by Rachel MacNair
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York (PPGNY) is one of the regional affiliates of Planned Parenthood, covering New York City and the nearby area, administering several PP centers.
A June 18 Open Letter, signed by over 300 people, was published which started:
The CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Laura McQuade, has proven to be a toxic leader and autocrat, and we, the current and former staff . . . write this letter to demand her immediate removal.
She was accused of verbal abuse and bullying, plus financial improprieties.
Additionally, of particular interest from the letter:
Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman. That is a part of history that cannot be changed. While efforts have been made to undo some of the harm from institutional racism, many of these issues have worsened under McQuade’s tenure. . . .
We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve.
We write this — as a group of both current and former BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) employees of [PPGNY] to expand on the issues of racism and anti-Blackness in our workplace.
These aren’t people biased against PP or its mission – to the contrary, they’re explicitly trying to save it.
A note was later added to the top saying they had been successful. McQuade has been removed.
Lots of organizations, even very good ones, have the problem of abusive bosses. We’re all keenly aware that many organizations are still “steeped in white supremacy,” and that this is a problem that needs to be fixed, ideally by their own staffs from the inside. Uprisings of this kind are needed in all kinds of organizations, and I’d like to see more of them. I suppose the PP staff involved see it as essentially nothing more than that.
But Planned Parenthood, by having the largest chain of abortion centers in the world, and having most of its U.S. locations doing abortions while the rest of the U.S. locations serve as abortion pipelines to those centers, has special features. Namely:
- Killing massive numbers of unborn children involves dehumanizing them. Can such massive dehumanization happen and not bleed over into racism?
- Mothers are very commonly being expected to accommodate themselves to massive injustices when they’re pressured to abort. While there are certainly women who do in fact make the decision for themselves and resent any suggestion otherwise, there are also huge numbers who feel traumatized by their abortions. We know, because we get a continual flow of women who’ve had abortions under sexist circumstances into the pro-life movement. So any staff would have to either be aware of the injustices pushing women to abort or be studiously ignoring the evidence in front of their eyes.
- White supremacists are very happy for Black and Hispanic women to abort their babies, presuming it means there are fewer Black and Hispanic people. Much as staff members are sure that their work is to give women choices, they have to be aware that they’re accommodating this dynamic – and that people of this mindset can be attracted to contribute money to or to be leaders in Planned Parenthood.
- The verbal abuse and bullying part could possibly be a symptom of trauma. One of the symptoms of PTSD is outbursts of irritation. Being involved in massive killing may be more traumatizing than many people realize.
These might be some considerations for staff to reflect on, to consider whether they want to reform the organization – or abolish it.
For our constantly-updated website with information and ideas on noncooperation with Planned Parenthood, see
For more news on turmoil in Planned Parenthood, see:
For some of our blog posts on racism, see:
Racism and the Death Penalty / David Cruz-Uribe
Brown v. Board of Education and Me / Bill Samuel
Movies with Racism Themes: “Gosnell” and “The Hate U Give” / Rachel MacNair
The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion / Graciela Olivarez
For some of our blog posts on how abortion hurts women (as in Point #2 above), see:
Abortion and Violence against Pregnant Women / Martha Shuping
The Myth of Sexual Autonomy / Julianne Wiley
How Abortion is Useful for Rape Culture / Rachel MacNair
Compiled by Rachel MacNair and Bill Samuel
Original content by Rachel MacNair
In June Medical Services vs. Russo, the Court upheld a ghastly precedent – yet again – by declaring a specific safety regulation unconstitutional. In Bourgeois v. Barr, the Court turned down even hearing a case challenging the lethal injection protocol for federal executions. Neither of these two cases would stop abortion or the death penalty, but both would have dealt with aspects to mitigate the damage.
June Medical Services vs. Russo: The Problem
I’m Louisiana State Senator Katrina Jackson. I am disappointed that today’s Supreme Court decision strikes down Louisiana common-sense law that I authored to protect women injured in abortion facilities. I am proud to be a pro-life Democrat. I am proud that this bill received overwhelming support by both women and men, Democrats and Republicans, Black legislators and White legislators. Once again, unelected justices have substituted their policy preferences over the clear will of the people of my great state. As long as the Supreme Court continues to meddle in an area that rightfully belongs in the democratic process, women will remain subject to sub-standard abortion facilities. But know that together, with my colleagues, we will continue to pursue policies that both protect the health and safety of women, and the lives of the unborn children. . . .
Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life of America (a CLN member group):
This decision endangers women’s health. Women’s safety should never be jeopardized, whether at a profit-driven abortion clinic or any other outpatient clinic. The three clinics, in this case, have been cited for 35 health and safety violations in the last decade. We are disturbed that without this reasonable regulation, women in Louisiana will suffer injuries without the benefit of face-to-face patient hand-offs, as mandated by medical best practice. Abortion doctors don’t deserve a special exemption from commonsense health regulations.
Contrary to the narrative promoted by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, this progressive law was brought into being by pro-life Democrats. It was authored by pro-life Democrat Katrina Jackson and signed into law by pro-life Democrat John Bel Edwards. Promoting women’s health and feminist values is fundamental to the idea of the Democratic Party. As Democrats, we care about women, who should have a right to the highest-quality medical care, in every instance. I call on the rest of the Democratic Party to join us in standing up to the $3 billion abortion industry and its laissez-faire approach to women’s health.
Rehumanize International (a CLN member group):
Pro-Lifers See Opportunities As Supreme Court Hands Down ‘Grievous’ Decision: After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down pro-life policies and thwarted bipartisan support for a state law, diverse pro-life voices share what it means.
On the left, [Terrisa] Bukovinac laments that her party has rejected pro-life liberals.
“Going into an election season with a Supreme Court decision that is really unpopular, is only going to help Republicans,” she said. “You don’t see any pro-choice people out here today. It hasn’t helped to rally any of their people whatsoever.”
Having protested outside Democratic debates, she notes the disconnect between party leaders and the grassroots. “The vast majority of Democrats, if they understood what this law is about, would support the pro-life position,” said Bukovinac. “We see the pro-life movement is growing stronger and more diverse.”
June Medical Services vs. Russo: Addressing the Problem
- Future Court Cases
Since in this 5-4 decision Justice Roberts filed a separate opinion that was narrower than Breyer’s opinion, Roberts’ opinion controls. While Roberts felt compelled to uphold precedent, he reiterated that he thought the precedent was wrongly decided – he had voted against it in 2016.
There are several abortion-defending and other sources that believe he was actually being crafty. The 2016 precedent expanded the pro-abortion impact of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and he un-expanded it. See, for example, this article or this article in The New York Times, this article or this article in Slate, and this in Vox. More neutrally, this SCOTUS blog or the PBS News Hour segment. Basically, Roberts won’t allow regulations that are against precedent, but he’ll allow others that don’t have any precedent of having been struck down.
