As a liberal, I’ve changed since the heyday of my 1960s youth. Time teaches you many things – among them that life is unfair by definition, and that people aren’t as different from one another as they often think. Over time I came to respect those calling themselves conservatives, noticing that they were usually thoughtful and sincere people. I began to feel more optimistic for this country – to think we were on the way to learning from each other.

My anger over the ongoing assaults on abortion has always surprised me. Anger isn’t particularly useful in public discussions, and I humbly ask for a favor here: Since for years I really have tried to listen to the people who opposed legal abortion, I hope they’ll listen to me, in turn, as I outline the reasons for my visceral recoil.

One doesn’t get angry at theoretical or moral arguments. One does get angry at seeing the safety and survival of millions of people (women and children, in this case) dismissed. Anyone who truly hates atrocities against human beings takes the trouble to look closely at a given problem – not to make it fit with their theories of life, but to see what needs to be done to solve it.

First, for example, they’d know that family violence is epidemic. The FBI tells us that millions of women, children, and – yes – men, are regularly battered at home. Meanwhile, few seem to recognize the deadly extent of the violence. The CDC reports that over half of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by their intimate partner. The police make no bones about the extreme danger faced when breaking up family disputes. Social researchers concur: Today’s home is a lethal place to be.

None of this is any secret; I can’t even pretend to understand how anyone calling themselves “pro-life” manages to dismiss all these endangered and terrorized humans. An overriding respect for human life is a great thing, but why elect to defend only one dubious subsection – a fetus or embryo – at the expense of living, breathing people? Why shout down researchers’ repeated warning that unintended children can be a major cause of family violence – and its prime victims?

This tunnel-vision approach is not just irrational but markedly cruel. Even if there were no available figures, how could anyone call horror and spiritual morass “life”? Wouldn’t a truly pro-life stance insist on supporting healthy and functional families? There are many organizations working on exactly that – why haven’t pro-life groups eagerly partnered up with them? Come to that, how about turning “pro-life” toward stopping rape? Or strengthening child support laws?


Is anyone happy with the widespread joke about pro-lifers – that they believe life begins at conception and ends at birth?

I’m angry at the pro-life movement for one more reason: I have to suspect anyone who attacks only women for reproductive responsibility. Do they believe we have babies all by ourselves? Because such a position is so transparently irrational, one must ask what lies behind it. I can think of no other motive than hostility toward women. If anyone can reveal a different motive to me, I’m open to learning. In the meantime, I feel surrounded by a very real-feeling animosity.

A final word: Science will never be able to qualitatively define human life. But human beings often seem instinctively to understand things that mystify scientists. For millennia, we’ve treated miscarried fetuses differently from babies who have died. We’ve mourned them (sometimes), but we’ve gone without naming them, burying them, mentioning them in family histories. It’s clear to me that we somehow understand the real nature of the fetus. This understanding resonates with me.

What about you? While I respect sincere belief, I’ll always be shocked at any unthinking dismissal of real human degradation.

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