You're Pro-Life, I'm Pro-Life, We're All Pro-Life

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 1 2012 2:33 PM

You're Pro-Life, I'm Pro-Life, We're All Pro-Life

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Pro-lifers of various stripes.

Brendan Hoffman

Washington Congressional Aspirant John Koster fields a question about abortion. He is a Republican. It goes badly.

On the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s the consequence of this crime, how does that make it better? You know what I mean?

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This is poorly stated in that it sounds like he is reading a 13-year-old boy’s text message. At the same time, if you start from the premise that abortion involves the murder of an innocent person, it’s hard to see why anyone ought to make an exception for rape. Part of the reason “abortion equals murder” amounts to a radical position is that it entails conclusions such as Koster's. We tend not to expect people to believe what they say they believe, which is perhaps why we don’t blink when politicians say they think abortion is a special kind of murder except when made necessary by a previous sexual assault.

It does seem like the Republican party should fly each of its candidates to an airport hotel conference room and force them to watch a PowerPoint full of gaffe-proof abortion talking points. They could learn a lot from the reasoning in this exceedingly earnest Tom Friedman piece in which the columnist claims to be pro-life:

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children.

You can just imagine Friedman in his den full of calf-skin tomes on the globalization of skee-ball stumbling upon the insight that “pro-life” is a term expansive enough to describe any issue from any side. The most pro-death issue can be redefined thusly. Euthanasia? “You don’t get to call yourself pro-life if you prefer that people endure pointless, excruciating pain rather than die with dignity.” Drone attacks? “You don’t get to call yourself pro-life if you support the coddling of terrorists who will kill all of us, and more importantly, our unborn children.”

I would love to live in a world where one party represents self-sustaining stimuli-responsive organisms, and the other party is exclusively devoted to inanimate objects. We do not live in that world. And so we must make peace with the fact that, limited as our candidates seem, there is no politician so intellectually challenged that he cannot spin his every opinion as life-affirming. The question is which kind of life, in the face of any particular conflict, a politician will privilege. And the Republican Party doesn’t seem very interested in privileging mine.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.

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