Dishonesty is an almost universal characteristic of abortion activists. Language like “pro-choice,” “reproductive rights,” “clump of cells,” and a mob of other intentionally ambiguous terms conceal what the fundamental question of the abortion debate actually is: Should older human beings have the right to kill younger human beings? As George Orwell once noted, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And wind they have much of—the huffing and puffing of hot air that emits from the abortion crowd every time someone suggests the child in the womb may be of some value is enough to knock down many weak-kneed opponents.
That is precisely why Camille Paglia is always so fascinating to read. She is the antithesis of social conservatives on almost every issue: A coldly pragmatic pro-abortion lesbian, her brutal honesty makes her seem like a left-leaning Ayn Rand. Last week, she penned a column on abortion politics over at Salon.com—and I don’t think her fellow abortion-supporters are going to be too happy:
The real issue is that U.S. politics have been entangled and strangled for far too long by the rote histrionics of the abortion wars, which have raged since Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that defined abortion as a woman’s constitutional right under the 14th Amendment. While I am firmly pro-choice and support unrestricted access to abortion, I have been disturbed and repelled for decades by the way reproductive rights have become an ideological tool ruthlessly exploited by my own party, the Democrats, to inflame passions, raise money, and drive voting.
The “war on women” rhetoric being punctured by a female, pro-abortion, left-wing writer. If any dare respond to Paglia, I assume they’ll accuse her of cannibalism.
This mercenary process began with the Senate confirmation hearings for three Supreme Court candidates nominated by Republican presidents: Robert Bork in 1987, David Souter in 1990, and Clarence Thomas in 1991. (Bork was rejected, while Souter and Thomas were approved.) Those hearings became freak shows of feminist fanaticism, culminating in the elevation to martyr status of Anita Hill, whose charges of sexual harassment against Thomas still seem to me flimsy and overblown (and effectively neutralized by Hill’s following Thomas to another job). Abortion was the not-so-hidden motivation of the Democratic operatives who pushed a reluctant Hill forward and fanned the flames in the then monochromatically liberal mainstream media. It was that flagrant abuse of the Senate confirmation process that sparked the meteoric rise of conservative talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh, who provided an alternative voice in what was then (pre-Web) a homogenized media universe.
Abortion has been central to the agenda of second-wave feminism since the 1972 issue of Ms. Magazine, which contained a splashy declaration, “We have had abortions,” signed by 53 prominent American women. A recurrent rubric of contemporary feminism is Gloria Steinem’s snide jibe (which she claims to have heard from an old Irish woman taxi driver in Boston), “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” But Steinem herself can be credited or blamed for having turned abortion into a sacrament, promoted with the same religiosity that she and her colleagues condemn in their devoutly Christian opponents.
First-wave feminism, born in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York, was focused on property rights and on winning the vote, achieved by ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Abortion entered the feminist canon with Margaret Sanger’s bold campaign for birth control, a violation of the repressive Comstock Act for which she was arrested in 1914. Her organization, the American Birth Control League, founded in 1921, later became Planned Parenthood, which remains a lightning-rod for controversy because of its lavish federal funding. Sanger remains a heroine to many feminists, including me, despite her troubling association with eugenics, a program (also adopted by the Nazis) of now discredited techniques like sterilization to purify and strengthen the human gene pool. It was partly because of Sanger’s pioneering precedent that I joined Planned Parenthood and contributed to it for many years—until I realized, to my disillusion, how it had become a covert arm of the Democratic party.
And here is the reason I refer to Paglia as a brutal pragmatist: She is up front about the violence of abortion, and she makes no apologies for it:
My position on abortion is contained in my manifesto, “No Law in the Arena,” from my second essay collection, “Vamps & Tramps” (1994): “Women’s modern liberation is inextricably linked to their ability to control reproduction, which has enslaved them from the origin of the species.” However, I argue that our real oppressor is not men or society but nature—the biological imperative that second-wave feminism and campus gender studies still refuse to acknowledge. Sex is nature’s way—coercive, prankish, and pleasurable–of ensuring survival of the species. But in eras of overpopulation, those pleasures spill into a multitude of directions to slow or halt procreation—which is why I maintain that homosexuality is not a violation of natural law but its fulfillment, when history wills it.
