Our Widening Embrace

[Note: Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve approached three periodicals with strong progressive, social justice slants — one of them Christian, the other two more mainstream — with this piece. Acknowledging that the stance it takes on abortion does not fit with their own editorial positions, I noted that it embraces the premises that ground those positions and said I hoped it might offer their readers a chance to consider the issue from a new point of view at this important time in American politics and perhaps stimulate a respectful conversation. Call me naive or unrealistic. All three rejected the piece, and rather quickly. Rather than continue to shop it around, I post it here.]


Our Widening Embrace

As the American left surges, let’s include the unborn in its circle of care

by Barry Hudock


It’s clear that after a few days of post-election funk last November, the American left has no intention of languishing in despondency following Donald Trump’s rise to President of the United States. The massive January 21 Women’s March in Washington, DC, on the day after the inauguration, was only the first vivid sign of this, but it is far from the only one. Indeed, energized by threats to decades of progress on an array of human and civil rights issues by an unpopular president who leads a deeply divided party, the left is now, as Owen Jones has rightly noted, “stronger than it has been for decades.”

I have personally experienced the compulsion to action that Trump’s cynical nationalism, racism, and misogyny arouses. In the weeks following the election, I knew that as a white male born and raised in rural Pennsylvania (in a county where Trump received over 78 percent of the vote!), I could not avoid finding ways to counteract the ugly forces he had unleashed. Since then, I’ve volunteered to teach English to local Somali immigrants, begun making regular calls to my congressional representatives, and developed the new habit of thanking immigrants I encounter for choosing to make the U.S. their home. I have Donald Trump to thank for, unintentionally, goading me into action.

But even as I stand with so many other Americans concerned about those disadvantaged by our policies and our fears, I find myself keenly aware of a major difference among us. Indeed, the Women’s March brought out the difference in sharp relief.

Just days before the event, its central office released a statement to “assure all of our partners, as well as participants, that we are pro-choice.” The March, they made clear, welcomed only people who “share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.” This comes in spite of the powerful statement included on the event’s website, explaining its mission: “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us.”

Of course, one human right – surely the most fundamental of them all – is the right to life. It has a prominent place in both the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. And as the very term suggests, human right come with being human. There is no achievement, skill, or ideological test by which we earn it. It is limited by no citizenship or border. Governments do not grant human rights; they are bound to respect and protect them.

It is tragic, then, that the rights of those who are not yet born are so ignored. Whether or not the pre-born are human is not a matter of creed, philosophy, or opinion. It is a scientific fact.

Now, I am not naïve enough to think that acknowledging this fact solves every question about the morality or legality of abortion. Theoretically, at least, one can argue that personhood is different than humanity. The latter is a scientific matter, but the former is a philosophical one; there is no genetic test to confirm personhood.

But this is precisely where the instincts of progressives ought to serve as a moral compass, pointing them in a different direction than they have typically taken. Such folks are more prepared than most to insist that there is no segment of the human community that does not count as people. They know better than most – or are at least more willing to admit it – that while human history (including American history) is littered with attempts to put certain humans outside the circle of those considered human persons, this has always led to profound tragedy, atrocity, and bitter regret.

Is there any example of a time when excluding a certain category of humanity from what was judged to be personhood was just and good? The progressive answer most common today amounts to this: “No, there is not. Well, except one. We have deprived black people of their humanity before the law, and that was disastrous. In various ways and through various means, we ignored the human rights of women and gays and native Americans and the poor, and in every case it led to crimes that cried to heaven for vengeance. But in the case of the unborn, yes, denying the right to life and every other right – that is the way of justice.”

Does this really ring true in progressive hearts and minds?

President Obama said in his farewell address of January 10, 2017: “[T]he long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.” Legal abortion does not widen that embrace; it narrows and restricts it. Indeed, it transforms that protective embrace to a destructive fist.