- Publicizing How Hard and Stigmatized Abortions Are
As is common on these occasions, abortion defenders pointed out that Louisiana, which used to have 11 abortion facilities, has only three left. They’ll let us know that only two of the five doctors who do abortions in Louisiana can get those hospital admitting privileges. They mention that five states each have only one abortion facility left (Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia). They’re doing their best to illustrate how much abortion isn’t available.
In other words, they’re doing a far better job than we’re even capable of to document to the American public the decline of the abortion business. They’re getting Americans ready for further decline. They think they’re sounding alarm bells, but actually, to many Americans, a ban is uncomfortable but a decline sounds pretty good.
Meanwhile, if you’re a pregnant woman, or a couple considering the activity that makes for pregnancy, these pronouncements serve as anti-advertisements. Letting people know how difficult something is tends to be a turn-off.
- Most Actions Don’t Require the Court’s approval
Only the legislative route requires paying attention to what the Court will allow. Everything else we do – education and advocacy, providing material help, etc. — we keep doing. Here are a some of our own projects that were always intend to bypass what courts and candidates for election do:
And an educational effort to erode support for Roe v. Wade, showing its damage beyond just what it did on abortion: The Price of Roe.
Bourgeois v. Barr: The Problem
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to the federal execution protocol, removing a potential major obstacle to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) plan to resume federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. The decision leaves in place an April 2020 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that lifted an injunction that had halted federal executions. The Department has scheduled four executions in July and August. . . .
The federal government has carried out only three executions since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, most recently in 2003. Lawyers for the four prisoners say their cases are emblematic of major flaws in the federal death penalty, including inadequate representation, the use of junk science, arbitrariness, insufficient appellate review, and federal overreach into cases typically handled by states.
“A pervasive myth is that the federal death penalty is ‘the gold standard’ of capital punishment systems,” said Ruth Friedman, Director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project and an attorney for Daniel Lee. “This is false. The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science.”
Friedman said the federal death penalty also has its own distinct set of issues, including federal overreach into crimes traditionally handled in state court and restricted appellate review of capital convictions and death sentences. “Despite these problems, and even as people across the country are demanding that leaders rethink crime, punishment, and justice, the government is barreling ahead with its plans to carry out the first federal executions in 17 years,” Friedman said. ”Given the unfairness built into the federal death penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government’s new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution.”
Bourgeois v. Barr: Addressing the Problem
This removes one obstacle to executions in these cases, but there are other legal hurdles still being pursued. So as far as these specific four cases go, attorneys still have options.
For stopping the death penalty as a whole, fortunately, unlike abortion cases, the Court is only allowing executions, not requiring that they be done or permitted. Many states have abolished the death penalty, and the Court won’t interfere with states abolishing the death penalty if they wish to. We still have options using democracy, not blocked by the Court, to also persuade the federal government to stop.
See details and background on the 27th annual Starvin’ for Justice Fast & Vigil here. We’ve generally had a CLN presence there for the past few years. It’s being held virtually this year, already started, June 29-July 2.
See also our page on Future Referendum Ideas on our Peace & Life Referendums site, where we offer details for a proposal for a state-wide referendum for conscientious objection to both abortions and executions, with a list of which states offer funding for either one or both.
by John Whitehead
The Covid-19 pandemic threatens life in multiple ways. The virus not only has killed people directly—more than 400,000 to date—but has also worsened poverty and inequality. By disrupting the world economy, the pandemic has taken away many people’s livelihoods and harmed the poor.
The illness and the resulting economic hardships don’t fall equally on everyone but particularly hurt those already economically vulnerable. We should not forget these less obvious but very serious effects of Covid-19. The response to Covid-19 must include efforts to help those whose ability to support themselves has been seriously damaged since the pandemic began.
Fear of contracting Covid-19, along with the various quarantine and social distancing requirements imposed to prevent the virus’ spread, have meant curtailing travel, face-to-face interactions, and other ordinary business activities. All these conditions have presumably prevented infections, which is a great accomplishment.
A negative consequence of these conditions, however, is that businesses that could not successfully operate under such conditions have failed or had to reduce their operations. Enormous numbers of people have been put out of work, and global trade has been disrupted. The world is now facing a dramatic recession.
In the United States, the unemployment rate is currently 13.3%, the highest it has been since the Great Depression, with roughly 20 million people out of work. A recent survey indicates that 40% of American mothers with children under 12 currently lack access to sufficient food—more than triple the percentage of mothers reporting food insecurity in 2018.
Additionally, sidewalk advocates in the United States have reported that larger numbers of women than usual were entering those abortion facilities that remain open.
Black Americans have been hit especially hard, both by Covid-19 infections—a result partly of inadequate healthcare and a lack of jobs that allow working from home—and also by already having an unemployment rate twice that of white Americans.
Beyond the United States, the pandemic’s health and economic consequences severely threaten people in the developing world. Covid-19 will most hurt those already at the bottom of society. In Latin America, for example, poor housing, healthcare, and sanitation conditions among women and people of indigenous or African heritage mean these groups will suffer the pandemic’s worst effects. Many Latin American women are domestic workers who are at greater risk of unemployment and have less access to social safety nets. Refugees and displaced populations around the world, who may live in camps where social distancing isn’t possible, are also at heightened risk. People in developing countries suffering from malnutrition are more vulnerable to severe Covid-19 symptoms.
People falling sick from Covid-19 could create labor shortages and overwhelm already strained healthcare systems in developing countries. The global recession, as well as social distancing’s effects on service sector workers, risks lowering employment and incomes in developing countries. Also, the worsening economic situation in developed countries could mean that people in developing countries will not receive the same flow of money from relatives in the developed world.
Meanwhile, restrictions on movement intended to contain the virus’ spread could disrupt planting and harvesting by farmers, as well as their ability to sell their products. This situation will, in turn, limit general access to food.
In Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, GDP may have fallen by a third during a March to April lockdown. The number of Nigerians living in poverty might increase by 30 million as a result.
Meanwhile, East African nations are struggling against a locust plague that threatens food supplies; travel restrictions because of the pandemic, however, have disrupted the flow of necessary pesticides. In India, the pandemic has contributed to work disappearing in cities. As a result, about half a million people have left cities to walk long distances to their hometowns.
The current array of economic problems prompted United Nations officials to predict this spring that the global number of people without adequate access to food, which was 135 million in 2019, might almost double this year.
Also, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, the pandemic’s effect on food insecurity will only aggravate current effects of ongoing violent conflicts in those regions—a case of different threats to life combining to do still greater harm.
