Abortion remains a festering national wound. Even in the depths of the coronavirus crisis, some states—Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey, and others—banned elective medical procedures but declared that an abortion is an “essential service.” Other states—including Texas, Iowa, and Ohio—deemed elective abortions non-essential, which led to lawsuits from the ACLA and Planned Parenthood.
Pro-abortion rhetoric is familiar, but in recent years, the movement has taken an ominous turn. As Senator Schumer reminded us in March, according to many Americans, to oppose abortion is ostensibly to wage war against women. It is to hate half of the human race, for to deny women the “right” to dispose of their babies is to deprive women of their freedom. For many, abortion is no longer a sad and painful decision. Instead, it is celebrated as liberation from consequences, responsibility, and biology. Behind the most radical pro-abortion advocacy is a perverse understanding of freedom that will tolerate no impediment—not even an innocent child. This perverse understanding of freedom is paid for in blood.
There is a logic to this view. The primary value behind the label “pro-choice” is the ability to will. My desires must be gratified, even at the expense of another. Friedrich Nietzsche, that prophet par excellence of our age, insisted that all of life is reducible to the will to power. This assertion that individual will is primary means considerations of justice or goodness or rightness must either fall away or be subsumed under “choice.” The absolute rightness of choice is thus elevated as the single and unimpeachable principle; if the essence of a human being is nothing other than the capacity to choose, this elevation is entirely reasonable. What is forgotten in the euphoria of choice is a helpless human being. Abortion advocates must either deny the humanity of the unborn (a position that is increasingly difficult to maintain) or bite the Nietzschean bullet and acknowledge that abortion is at its core the exercise of power—the strong eliminating those who impede their freedom.
If there are no such things as human rights, if the intrinsic dignity of each human person is a mirage, as Nietzsche insisted, then a moral prohibition forbidding the use of force or violence to attain my desires is an arbitrary limit on my freedom. If all of life is characterized by the will to power, which is the will to assert my free choice, then any reticence on my part is a sign of weakness. As Nietzsche put it, “A man loses power when he pities.” To be sure, pity is not a sentiment expressed by the most vocal champions of abortion.
The logic, however, goes deeper. Nietzsche argued that the human species “endures only through human sacrifice,” for human sacrifice is the logical entailment of the powerful asserting their wills without constraint. The object of sacrifice will invariably be the weak. There will be blood, for there must be blood. Power without limit leads to the death of innocents. Abortion is a practical manifestation of the principle.
Obviously, there are alternatives. One that Nietzsche emphatically rejected is the sacrificial blood of Christ, which decisively reveals the dignity of each person and thereby brings to light a moral prohibition on human sacrifice. But if that is denied, blood must still be shed. Can anything other than a profound psychic need explain the absolutism with which many defend the right to kill the most innocent?
Not long ago many abortion advocates argued that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Hillary Clinton once claimed to hold this view. To be fair, many continue to see abortion as a tragic necessity. For these women, the pain of abortion is real, and they deserve our compassion. However, this view of abortion as unfortunate and even tragic has, among the most vocal leaders of the movement, been replaced by a militant call for blood. Remarkably, abortion is now in some quarters celebrated as a positive good—see the website Shout Your Abortion. The distance between sorrowful necessity and outright celebration is astounding.
Some ancient people sacrificed their children to bloodthirsty gods. We call them barbarians—heartless heathens consumed by fear of dark powers that demanded the best things people had to offer. In our “progressive” age, we still sacrifice our children, but we do it not in the name of fear but out of a perverse assertion of power in service of a perverse understanding of freedom. And we alleviate the sting of guilt by telling ourselves that it is just a “blob of tissue” (not human) or “an impediment to my happiness” (not innocent). But the unborn are both human and innocent. Our culture of death has found a convenient sacrificial victim who pays the ultimate price for our profane notion of freedom—a sacrifice who can’t fight back.
The self-righteous fury with which many pro-abortion advocates defend their right to shed blood is indicative of the religious roots of their position. The zealousness with which they celebrate the freedom to kill their own offspring is telling. The idolatry of absolute autonomy leads to the violent sacrifice of the weak.
Mark T. Mitchell is dean of academic affairs and professor of government at Patrick Henry College.
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