Culture of Life
Beyond the Smoke Screen Of ‘Choice’
A quarter of a century after Roe v. Wade, many pro-lifers remain oblivious to their real adversary
BY John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe
January 18-24, 1998 Issue | Posted 1/18/98 at 2:00 PM
In the 25 years since the Supreme Court ended legal protection for pre-born children, the slogan of the pro-abortion side has been “choice.” But if pro-lifers have learned anything in the years of struggle, it's that choice (autonomy, privacy, or women's rights) is not the real enemy. The real enemy is eugenics—tinkering with the human race to improve its quality, and killing off “mistakes.”
In bull fights, the matador taunts the bull, flapping a red cape and inciting the animal to charge. When the bull strikes only an empty cape, it is no doubt startled and further infuriated to have missed the target. After a few passes, however, it learns the difference between the flag and the matador, and twists its head to impale the tormentor with its horns. To stay alive, a skillful matador must determine when the bull has learned too much.
It seems that bulls are quicker to learn than pro-lifers. We have been charging after the red flag of “choice” for 25 years. But the matador is eugenics, and we still have not learned to aim for the real enemy. As a result, the key eugenics programs— population control and genetic engineering—are still spreading.
Abortion advocates talk about choice, but with few exceptions, they do not oppose forced abortion in China. The Chinese government, in its efforts to limit population, has implemented a one-child-per-family policy; having additional children is illegal. There are exceptions and lapses in enforcement, but the law remains in place. Forced abortion, sterilization, or insertion of intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the penalties to be paid for noncompliance.
At the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, First Lady Hillary Clinton indirectly raised concern about these practices. The American government then raced to assure the Chinese that her words did not mean that the United States was going to take action in opposition to the policy. In the years since, China has been awarded (and re-awarded) Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status, and Chinese president Jiang Zemin was afforded royal treatment during his recent U.S. visit, but no efforts have been made to overturn the one-child law.
Since the early 1980s, pro-lifers have asked people who identify themselves as “pro-choice” to denounce forced abortion. On one occasion, I picketed at the Chinese Embassy with a friend. My sign read: “Pro-lifers oppose forced abortion in China,” and hers proclaimed: “Pro-choicers oppose forced abortion in China.” We received a puzzled but generally positive response from passers-by. It was a wonderful time—but it was the exception, not the rule. Almost always, “pro-choicers” defend the Chinese, or overlook the government's intrusion into family life.
The problem may be mere hypocrisy, but it is often more simple: eugenicists support coercive population control.
In his prophetic 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), Pope Paul VI saw the Chinese catastrophe on the horizon, and pointed out that birth control measures that are considered moral could easily become compulsory. If a method is “acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem,” he asked, then “who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious?”
Forced abortion is not just a problem overseas, though. In the past few years, the welfare reform debate within the United States has included a protracted discussion of how to fight “illegitimacy.”
Amazingly, many pro-lifers have accepted eugenics arguments, and support the family cap. The contradiction is not subtle. Crisis pregnancy centers and pro-life sidewalk counselors offer help to women and couples (often unmarried): “We will help you, no strings attached, but please don't kill your baby.”
Proponents of the family cap have another message for women on welfare: “We are tired of helping people like you, and we are attaching as many strings as we can, so please don't have another child.”
The point of the family cap is not to help women become independent. It's to put pressure on them not to give birth to more poor (or unwanted) children. The Chinese policy has come home, in a mild American fashion.
New Technologies & Death
The other half of the eugenics movement—improving the human race by “positive” means, such as test tube babies and cloning—also has been expanding since 1973. The cutting edge of “reproductive technology” for the rich includes exotic forms of artificial insemination. For the poor, on the other hand, are the abortifacient drugs Norplant and Depo-Provera. Sperm and egg banks do not recruit donors in the ghetto. Birth control “vaccinations” and implants are not promoted enthusiastically in the wealthy suburbs.
Programs of positive eugenics could not function freely without the 1973 abortion decisions. Today, “spare embryos” from in vitro fertilization clinics are thrown away after a few years. The number of human lives extinguished in fertility clinics is far less than the number killed in abortion clinics, but it is rising steadily.
The discussion regarding human cloning provides a grim glimpse of a brutal new world. President Clinton's bioethics commission recommended that the country permit cloning of human embryos, but ban the creation of human babies. This proposal might sound halfway reasonable, but it actually means more forced abortion.
If you clone a human embryo, you will get a fetus and then an infant and then an adult. Although the Clinton panel acted as if they were offering a compromise, they were really proposing an expansion of abortion, and forced abortion at that.
Pope John Paul II, responding to the twisted vision of humanity offered in the eugenics movement, spoke of a “culture of death,” and called on us to build a whole new “culture of life,” a whole new “civilization of love.” His program is more ambitious—and more beneficial—than simply reversing some bad Supreme Court decisions.
John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe, a veteran pro-life researcher, author, and speaker, is director of public policy for American Life League.
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