Further, this connection between economic and health crises and conflict is a reciprocal one: the various disruptions and tensions caused by Covid-19 may make conflict within and between societies more likely in the future. In South Africa, for example, hungry people have broken into food stalls and gotten into confrontations with police.
The combination of increased poverty and home confinement fostered by the pandemic may also increase intimate partner violence.
David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), warned this April that the world faced “multiple famines of biblical proportions” if appropriate action was not taken. Dr. Arif Hussein, the chief economist for the WFP, commented that “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread.”
To be clear, none of this year’s dire economic events mean that measures such as lockdowns or social distancing are somehow unwise or unjustified. Preventing illness and deaths from Covid-19 is crucial and, as the poor and marginalized disproportionately suffer from the pandemic, such prevention also promotes social justice.
We should not, however, lose sight of the drastic consequences of even short-term economic disruptions. Aiding the world’s poor so they are safe from both illness and destitution is a necessary part of the Covid-19 response.
The WFP’s 2020 Global Food Crisis report warns that food insecure countries “may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the corona virus to have them die from hunger.” Policymakers and aid agencies must work to prevent such terrible options being the only ones available. The Food Crisis report emphasizes the need, despite the pandemic’s disruptions, to maintain humanitarian assistance flows to vulnerable groups and to increase efforts to ensure the continued processing, transportation, and sale of food in the neediest countries.
Those wishing to take political action on behalf of those threatened by Covid-19 and poverty could follow the lobbying efforts of Bread for the World. For those able to help by donating money, Catholic Relief Services does aid work in various developing countries in response to the pandemic. Staying informed is also valuable, as is taking a global view of human needs. The current pandemic demonstrates vividly how crises stretch across national borders and how issues such as illness, poverty, inequality, and conflict are connected.
For more of our posts on poverty, see:
How Euthanasia and Poverty Threaten the Disabled by Sarah Terzo
The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion by Graciela Olivarez
Over 20 Million People Facing Starvation – And We Should Care! by Tony Magliano
For U.S. referendums that deal with all our issues, including several on poverty, see
Editor’s note: to see this movie free in the month of June, 2020, go to Just Mercy – Watch for Free
by Julia Smucker
The film Just Mercy (Warner Brothers, 2019) follows attorney Bryan Stevenson’s early career as founding director of the Equal Justice Initiative, providing legal counsel to inmates on Alabama’s death row. In particular, the film focuses on the case of Walter McMillan, known to family and friends as “Johnnie D,” a black man convicted of murder by an all-white jury on the basis of false testimony provided by another prisoner as part of a plea deal. In so doing, the film takes a hard and prescient look at the interplay of racial bias – both overt and implicit – in American society and the systemic flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system.
The racially charged microaggressions (and even outright macroaggressions) that both Stevenson and his clients experience are none too subtle, and I admit I found myself wondering, through some earlier sections of the film, how they match people’s real-life experiences. I knew that interactions would be dramatized for narrative purposes, but I also knew that I had no experience being a lawyer, a prison inmate, a prison staffer, an African-American, or a resident of Alabama, so it was hard for me to gauge the realism in the portrayals of these experiences. However, one scene involving an unexplained traffic stop threw cold water on these musings. Multiple recent and past events have made it undeniably clear that the way Stevenson is treated in that scene actually happens, and worse.
Through such experiences faced by a black lawyer like Stevenson or, even more strongly, a black inmate like McMillan, the film is punctuated by stark reminders that these experiences proceed from a long legacy of racial injustice. One early scene showing rows of mostly black inmates in prison outfits working in a field, overseen by a white warden, appears designed to be reminiscent of slavery and is in fact a reminder that slavery in the U.S. has not been fully abolished: the Constitution allows it for those convicted of crimes. This image sets the stage for the illustrations that follow of how systemic racism is deeply embedded the U.S. criminal justice system.
The film is equally illustrative of serious problems in the application of the death penalty. Even without its disproportionate application to racial minorities and especially African-Americans, it would be scandalous how frequently people are convicted, sentenced, and executed on the basis of evidence that ought to be considered far too flimsy for the grave determination to end a life. Like McMillan, many have been exonerated after serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. But the seemingly impenetrable walls McMillan encounters in the appeals process following his all-too-hasty conviction – and all the more, the fact that many are executed despite evidence casting reasonable doubt on their guilt – should be appalling even to those who believe the death penalty is sometimes justified.
The haste with which McMillan is convicted and sentenced to death, and the demoralizing uphill struggle to overturn his conviction – not only in the barriers faced within the criminal justice system, but in the anger these efforts provoke within the community – bring out another troubling factor in the conviction and sentencing of capital crimes, particularly in emotionally charged cases. The community’s grief from the murder for which McMillan was charged is legitimate and deep, but the outrage then turns to an uglier desire for revenge. As much as McMillan’s family and friends remain convinced of his innocence, the family of murder victim Ronda Morrison and others in the community appear equally determined to believe his guilt. It’s as if they so badly want to see somebody punished for the crime that whether it’s the actual perpetrator who’s punished becomes secondary at best.
There’s an additional layer of irony to this scapegoating in the fact that the city of Monroeville, where the murder occurred, is touted as the place where Harper Lee wrote her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, about a black man falsely accused of a crime who faces a legal system insurmountably biased against him despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. That irony appears lost on those who recommend that Stevenson visit the museum dedicated to the book and speak proudly of its place in civil rights history, yet eagerly condemn McMillan and others convicted on weak evidence almost in the same breath.
The drive to find a scapegoat for particularly painful crimes may partly explain the appeal of a “tough-on-crime” approach to lawmaking and law enforcement. It’s an image that seems to have worked well for Sheriff Tom Tate, who arrested McMillan and was involved in his prosecution, and who was reelected sheriff six times after McMillan’s exoneration and continued in that position until his retirement, as the audience learns at the end of the film. Although the “tough” approach is often defended in the name of public safety, i.e. “getting dangerous criminals off the streets,” we also learn that not only did the murder in question remain unsolved, but a white man later implicated in the murder was never charged. This seems to suggest, in addition to the obvious racial overtones, that once “justice” had run its course in the eyes of the community, identifying and apprehending the true perpetrator was no longer a serious concern.
According to the retributive model on which most criminal justice systems are based, justice demands punishment for crimes. Yet even within that same model, justice must also require that people wrongly convicted of crimes be exonerated and that no death sentence be carried out while there is credible evidence of the person’s innocence – a gross injustice which cannot be undone. The final tragedy of Just Mercy is that even when justice is achieved for those wrongly convicted, parts of their lives have been irretrievably taken from them, both in the time spent in incarceration and the lasting psychological effects of that experience. The justice of the film’s resolution, though satisfying to the viewer, acquires a certain heaviness when we see how it’s littered with numerous injustices along the way.
