As the country marks the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, three new books can help advance respect for the sanctity of human life.
First, the Human Life Foundation compiles the best arguments it has published in the quarterly Human Life Review over the past 35 years in The Debate Since Roe: Making the Case Against Abortion (1975-2010), edited by Anne Conlon.
In Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media, Carl Anderson proposes a new start to America’s political dialogue, based partly on the unrecognized consensus that most Americans are basically pro-life.
Finally, Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualization of Girls, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, looks at a growing problem that may very well be a precursor to even more abortions.
Manual for Apostles of Life
BY JOHN GRONDELSKI
THE DEBATE SINCE ROE:
MAKING THE CASE AGAINST ABORTION (1975-2010)
Edited by Anne Conlon
Human Life Foundation, 2010
304 pages, $14.95
To order: humanlifereview.com
When President George H.W. Bush cut off federal funds to organizations promoting abortion, opponents falsely branded the decision a “gag rule.” Want to see a real gag rule? Tune into ABC, CBS or NBC News on Jan. 22. You will hear little or nothing about 100,000-plus Americans who take part, year after year, in the March for Life in Washington. On Jan. 23 The New York Times — a self-styled “newspaper of record” — will bury the march on page D-99, probably under a picture of a lone woman protesting for abortion.
The greatest gag rule is, of course, Roe v. Wade: The question of the beginning of human life has been scrupulously avoided for 38 years.
J.P. McFadden recognized this media conspiracy of silence and, in 1975, founded The Human Life Review. Seeing how pro-lifers were caricatured as mindless, fanatical rubes clinging to religion, McFadden wanted to start a forum where serious, intellectual pro-life arguments would be published, preserved and available to the public. For 35 years, HLR has soldiered on in defense of the unborn, the ill, the aged and the incapacitated.
This anthology assembles 29 of HLR’s best articles, written by pro-life giants like Jerome Lejeune, Nat Hentoff, Henry Hyde, Harold O.J. Brown, James Buckley, Father Richard John Neuhaus, Daniel DeMarco, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Hadley Arkes and Malcolm Muggeridge. Included is Ronald Reagan’s great essay “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation.” While intellectually rigorous, all these writers also share the talent of making their insights extraordinarily and readily readable.
America’s “slouch towards Gomorrah” is traced from the elitist and racist origins of America’s eugenics movement (including Margaret Sanger), chronicled by Mary Meehan, to early analyses of Roe and its immediate progeny; from efforts in the 1980s to enact a “Human Life Bill” to the fight (can you believe it should have even been a controversy?) to ban partial-birth abortion; from Catholic academics like Francis Canavan’s essay on the philosophical flaws of Planned Parenthood v. Danforth to Bill McGurn speaking about Catholic-in-name-only universities providing venues to and bestowing accolades upon those who defend what Vatican II called “unspeakable crimes.”
One is struck by how prescient these authors were. Consider this passage from James Hitchcock: “The pragmatic arguments for abortion, including the ‘hard cases’ … were never intended to be final. Rather, they were necessary tactical preludes to the central symbolic act of iconoclasm, the assault on two of the most deeply rooted of all human moral institutions — the imperative to protect defenseless life and the sacred bond between mother and child. … [Abortion] is the crucial test to demonstrate that traditional moral values, those which have roots in religion, shall not prevail.”
Or this one: “As we stand here this day, quite literally thousands of unborn children will be sacrificed before the sun sets in the name of this new ethic [of the quality of life]. Such a situation cannot continue indefinitely without doing irreparable damage to the most cherished principles of humanity and to the moral sensibilities of our people. The issue at stake is not only what we do to unborn children, but what we do to ourselves by permitting them to be killed. With every day that passes we run the risk of stumbling, willy-nilly, down the path that leads inexorably to the devaluation of all stages of human life, born or unborn.”
James Buckley spoke those words on the Senate floor in May 1973.
If I had any suggestion for this book, I might have provided a more expanded history of what Roe has wrought: state-sanctioned active euthanasia, courts ordering patients to be starved and dehydrated, treatment of unborn children as used cars to be foraged for “spare parts” in the name of (pseudo) “science.” But what’s here says it all.
Buy this book! As a compendium of powerful and sophisticated pro-life argumentation, it belongs on every Catholic’s bookshelf. In terms of price to value, it’s a steal. Bulk discount pricing makes it easy to be an apostle spreading the gospel of life.
John M. Grondelski writes from Bern, Switzerland.
America’s United Front
BY JO GARCIA-COBB
BEYOND A HOUSE DIVIDED
The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street and the Media
By Carl Anderson
Doubleday Religion, 2010
130 pages, $12
To order: randomhouse.com
America sometimes seems like a country at war with itself these days: red vs. blue, pro-lifers against the culture of death, Judeo-Christian tradition up against the secularist, atheistic tidal wave.
Not so, according to fresh statistical data that Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, deftly analyzes in Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media.
