What about a 48-hour waiting period or, for someone 18 years old, parental consent? They’re willing to put those restrictions on young women who are seeking reproductive care. Why not do the same thing for anybody wanting to buy an assault rifle, an AR-15, a weapon of war?” That was Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post invoking comparisons to abortion regulations during his weekly commentary segment with David Brooks on PBS NewsHour. Capehart opened by saying, “I’m tired of politicians who go on and on and on about being pro-life and—for the unborn, but have seemingly no care for them once they are born.”
Judging from the social media feeds of celebrities and my left-leaning friends, pro-life hypocrisy is on the minds of many in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. Celebrity-adjacent Romy Reiner (the blue check-marked daughter of Rob Reiner) tweeted “YOU CAN KILL CHILDREN IN SCHOOL IN TEXAS BUT CAN’T GET AN ABORTION,” a sentiment that garnered approval from hundreds of thousands. That statement could drive a logician mad, but it does highlight the link between the two issues—abortion and gun control—in the minds of many. Star Trek alum and professional tweeter George Takei wants us to “[r]egulate firearms, not women's bodies.“
If “hypocrisy is a tribute that vice pays to virtue,” as François de La Rochefoucauld keenly observed, then cries of “Hypocrisy!” toward others seems its derivative. By pointing out that others are not, in your mind, living out their creed to produce a result with which you yourself agree, you imply that the creed has some merit. Engagement on life terms post-Uvalde is, thus, a step in the right direction.
How should those of us with compassion rooted in a pro-life ethic from womb to tomb respond? Certainly, we should not demean the cries from the left as “crocodile tears.” Such a response will not bridge the divide. On the same PBS NewsHour, Amna Nawaz, reporting from Uvalde, struggled to maintain her composure. It is an oddly hopeful sign that the tragic deaths of nineteen children and two teachers still elicits genuine sadness in the hearts of so many across the political spectrum.
As it should. Those folding their arms and tapping their feet because of the disproportional coverage these killings receive when compared to the one-by-one deaths of children from other causes (including abortion) risk hardening their hearts. At a time such as this, we should mourn with those who mourn, and humans have appropriately mourned profoundly at the loss of children.
May this wave of mourning overtop the barriers that define the artificial limits of compassion. Gun rights advocates should whole-heartedly mourn even if they fear that the tragedy will be used as a tool to promote gun control. Abortion rights advocates—almost certainly including Nawaz, Capehart, and others at NewsHour—should mourn even if that mourning might prompt questions about why other children closer to the dividing line of the birth canal should be denied their tears and cameras.
The remains of five children recently found killed at an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C., prompted no media outcry among mainstream outlets. These young ones made the mistake of being killed—potentially illegally, even under today’s laws—at an abortion clinic rather than at a schoolhouse. Fears of effective incrementalism lead both gun rights groups to de-emphasize the role of easy firearm availability in school shootings and abortion rights groups to de-emphasize the humanity of those who might be victims of infanticide. These bulwarks of denial are used to protect citadels of absolutism.
The lost children of Uvalde and D.C. risk bringing down the citadels in a brief tsunami of focused emotion. Much of the media is willing to drive the wave from Uvalde and suppress the one in D.C. Similar stories, like that of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, a now-convicted serial killer, received muted coverage. That is a double-standard worth pointing out, but in doing so we need not temper our mourning for the lost in Texas.
As I argued previously, following another of this nation’s far too frequent mass shootings, most Americans do not live inside the citadels of gun rights or abortion rights, even if the leaders of their political parties do. The solutions to the problems of school shootings and abortion undoubtedly require more than a focus on politics and laws—but that is not reason to ignore the legitimate role both play. The Uvalde shooting and the Dobbs leak (and the imminent final decision on reversing Roe v. Wade) have put guns and abortion simultaneously at the forefront of our public debate.
The likely outcome is that leaders on each side will retreat to their respective citadels and lob their cries of “Hypocrisy!” at one another. Another result is at least theoretically possible: (1) With majorities of Republicans supporting a variety of gun-related regulations that stop short of confiscation, and (2) Democrats supporting limits to abortion that stop short of a total ban, perhaps party leaders could leave their towers and link these two topics in legislation as they have been linked in rhetoric. A deal that, say, banned most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy and banned most sales of military-style weaponry might only have a marginal impact on death tolls. Yet, such a compromise could partially breach the illogically-placed seawalls of absolutism and allow the tides of compassion to flow more freely.
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise.
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