Sexist Abortionist

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This is one of the most sexist pieces I've ever read. If this is what this guy thinks he needs to do to defend his line of work (killing fetal human beings), then women should take heed. Apparently women who welcome pregnancy are giving in to the lie that women are mere reproductive machines, uteruses with a supporting personality and organism. Now our congregation has some pretty efficient baby factories, but there's no sense in which any of them are or believe themselves to be mere baby factories. First, I'm not talking just about the women here. I'm talking about the families as a whole. Second, this has to be seen in the context of a whole life of being devoted to doing one's part in influencing the future of society for good, as families who love their children, raise them well, and produce many of them in this way have done. I most definitely hope and pray that the author of this article never has any children.

There are so many errors in reasoning that I can't help to deal with all of them, but let me poke fun of him with a few of them. He says the definition of pregnancy as normal comes from religious motivations, particularly Calvinist ones. I fail to see how divine sovereignty in human salvation has anything to do with pregnancy, but last time I checked the standard evolutionary picture of a female's place in history is to bear men's children for them and thus to further their own genetic continuance by fulfilling men's genetic continuance. If anything reduces women's status to something mechanical, it's the selfish gene model (which also reduces men's status to something mechanical, just to be fair).

He says this is a way for doctors, theologians, and others to get some selfish gain out of women by defining them as mere baby mills. The only theological notion I'm even aware of that goes in this direction would be the divine command to be fruitful and multiply and the prohibition against taking life unless sanctioned by divinely revealed principles. The first doesn't lead to pregnancy as the only legitimate state for a woman, as this guy seems to think. It leads to pregnancy being normal. He seems to think normal means normative, as in being required morally as often and as many times as possible. That's not what being fruitful and multiplying requires.

The second is not about forcing people in hard situations to continue their pregnancies. It's about it being wrong to kill, including those who aren't born yet. That doesn't need to be from some male motive to keep women as mere baby mills. In fact, the primary motivation many women have abortions is because of some psychological coercion from others in their lives, often including their own fathers or their baby's father. The command not to kill is because killing is wrong. Only if you think morality has no reality would you interpret moral claims as mere attempts to gain power over someone. If it is morally wrong, it doesn't matter if it's a hard decision to go through. Making it in the wrong way results in something that's morally wrong. That's the end of it.

Then he gets really confused. He says that normal female physiology is the non-pregnant state and cites medical literature to show that people do talk about thins going in ways that differ from the norm during pregnancy. He then says it's inconsistent to say that and then say that pregnancy is normal, since it's already been described as non-normal. This is linguistically naive. It can be normal that the normal state changes to a different state. This phenomenon is true of many things. You might say that normally a set of traffic lights is in the solid red-solid green configuration, and then at night they go into the flashing yellow-flashing red configuration. This happens every night, so it's normal. Yet there's also a normal state during the day, the default position when most people are driving. So one is described as normal with respect to the other, but it's not as if the other isn't abnormal. It's also normal.

Similarly, there's the normal state of a female human being (ignoring the numerous changes every day unrelated to pregnancy). When compared to this state, pregnancy is a change, and it's proper to describe the old state when compared to the new as normal. It's now in a new state that has changed. Something has happened to change it from its normal progress. Yet it's consistent with that to say that this change is also normal. When placed in the right context, the female human being will undergo these changes. This right context is something she even has a biological drive to seek. I would even say that in some sense the purpose of some of her biological functioning has been prevented each month that she doesn't conceive.

Then he says that we (inconsistently with our view that pregnancy is normal) see pregnancy as an illness by requiring frequent prenatal care and so on. That's just silly. Has this guy ever heard of preventative medicine? If I go to the doctor for a one-year checkup every year, does that mean I've got some sickness (call it being healthy) that requires seeing if it's still true of me every year? With someone who is perfectly healthy but with more risk of problems (for whatever reason), closer scrutiny might be required. Isn't that the case with pregnancy? One might argue that the normality is in question if there's more risk of problems, but the risks are more often not to the mother but to the baby. Does this doctor want to argue that a fetus is somehow unhealthy simply because it's not mature enough to warrant less monitoring?

He then frames the abortion debate as about whether the desire to terminate a pregnancy is pathological or normal, presumably with him taking the second option. This is silly. No one is arguing that abortions are easy decisions, with the pathological people going one way without a thought and the normal people going the other way without a thought. Sometimes there are difficulties that make someone not want to deal with the consequences of her already being a mother. I don't think that ever justifies abortion (though I'm not sure about whether sometimes it might excuse it). The people I think are pathological aren't the people who are confused enough in those situations to have an abortion. In one of his famous vice lists, Paul condemns the heartless, especially those who give approval to those who practice evil. Someone who condones abortion and encourages those in such difficult circumstances to terminate a pregnancy, assuring someone already in a difficult decision that this is a mere choice, as if no one's life is at stake, is a tool of pure evil.

