The callused applause of "little Himmlers"?

Via Bill Hobbs, a post by Bob Krumm led me to Peggy Noonan's recent piece on abortion (in this case, reactions by a modern audience to an older play):

An important moment in the plot is when a character announces she is pregnant, and considering having an abortion. In fact, she tells her mother-in-law, she's already put $5 down with the local abortionist. It is a dramatic moment. And you know as you watch it that when this play came out in 1960 it was received by the audience as a painful moment--a cry of pain from a woman who's tired of hoping that life will turn out well.

But this is the thing: Our audience didn't know that. They didn't understand it was tragic. They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled. I turned to my friend. "We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment," I said. "Don't I know it," he responded.

And I can't tell you how much that moment hurt. To know that the members of our audience didn't know that the taking of a baby's life is tragic--that the taking of your own baby's life is beyond tragic, is almost operatic in its wailing woe.

But our audience didn't know. They reacted as if abortion were a political question. They thought that the fact that the young woman was considering abortion was a sign of liberation. They thought this cry of pain was in fact a moment of self-actualizing growth.

Afterwards, thinking about it, I said to my friend, "When that play opened that plot point was understood--they knew it was tragic. And that was only what, 40 years ago." He said, "They would have known it was tragic even 25 years ago."

And it gave me a shiver because I knew it was true.

Peggy Noonan is right about abortion being a tragedy. Whether that is an argument for imprisoning the mother is of course highly debatable. Still more debatable is whether taking the "morning after pill" like RU-486 is a tragedy, and if so, whether the tragedy rises to the same level.

Yes, matters of personal tragedies have now become highly political, with grandstanding and cheerleading on one side, and moral scolding on the other. The result has been a near-deafening chorus of political hyperbole on both sides. The idea of publicly applauding a decision to have an abortion is sickening. As Bill Krumm says, it's a callous change.

Yet calluses take time to develop, and I'm not altogether sure that these calluses were produced solely by shrill groups of angry feminists waving coat hangers. I've previously posted about an incident in which local college-age girls went into their student lounge to be confronted with huge placards of mutilated fetuses. This is intended to have "shock value" and it takes an emotional toll (at least it did on the girls there at the time).

"Desensitization" is, I believe, the expression which is used. If you stick enough gruesome images into people's faces, it is only natural that they will no longer have the desired effect. The effect can backfire, and "desensitization" can morph into backlash. (At the time, it seemed more likely that the offended girls would be motivated to drive to Washington to fight the sign wavers than support them. And I wouldn't be surprised if such "calluses" helped them do things like cheer at inappropriate times.)

When RU-486 is likened to Zyklon-B, and the drug companies and doctors involved are compared to Himmler, is it any wonder that the people who are not persuaded (or who feel maligned) by these comparisons might become more cynical? More callused?

Few people liked Ward Churchill's "little Eichmanns" remark, but I'm now looking back at some of the callused things I wrote. I cracked insensitive jokes -- directly as a reaction to his ridiculous hyperbole.

At the risk of asking a callused question, am I not supposed to laugh at my own calluses?

AFTERTHOUGHT: I think that what's being lost in the debate hyperbole is the ability to recognize that making abortion legal does not make it a good thing -- any more than legalizing heroin (which I support) would make heroin use a good thing.

I wouldn't even applaud aborting tiny dog fetuses. I'd actually feel sorry for the canine mother. (That's probably just an example of misplaced anthropomorphism -- something for psychoanalysts to ponder. I'm too callused.)

posted by Eric on 08.22.05 at 09:38 AM


The idea that what is made legal is therefore made legal seems curiously statist -- I submit it's a dislocation of religious feeling from a superhuman deity to a superhuman state. (And it occurs to me I'd rather take a deity, even dagon. The twentieth century showed the state far more insatiable.) We now have the rights the state gives us, those are moral goods and to be applauded. Bleah.

With the morning after pill as with all the rest, I'm concerned about women's health and about how many risks we're not hearing about because it's not politically correct to mention them.

