January/February, 1998 Volume XII Number 10

Bad intentions

by Joseph Sobran

Guy Molinari, the borough president of Staten Island, has committed what's called a "gaffe": he has said that abortionists who do late-term abortions should be executed by the same grisly method by which they kill unborn children -- having their skulls crushed and their brains sucked out. Mr. Molinari is of course being denounced by humanitarians who think the practice he describes should be inflicted only on the unborn, but not on the Mengeles among us. I refer, of course, to the nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who after World War II fled to Argentina, where he made ends meet by performing -- or as we now say, "providing" -- illegal abortions.
It would be interesting to know whether even Dr. Mengele drew the line at ninth-month abortions. Be that as it may, I suppose we should consider him, in his latter years, a man ahead of his time, persecuted by a reactionary Argentine government for offering women "choice."
You don't have to go as far as Mr. Molinari did in order to incur the opprobrium of liberal opinion on the subject of abortion. The double standard is remarkable. Even when liberal programs fail, or backfire spectacularly, they are said to be "well-meaning" or driven by "good intentions." But most liberals extend no such presumption to opponents of abortion.
To read the liberal press, those who believe abortion is an intolerable horror are merely "anti-choice," "denying a woman's right to chose," "imposing their views on others." No credit for good intentions, or even sincere conscience.
On the contrary, malice is freely imputed to pro-lifers. They are all held responsible for any violence against abortion clinics, but the sacrifices of those who endure arrest, conviction, and heavy fines receive little attention and less honor. Their sacrifices only reinforce the liberal perception that they are "zealots," "fanatics," "extremists." The very fact that their consciences recoil from abortion makes them guilty.
What's more, no allowance is made for the simple fact that pro-lifers merely believe what used to be the moral consensus of the West. It's possible to believe that abortion should be legalized while recognizing that part of the community won't change its mind so easily. Even if that part is wrong, it might be regarded with a certain respect as the nation's moral ballast -- the sort of people who won't be stampeded.
Doesn't a society's moral health depend heavily on those who hold fast to its moral traditions, even if they sometimes err on the side of excessive conservatism? Weren't the Nuremberg trials based on the principle that no positive law can change our permanent moral obligations?
But no, the dissent of pro-lifers is treated as a moral failing, an insolent, even subversive refusal to keep up with the approved moral trends. The Supreme Court has snapped its fingers, striking down 50 state laws at once: why aren't these people on their knees?
The dishonesty and bad conscience of liberal opinion is manifest in its resolute avoidance of the word "kill." Even if we call the unborn child a "fetus," implying its subhumanity, the fact remains that what abortion does is kill it. We speak easily of killing even microscopic life-forms: if fetal life is worthless, why shrink from admitting that abortion is killing? Why is it called by such Orwellian circumlocutions as "terminating a pregnancy" and "effecting fetal demise in utero?"
What infuriates pro-abortion liberals (only a few are really anti-abortion) is precisely the stubborn, fad-proof conscience of the pro-life movement. Such liberals sense that they can't afford to concede an ounce of moral respect to pro-lifers: they know they have to defame them incessantly, to punish them severely, to deny them legitimacy, even to restrict their right to protest -- above all, to dodge the moral challenge they pose by diluting the debate with fancy euphemisms for killing.
In today's moral climate, an "extremist" may be someone whose conscience is more sensitive than yours -- someone who, if Dr. Mengele were plying his trade among us, would be trying to stop him.