However, more than the fact that such justice, while harder than it should be, can sometimes be achieved, the great hope I see in Just Mercy is an implicit personalism. We see how people on both sides of the criminal justice system can become jaded and hardened, but also how they can change for the better, whether dramatically or incrementally, as some of those most deeply complicit in that system’s injustices ultimately show signs of seeing the humanity in those they’ve tended to view with suspicion. This, in my view, is the most important takeaway from Just Mercy: we should see it not simply as a chance to feel superior to those who are complicit in injustice, but as an occasion to interrogate possible prejudices in ourselves individually and in our social structures, in order to work toward necessary improvements.
For similar topics on our blog, see:
by Lois Kerschen
We have a long way to go before the Covid-19 pandemic is at an end. Nonetheless, people are already speculating about what kind of world we will have afterwards. Case in point, the May 22 edition of Peace & Life Connections, the Consistent Life Network (CLN) newsletter..
The feature article of that newsletter pointed out how past epidemics led to positive changes in society and the good we have seen so far in this Covid-19 pandemic. On social media, there are a lot of hopeful aspirations for an improved world – one in which we better appreciate our families, medical caregivers, and teachers and show greater concern over the harm we have been doing to our planet and humankind.
People are recommending that, when things get back to normal, we should create a new normal because the old normal wasn’t working. After all, we’ve just experienced society turned upside down, so now that we know it can be done virtually overnight, why not make adjustments based on what we have just learned?
A better future could result from our pandemic-induced attitude adjustment. However, there are also some sinister negatives that are possible as well.
“Sacrifice the Weak”?
The majority of fatalities has been among people over 65. Consistent-life advocate and author Charles Camosy has recently been sounding the alarm about the tragic effects of the virus in nursing homes. Sadly, this high death rate has elicited only an “Oh well” attitude among many and fueled the rebellion of the young to social precautions. Their attitude: “Why should I be restricted when the virus doesn’t affect me?”
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Laura Newberry noted that “This rejection of prolonged sacrifices made by all for the sake of the old has been voiced from the highest ranks of government.”
Antioch, California, ousted a city official (Ken Turnage) after he sparked fury when he claimed the Covid-19 crisis was a good way of culling those whom he characterized as a drain on society:
“The World has been introduced to a new phrase — Herd Immunity — which is a good one. In my opinion we need to adapt a Herd Mentality. A herd gathers its ranks, it allows the sick, the old, the injured to meet its natural course in nature,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.
Referring to homeless people, he added that the virus would “fix what is a significant burden on our society.”
From politicians to protesters, there have been suggestions that we should return to business as usual for the overall economic benefit, even if it is at the cost of some lives. In fact, a demonstrator in Tennessee carried a poster that read: “Sacrifice the weak – Reopen.”
This reminds me of reading once of an abortion advocate who said that abortion is a “sacrifice we make for ourselves.” In other words, although it is sad to lose that child, that disabled or elderly person, look at the benefit for me, and I am more important.
Funny how it is always somebody else who gets sacrificed. As President Reagan said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” In like manner, the people who are clamoring to drop the Covid-19 restrictions are generally not among the vulnerable.
An exception is 70-year-old Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He said he was willing to risk his survival in order to save the American economy for future generations. “Let’s get back to living,” Patrick said, apparently failing to see the irony that living for some would mean dying for others.
What the Tennessee demonstrator and Lt. Gov. Patrick are calling for is more like a sacrifice to appease the gods that would be rewarded with rain, or a quiet volcano, or, in this case, a robust economy.
According to Newberry, the California state government “advised hospitals to prioritize younger people with greater life expectancy” for corona virus care. Although those guidelines were quickly rescinded, they were similar to other government calculations through the years that have found older people to be worth less than younger people. In fact, the EPA once “determined that people over 70 were worth just 67% of the lives of younger people.”
Newberry went on to quote Scott Kaiser, a Los Angeles geriatrician who said, “The notion that creeps up from time to time, this pitting of generations against each other, is toxic and misguided.”
Discrimination against the Disabled
Besides older citizens, the virus is most lethal to people with other health problems – “the weak” that the protester’s sign referred to. How does the call to sacrifice the weak and the elderly make them feel? Terrified! They are being told flat out that protecting them is not worth the sacrifice.
All of this points to an increasingly open belief that not only medical care but also ordinary consideration should be based on the survival of the fittest. Advocates say their proposals are not different from medical triage. However, triage is one thing; discrimination is another.
The sinister vibe coming from those proposing that we “sacrifice the weak” involves a disdain for the “less than perfect,” the elderly, the not beautiful, the poor, the minorities. It is the prejudice that has existed throughout time by elitists, the wealthy, and the powerful. Me first and lesser people much later, if ever. This prejudice says there should be social classes; there are “little people”; the great unwashed are expendable; slaves are equal to only 3/5 of a person and natives are not people at all; unborn babies do not have human rights; Jews are vermin.
Many a movie, TV show, or spy thriller has presented stories about mad scientists or diabolical politicians who plot to eliminate undesirable populations of the poor, disabled, “genetically inferior” and elderly. During and after this pandemic, I’m worried that this mentality will no longer be fiction, but mainstream.
There is ample evidence of this possibility. In the Netherlands, although the one euthanasia center has been closed during the pandemic as “nonessential,” euthanasia is legal and advocates bemoan this hiatus as leaving patients to suffer. Could euthanasia become required?
Iceland was proud to announce that Down Syndrome had been eradicated because 100% of affected children were aborted. As Patricia Heaton said, “Iceland isn’t eliminating Down syndrome—they are just killing everyone who has it. Big difference.” It’s become standard practice for obstetricians to recommend abortion if there is any abnormality at all or a “reduction” if there are multiples.
Disabled people can tell you that sometimes they are aggressively challenged by people who think they don’t have a right to exist. Will the economic downturn cause people to question whether we should continue to spend tax dollars on disability payments or research on traumatic injuries?
Years ago, a nurse at a state hospital for the severely disabled told me that we shouldn’t question whether the lives of these patients have any value because they have great purpose in what they bring out in others. Whether we respond kindly with respect for each life or react in fear and prejudice seems to be the main question during this pandemic. What will this crisis bring out in us? Nobility or selfishness?
So far, proponents of survival of the fittest are gaining an alarmingly wide audience, which is perhaps the biggest challenge yet to the Consistent Life Ethic.
For posts focused on a similar topic, see:
Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?
compiled by Rachel MacNair
+ + +
by Laura Hazard Owen, June 1, 2020.
As Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country one week after a white police officer allegedly murdered a black man, George Floyd, it’s becoming clear that attacks by police on journalists are becoming a widespread pattern, not one-off incidents. While violence against press-credentialed reporters covering the protests may still be dwarfed by violence against the American citizens who are protesting, incidents are piling up — and are getting more attention in part because the journalists being attacked include those from large mainstream news organizations.
+ + +
More training or diversity among police officers won’t end police brutality, nor will firing and charging individual officers. Look at the Minneapolis Police Department, which is held up as a model of progressive police reform. . . .
George Floyd was still murdered.
. . . The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs . . .
Municipalities can begin by changing policies or statutes so police officers never respond to certain kinds of emergencies, including ones that involve substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or mental health. Instead, health care workers or emergency response teams would handle these incidents.
+ + +
When a video goes viral showing violence against a black person, the shock waves are felt throughout our community. Our social feeds show a mixture of outrage, despair and an overall sense of fatigue.
When another breaking news story inevitably takes center stage and pushes the violence into the background, we still feel that pain. Black people don’t have the luxury of moving on when the media does.
This deep-seated pain, stemming from inherited racial trauma and modern examples of injustice, informs our health, both mentally and physically. Allostasis is the measure of wear and tear on the body caused by chronic stress, and studies have shown that “weathering” the effects of racism puts black people at a higher risk of mortality.
+ + +
PBS News Hour, June 1, 2020:
Judy Woodruff: And Christopher Swanson is the sheriff of Genesee County, Michigan. He received national attention for his approach to demonstrators in Flint this weekend.
Here’s how some of that went.
Christopher Swanson: We want to be with you all for real. So I took the helmet off. They laid the batons down. I want to make this a parade, not a protest. So, you tell us what you need to do.
Protesters: Walk with us! Walk with us! Walk with us!
Christopher Swanson: Let’s walk. Let’s walk. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Judy Woodruff: So, Sheriff Swanson, watching that video, why did you decide to do that? You were expressing solidarity with these protesters.
Christopher Swanson: . . . I can tell you that that night on May 30 made history on how to handle protests in a way that was honorable. Our city is already under enough oppression. We are already dealing with economic issues, a water crisis, and a pandemic.
And it was just the right thing to do. As a veteran police officer who knows the community, I saw acts of kindness with fist bump, a small hug. And I went to my right, and I saw that. And I said, I’m taking the helmet off. We’re putting our batons down and I’m walking in the crowd.
And when I did that, that act of vulnerability, probably wasn’t the best tactical move, by any means. It sent a message. And that message was that I need to say, we don’t agree, that’s not who we are, what happened to Mr. Floyd.
+ + +
PBS NewsHour, June 1, 2020:
Tay Anderson: In Denver, we have explicitly asked what we call allies that are showing up to please not escalate on our behalf.
But those asks have been ignored. And, right now, we are seeing our city being destroyed. And it is not in the name of black organizers or Black Lives Matter as a movement. People are taking it on their own volition. And it’s heartbreaking to see that those who come out to support the cause are using the cause for their own agenda. . . .
I think our generation is waking up. But I also think that there are people in this generation that are using this moment and this movement for a trend on Twitter, for TikTok video, or to go viral on social media, which is disgusting.
We shouldn’t have white kids coming from the suburbs, throwing stuff at police officers on our behalf to be cool for a nice trend. That is not what we have asked for. And it’s hurting us more than it is going to help us.
And so, hopefully, what I’m planning — I plan to see in the future is that we are able to start coming together and actually start understanding that Black Lives Matter is not about asking for special privilege. It’s just saying, black people just want to be seen as human.
by Sarah Terzo
The pro-life group Live Action did an interview with former abortionist Patti Giebink, who did abortions at Planned Parenthood for three years after performing abortions in her residency. Giebink is now a pro-life activist.
Giebink entered medical school with strong pro-choice beliefs, which she now says she never questioned or really examined. She first did abortions at the Well Women’s Clinic. She describes one abortion she did on twins at 17 weeks. By 17 weeks, a preborn baby has all his or her parts and organs. He or she has a beating heart and brain waves, is already right or left-handed, responds to sound and touch, yawns, sucks her thumb, and has unique fingerprints different from those of anyone else who ever lived or ever will live.
Abortions at this stage are done by D&E, where the abortionist reaches into the womb with forceps and dismembers the child, pulling him or her out piece by piece. The last part to be removed is the head, which must be crushed to be extracted. Giebink recalls:
Probably the most difficult abortion that I had done – I had done quite a few up to that point – it was in the Well Women’s Clinic where there was no IV sedation, nothing other than a local block, a local paracervical block. And this was a woman who had twins at 17 weeks. And I just remember, it was just so physical ….to dilate the cervix, to get all the tissue out, body parts – make sure you have everything. … [W]e didn’t use ultrasound all the time. But in this case, I wanted to make sure that I had all the parts of two babies. The hardest part is the head, or the calvarium, because sometimes it just kind of rolls around and there’s different instruments, one’s called a Bierer forceps, to grab the head and make sure that you have that. … from my standpoint, it’s twice as hard as just doing a singleton. … And I thought, this is, this is a bit much.
The experience of aborting the twins, however, did not cause Giebink to question what she was doing. According to her, “I never really thought it was wrong. …to me it was embryology, it was science, it was surgery… I can’t say that I stopped and was thinking, when does life begin.”
Giebink describes her three years at Planned Parenthood as “very tumultuous. “There were no health department inspections of the facility while she was there. She says, “it wasn’t the cleanest clinic.” In fact, Giebink recalls:
[A]fter I left … the guy who had had the building actually built [Planned Parenthood] a new building about a mile west, right across from the new high school. … and so the old building was actually bought anonymously by some pro-life people and eventually [they] turned it into a pro-life resource center . . .
Leslie [who worked at the center] has become a good friend of mine, and she was talking about how filthy it was. And I said, “Yeah, I know.” It was small, it was – it was not a pleasant place to work.
At first, Giebink performed abortions one day a week at Planned Parenthood while maintaining her own practice. She later went to work for Planned Parenthood full-time. None of her private practice patients continued to see her. Other abortionists have spoken about the stigma of providing abortions and the fact that many standard OB/GYN patients don’t want to see an abortionist for routine care, or to deliver their own babies.
According to Giebink, Planned Parenthood provided no prenatal care and did ultrasounds only to date pregnancies before abortions. Planned Parenthood scheduled abortions as often as they had enough patients to make it profitable:
I remember that sort of the rule of thumb was that you had to have at least 8 to 10 abortions for a day to break even. And so of course, they wouldn’t do a day for less than considerably more than that. It seems to me about 14 or so was like max. Because you’d run out of time.
