What's a Curves Member to Do?

Randy Cohen is an ethicist who writes a question-and-answer column for The New York Times. A woman from Friday Harbor, Wash., sent him a question recently that involves a sensitive pro-life matter.

Louise Dustrude explains that she is thoroughly enjoying her trial membership in a physical fitness chain that goes by the name of Curves. She has discovered, apparently to her horror, that the founder and CEO of Curves, Gary Heavin, is not only pro-life, but makes sizeable contributions to the pro-life effort. Her question is this, now that her trial membership is coming to an end and she must decide whether to pay for a continuing membership: “I am pro-choice. Do I have a duty to give up my Curves membership?”

Louise is obviously a woman who wants to do the right thing, even if it requires her to give up an activity she loves. By the tone of her letter, she seems well disposed to heed whatever her ethical advisor might suggest. According to Cohen, her decision hinges on what she most values: “your reproductive rights or your figure?”

It is, of course, widely assumed that if abortion is a legal right, it is also a moral right. In addition, it is assumed — equally widely — that “reproductive rights” also include the ability to have a child on the mere basis of having a “right” to have one. The first assumption denies morality; the second believes the impossible.

Nonetheless, our Times ethicist could have pointed out to his questioner that there is no conflict between being “pro-choice” and retaining membership in an organization run by someone who is pro-life. Nowhere in Cohen's response does he explain that a “pro-choice” position, by its very nature, must include a respect for all choices, even the choice, however politically incorrect, of being pro-life. Is it impossible these days for a “pro-choice” person to understand that choosing life is a choice? Are pro-life people compelled to be pro-life, whereas those who choose abortion do so freely?

Apparently, choosing life is choosing to be anti-choice! Such is the twisted, convoluted, curvaceous logic of pro-choicers.

Moreover, the second term of the false dichotomy, “your figure,” is also problematic. Evidently, Ms. Dustrude is not pleased with her figure and that is why she is in a fitness program. There is no guarantee, however, that Curves will ever provide her with the figure she desires. She is told, then, to resolve her ethical dilemma by choosing between a set of ideological assumptions and a mere hypothesis. This is hardly helpful advice. What it does, rather than providing light, is simply reinforce her prejudices.

Cohen offers some comfort for his questioner's concern when he points out that similar “conflicts” have arisen over the allegation that Curves supports abstinence programs. Although he probably would not admit it, Cohen is less an ethicist than a moral segregationist. He would like to see a perfect harmony throughout the business world between the moral values of the consumer and those of establishment owners.

Cohen agrees that Curves offers a “great workout in a woman-friendly setting, and that many owner-operators are women.” But it is not enough. Its CEO is pro-life and therefore Curves should be boycotted by all people who believe in “choice,” even if they do not grasp the meaning of the word “choice” because what they really mean is “abortion.”

There are now people, including “ethicists,” who see being “pro-life” as such an unforgivable social faux pas (certainly worse that killing your own unborn children for any reason whatsoever) that it negates every other virtue a pro-lifer might possess. This is a most extraordinary kind of scrupulosity. Or is it guilt on overdrive? We do not talk about the ethics of abortion but, like receding galaxies, race to the extreme edges of political correctness for an ethical discussion to be reassured that we are indeed people of high integrity. We ignore the core and tinker at the perimeter.

One could, if he looked long enough and hard enough, find some repellant fault in anyone. Consumers, by and large, are not particularly discerning people and are easy prey to the fantastical machinations of Madison Avenue advertising. If the taint of being pro-life is as unforgivable as some people say it is, then one wonders if there is any profession or party — or even place on the planet — for them.

Neither Dustrude nor Cohen, presumably, would be so aggrieved if the CEO of Curves also ran an abortion clinic, was an ex-convict, a former drug dealer, a reformed alcoholic, a philanderer or a pornographer. Liberals are such forgiving creatures! But their willingness to overlook a myriad of indiscretions has its limit. Being pro-life is intolerable. And yet, one is tempted to think that what a pro-choice person finds truly intolerable is removing the mask of “choice” and facing his complicity in deadly violence against the unborn. It is Dorian Gray looking at his true image and being utterly horrified.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.