Demanding a woman’s right to abortion in the name of her bodily autonomy is a lot like Donald Trump’s jingoistic nationalism. In both cases, protection of the self comes at the expense of others, especially of the vulnerable. With both, autonomy destroys solidarity.

Dismiss this as “mansplaining” if you must – there’s no denying, that’s a thing. But before you do, please remember that it echoes the convictions of some of foundational figures of the United States’ women’s movement – Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Blackwell, and more.

Consider instead the possibility that the biological data and ethical thinking that grounds the pro-life movement is not mansplaining at all. Rather, maybe the false and tragic dismissal of the developing fetus as a mere “clump of cells” and the insistence that the rights of women must be defended at the expense of an even more vulnerable population, are what we might call bornsplaining – the efforts of those who are already born to justify ignoring the rights and dignity of those who are not and who can’t speak up in opposition.

As the strength and energy of the American left surges – like antibodies going after a disease that is attacking our body politic – I am heartened, and I pledge to lend a hand. But for the sake of consistency and of the solidarity of the human community, I implore my fellow advocates for causes of justice to broaden their minds and hearts even wider.



Democratic presidential candidate tells nation why abortion must be abolished

“I believe that the genius of this American experiment of ours is that in every generation we take actions to include more people more fully in the economic, the social, and the political life our country. That’s the broader arc of American history. We’ve yet to arrive at a perfect union, but every generation we have the opportunity to make it a more perfect union….

“One of the most powerful beliefs we share is our belief in the dignity of every person. That’s what’s motivated me, and the common good that we share. And, I will do everything in my power to move us forward as a nation, and make us more inclusive in every possible way I can across the board because that’s what makes us stronger as a country.”

That’s Governor Martin O’Malley speaking at last night’s Democratic Town Hall on CNN. (Full transcript here.) He was responding to a question about what he would do to secure full LGBT rights in the United States.

And in doing so, he articulated perfectly the case for the abolition of abortion.

“A climate deal Francis would approve?”: New from OSV

My new article for Our Sunday Visitor considers the question, “Would Pope Francis approve of the U.N. climate deal brokered in Paris last month?” My work on this one was particularly interesting and enjoyable.

That’s probably because the initial reaction of most folks — including me — would probably be, “Of course he would.” But the ways the deal differs from (and even ignores) Francis’s approach are as interesting as the ways the two are aligned.

The whole thing is here. Have a look.

U.S. Congressman calls my tweet ridiculous

I’ve been disappointed by the strong movement to push for the U.S. government to halt acceptance of Syrian refugees in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. This seems to me to be allowing fear to overtake our humanity, compassion, intelligence, and common sense.

Let’s be clear: It is obvious that no one can guarantee that no single terrorist will slip in along with the tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing terror themselves.

But there are many risks no one can guarantee to protect us from that we reasonably open ourselves every day to by our laws, policies, and practices.

Every time I fly I see hundreds of people skipping security checkpoints to pass through the TSA “pre-check” route. Sure, they’ve been officially vetted in the past, but you can’t guarantee they haven’t been radicalized since then. Of course, common sense tells us the chances are that are so small, it’s worth the “risk” to speed up the process for everyone.

Many schools are installing metal detectors at their doors to protect students. But they’re not putting bars on the windows to prevent the bad guys from coming in that way! This is taking a risk. But there’s only so much one can reasonably do to eliminate risk without sacrificing other important values, right?

One example that seemed to me to be especially worthwhile is this one: We’ve seen a lot of terrible gun violence in the United States. Deranged or evil people have successfully gone after elementary school students, college students, movie-goers, black church-goers, and more. And statistics make clear that this problem, while not exclusively American, is predominantly American, here in this country with our very permissive guns laws. Time and time again, leaders and activists have called for reasonable restrictions on access to guns, only to be dismissed and mocked by many on the right, who criticize their willingness to sacrifice our freedoms in an abundance of caution.

