Austrian sociologist Hans Millendorfer claims to have discovered, at least in his native Austria, a perplexing correspondence: his statistics show a rise in abortions paralleled by a rise in civility. To those of us who consider abortion a violent and evil act, it seems strange that such violence should be accompanied by an increase in courtesy and politeness. But that is exactly what happens, at least from the pro-life side, in the abortion debate. While there are outspoken and quarrelsome opponents of abortion, most of those who oppose it are willing to treat its advocates with a courtesy bordering on complicity. Even the worst and most gruesome form of abortion, the partial birth abortion, cannot move many pro-lifers to call their opponents anything worse than “pro-choice.”
What does abortion have in common with civility? The virtue that abortion lacks is honesty. Civility is not per se dishonest, but sometimes the convention of civility in effect establishes dishonesty. Abortion is based partly on misunderstandings and faulty information, but largely on deliberate deception by its advocates and providers. Abortion involves a high degree of institutionalized and generalized hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that has become so normative that now it is hardly noticed. The hypocrisy inherent in the abortion situation in the United States begins with the language, as in the substitution of the neutral word “choice” for abortion: “Of course we are personally opposed to abortion, but we favor freedom of choice.” “We do not know when life begins, or when the fetus becomes human.” “Before abortion was legalized, tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of women were killed or mutilated in illegal ‘back alley’ abortions, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands or even more than one million each year.” “Intact dilatation and extraction, or so-called partial birth abortion, is medically necessary to prevent women from being ‘ripped up,”‘ despite testimony by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop that there is no condition for which partial birth abortion is the appropriate therapy (except for the condition known as unwanted pregnancy). “Partial birth abortions are rare, few in number, and only performed in desperate cases,” or so we are assured, despite contrary testimony from Ron Fitzsimmons, the head of the National Association of Abortion Providers. And of course the media regularly repeat the falsehood that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion only “early in pregnancy.” President Clinton continues to mutter his slogan, “Safe, legal, and rare,” despite the fact that from his first day in office in 1993 he has taken steps to make abortion ever more accessible and frequent. And needless to say he appointed a Surgeon General who is willing to go along with every abortion, even the partial birth variety that Senator Daniel Moynihan called “close to infanticide.”
The hypocrisy inherent in abortion is found in the United States Senate. The Senate has a large anti-abortion majority, just a bit smaller than necessary to make it veto-proof, and has voted twice to ban partial birth abortion—only to have the ban vetoed by the President. Although one might think that decisions about the life and death of unborn children involve high moral principles and convictions, the Senate has not only failed to try to overturn the presidential veto but has yielded to presidential blandishments and perhaps to AAD (affirmative action dementia) in confirming Dr. David Satcher as Surgeon General, although the doctor endorses partial birth abortion, unlike his more eminent predecessor Dr. Koop. It was bruited about that the Republican majority approved Satcher in exchange for having Washington National Airport renamed after Ronald Reagan.
Abortion rests on normative deception and hypocrisy, and a false and pusillanimous civility repeatedly fails to identify it for what it is, namely, early homicide. Even stalwart defenders of the unborn, such as Dr. Koop and Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, who know the truth about abortion very well, defer to the principles of civility when dealing with abortion advocates. Both gentlemen belong to a generation for which courtesy is a virtue, and whether it is in the halls of Congress or in the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates, one must discourse with reasonable politeness if one is to be allowed to speak at all.
Often civility towards the powerful who favor abortion seems a necessary price to pay to enter the political playgrounds. Dr. Koop is passionately committed to reforming America’s health care system for the sake of all the people, and the Clintons were able to recruit his support for Mrs. Clinton’s proposed Health Security program. Dr. Koop became an enthusiastic advocate, warmly supporting the plan in an effort to achieve a greater goal and inadvertently lending a bit of his moral stature to the immoral Clintons.
Dare we say “immoral”? Does that not impugn the honor of the President and the dignity of the presidency? Indeed it does, but how can one say less of people committed to the ad libitum destruction of innocent unborn life? Civility and political courtesy would forbid the word, but honesty requires it. As Psalm 12:8 says, “The wicked strut about on every side, when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” It is not even necessary that vileness be exalted; it need merely be passed over in silence, and people who are committed to the perpetuation of wickedness can strut about unchallenged. Unfortunately, many anti-abortionists have a sense of courteous deference that ignores the fundamental evil being espoused by their adversaries. The pro-life side often appears to consider it a great concession if they are merely allowed to enter the discussion and to articulate their concerns. Despite the regularity with which the pro-abortionists assault them with offensive, false, and irrelevant charges (such as being “anti-choice,” opposed to “reproductive freedom,” intent on creating a dominant patriarchy, and so on), pro-lifers meekly comply with the pro-abortionists’ debate rules and call them “pro-choice.” But what are they choosing? Nothing but the right to kill (“terminate”) unwanted unborn children. The “pro-choice” forces frequently get away with labeling their adversaries “anti-choice,” which is logical enough if one accepts their self-designation. But the pro-lifers almost never perform the parallel function. The “right to life” party ought to call its opposition “right to kill,” but of course that would be discourteous, albeit true.