Despite my pro-abortion stance (I call the term pro-choice “a cowardly euphemism”), I profoundly respect the pro-life viewpoint, which I think has the moral high ground. I wrote in “No Law in the Arena”: “We career women are arguing from expedience: it is personally and professionally inconvenient or onerous to bear an unwanted child. The pro-life movement, in contrast, is arguing that every conception is sacred and that society has a responsibility to protect the defenseless.” The silence from second-wave feminists about the ethical ambiguities in their pro-choice belief system has been deafening. The one exception is Naomi Wolf, with whom I have disagreed about many issues. But Wolf showed admirable courage in questioning abortion in her 1995 essay, “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” which was reprinted at the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade by the New Statesman in London three years ago.
Paglia is actually willing to eviscerate so-called “pro-choice” rhetoric, too:
…Pro-choice Democrats have become “callous and extreme” about abortion. There is a moral hollowness at the core of Western careerist feminism, a bourgeois secular code that sees children as an obstruction to self-realization or as a management problem to be farmed out to working-class nannies.
Liberals routinely delude themselves with shrill propaganda about the motivation of “anti-woman” pro-life supporters. Hillary deals in those smears as her stock in trade: for example, while campaigning last week, she said in the context of Trump’s comments on abortion, “Women’s health is under assault in America”—as if difficulty in obtaining an abortion is more of an assault than the grisly intervention required for surgical termination of a pregnancy. Who is the real victim here?
If you find that shocking, Paglia’s frank admission concerning the beauty of the Christian approach to the sanctity of human life will be especially jarring:
To project sex phobia onto all pro-lifers is vulgar. Although I am an atheist who worships only great nature, I recognize the superior moral beauty of religious doctrine that defends the sanctity of life. The quality of idea and language in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, exceeds anything in grimly utilitarian feminism. In regard to the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” the Catechism says: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God….God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (#2258). Or this: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (#2270).
Paglia then closes her fiery column with an almost schizophrenic condemnation of liberal feminists in general, something I thought I’d find in the pages of National Review rather than on Salon.com:
There are abundant contradictions in a liberal feminism that supports abortion yet opposes capital punishment. The violence intrinsic to abortion cannot be wished away by magical thinking. As I wrote: “Abortion pits the stronger against the weaker, and only one survives.” My program is more ideologically consistent, because I vigorously support abortion but also call for the death penalty for horrific crimes such as political assassination or serial rape-murder. However, the ultimate issue in the abortion debate is that, in a modern democracy, law and government must remain neutral toward religion, which cannot impose its expectations or values on non-believers.
In an in-depth piece in the Boston Globe two years ago, Ruth Graham summarizes one view of the controversial emerging concept of fetal rights in cases where a pregnant woman has been attacked or killed: “It is progressives who have historically pushed to expand civil rights, yet who now find themselves concerned about the expansion of rights to fetuses.” Progressives need to do some soul-searching about their reflex rhetoric in demeaning the pro-life cause. A liberal credo that is variously anti-war, anti-fur, vegan, and committed to environmental protection of endangered species like the sage grouse or spotted owl should not be so stridently withholding its imagination and compassion from the unborn.
Paglia is a brilliant writer, and her honesty strips away the layers of deception that cover the abortion industry and abortion lobbyists. Her truthfulness is somewhat depressing, as well—her blunt acceptance of brutal violence in defence of selfishness and autonomy are as revealing as she intends them to be. Paglia is pro-abortion, to be sure. But her writing lays out the contrast between those who respect human life in every form, and those who see it as expedient and disposable. If only more feminists wrote like Paglia, we could finally have an honest discussion about abortion—and what our society is willing to accept and tolerate.