Pathological Hypocrisy

I thought I might leave this alone, but some itches are too difficult to leave unscratched.  Others have posted about Rick Santorum’s unbelievable hypocrisy over abortion.  You can read the article here.

Basically, Mr. Santorum has it in mind to use the law to prohibit a medical procedure his wife had to go through in order to save her life.  As the piece makes clear, in October of 1996, Karen Santorum underwent an abortion in the 19th week of pregnancy in order to save her life from an infected fetus.  She had a 105 degree temperature.  She would have died without the procedure.

Santorum would make that option illegal.  Basically, his position seems to be that sacrificing his wife for the fetus would be his choice now.  This overlooks the fact that had they not done the procedure, the fetus would not have survived, either.  He would have lost both.  Sacrifices to his conscience, which seems incapable of the kind of triage humans must make all the time.

Well and good, some people just can’t go there.  But this man is running for president.  He intends that his personal inability to cope be made a national policy of denying anyone the choice of coping.

I’ve written about my views on the anti-choice movement before, mainly here.

I have also written before about Mr. Santorum, most notably here.

So maybe I’ve said as much as I need to say.  But he keeps coming back, making his self-avowed moral arguments, presenting his program as if somehow this would be good for anyone, so maybe saying things just once in opposition to what seems to me to be a kind of morbid obsession and the consequences of seeing this as the guiding principle of the nation is a poor idea.  Whatever the case may be, I can’t leave this alone.

It has been consistent with Mr. Santorum, this problem he seems to have with matters of sex.  Consistent enough that I don’t think it has anything to do with studied principle.  The whole bit about his bringing the dead fetus out to show his living children smacks of profoundly skewed inner landscapes.  Whatever it may, I know one thing in my bones—I do not want this man making laws for this country, not about this certainly, and probably not about anything else.  He does not speak for me.

He shouldn’t be seen as speaking for women and here is where I have the deepest concerns.

This is simple in my mind.  I am a man, I cannot become pregnant.  But I also have an imagination and perhaps sufficient empathy to put myself in the position of a woman who has a choice to make.  Hormones are a big deal, certainly, but I can state unequivocally that something as important as procreation must be entirely in the hands the one most viscerally concerned, and that—whether certain people like it or not—is a woman.  And I ask myself what I would want for myself were I female.  I can’t say with absolute certainty that I would not want to be a mother, but I can state absolutely that I would want that decision to be absolutely mine.  My body, my life, my future.

No, I do not consider a fetus a human being with all the rights of someone who can sit across from me, breathing on their own, capable of independent action.  Certainly I do not agree that such a being’s presumed status trumps mine.

We are hypocritical about this.  Save the fetus, then after it is born, let circumstances dictate everything else.  Poverty, developmental disorders, the lack of any future, the whole list of negatives that could be somewhat addressed if the same political will the anti-choice movement exercises in preventing one woman from deciding for herself whether or not to procreate were exercised in the cause of social progress—which many of these same people, Mr. Santorum being a prominent example, are just as actively opposed to.  “You made your own bed, you lie in it” is an old adage that speaks to the harshness of life when unfortunate choices are made, but these folks have added a twist—“We will make sure you lie in the bed you made.”  No choice.  Basically, if a woman has sex and gets pregnant, she must, by their lights, have the child.  And if she herself is a child, or the victim of rape, or too overburdened to take adequate care of another, there will be no help coming from the self-appointed guardians of imposed moralism.

Because underlying all of this is an old, thoroughly Protestant, Puritan ethic—you fuck, you pay.

Now, one might ask the question, “What if it is human?  How can we know?”

Very simple, as far as society is concerned—if the mother says it is, it is.  Until then, it is none of anybody else’s business.  We assign status constantly.  With all manner of things, and who’s to gainsay us when we do?  This is no different.  Which is why I have no problem with the idea that someone can be guilty of murder in the death of a fetus and still demand choice for women—because it is the mother who says.

