A fellow PSU alumnus, Dom Eggert over at Sentiments of Rationality, has been worrying about those crazy South Dakotans’ test-ban on abortions. He cites the reluctance of conservatives to actually criminalize abortion in the way that seems consistent with their views, i.e. by charging mothers who seek abortions with murder. The upshot of the famous “Fire in the Fertility Clinic” test (which would you save, a freezer full of embyos or an unconscious nurse?) is, for my colleague, that pro-lifers must fully prosecute abortions if they want to ban it at all. It is not sufficient to prosecute the doctor who performs the procedure if we allow the mother seeking it to go free.
I like this argument, (since it’s sound) but I have some concerns. I suspect I missed a talking points memo, because I’ve seen similar arguments popping up throughout the liberal blogging community. Obviously, there’s been some strategizing over on the fundie side of things, and they’re starting small. The liberal response has been mostly from the gut, however. I can’t help wondering if the apparent contradiction between what pro-lifers think they can pull off politically and what their position entails is a gap we should be exposing.
The thing is, “embryos are human-beings,” is a first-order proposition for these people. It’s the primary principle of their moral and political identities. That’s why they can call abortion genocide without investing equal energy and political capital into curtailing the Sudanese genocides, for instance. Militant pro-lifers, militant marxists, militant feminists, and militant cross-stitchers all derive a crucial sense of self from their position: they can’t sacrifice those positions just because they are absurd. Instead, they’ll twist the rest of their reality to fit the endangered proposition.
Won’t pin-pointing contradictions in their position only help them to clarify it? When my students are trying to figure out how to be existentialists, I’ll often work with them through this kind of maieutics. That’s because I’m basically on their side… and that’s what they pay me for. Right now, fundamentalists everywhere are trying to figure out how to deal with their new political hegemony. Why should we help them formulate their policies? I know it seems like we’re making them look like fools, but that’s not the effect I anticipate. When they realize they can’t outlaw abortion without prosecuting mothers, they’ll simply convince themselves to prosecute the mothers. And the result will be some self-satisfied, internally consistent fundamentalists, and a bunch of unwanted children with felons for parents.