Not every pro-lifer minces his or her words. Professor George Williams, at one time president of Americans United for Life, is a gentle and mild-mannered man, but he did not hesitate to call the Supreme Court of Roe v. Wade “that evil court.” An evil court? How can one attribute motives or judge morals? One might more reasonably ask, what else can one who knows the truth say? In Roe v. Wade, the Court permitted the killing of over 30 million babies who would have been native-born American citizens. The West German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), which now is the highest court of the united Germany, was outspoken in its 1974 decision on abortion, writing, “The usual language, termination of pregnancy, cannot conceal the fact that abortion is a homicidal act.”
Even in its 1974 decision, the German court made provision for the toleration of abortion under certain circumstances. Now, after the unification of Germany, abortion is permissible early in pregnancy, with the provision that a woman seeking an abortion must obtain pre-abortion counseling and produce a Schein (certificate) to demonstrate that she has listened to the admonitions and cautions. Most of the pro-life counseling centers are associated with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Evangelical Church of Germany; at this writing, the Catholic agencies will counsel but give no Schein if the woman persists in wanting the abortion; the Protestant agencies will counsel continuation of the pregnancy, but will give the Schein if the woman rejects their arguments and persists in demanding it. This hardly constitutes a great impediment to a woman’s freedom, particularly where what she is demanding is the freedom to take a life, but it does at least recognize what is at stake and makes it plain that German society deplores the prospect of “terminating” a developing child. In the United States, such a provision would be regularly and speedily thrown out by federal court.
The seven justices who concurred in Roe may not have realized the full import of their decision, but by the time of Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the five justices who concurred to uphold Roe could no longer pretend such ignorance. For the most part, their reasoning relied not on morality or justice but on precedent. Should one call former Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the author of Roe, or current justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter—each of them appointed by a pro-life President—who reaffirmed Roe, evil? If not them, then at least their deeds.
Dr. Koop and Congressman Hyde, and many others whose commitment to the pro-life cause is unquestioned, refrain from making a clear condemnation such as that uttered by Professor Williams. Civility on the part of anti-abortionists when dealing with the pro-abortion establishment may sometimes be justified in terms of the political etiquette necessary to get things done in a late, sensate, democratic society. It can be argued that massive denunciation of pro-abortionists, although morally justifiable, would foreclose the possibility of getting at least some amelioration of the abortion culture and of saving the lives of at least some unborn children. But civility, if necessary and desirable, should never fail to do at least what an occasional honest man, such as Steve Forbes, has done in calling every abortion an evil, while admitting that no significant progress can be made unless the hearts of people are changed.
Not every anti-abortionist is civil and courteous. Mr. Joseph Scheidler was recently convicted, under the RICO (Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, of “conspiracy” to damage abortion clinics by tactics (non-violent, of course) designed to keep customers away from abortion clinic doors. Mr. Scheidler, we will admit, is not very civil. But what he says is the truth, and what his opponents are doing, now supported by the courts, is dishonest from the ground up.
Is it hard to understand why a Supreme Court decision allows the RICO Act to be used against a protest group, one that might fairly be described as a civil rights group? Why did Congress pass, and the President sign, the PACE (Protection of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act? The answer, of course, is that no one is willing to admit what has been done by the tens of millions since 1973, namely, the legally sanctioned killing of developing human beings. The number of “terminations”—which are in fact homicides—which Justice Harry Blackmun has on his conscience now exceeds the number of people exterminated by Adolf Hitler by a factor of five or more. Yet Blackmun retired with honor and not long ago was even given an honorary doctorate by Harvard University, the stock of the Puritans, it seems, now having been safely and legally terminated.
There are offenses that may be limited to verbal abuse, but even these merit, in the public eye, condemnation. For several of them, it is taken for granted that they will not be endured politely and with courtesy. We have words for those individuals and groups that commit such lesser offenses (for prejudice and verbal abuse, unless translated into deeds, are surely less evil than homicide). Advocating segregation by race or by sex, opposing affirmative action, and condemning homosexual acts all merit name-calling: racists, male chauvinists, homophobes. Do African-Americans feel it their duty to be civil to a white who regularly refers to them as “niggers”? Do not Jews, and not only Jews, find it difficult to engage in courteous discussion with anti-Semites? Passing from verbal offenses to acts, child abusers frequently have to be protected in penitentiaries from other prisoners, who consider such behavior to be deserving of death without remission.
Why should those who know what abortion is be civil and courteous to those who advocate such homicide of the unborn, and even to those who practice it? One is reminded of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. When Quebec separatists “executed” a member of the government, Trudeau, unlike some of his American homologues, would not accept the self-justifying word “execution”: this can be called nothing but “un lache assassinat,” a cowardly murder.
As an occasional participant in or witness of pro-life demonstrations, I have heard obscene abuse —usually contentless, non-specific cursing—hurled at praying demonstrators by those who call themselves “pro-choice.” Those who kill are killers, even if they do it under the cloak of legality. Surely there are times when it is inappropriate or unwise to hurl the term “killers” at abortion advocates. But there are times when the words must fit the facts. “The usual language, termination of pregnancy, cannot conceal the fact that abortion is a homicidal act.”