Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome

George Weigel

The defense of the indefensible often leads to a kind of derangement in otherwise rational people. That was the case with the defenders of slavery and legalized racial segregation; it has become the case with abortion.

I’ve long thought that the most callous, coldhearted contribution to the national debate on abortion was penned by the feminist ideologue, Barbara Ehrenreich, in a 1985 column for the New York Times. There, Ms. Ehrenreich deplored the “lasting … damage” done by the pro-life movement by

“getting even pro-choice people to think of abortion as a ‘moral dilemma,’ an ‘agonizing decision,’ and related code phrases for something murky and compromising … Regrets are also fashionable, and one otherwise feminist author wrote recently of mourning, each year following her abortion, the putative birthday of her discarded fetus. I cannot speak for other women, of course, but the one regret I have about my own abortions is that they cost money that might otherwise have been spent on something more pleasurable, like taking the kids to movies and theme parks.”

Ms. Ehrenreich remains in a class, so to speak, of her own. But now comes Ruth Marcus, op-ed columnist and deputy editorial page director of the Washington Post, who, while admitting in a March 9 column that “the new Gerber baby with Down syndrome is awfully cute,” went on to announce that, “I can say without hesitation” that, had pre-natal testing shown her carrying a child with Down syndrome, “I would have terminated those pregnancies … grieved the loss and moved on.” Ms. Marcus went on to praise “families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives,” but candidly confessed that such a baby was “not the child I wanted … You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision” to abort the Down syndrome child.

“Not the child I wanted.” There, in a single phrase, is the moral dereliction at the center of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome: if a pregnancy is inconvenient for career purposes, or the child to be born seems unlikely to tick all the boxes of one’s expectation, one makes the choice – “tragic,” as Ms. Marcus admits, or No Big Deal, on the Ehrenreich scale of values – to destroy the indisputably human life one has procreated. Lebensunwertes leben, “life unworthy of life,” German eugenicists and legal scholars called it in the 1920s. And we all know, or should know, where that lethal logic led when the definition of the “unworthy” was extended beyond the mentally handicapped to include certain ethnic groups, thought not to be the kind of people other people wanted as neighbors and fellow-citizens.

The refusal to recognize that lethal logic is another facet of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome. There can be no denial that the object of an abortion is a human being; elementary genetics teaches us that. What is at issue – what has always been at issue – is what is owed, morally and legally, to that human being. And if the lethal logic of Lebensunwertes leben prevails, where will the proponents of an unrestricted abortion license stop, when it comes to eliminating the inconvenient? Will the fourteen self-identified Catholic U.S. senators who voted recently against a late-term abortion ban stand firm against euthanasia? Will they defend the conscience rights of Catholic medical professionals who refuse to participate in those euphemisms known as “pregnancy termination” or “death with dignity”? Don’t hold your breath.

Which brings us to the recent Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd congressional district. There, the heroic Dan Lipinski, a stalwart pro-lifer, survived a vicious challenge from another victim of Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome, Maria Newman, who got serious financial and ground-game support from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Emily’s List. A few weeks before the primary, Ms. Newman told a rally of her supporters, “I know what’s in his heart, and it’s called hate. This guy is dangerous. His views are dangerous.”

That is what Roe v. Wade Derangement Syndrome has done to our politics: it’s made it possible to say that what’s in the heart of a mild-mannered gentleman like Dan Lipinski is “hate” – and get away with it. The defense of the indefensible leads to rage, and rage becomes a form of madness.

Featured image by Paul on Unsplash

COMING UP: Patriarch Kirill and Mr. Putin

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The annals of sycophancy are, alas, replete with examples of churchmen toadying to political power. Here in the United States, we’ve seen too much of that among certain evangelical leaders recently. In today’s Sycophancy Sweepstakes, however, it’s hard to top Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Last December 1, after President Vladimir Putin addressed a meeting of the Episcopal Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill concluded his thanks in these cringe-inducing terms:

“There is nothing more serious and important than moral consensus within society. If there is consensus on the main moral values, then all other social relationships are formed harmoniously … and political practice corresponds to the interests of the people.

“… I  express my gratitude to you for the dialogue we hold together … and for the atmosphere of openness in which our society lives today. I believe that this openness will be the pledge for the certain success of our Fatherland in the near and distant future.

“… I would like to wish you, much esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich, long years of life, good health, and God’s aid in the lofty mission the Lord has entrusted to you through the will of the people … May the Lord preserve you!”

In the dialogue that the Catholic Church conducts with Russian Orthodoxy, perhaps it would be useful to clarify the following points.

Does the “political practice” rooted in “moral values” to which the Patriarch referred include the assassination of Putin’s political opponents, such as Boris Nemtsov? Or the murder of his critics, like journalist Anna Politkovskaya? Or the poisoning with radioactive polonium of Alexander Litvinenko, who tried to shed light on Putin’s secret police thugs? Or the recent use of a weapons-grade nerve agent in England against two Russians of whom Putin disapproved? Are the ethics of these practices part of the patriarch’s “dialogue” with the president?

What are the “moral values” that inform Putin’s claim that the collapse of the Soviet Union, a murderous tyranny, was the worst geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century?

Why doesn’t the “atmosphere of openness” in which Russian “society lives today” extend to Alexei Navalny, the brave dissident who was not permitted to run in last month’s presidential election? How is that “atmosphere of openness” affected by 24/7 state-sponsored propaganda inside Russia, which depicts Vladimir Putin as the one man who can save the country from Western aggression and domestic traitors? In an “atmosphere of openness,” why has Mr. Putin been the beneficiary for eighteen years of a colossal, Kremlin-organized personality cult – more sophisticated than that of the late, unlamented Mao Zedong, to be sure, but of the same character?

Does the “certain success of our Fatherland in the near and distant future” mean the permanent occupation of Crimea, the ongoing presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, and the continuation of the low-grade but lethal war Russia is waging against its neighbor? Does it mean the destabilization of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia? Does it mean continued Russian support for the Syrian butcher, Bashar al-Assad? Does that “continued success” depend on Russian internet trolls and bots sowing discord and confusion (not to mention lies and propaganda) around the world? How does the alternative reality created by this tsunami of disinformation square with harmonious “social relationships”? How does it advance “the interests of the people”?

How is “the will of the people” expressed through charades that aren’t “elections” in any real sense of the term? Is the “lofty mission which the Lord has entrusted” to Mr. Putin a mission-without-end? And does that “lofty mission” include Putin’s accumulation of extraordinary wealth? Did the Lord really intend that Mr. Putin be president-for-life and a multi-billionaire to boot?

The extraordinary spiritual riches of Russian Orthodoxy are squandered when its leaders engage in this sort of propagandistic rubbish. The Russian Church suffered terribly under Lenin, Stalin, and their heirs. Its martyrs, who number in the millions, are dishonored when the bishops of a putatively free Church play the role of chaplain to the omnipotent and infallible czar, rather than speaking truth to power. Putin has cynically cast himself as the savior of Christian values and the Russian Church leadership has not only acquiesced in, but promoted, that farce. After years of suffering, Russian Orthodox believers deserve something better than this. So does true ecumenical dialogue.