That’s perhaps not very tidy and certainly difficult to codify in law, but it is a functional reality—clearly there are people who never accord their children the status of human and abuse them and sell them and often kill them.  The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, I think, was thinking something along these lines with the three trimester test—that as time goes on, the state has more and more interest in the fetus, because clearly by default the mother has decided, after five or six months, that it is a human.

I grant you many people may not be very comfortable with that, but the whole point of the law is that it’s not up to People, it’s up to the woman.  The individual.  She has to live with it.

And in this instance, “live” is the operative word.  Late term abortions are rarely elective in the way that first trimester abortions are.  The anti-choice movement has simply lied about that.  Doctors have an interest in the welfare of their female patients and for this reason, this procedure has never been illegal.  Never.  To save the life of the mother has always overridden any presumed rights of a fetus—which, in almost all such cases, will not survive anyway.  So this is criminally stupid to argue this point.

What Mr. Santorum seems to be suffering from is the fact that he and his family had to make a harsh choice and it traumatized them.  He wants never to have to make that choice again—and who can blame him?  But he’s carrying it several steps further—he wants to eradicate the possibility of that choice ever being made, not only by him or his wife, but by anybody.  He perhaps can’t live with the choice he made and his penance is to take it away from everyone else.  He’s trying to exorcise his demons through public censure and legal flagellation.  It will cost people their lives.

Jocelyn Elders, one-time surgeon general of the United States, said once that America needs to get over its love affair with the fetus.  I agree.  If we don’t, we will love it to death and many, many women along with it.

If I were a woman, you bet your sweet ass I would want the choice.  Anything less is a diminution of status.  The state telling me I may not live my life because others have discomfort with certain choices.


  1. Sue McCormick

    I AM a woman (although long past the ability to bear children). I am very much against those people who choose to deny a woman the right to decide whether or not to have a baby. This is NOT about moral choices, this is about having and/or retaining power over other human beings.
    When I was of child-bearing age, I knew that I personally could NEVER have chosen an abortion. From the moment that I knew I was carrying, I was in love with the child and very much concerned about its welfare. This was my personal choice.
    You must understand that I never had a child because of rape. And I never feared that my child would starve. I did raise my three children without any help from their father. I would have worried if there had been a fourth one, but I would have found some way to cope, because I was fortunate in my family and I would have had good help.
    EVERY woman should have the right to make that type of assessment of the circumstances and should be allowed to make personal judgements about carrying a child. It isn’t the business of anyone else in the world!

  2. Nadine

    Artfully written, Mark, thanks. As Sue notes, having a supportive family and the personal capacity to cope matters, and not all of us have that. Like you, too, I believe my body, my life, my choice. 26 years ago I promised my fetus that in exchange for her/his potential, I would live my life bravely, with adventure and great love rather than share a life in which we both would struggle in ways I had only just survived myself. Being older and far healthier in mind and body, I only now understand Sue’s points and can imagine making her choices.

    Lately I have been thinking about the moral choices we make all of the time in which one’s personal “rights” trump another human beings. It is not clear to me that saying a fetus is human is sufficient to argue abortion is uniquely wrong. Many of us, if threatened, would kill another to protect ourselves and/or our family. And depending on circumstances, the law would support us. S

  3. Post
    Mark Tiedemann

    Thanks, Nadine…

    On your final point, from time to time I’ve been in heady “debate” with some ardent anti-choicer and when the notion that a fetus is a human being is the immovable object, I like to then say “Okay, fine. If so, then we’re dealing with justifiable homicide. The law allows for you to remove someone who has invaded your home, up to and including use of lethal force. I can’t imagine more of an invasion than this.”

    That’s usually when it becomes obvious that it has nothing to do with unborn children and everything to do with a misplaced sense of biblical aversion to unpunished pleasure. This is the equivalent of hairshirts for some people.

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