Poll after poll by Gallup, Rasmussen, Pew, Zogby and the Knights of Columbus/Marist “Moral Compass Project” present surprising snapshots of an America that’s more united than divided in its moral core.
There is consensus that:
In addition, Americans respect the moral leadership of charitable organizations and volunteers more than that of any other institution.
Anderson contextualizes the poll results in a way that helps us to re-examine our basic assumptions about what really holds America together. Organized into chapters that show where the majority of Americans stand on fundamental issues of church and state, morality in the marketplace, partisan politics, abortion and marriage, Beyond a House Divided is a book of surprises that shifts our vision onto higher ground.
Anderson concludes with a proposal: Rather than starting at the political poles and moving toward the center on the basis of compromise, why not begin our conversation on the common ground that the majority of Americans already share?
This, of course, is a tall and timely order that requires concrete platforms, grassroots and institutional, where polarized parties can come together and dialogue. An appendix in the book that points readers to such platforms would greatly help advance Anderson’s proposal.
Anderson, like an untold number of Americans, is weary of the seemingly obsessive drive in America to promote special interests over the common good. It will require sustained effort to heed his call to buck the forces of greed and special interests and to focus on mending the nation instead of further dividing it. Beyond a House Divided is a great place to start.
Jo Garcia-Cobb writes from Mt. Angel, Oregon.
Growing Up Too Fast
BY WENDY JOHNSON
Challenging the Sexualization of Girls
Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist
200 pages, $18.95
To order: spinifexpress.com.au
Strolling through your local toy store might give you the uncomfortable feeling that childhood isn’t the same as it was a decade ago. Not far from the baby dolls and building blocks, Bratz dolls strike a provocative pose and ogle you with a simpering pout. Toddlers need not feel left out, because Bratz Babyz “have ‘a passion for fashion’ and display their ‘brattitude’ with hipster clothing that shows they are well on their way to becoming savvy dressers” (Bratz-Babyz.com).
The writers who contribute to Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualization of Girls assert that provocative toys like Bratz contribute to an increasingly sexualized society to the detriment of our young girls. Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, an Australian author and commentator, Getting Real surveys the current cultural landscape, and its findings are not comforting. The imposition of adult sexual themes and images onto children at an inappropriate developmental stage is pervasive.
Reading Getting Real is an eye-opening experience. Fashion consciousness is now appearing in girls at the tender age of 3 or 4, and elementary students fret about their weight. Self-destructive behaviors such as cutting (self-mutilation as a means of coping with intense emotional distress) are on the rise. A survey conducted by Bliss magazine found that one-quarter of 14-year-old girls had considered plastic surgery. Violence against girls is also burgeoning, fueled by pornography which increasingly features women dressed as girls, sometimes wearing school uniforms, braces and pigtails. Each chapter ends with a list of references so the reader can verify these shocking claims.
The book’s essays address a wide range of topics, such as body image, child prostitution and abuse, the “performance culture” which pressures young girls into ever-riskier behaviors and psychological deformation. The authors include biologists, ethicists, psychologists, actors and researchers. Such a wide range of contributors and topics offers a comprehensive overview of the pernicious forces that are abusing today’s young girls.
Steve Biddulph writes about his experiences as a psychologist confronting the onslaught of childhood sexualization: “Today, though, something new has begun to happen in the culture. … The cluster of symptoms that normally result from sexual abuse — self-loathing, depression, addiction, anxiety and difficulty in being close — are now appearing in millions of girls who have not been sexually abused; girls whose family lives are ordinary and safe. … One explanation gaining prominence is that our culture itself has become abusive.”
Writer and editor Tammy Andrusiak discusses the pressure women and girls face when confronted continuously by an appearance-driven culture: “Women live in a world where discrimination based on what your body looks like is legitimized by an unhealthy obsession with manufactured beauty and the misguided belief that thinness is synonymous with health. … It’s a world where from ever-younger ages girls are not just sexualized and diagnosed with eating disorders, but indoctrinated into consumption-driven lives by cosmetic, diet and fashion industries which demand that they reject who they are and what they look like to instead pursue an ‘improved’ version of themselves.”
The downside of a compilation like this book is that some overlap does occur between essays. Several authors offer definitions of sexualization, all slightly different, and many address the same topics. For example, three different writers address the problems of “corporate pedophilia,” which refers to sexualizing products marketed directly to children and children acting and posing in advertisements in a sexualized manner. Different perspectives can be helpful, but at times they can be redundant.
Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualization of Girls is a difficult book to read. However, we ignore its message to our peril. This book is not just for the parents of young girls who are clamoring for Bratz dolls; all of us are affected, knowingly or not, by our increasingly sexualized society. Arming ourselves with the knowledge found in Getting Real can help us not only protect those we love, but also work toward positive changes in our culture.
Wendy Johnson writes from Peoria, Illinois.