely now some sort of vague spiritual struggle, more about ennobling the participants than about actually stopping the victimization. More about "changing hearts" than saving lives. This sort of "Abortion Mysticism" that has developed (extending to a sort of cult of the unborn victims as "martyrs" and such) is absolutely paralyzing to concrete productive action that could be taken.

As I've been suggesting in a few posts now, it seems to me that Catholics in general have lost our Fortitude. We've become complacent and co-opted.

Leah said...

The question of what would happen if abortion actually did become illegal again is one that has not gotten enough thought. I get the feeling that most pro-lifers think that all that is needed is to stack the Supreme Court with ostensibly pro-life judges, get Roe v. Wade overturned, and then we can all go home.

First, all ending Roe v. Wade would do is get rid of federal abortion laws. Anybody with any shred of common sense would know that most states would simply pass local abortion legalization laws and everything would just keep going on as it has been for the past 30+ years.

Second, this mindset also assumes that the Supreme Court sits around all day thinking of ways to uphold or strike down Roe v. Wade (they don't). To even get it reversed, there would have to be a test case, and unless someone out there can find a concrete example in which access to abortion has violated their Constitutional rights, this isn't going to happen.

Third, if we were really going to re-criminalize abortion, who would we put in jail? The abortionists, certainly, but what about the women? We can probably say that a teenage girl with a creepy old man boyfriend has diminished culpibility, and the batter wife too. But what about the woman from the ghetto/trailer park/barrio/reservation/(insert some other really dire situation) working her way through college who accidently gets pregnant? Or the woman with four kids and a deadbeat husband? What about the woman who just doesn't want to get pregnant because she wants to fit into the designer dress she just bought or the woman who wanted one baby, but finds out she's having two or three?

Fourth, we are in a very different place in terms of reproductive technology than we we in 1973. One reason why doctors wanted to decriminalize abortion was because the advent of improved hospital care after WWII meant that women could no longer use the health excuse for abortion and have it be believed. 50+ years ago, if a woman got pregnant, the only options were to get married, leave town and have the baby in secret, or have an abortion. Since abortion usually meant risking life and limb (unless you were rich), getting married was usually more attractive and socially acceptable. Today, the pressures to get married if one is pregnant are not there. Plus, with non-surgical abortion technology, you don't even need to go to a hospital or clinic to get an abortion. Do we protest drug stores and supermarket pharmacies?

Lately, I've just become really disgusted with the pro-life movement, because it just seems to be run by people who have no idea what they're doing and haven't fully given thought to the kinds of policies or tactics that need to be employed to get anything done. It's depressing.

A Sinner said...

I agree. Striking down Roe v. Wade wouldn't be enough, though we might see abortion end in at least the "Red States" if it were.

But we'd need not only for it to be overturned, but for the government to also say that the unborn child is a legal person and that abortion is, in fact, a violation of their 14th amendment rights to not have ones life taken without due process.

There are "life at conception" bills and amendments groups try to push for this, sponsored by "pro-life" congressmen to increase their pro-life cred without really risking anything actually coming of it...but this sort of absolute stand has hardly been the focus of the movement for some time, though it should be.

I agree that pro-lifers shy away from the question of what, concretely, would be done by the police and justice system if abortion were illegalized.

More than punishment, frankly, I'm just concerned with being able to call the police to STOP an abortion before it is completed if I somehow get knowledge of plans for one. Otherwise I would feel so helpless knowing that currently the police would, rather than help me save the child, actually prevent me from doing anything.

As for punishment, though, abortionists, of course. The women...? I doubt that would be popular, and many are in extenuating circumstances. They would, however, have to be kept in some sort of protective, supervised medical custody until they gave birth, lest they attempt something again. And should be made to undergo counseling in the meantime and afterward. Yet I think suggesting something like that embarrasses pro-lifers who want to seem all "mainstream".

As for technology, the pro-choice movement is intellectually dishonest especially as technology has allowed the age of viability to decrease. After the age of viability, there is a huge difference between "not being pregnant" and killing the baby. After viability, even if you argue that a woman has a right to "not be pregnant" over her body...that doesn't imply that she has the right to scramble its brains.

For example, they could simply induce [premature] birth, and the baby could be delivered alive and raised in an incubator (still not good to expose it to such risks, but better than direct killing). This becomes more and more feasible the older a baby gets, so I have no idea how anyone can think that abortions in the 8th month are acceptable. If the woman "doesnt want to be pregnant anymore"...she could just deliver the baby ALIVE a little early and be done with it that way!

Of course, some of the more intellectual pro-choice types, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have recognized this disconnect, and so now try to argue that abortion isn't just about the decision to continue "being pregnant" or not...but about a broader decision over whether to reproduce, whether to have genetic offspring roaming the world. But this, of course, is obviously a VERY slippery slope, as does that mean that the genetic father can demand abortion too? Does that mean parents can kill their children AFTER they're born?

This sort of utilitarian view of life ends in its total destruction.

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