Giebink was discouraged from talking too much to the women. The “counseling” was done before she saw the patient. She says:
I think the thing that bothered me about Planned Parenthood is, they just expected me to be a technician. That they didn’t want me involved in any of the counseling, any other parts of it. And it was very difficult for me not to be involved. Often times, I would just get a few minutes with the patient, including the procedure time.
Giebink only spent a few minutes with her patients, despite the commonly repeated claim “abortion is between a woman and her doctor.”
Giebink sometimes encountered women who were reluctant or ambivalent about having abortions, and she encouraged them to reschedule. Planned Parenthood’s administration did not like this. Giebink says:
A number of times – apparently, it wasn’t very pleasing to Planned Parenthood – if I felt that the patient really wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, I’d say something like, “Well, why don’t we just reschedule?” You know, “I don’t think you’re ready to do this today. Why don’t we just put you – reschedule you?”
And I’ll never forget one woman, who was young, maybe early twenties, and she said, “I can’t reschedule.” And I thought she’d say, I can’t get off work, I’ve got to travel, this or that, and she said, “I already paid my $400 and I won’t get it back.”
And I said, “No, you will get your money back if you decide you want to reschedule.”
And she was so convinced she wasn’t going to get her money back that we just went ahead with the procedure. And there wasn’t really any follow-up, so I really don’t know what happened to her. But I was just the technician.
Giebink doesn’t know if the workers at her facility told women they would not get their money back if they left without having the abortion. But it seemed clear that they were not getting thorough counseling. She wrote of her time at Planned Parenthood, “That was not a good place to be. That was not an emotionally good place to be, because all the other things were out of my control.”
Giebink eventually left Planned Parenthood but remained pro-abortion. But the memory of what she had done weighed on her conscience. She felt “empty”:
I was kind of searching . . . I had achieved everything I thought was important in life. I had my private practice, you know, I had status and I was doing what I love doing. I was making money. But I was empty. I mean, I was a shopaholic, I would go buy stuff, and then, a couple weeks later I think, “oh, I have too many earrings, but what the heck, it’s so much fun to go and buy something.” Clothes and, you know, just stuff. . . . I could never have enough. I went through a horrible divorce. It’s kind of like God was getting me to the end of my rope.
She got involved in a small Christian church. But she had deeply buried her experience performing abortions. It wasn’t until she went to a church healing retreat that she spoke about her past for the first time. The people at the retreat were welcoming and kind, and she slowly gained the confidence to start speaking out against abortion and, with encouragement, to get involved in the pro-life movement.
Now she says:
We have to come to the right answer a different way. Why are there women in crisis pregnancies? Why are women thinking that abortion is their only alternative? How can we really help these women? … [W]e’ve seen enough women who’ve regretted their choice. They’ve regretted it, and they’ve said, if I only knew. If I only knew, I wouldn’t have done it. So why are they not having all the facts?
I was there. I mean, you only gave them enough information to get them to sign the forms and to do whatever the state told you to do, and then, boom, boom you’re done, you’re in recovery, you’re out the door. And there is no follow-up.
When asked what she would say to those performing abortions now, she responded, “What I would ask the person is, “How do you feel? How do you feel when you go home at night? How do you feel? Does taking a life give you peace?”
For similar posts by Sarah Terzo, see:
For other of our posts by Sarah Terzo, see:
by John Whitehead
The Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) movement is very diverse. It includes people of different philosophical or partisan backgrounds, with different understandings of the CLE and different preferred activist strategies. One aspect of this diversity is varying approaches to specialization, that is, focusing on a particular life issue of the CLE.
Some CLE activists are drawn to work primarily on one life issue while others take a more wide-ranging approach. Also, among those activists who focus on one issue, the chosen issue will vary. Like other differences, alternative approaches to specialization can be a source of tension within the CLE movement but can also, if handled properly, be a source of movement strength.
Specialization: Pros and Cons
People might be moved to focus their activism on one of the six life issues covered by the Consistent Life Network mission statement—abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, poverty, racism, and war—for any number of reasons. (For simplicity, I am treating these six as “the life issues” but of course many people include other issues under the CLE heading, such as protecting the environment, opposition to human trafficking, and so on.)
Their philosophies might lead them to conclude the focus issue has some significance or importance that sets it apart from the others. Their life experience might have made them unusually concerned about the focus issue. Their cast of mind or temperament might make the focus issue especially interesting. Or all these factors might influence them. For whatever reason, some people prefer to work on one life issue rather than others.
Such preferences have advantages and disadvantages.
An advantage is it allows an activist to do greater justice to the focus issue. Working on one issue allows for investing more time and energy than would be possible when working on six issues. A focused activist gains more experience and detailed knowledge on the focus issue, which further strengthens activism on it.
Another advantage is it can help sustain an activist’s commitment. This advantage should not be underrated. A common characteristic of activism is the need for a long-term effort. These six issues encompass threats to life people have been struggling against probably since the dawn of civilization. Even if we limit our perspective to contemporary history, work on these issues has been ongoing for decades. While progress is possible, work will likely require effort for a long time to come. A long-term activist commitment, in the face of inevitable resistance and disappointment, requires tremendous enthusiasm for the issue you are working on. Burning out is constant risk of activism, and I daresay one reliable path to burnout is having to invest time and energy in an issue that doesn’t really interest you.
These are specialization’s clear advantages. The disadvantages are equally clear. Focusing on one issue can easily lead to neglecting the others. Specialization can become the kind of narrowly single-issue activism that the CLE’s broader scope should correct. In several countries, life issue activism tends to be sadly divided across partisan lines, so specialized activism can foster strident partisanship for whichever party or faction champions an activist’s preferred issue. At worst, a specialized CLE activist can become indistinguishable from one who is not CLE at all.
Related is the risk of competitiveness. Specialized activists can become impatient with or critical of anyone who isn’t focusing on the same issues as they are. Competitiveness can be a particular problem if activists’ specialization springs from a conviction that their focus issue is somehow objectively more important than the other life issues.
Generalization: Pros and Cons
In contrast to specialized activists, some CLE adherents can be generalists who concern themselves with the array of life issues. Like specialists, generalists might have a variety of motivations. Their philosophies might lead them to believe all life issues are equally important and should receive equal attention. Their experiences, temperaments, and casts of mind can also play a role: some people find a specialized focus too limiting and are naturally drawn to take an interest in a wide array of issues.
An advantage of the generalized CLE approach is it avoids the dangers of single-issue activism, partisanship, and competitiveness that can be pitfalls of specialization. Instead, generalization unambiguously champions the holistic view of defending life that is essential to the CLE.
