Friday, April 01, 2005

What's Pro-Life All About?

For the most part, I got tired of the pro-life/pro-choice debate years ago, but I thought the discussion here was interesting.

I think, when you're talking about people who get involved in the "pro-life" movement, there are a variety of motivations. Yes, control of women is a motivation, and it would be most certainly be the result if they got their way, but there's more to it than that. What is it that makes anybody choose, out of so many problems in the world, one particular thing? Why are people weeping, protesting, and threatening, over the death of a woman who is a mental vegetable when most of the people in the world who starve to death do it with all their mental facilities intact, with nothing at all to ease their suffering? Why is one death important, and a million others aren't?

I know, that when I am emotionally affected by a news story, it's because I can put myself in the picture in some way. Several months ago, before I started the blog up again, I was very deeply affected by the school fire in India, where the teachers all saved themselves, and 70-80 children were abandoned inside to die. Why? Well, of course, it was a terrible thing, and just about anyone would be appalled at a story that described schoolchildren trapped, helpless, and burning to death. But I think one reason that it particularly hit me in the gut is because I'm a teacher; I'm responsible for the safety of young children on a regular basis. I'm like the captain of a ship; if there's a dangerous situation, I'm the last to leave. It was horrifying to think of teachers who would just run, and leave the kids there. That is, I could put myself in the picture. Same thing when my kids were little, I would be very affected by tragic stories involving little children.

So, I think that when people get swept up in something like the Terry Schaivo case, or deeply involved in the pro-life movement, these people see themselves in the picture somehow. Maybe Tom DeLay on some level feels guilty about the decision to allow his father to die. (Of course, he could just be a cynical politician riding the wave.) More than a few pro-lifers are women who had abortions in a pre-conversion past. It's an interesting thing that they don't generally demonize the woman, but characterize her as a victim, even though they see abortion as equivalent to murder.

Religious fundamentalists fear and hate many aspects of modern life as a threat to meaning and order. If women can choose not to be mothers, then that changes the very definition of what a woman is, and casts aside a role that is seen as divinely ordained. If people can have premarital sex without the threat of pregnancy, then the entire basis for its sinfulness is swept away. A case like Terri Schaivo's brings up uncomfortable questions about when a person is really "a living soul", and when they aren't. It isn't so much about life -- old-fashioned types of killing like capital punishment, and war are just fine with these people. (A truly "pro-life" person would oppose any taking of human life, in any circumstances.) It's a protest against the idea that, if a brain isn't there, one is no longer a person. It's a struggle against the idea that human beings can just be reduced to their biological functions. The Schindlers, and their supporters, were entirely convinced -- all medical evidence to the contrary -- that Terri the person was still there, and suffering. Because if we aren't a person when our brain has turned to mush, then what exactly is a person in the first place? Just a bunch of synapses firing away? What are our lives worth, then? If, because of an accident, disease, or age our mental faculties wither, are we not still a human soul? These are tough questions.

So, yes, to some extent it's about control. But it's because the modern world threatens to spin things out of control, and drain them of meaning, so these people feel a compulsion to fight back.

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