I wonder if this guy realizes how anti-woman his claim that pregnancy is an illness really sounds once you think about it. He describes some annoyances that come with pregnancy and presumably thinks if a woman kills someone already in a relationship with her (a mother-child relationship, biologically inititated with conception) is morally less severe than putting up with those inconveniences. Saying that a woman is trapped by her body and her reproductive system is tantamount to belittling women who appreciate the wonders of being able to shelter and nourish her offspring for nine months. The bond created between mother and child through pregnancy is seen as somehow bad.

Worse still, the end result of his line of reasoning is that the ideal woman somehow avoids being what is biologically distinctive of women. Therefore his goal must be to force women to become men. The Gospel of Thomas puts this sort of statement on Jesus' lips, and most scholars see this later Gnostic teaching as sexist and unworthy of being put in the same category as anything by someone who cared enough to reach out to women of the dregs of the society of his day. This doctor's statements about pregnancy amount to the same kind of sexism.

Finally, he seems to think reproducing is identical with pregnancy. This ignores the long lives many women have devoted to teaching, caring for, and mentoring their children to be the future of society. Anyone who reduces this role to the kind of importance assumed by those who think it's sexist to see women staying home and raising children is herself, or himself in this case, sexist -- against women and against what women for most of recorded history have done and done very well, something all the male roles over history would have failed at if it hadn't been done. Assuming that caring for children is somehow beneath women, and avoiding such responsibilities like the plague (pun intended, stretch as it is) is the natural and normal path for a woman, is placing the value of this crucial role as lower than it really is. The myth that such things are less important and therefore women's place in society is unimportant has been perpetuated for too long, and this guy seems to want to continue it. I wonder if he wants to do it, to quote him, out of "certain personal role investments". After all, he does perform abortions for a living.

Thanks to Evangelical Outpost for the link and tip-off to the guy's source of income.

6 Comments

Jeremy,
This is a bit off-topic, since I agree with much of what you say here, but Evangelical Outpost seems to recommend that if you find a Kucinich supporter you should feel more justified in reporting them for drug possession and such (check the recent link). Evangelical Outpost in this sense doesn't even seem Christian, according to my understanding (you who are without sin...) It annoys me when Christians support this 'us and them' mentality just as much as it annoys me to hear the academic/intellectual 'us and them' anti-Christian dichotomies. For instance, although this is minor, one of the elders at our church gave me dirty looks for smoking after service. Whatever happened to loving sinners and attracting 'scum'? I've read a bit of this in Yancy (Yancey?) recently. It is an interesting issue, and one you might bring up in a blog entry later. Why is it that evangelical movements have lost the attraction of (more outright) sinners, which is what brought the church together in the first place? Why should I feel more left out as a (more outright) sinner? Do people want people in the Church only if they're already more likely to be saved? Why? What is it about churches/congregations that make them shy away from the homeless, the druggies, the adulterers? I think of Jesus having dinner with lepers and prostitutes and then I think of Christians and their bible-studies. How do they reconcile the two visions? Evangelical Outpost to me seems to embody to me the mind-set of the Pharisees....what do you think?...

I agree that he's sometimes a bit extreme. I think in this case the Kucinich thing was a joke. I don't think he really meant for people to be calling the police. My sense is that any "us and them" mentality here is between conservatives and liberals and that he's not thinking of Christians vs. non-Christians. I don't know Joe personally, but I think he'd be the type in his personal interactions to welcome anyone regardless of political views, especially when it comes to the gospel.

Sometimes internet communications can make it seem as if there's more of a wall between people, and it seems easier to try to form a group mentality and make these jokes, and that's unfortunate. I think there is a natural reaction that gives rise to this. For instance, many African Americans take delight in pointing out every instance when "the man" may have prevented one brother from one slight advantage he might otherwise have had. Lots of quirky facial motions get interpreted as dirty looks because of this mentality, and the black community then has more "evidence" to suggest racism, when the strange facial motions may have been because of indigestion or a hiccough.

Christians do the same thing, as any self-identified group will. It's unfortunate, but it's understandable that any group with some real opposition to them will tend to inflate that opposition and then take delight in being the underdog, pointing out the persecution as if somehow it makes them feel better. People on both sides of the political spectrum do it too. Making fun of people for doing something strange to your own group or pointing out their own faults that your group doesn't tend to do is just the next step.

