Published March 15, 2023
Hangmen used to be shunned. For most of human history, it was presumed that executions were sometimes right, just, and necessary for upholding the law and maintaining order, but those who dealt out death in cold blood were nonetheless considered unsavory. And it is still shocking to our sensibilities that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared an Executioner Appreciation Day.
Wait, my mistake. That was Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker declaring an Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. Pritzker was fulsome in his praise for abortionists’ “courage, compassion, and dedication to their work.” He expounded upon how essential abortion is, and how excellent it is that Illinois is an abortion tourism destination.
So much for safe, legal, and rare.
That famous formulation from the charismatic half of the Clintons was mendacious (Bill Clinton supported even the most gruesome of late-term abortions) but politically effective. It appealed to voters who regarded elective abortion with the sort of attitude their ancestors held toward the man in the black hood and his work — as an undesirable but sometimes necessary evil. They might have wanted to permit abortion, but they still believed it was bad and wished for it to be infrequent and out of sight. They were not particularly consistent or principled, but they were genuinely discomfited by abortion, and they recoiled at the suggestion that they were pro-abortion.
But those who are celebrating abortionists are indisputably pro-abortion. These unabashed cheerleaders for abortion now include the leaders of the Democrat Party, as well as its activist base. Bill Clinton’s (rhetorical) moderation on the subject is long gone, and his successors tout abortion as a positive good and abortionists as heroes.
Of course, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade has pushed Democrat politicians to emphasize their support for abortion, but their evolution from “safe, legal, and rare” to rejoicing over abortionists and their work has been evident for many years.
An obvious reason for this change is that the years since Roe was decided have seen the major political parties become much more internally ideologically unified. Pro-life Democratic politicians (Joe Biden began his career as one) are almost extinct. And while moderate Democratic voters may find the thought of celebrating abortion to be gross, they are not yet disgusted enough to do anything about it.
This increased political polarization highlights how the issue of elective abortion implicates an entire worldview and way of life. As Erika Bachiochi explains, abortion is seen as a fix for the asymmetry of human sexual reproduction and the particular risks and burdens it places on women. Abortion offers a technological solution to nature’s injustice. Without abortion as a backstop, women will take on far more risk in sex, with a multitude of possible physical, social, and economic consequences. This is why abortion advocates believe that without abortion, women cannot be sexually and economically — and therefore socially and politically — equal to men.
But this perceived remedy to the injustice and inequality of nature is itself unjust and unequal. In this age of ultrasound, we can no longer effectively lie to ourselves about the lives violently ended by abortion. We have all seen the pulsing heartbeats and the tiny fingers. There is no justice in ending these developing human lives.
Nor does killing the unborn establish equality. Rather, it reinforces the presumption that women are defective men who must be made to conform to a male model of sexuality and reproduction. Abortion gives women “equality” through the violent repression of their natural and healthy fertility, and it demands they do so in order to fit into market and public squares that take maleness as normative. Abortion provides a violent supposed solution that perpetuates the problems that make abortion seem necessary.
Thus, challenges to abortion put into question everything from our sexual culture to our economic order. And it will often feel personal — because it is personal. It is hard for individuals and societies to admit that their way of life is premised on something bad, even wicked. For many people, acknowledging abortion is wrong means admitting great personal guilt.
Repentance is difficult, but refusing to repent produces further evil as we seek to justify our wrongdoing. This is why we so often look for ways to accuse those we have wronged, or to excuse the evil we have done as necessary, even good. Thus, those facing the enormity of complicity in abortion are tempted to double down rather than repent. They would rather celebrate abortion than admit to any wrongdoing.
This is why abortion activists want abortion to be the only choice for women with an unexpected pregnancy. This is why Democrats have done nothing about the surge of violent attacks against pro-lifers who are helping mothers and their children. Pro-lifers donate to buy diapers and car seats for babies in need; abortion activists donate to abortion funds while harassing and firebombing the pregnancy resource centers that give away those diapers and car seats.
The day after his abortion celebration, Pritzker declared it “an honor to attend mass at Old St. Pat’s this morning for this time-honored tradition.” For him, there was no meaning in the church beyond another photo op in service of his ambitions. But though the governor is a very rich and powerful man, he would be wise to remember that a day is coming when neither his wealth nor his political machine will avail him. He will die and stand before God as powerless as those tiny innocents whose deaths he encourages and applauds.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.