And while I appreciate the longer lifespan and relatively uncluttered head that a life free of constant pregnancies has given me, I must say that my idea that abortion was in any way liberating (instead of being a tragedy -- not that I favor outlawing it, fully believing each of us has the right to go to any hell [including of our own making] in the manner they prefer -- against which one should be morally instructed) ended the first day I became pregnant. With my first son I KNEW the minute I'd conceived (curious after years of trying, but I did) and he was a very real and present person through the whole pregnancy. I knew he'd be a boy and I had a sense of him as he is. I'm not saying this in any new age way, just as you feel the presence of another person in the room and sense their gender and general "feel". I could no more imagine that killing him was my right than I could imagine that killing my office mate is my right. And while I realize this experience is not universal -- my other sons were not nearly as "there" as the first, or perhaps I was less sensitized at those times -- it still made me doubt the whole "blob of cells" idea.

Anyway -- I'd say the desensitization, the belief that if it's legal, it's good and to be embraced are manifestations of state as god. And that scares the living daylights out of me.

Portia   ·  August 22, 2005 8:04 PM

I agree with Peggy Noonan (and with Mark Noonan). I'm going to start with the fact that, whatever else may or may not be debatable, this is a human being, a baby. And I'm going to say that killing it, unless your own life is in demonstrable jeapordy, is murder.

I scored pretty high in that libertarianism test, but I'm going to say that, as long as it is necessary to have any government at all, it is going to be necessary to have police. As long as we have to have police, we're going to need the homicide squad. As long as homicide squads exist, they're going to have to do a lot of snooping around, getting search warrants, taking fingerprints, etc., in order to find out if foul play was involved and, if so, who did it and why. Prosecutors are going to ask probing questions of witnesses. And people convicted of murder are going to go to jail.

So, yes, hiring a doctor to slice up your son or daughter will, or ought to, net you the same punishment as killing your office mate. That's what it comes down to. I know, I know, there are a thousand possible reasons for taking the life of that baby and I've heard every one of them. Every homicide detective and every prosecutor has heard a thousand equally valid reasons for getting rid of your co-worker or your boss or your parents or or your spouse.

I know, I know, that's an extreme position today -- the opposite of the extreme I was on not that many years ago. I know that puts me on the opposite side from wicked Wanda, who thinks abortion is fun and cute. I know that puts me on the opposite side from most Objectivists, whose integrity I continue to respect, and who see it, as I did then, solely an issue of the woman's autonomy.. But even Ayn Rand admitted that abortion could be outlawed in the later stages of the pregnancy. And, yes, I know, I know, that puts me on the same side as the screamers with their pictures of bloody aborted babies, those horrible Catholics and "fundies" -- people not secular or sophisticated or "with it" enough to cheer when the poor girl in the play puts down $5.00 to kill her own child (which she know she is doing!). So be it.

I don't buy the idea that seeing pictures of aborted fetuses "desensitizes" people to abortion. Quite the opposite. Where do they see those pictures in the first place? They don't see them on TV or in movies or in magazines or newspapers. The only time they're ever get a glimpse of what abortion actually looks like, of what abortion actually is is from those pro-lifers. And what desensitizes them is not those pictures but the fact that they've been carefully innoculated against them: "Don't pay any attention to those pictures, they're only those evil Catholics trying to scare you out of exercising your rights."

That's what made me a pro-lifer in the first place -- the dishonesty of most of the pro-abortion movement. They don't want anybody to see what abortion is, they don't even use the word "abortion". It's all "choice", "reproductive rights", "women's health", etc.. No wonder that they cheer. It's all so liberating.

This isn't a libertarian issue at all. I say consenting adults have a right to sex in their own homes. I say you have a right to gamble all your money away. I say you have a right to shoot up heroin into your own body. You have a right to shoot yourself in the head. You don't have a right to kill another human being, and certainly not a child, without being held accountable for it. Abortion is not a private act between consenting adults. By definition, it involves a very non-consenting non-adult, a baby.

Dean Esmay argued against the idea of "torture warrants". The old dilemma: You just captured a terrorist, and only he knows where the time-bomb is located that will blow up New York City, and the only way to get him to talk is to subject him to excruciating physical pain. OK. But, then, you should still have to explain that to a jury. Same with abortion. Maybe you have a good reason to murder your baby. Maybe it's just as good as that time-bomb case, or the case Raskolnikov gave for bumping off the old pawnbroker. Very well then. Explain it to a jury.