I agree that this is bad, and by the time it gets to the last step it's obviously crossed the line from simply bad to wrong. I have talked about this before in the context of homosexuality. I don't think Joe's identification here is the "us and them" mentality of Christians in any sense, though. It's merely political and taking the supporters of Kucinich as the competition who more deserve some trouble with the law in the same way two fraternities might try to get each other in trouble, though with some more moral connotations. I don't think it's about Christianity at all.

I'm sorry if one of our elders gave you a dirty look for smoking. Are you sure it was one of the elders? There are only three elders, and I'm not sure you've even met them all. One of them hasn't been up front much or at all since you've been attending and the other only a little. Most of the people up front leading anything are not elders. The communion meditation rotates among something like 20 people in the congregation, the elders only doing it a few times a year each. The worship leaders aren't elders either. A better guide to who the elders are is to see who is preaching, although the guy preaching this coming Sunday isn't one of the elders.

There is an alternate explanation for why someone might have given you what looked to you like a dirty look, depending on the circumstances. If he was somehow sensitive to the smoke itself, it might have been some sort of uncomfortability with being around cigarette smoke itself and not a moral judgment. Maybe that doesn't fit with how it went down, but that's a possibility that suggests itself to me. Some of the people at Trinity aren't around smokers a lot, depending on their employment situation, and it probably makes them uncomfortable to experience the smoke.

In general Trinity is very accepting of people who have not expressed a commitment to Christ and see that as the primary issue, letting various judgments about right and wrong in someone's life be not a requirement for investigating or participating but as something that will come up after the central issues are dealt with -- the issues of Jesus' identity and how someone responds to that. This is a message I clearly hear from the pulpit regularly, and it's unfortunate if someone is consciously or unconsciously departing from that, allowing judgments about behavior to influence how he reacts to someone who hasn't indicated a commitment to Jesus, especially if it's one of the church leaders (though I'm not sure you know exactly who the official leaders are at this point).

I don't understand your Bible-study reference. Is there a problem with gathering to study the Bible? Or are you just making a general observation that some Christians are only comfortable around other Christians?

Yeah, that piece is pretty shockingly bad... of course, maybe its 1971 date makes it slightly less disgusting. It seems less likely that people would be moved by arguments like that today, thirty years later.

Right. The pro-choice case hasn't gotten considerably better over time (I think the main arguments were already there in Thomson, at least any that were any good), but the arguments that the better people at the time were already giving have gotten refined by the people with half a brain who know what to pay attention to.

Still, I hear all sorts of bad one-liners about abortion quite frequently. More left-leaning feminists frequently repeat some of the mistakes in this piece, particularly about women no longer being imprisoned by their bodies or the pro-life simply being about men wanting to control women (when the pro-choice issue faces the same charge with at least a similar body of evidence).

General Clark's statement (that he later had to take back) about life beginning with a mother's choice comes to mind immediately as something like what I see in this piece. Clinton's mantra about abortion being safe, legal, and rare really gets my goat. If there's a reason to make it rare, then why is it legally available as much as it is? He just sounds like he wants to please people on both sides. It shocked me that Lieberman as an orthodox Jew would repeat such a mindless line.

Even the common claim among left-leaning politicians that the issue is merely about a woman's right to choose (which both of my senators pull out as frequently as possible) is at best a euphemism. The issue is about whether a woman's choice to kill in this instance trumps the wrongness of killing or whether the wrongness of killing trumps a woman's choice to kill in this instance. I can't believe that anyone really thinks it's morally ok to hide that issue by talking about it only in terms of choice or life, but that's what happens. Most philosophers who write about it address this issue head-on, but I think many people at the popular level don't, and their reasoning is almost always faulty because of it.

Jeremy, the phrase 'dirty looks' is perhaps an exaggeration. It was a squinched look of disapproval (and I don't want to name names here, and it's really not that big a deal). That look led me to think on what I had read earlier in a Yancy book about the irony of many Christian communities (such as seminaries) prohibiting long hair, beards, smoking, etc., and about how evangelical movements have lost touch (in many, but not all cases) with welcoming outright sinners. I certainly feel comfortable at Trinity, and everyone is very friendly and welcoming.
As far as the bible study passage, that wasn't as clear as it should have been. What I meant is how odd it would be to imagine evangelical Christians welcoming prostitutes and druggies to their bible studies. And, if this is so, I think this is problematic with being a Christian. But, what do I know? Maybe more are welcome than I believe. The Yancy passage was not just about the unwelcoming nature of Christians to certain kinds of folk, but about how sinners now would feel uncomfortable about going to Christian groups for help and community, and Yancy was wondering what it is about Christians that make outsiders wary, as opposed to the comfort that (outright) sinners felt in Jesus' presence.

who would do such a thing it is so cruel but that is good explaining about this thing

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