So like I said, I thought that was an especially apt analogy when considering the current move to “pause” the influx of refugees out of an abundance of caution. I chose to make that point this week to several of our lawmakers via Twitter, including those who sponsored the “American SAFE Act,” a bill that passed handily in the House of Representatives to do just that.

One of those I tweeted was U.S. Representative Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina, who co-sponsored the act.

I tweeted: “.@RepRichHudson: Funny, I don’t remember your call for a #pause on permissive gun control regs after Sandy Hook or Umpqua.”

And to my surprise, Rep. Hudson tweeted back! Taking time out of his busy congressional schedule, he (or one of his communications people) wrote to me: “I will blame your iPhone for that ridiculous Tweet. #ThinkAboutIt”

Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit it, and I suppose it’s the result of my wonky, civics-loving nature, not to mention a hearty respect for our government and its leaders, but my first and strongest reaction has been that I’m just delighted that a U.S. congressman chose to tweet to me at all, despite the fact that he did it to say my comment was “ridiculous.”

Of course, being called ridiculous by a congressman is a little disheartening, once you get thinking about it. And it’s hard not to wonder about taking it so personally that I’d not want to vote for members of his party in the future, though I’ve cast plenty of votes during my adult life for Republicans in the past. But I know that would be an over-reaction.

My kids told me I should look on the bright side: all the Democrats who see that will think I’m really cool. There is that.

If they do, maybe some of our lawmakers on that side of the aisle will be willing to hear me out on abortion. I’ll need to take a breath before that conversation, though. One can only be called ridiculous so often.

“Not like in the USA, you know?”

It took Donald Trump just over 48 hours from the Paris terrorist attacks to insist that less restrictive gun control laws in France would have left the people of Paris safer on November 13. From Politico:

“Had there been some guys with a gun, there would have been a shootout and probably the primary people that would have got whacked would have been the killers,” Trump said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “You can’t any tougher than Paris, and you can’t get any tougher than France” on gun control, he continued. “They just said, come here, boom, come here, boom…shot these people at will.”

Trump and his millions of fans ought to take note of another interview that aired at about the same time, this one on National Public Radio. Journalist Robert Siegel offered a view of the evening of the attacks from the experience of an emergency room doctor who treated many of the victims. The doctor — who treated 27 gunshot victims in a Paris hospital emergency room that night — mentioned that it is unusual it is for him to be called upon to treat a gunshot wound.

“Usually,” he says in his stilted English, “in the emergency department in France, you may have a car crash. Sometime, one gun, but not that type of number of patients was of gun.”

Siegel, an American, tries to help him out by clarifying that the doctor is accustomed to treating only around one gunshot wound per weekend.

No, the doctor corrects him, “One per year.” And he adds: “Not like in the USA, you know?”

What a sad statement about the United States. This is how our western neighbors view us, and for good reason.

So if it’s okay to suggest what sort of guns laws might have left Parisians safer on November 13, it’s obviously fair to ask what kinds of laws keep them safer every other day of the year? “You can’t get any tougher than France” on gun control, Trump pointed out.

Alas, Trump is right about France’s gun control laws, and the doctor is right about their results. They are indeed “restrictive” (to use the term of gunpolicy.org). In France, where liberty is the first word of the national motto, there is no “right to bear arms.” No one can even own a gun without a hunting or sporting license, which needs to be repeatedly renewed and requires psychological evaluation.

The result? Around 0.2 gun homicides per 100,000 in population annually. (That is, for every million citizens, 2 per year die by gun homicide.)

Compare that to the United States, whose laws are characterized by gunpolicy.org as “permissive.” We end up with between 3 and 4 deaths per 100,000 in population — or for every million citizens, 30 to 40 gun homicides per year.

In a word, 20 times more.

Sadly, the “boom… boom…” (to use Mr. Trump’s expression) that rang out in Paris on November 13 killed 138 innocents. That same boom, boom, so unfamiliar to Paris, rings out every night in American cities, taking lives in much higher numbers over not too much more time.

Not like in Paris, you know?