Moreover, by taking a wide-ranging view, generalized activists have an advantage in connecting the six life issues. Because they pay attention to all the issues, they more easily notice how different threats to life resemble each other: how they rely on the same kinds of justifications, for example, or use similar euphemisms. Generalization also allows activists to see how different threats to life reinforce each other: how racism contributes to the death penalty or how poverty contributes to abortion and vice versa.
A disadvantage of the generalized approach is that it limits how much time and energy activists devote to any given issue and how much knowledge and experience related to an issue they can gain. It’s a danger to be a jack of all trades, master of none.
Balancing the Approaches
Because of their advantages, the CLE movement needs all these different activist approaches. We need people who specialize in each of the six life issues as well as people who take a more generalized approach to these issues. To make this diversity a source of strength rather than weakness, I suggest a few broad guidelines:
- Recognize the legitimacy of different approaches. Specialized CLE activists should respect the approach of generalized CLE activists and vice versa. Further, specialized CLE activists need to respect each other’s different specializations. Insisting everyone adopt one’s own preferred approach should be rejected. This means that CLE activists will often need simply to agree to disagree on the contentious question of whether certain life issues are inherently “more important” than others.
- Specialized activists should not become exclusive. Focusing primarily on one issue is a legitimate form of CLE activism, but that focus should be qualified by attention to other issues. Everyone, no matter how committed to a specific cause, can take at least some time to work on behalf of another one. All activists can occasionally write a letter, attend a rally, donate money, or otherwise do something for life issues apart from their focus.
- Generalist activists should listen to specialized activists. Because they have more in-depth knowledge of a specific issue, specialized activists’ perspectives can be beneficial to generalists. Listening to those with experience focusing on a specific issue can fill in gaps in generalists’ knowledge and correct false impressions: perhaps the life issues are related in different ways than a generalist’s initial study might reveal.
- Ask for, and provide, support. A good way to follow guidelines 1-3 while building up the CLE movement as a whole is to seek fellow CLE activists for support. Whether you’re organizing a clemency appeal for someone on death row, sending vital supplies to immigrants on the border, or raising funds for crisis pregnancy centers, asking other CLE activists for their support or endorsement can correct many of the problems arising from diverse approaches. Specialized activists get involved in issues outside their usual focus, generalized activists learn more about activism in a specific area, and collaboration fosters mutual respect within our diverse movement.
The CLE movement has tremendous potential to break down existing political divisions and promote the defense of life. Respecting our movement’s diversity and managing it productively can help us realize that potential.
For posts on similar themes, see:
Pondering Justice / Carol Crossed
Win-Lose is a Mirage / Bill Samuel
Different Ways of Looking at Issues / Sarah Terzo
Seeking Peaceful Coexistence:The Varied Ways of Supporting a Consistent Life Ethic / John Whitehead
by Rachel MacNair
The Consistent Life Network takes no stand on specific candidates. This is my own personal take on how people who support the consistent life ethic view the U.S. presidential election of November 3, 2020.
Category 1: Trump is Out of the Question; Biden is Bearable
People in this category are so aghast at Trump that they regard his being in office as intolerable, for a long list of reasons. For example: he doesn’t understand any taboo against using nuclear weapons; he’s sabotaging the diplomacy in the State Department that might prevent war; he eagerly supports the death penalty and suggests it in cases where accusations of guilt are sloppy; his words and policies often have negative effects on minorities and refugees; his budget has drastic cuts in the social safety net for the poor; he’s sabotaging efforts to mitigate climate change; and most recently, his response to a pandemic has cost lives and increased poverty far more than would have happened under someone more competent.
His anti-abortion stand is one of the few good things about him, but even there, he doesn’t understand the issue well. He’s doing the opposite of life-affirming things – such as having decent health care available to the poor and avoiding cruelty to immigrants – that would help pregnant women choose life. He gives the pro-life cause a terrible public image, which is crucial to winning hearts and minds. He wouldn’t answer when asked if he’d ever paid for an abortion himself.
In addition, there are conservative columnists (not consistent-lifers) who admirably articulate what’s wrong with abortion but who also regard Trump as unfit and dangerous, such as David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and George Will.
Category 2: Trump is Crucial; Biden is Impossible
The people in this category reason this way: First, if the most vulnerable of us don’t have the right to life, then nobody does. It’s foundational to everything. You can’t have good medical care if you’re not even allowed to live.
The huge numbers of abortions make it by far the most horrific bloodshed going on in the U.S. This in turn impacts abortion policy in other countries. Those numbers will be shockingly higher under any current Democrat’s abortion policies. Therefore, a vote for Biden is a vote for thousands more babies being killed right away, and bodes ill for the future.
Biden isn’t the actual nominee yet, but in the event that his presumptive status gets changed for any reason and the Democrats end up running someone else, the same point will apply to any of the Democratic candidates likely to run. It was true of all those that ran in the primary.
Additionally, Trump has this difference from his predecessors: the pro-life movement has for decades dealt with Republicans who don’t really mean it. Reagan had right-to-lifers working hard for his election, and yet appointed two pro-Roe Supreme Court Justices, thus keeping Roe v. Wade in place all these decades. (I’ve worded this as a betrayal; most pro-lifers won’t use that term, but heaven knows they were frustrated). George W. Bush considered the Title X regulation that would keep family-planning money from going to abortion facilities, but he didn’t put it in place in 2006 because he didn’t want to risk alienating Congressional allies when he needed them for support of his war in Iraq. This delayed the regulation another 13 years.
Trump is the only one of the set who’s actually gotten the job done on Title X and several other abortion-focused policies. He’s the only president who addressed the March for Life in person.
Most important of all, he’s been more faithful in appointing Supreme Court judges who may be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade, and would likely appoint more in a second term with probable upcoming vacancies.
Besides, do we really think that Biden will be better on keeping us out of war, given his past experience? It was the Obama-Biden administration that pushed a costly program of “modernizing” nuclear weapons.
Category 3: Not Willing to Choose Between Disasters
Those in this category won’t select either Trump or Biden. They may vote third party or independent. As my mother put it (my family has a long third-party tradition), she votes not for a selection, but for a direction. By voting for what she actually wants rather than what she merely finds not quite as objectionable, she communicates what she actually wants.
But there’s one obvious and glaring disadvantage to this approach: absent something weird and unpredictable, it’s only one of the candidates in the two major parties who will win. People in both the above two categories insist voting for anyone else is not really making a choice at all. You can feel cleaner, but you’ve helped the more objectionable candidate win by not voting for his or her opponent.
Putting the Blame in the Right Places
I fall in the third category, and with great trepidation I face an election year in which the many friends I have in both of the other categories are going to castigate me for not being in theirs. But in addition to the point that Category 3 is where my sympathies lie, I also know I would completely and entirely lose any shred of credibility with all my friends in either one of the first two categories if I selected the other one.