Maybe it isn't a baby. Maybe it's just an insentient tissue, a blob of cells, as the pro-abortionists love to argue. In that case, why not then make an omelette and serve it up for breakfast. Might taste good. I can't think of a better use to put it to.

Maybe it's somewhere in the middle, neither omelette nor baby. Maybe it's more like your dog or your dog's fetus. Even in that case, would the Humane Society approve the methods commonly used by abortionists, including slicing and ripping the fetus or scalding it to death? Do we not have laws prohibiting cruelty to animals?

Even if this were a purely libertarian issue of keeping government out of our private lives, NARAL and NOW and the pro-abortion politicians of the Democratic party insist that abortion must not only not be prohibited, it must be subsidized and actively promoted by the government. E.g., doctors must be forced to perform abortions. In Communist China, it is actually mandatory -- and we don't hear too much protest from the "my body, my choice!" crowd. If it really is solely a woman's choice, then surely she should have the choice not to have an abortion.

"Safe, legal, and rare" is only for election years. In reality, they are pro-abortion, not merely pro-choice. It's a tragic, difficult decision that every woman faces -- when they're arguing with their opponents in front of a TV camera. When they think they're among friends, then it's a liberating experience that every woman should have, her rite of passage, their sacrament if you will, their Black Mass to spite the hated Catholics. That's why they cheer.

I'd respect them if they were honest about it.

Dr. Victor Rosenblum, an attorney for the ACLU and also pro-life, was asked if, if enough women had abortions and talked openly about them, the "furor" over abortion would not eventually "die down".

He bowed his head and answered: "Yes, yes it will, and that will be the saddest day in American history."

That day has already happened for many people, for those who cheered at the abortion in that play. A lot of babies have died, were killed, before they were allowed to get out of their mothers' wombs. And a lot of people's souls have died, too, have "died down", those who cheered at the abortion in that play.

Someday, if there is ever to be a future for America, abortion will be looked upon the way we now look upon slavery. And those hysterical screamers with their pictures of bloody fetuses, those terrible Catholics -- they will be looked upon the way we now look upon William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglas, and Sojourner Truth.

Someday, if there is ever to be a future for America, abortion will be looked upon the way we now look upon slavery. And those hysterical screamers with their pictures of bloody fetuses, those terrible Catholics -- they will be looked upon the way we now look upon William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglas, and Sojourner Truth.

Yes! We've somehow managed to make peace with genocide taking place in our midst. We are Germans making a conscious decision not to think about what's going on behind the barbed wire.

John   ·  August 23, 2005 8:47 AM

My issue with banning abortion in the beginning trimester is simply a matter of knowing when a woman is pregnant and how far are we going to make sure if it is/isn't an abortion. My peculiar form of infertility are extremely early miscarriages. It's possible that this is due to my habit of drinking enough coffee to float an ocean liner. (I have extremely low blood pressure and without coffee NOTHING gets done.) Would a complete ban on abortion mean someone would sit in my living room watching me to make sure I didn't drink coffee? It seems highly unlikely.

My psychological view of abortion is complicated by the fact that I am a survivor of abortion which took my twin. (Too stupid to die, that's me.) And by the fact that it was lots of work to carry my kids to term -- it was a constant fight against nature. However, I simply don't think a total prohibition is enforceable in the first trimester. I DO think that abortion mills and abortion-on-demand "industries" should be closed and curtailed. Abortion SHOULD be harder to procure and unproffitable to administer. (Make doctors who perform abortions donate that fee to a free contraception fund or something.) I could be crazy, but I often get the impression that Planned Parenthood PUSHES abortion like a company pushing a product. Considering its origins as a "weeder out" of minority babies, I wouldn't put it past them.

Do I think abortion is murder? Yes. Do I think I have a right to it? No. Do I think murder should be outlawed? Well... My feelings about it are complex. I think it's a crime and a sin, but I wonder if a system of vendetta and blood money wouldn't control it better than our current system. OTOH I also realize vendetta and blood money might not work with abortion. (OTOH it might, if fathers and extended family could sue/demand blood reparation. One of the things that bothers me no end about the current system are that it's "a woman's body" (pardon the crap me, but it's another person's body IN her body) and a man has no say in it. Even a man who would lovingly receive and wish to raise his son/daughter. Yes, it's her body and not his -- but if we're going to hold nature and biology absolute, then why should she be allowed to abort at all. our laws should be about compensating for and equalizing biology -- if we have laws at all -- not enforcing it. [occurred to me as I wrote this that the problemis this is what they think they're doing. Most women today seem to view their ability to get pregnant -- to generate life -- as an imposition and a punishment. What I've said about my lack of joy in physical pregnancy [mine being very difficult] I'd like to point out I still view my capability to make and carry human beings to term as a magical wonder, a miracle.)

However -- for late term abortion I can say I agree 100% that it should be illegal as long as murder is illegal. Murder of viable babies in the process of birthing them is repugnant and insane.

And yes, I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Given a choice, I would gladly open my arms and home to however many children people wished to pass on to me. Everytime I read about another newborn killed by stupid parents, I consider putting an ad in every local paper saying "don't want your baby? Leave him to me. Bassinet on front porch. No questions asked."


Portia   ·  August 23, 2005 11:54 AM



I was mainly considering late-term or mid-term abortions, including most defintely partial-birth abortions. If it involves a doctor slicing or vacuuming or scalding the creature to death, or jamming a scalpel into its skull, then I say that's murder and I'm against it, unless the woman's own life is in danger (which is quite rare these days, less than 1% of abortions today).

From my understanding, RU-486 aborts an embryo before it becomes sentient. The IUD prevents implantation and is therefore technically considered an abortifacient, but I'm not about to ban it. Nor to regulate your drinking coffee, or wine. I'm opposed to Big Brother government. I want as little government as possible.

I would oppose any reversal of Roe vs. Wade (1973) if it was based on a denial of the woman's right to privacy. I absolutely oppose any reversal of Griswold vs. Connecticut (1965) (upholding the right of a married couple to use contraceptives), Stanley vs. Georgia (1969) (upholding the right of a man to possess "obscen" films or books in his home), or Lawrence & Garner vs. Texas (2003) (upholding the right of a homosexual couple to make love in their home). I would support a reversal of Roe vs. Wade, or of Doe vs. Bolton (which was worse), if it was based on an affirmation of the baby's right to life in addition to the woman's right to privacy.

You are absolutely right that Planned Parenthood pushes abortions, as do NARAL, NOW, and the politicians who vote not only to keep abortion legal but also to subsidize it with our money. You don't make something rare by subsidizing it.

And, as long as and/or to the extent that the woman has the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, the doctor likewise must have the right to choose whether or not to perform an abortion. No doctor should ever be forced to act against his own judgment and conscience.

Which brings me to the thorny question of whether, if or to the extent that abortion is murder, to prosecute the woman as well as the doctor. Chivalrous instinct would say prosecute only the doctor (or, as a satire once had it, only the doctor's lawyer). But recognition of the fact that women are, every bit as much as men, fully adult autonomous agents (which is whole point of feminism) compels me to say that they must be held responsible for the choices they make. That's just the way it has to be.

As for what the appropriate punishment should be, I'll leave that to the legislatures, judges, and juries. Capital punishment for murderers is a separate issue, and, in the interest of consistency, I'm willing to forgo that form of retribution if we can at the same time begin de-legalizing, or at least de-subsidizing, abortion.

I recently found out that the term D & C (which brings to my mind horrible images of late-term abortions) is often used in medical parlance to mean a procedure which cleans out the uterus— after, say, a non-viable pregnancy where the fetus died and was not expelled. This procedure is to ensure the prospective mother does not get a septic infection (which could kill her, or impair her fertility.)

I hope their next pregnancy takes.

I agree with Portia. Medical abortions for health hazards/non-viable pregnancies only. It would be a reasonable course, but reason does not appear to be part of the debate.

B. Durbin   ·  August 27, 2005 4:07 PM

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