But here’s the point I most want to make:
While the logic of elections will have the people in each of the first two categories rebuking the people in the other, I don’t think this is where the rebuke best goes.
For people in Category 1, their actual opponents aren’t the people who use the reasoning of Category 2. Those in Category 2 are tender-hearted people with crucial concerns. The real problem is that Democrats are so extreme on abortion. They don’t merely have horrendous policy stands, but they constantly have words of contempt for people who think otherwise. Not mere disagreements, but disdain. They’re very deliberately chasing possible voters away.
I watched in a 2016 Clinton-Trump debate as Clinton justified late-term abortions using astonishing euphemisms. I watched in amazement that she didn’t understand that everyone that agreed with her was someone whose vote she already had, and the only thing she could possibly accomplish with that answer was to lose votes. Not people who would vote for Trump, necessarily, but people who she was discouraging from showing up to vote at all. Her answer was stomach-churning.
And for people in Category 2, their actual opponents aren’t the people who use the reasoning of Category 1. Those in Category 1 are tender-hearted people with crucial concerns. The problem is that while some Republicans are sincere, many candidates (including Trump) only give lip service on abortion because they know that’s where the votes are. In Trump’s case, he doesn’t have a hands-on approach to policy. He lets sincere people who do care handle the policy.
But he’s doing far more to keep pro-abortion resistance going than a president who was actually sincere and understood the issue would. The work of reaching hearts and minds has been made so very much harder because people who are rebelling against the cruelty he’s practiced put pro-life advocacy into that same category. We’re going to have a lot of trouble correcting the stereotypes he’s doing so much to bolster. Mere policy can only do so much, and we need to understand how much of an obstacle he’s setting up for us in years to come.
For the future, we can have less of an election dilemma by having ranked-choice voting.
For this year, those of us in the U.S., or who have friends in the U.S., can at least work directly on anti-violence referendums this November.
But we also need to remember that elections aren’t what decide everything. While they have strong impacts, lots of other actions have strong impacts as well.
I’ve noticed over the decades that when the Democrats are in office, the pro-life movement seems much more visibly active; during Republican administrations, the peace movement has more and larger demonstrations. Too many people have a sense that when their preferred candidate gets elected, they can sit back and let that person take care of the policy.
It doesn’t work that way. It’s absolutely crucial that, whoever wins, we keep active at the grassroots. We’ll never achieve what we need to achieve if we just leave it to politicians.
Henry David Thoreau
Slavery in Massachusetts, 1854
“The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls,—the worst [person] is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot- box once a year, but on what kind of a [person] you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”
For our posts on similar themes, see:
A President for Life and Peace? / Mary Meehan
My Day at the Democratic National Convention / Rob Arner
Adventures as a Delegate to the Democratic Party Convention / Lisa Stiller
My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (about the American Solidarity Party) / Monica Sohler
Pro-life Voting Strategy: A Problem without an Answer / John Whitehead
How Consistent-life Advocacy Would Benefit from Ranked-Choice Voting / Rachel MacNair
See also our website on Peace & Life Referendums
by Julia Smucker
Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas once wrote, “My Uncle Charlie is not much of a person but he is still my Uncle Charlie.” This striking sentence introduced his argument on the limits of “personhood” language in medical contexts. Yet it also captures the power of having known a human being as a person, a subjective but universal human experience that belies attempts to categorize certain humans as nonpersons. It’s subjective not in the sense of being a mere matter of personal opinion, but of being rooted in personal experience (the experience of the subject). In Hauerwas’ example, I’ve experienced Uncle Charlie as a person because I’ve known him as a human individual with a name, a relationship to me, and human traits specific to him, and no ethical or philosophical abstraction can undo this.
That may be why children conceived but not yet born, especially in the abstract, are so easily dehumanized: they are not yet known in such a personal way, and so are easily depersonalized. On the other hand, this unknown-ness can be reduced, both through technology and through a welcoming attitude toward the child. One can see physical traits on an ultrasound and even catch early glimpses of personality by following fetal behavior, and one can name the baby before birth. It may even be possible, in the not-too-distant future, to use a human embryo’s unique DNA to predict what he or she may look like at a later stage in life.
Biologically speaking, a human is objectively human – at either end of the human lifespan or at any point in between – regardless of anyone’s personal experience of them. The significance of the subjective experience of knowing a human person, to put it in philosophical terms, is not metaphysical (pertaining to reality) but epistemological (pertaining to knowledge). That is, knowing someone as a person doesn’t make them human, but it’s how we know that they are.
To avoid confusion, it’s worth noting that there are two senses of the word “know,” both of which were in fact used in the preceding sentence. Factual knowledge is knowing (being aware) that something is true. Acquaintance knowledge is knowing (being familiar with) something or someone. Speakers of Romance languages will recognize this distinction in, for example, the words savoir and connaître in French or saber and conocer in Spanish.
What may seem like a minor semantic digression actually makes a major difference in terms of our experience of fellow humans on a personal level. We can know, factually, that each human fetus is an individual member of the human species, but if we don’t experientially know a particular human fetus in a personal way, his or her humanity can be psychologically easier to dismiss. A similar distancing can be done in relation to unseen enemies in war, more easily dehumanized when they remain nameless and faceless, or to asylum-seekers and refugees envisioned as an indistinct invading mass, rather than people trying to survive.
Conversely, the formation of interpersonal relationships across international conflicts or political divides is a powerful peace-building tool. And who can look at an infant whose conception was unplanned and think glibly of his life being cut short before he’d been born? Or who can listen to an asylum-seeker tell her story and think glibly of her life being cut short before she’d made it to safety in her new host country? It becomes harder to be dismissive of a human life when, in the looking and listening and relationship-building, a person becomes known.
For purposes of dialogue – as Hauerwas and others have argued – defining humanness is certainly firmer ground scientifically, at least as a starting point, whereas defining personhood can be more easily dismissed as a matter of philosophical conjecture. And yet, it’s almost universally agreed that the categorization of certain humans as nonpersons or less than full persons has defined some of the ugliest parts of human history, and one would be hard pressed to find an example of it that wasn’t for the sake of dehumanizing certain humans and thereby justifying violence against them. The facts of human biology bear reminding in their own right, but it’s also worth raising the question, are there then any humans that don’t qualify as persons?
It’s through the experience of knowing human persons that the two terms are psychologically linked. That’s why war propaganda perpetuates dehumanizing stereotypes, and it’s why abortion advocates take pains to avoid letting pregnant women see ultrasounds of their babies: seeing the human is the beginning of knowing the person. And once one has some experience of another person with their own personal particularities, that person’s humanity – and value – becomes that much harder to dismiss.
See other posts from Julia Smucker: