Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's Pro-Life Action League time, again.


     The Christian army is winning in Texas, where the state legislature just passed a deeply-cynical law severely restricting abortion clinics, under the sham goal of improving medical care for women.
     Once, such an infringement would have sent America's feminists howling to the ramparts. Now, lulled and lazy, sated on their long-held, though steadily-eroding medical rights, they mostly shrugged while Texans duked it out, content that it isn't their state, not this time, not yet.
     Being against allowing other people to decide whether or not to have an abortion is a religious scruple. Albeit one so successful that few even put the issue in those terms. But that's what it is—religious oppression disguised as baby welfare. This fight didn't come from nowhere, but rather is the latest battle in a very long war. The same pious demagogues who once raged against pre-marital sex, against masturbation, against women voting, then working, then serving in the military, suffered their defeats, fell back, and drew the line, right here, where they continue their age old struggle to force their religion on others, aided by an army of imaginary babies.
     A fetus isn't a baby. It's a proto-baby, usually the size of a grain of rice when most women decide to abort it, assuming they can find an available clinic, a proposition that grows dicier with each passing year.  We demonize mullahs in the Middle East for forcing girls out of school, then yawn as our own homegrown Taliban compel women here to be mothers whether they want to be or not.
    These thoughts were swirling around my head, inchoate, as I hurried down Wacker Drive to the train late Monday afternoon. The sun was fierce. Then I turned the corner and saw the Pro-Life Action League is back, laying siege to rush hour Madison Street as part of its nine-day summer campaign, brandishing 5-foot tall posters of chopped-up fetuses, the size of giants. A literal magnification of the fetus -- literally dwarfing the tiny women who would might prefer not to give birth to them.
     I was just clicking into my frantic commuter mode, going into overdrive, head down, and powering around them, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a tall bearded man in a straw hat -- a little older than when last I saw him, but who isn't? I recognized him immediately, and stopped in my tracks.
    "Joe!" I said happily.
    "I thought that was you," said Joe Scheidler, 85, father of the Illinois right-to-life movement, as staunch an opponent of a woman's right to decide as ever breathed. We  beamed, and shook hands heartily, catching up on things, like the old friends we are. I told him how good he looks. He expressed wonder that my boys are as old as they are. The eternal optimist, I couldn't help ask him what was on my mind.
     "You have to admit, that being against abortion is a religious scruple," I said.
     "I wouldn't say, 'scruple,'" he replied. "It's in the Bible, part of the Ten Commandments: 'Thou shall not kill.'"
    "....a person," I added.
     "A baby is a person," he said.
     "A fetus isn't a person,"  I parried. "I wouldn't want to take one to the movies."
     "The mom could go to the movies," Joe countered. I glanced at my watch: 5:01 p.m. There didn't seem much point missing the 5:12 so I could debate the personhood of a fetus with the founder of the Pro-Life Action League. Besides, it's a conversation we've been having for a very long time, with surprising cordiality. This isn't the first time we've bumped into each other on Madison Street.

Joe Scheidler on Madison Street, July 15, 2013

From the archives -- July 14, 2006

     Morbid thoughts. And all this humidity, grinding me down. "The day smells like a wet horse,'' I complain to my wife. The people in the street, surging and pushing around each other. They seem . . . ugly. Sweaty women with flabby arms in strap t-shirts, bald men in tight, creased suits, moles on their faces. The buildings even seem hazy, insubstantial, as if the city -- normally so splendid -- were all a dream and not a good one.
     I have a rule that if the world begins to look bleak: remember that the problem is not with the world; it's with me.
     Buck up buddy, I tell myself. Snap out of it. I walk over to Field's to meet my brother for lunch. Scan the surroundings, hoping for something to cheer me up, but it is just one big dank overlit mundanity. Where are all the bright shop windows? All the pretty girls in their summer dresses? Instead, only cracked sidewalks and tourists from Moline in Lycra slacks.
     Please God, I think, send something cheery.
     I cut through City Hall and stroll along the south edge of Daley Plaza.
     The entire length of Washington is taken up with a dozen anti-abortion protesters, in a straight line, each holding the same 5-foot-tall poster showing a pair of tongs holding the bloody, decapitated, jawless head of a fetus.
     Did I ever mention my Malign God Theory? I don't think so. Briefly stated: There is a deity, and He does hear our prayers, but often acts perversely, for His own amusement. Feeling a little down? Fine, sayeth the Lord, maybe this will perk you up! Cue the Pro-Life Action League.
     It is so over the top, I have to smile. Grinning, I turn my face, away from the grisly horror, and see a group of short Asian men in bright tribal uniforms -- long coats, round hats. A banner reads "Mongolian Day in Chicago." A stage, tents, chairs, already occupied by aging relatives, booths of some kind.
     Now I'm smiling broadly, chuckling to myself. These poor people. Bet they planned for six months. Rehearsing ancient dances. Eager to reflect Mongolian pride, to see a neglected people shine in the public square. Our city's first Mongolian festival.
     The great day arrives. They show up -- take chartered buses down from Waukegan, no doubt, enticing their families and friends along. Only to be confronted by platoons of grim, lipless yokels and gimlet-eyed, corn-fed fanatics, waving huge color photos of chopped-up babies. Whoops ... fetuses.
     Gotta love it, life in the city. I waggle my finger at the sky. Give the Big Guy credit -- He has a sense of humor. The rest of the day turns brighter from that moment on.


     Now it's the end of the day, and I'm hotfooting to the train. And there is the Chopped-Up Baby Poster crowd, again, having relocated to the corner of Wabash and Madison, lest I miss them.
    I'm about to blow by, when I recognize my old friend, Joseph Scheidler, holding a 5-foot-tall poster of Jesus, a chain of red crystal rosary beads wound around his fingers.
     "Hey Joe!" I exclaim.
     "Hi!" he says, warmly. "I read you -- you're always wrong, but I still like you."
     We beam at each other. We have spoken in the past, and enjoy an unusually good relationship, considering that I view him as a religion-crazed zealot conspiring to trample on the rights of women, while he sees me as a hell-bound sophist stained red with the blood of murdered innocents.
    "How's it going?" I ask.
    “We're winning!’ he says, reporting that while in past blanketings of downtown, they would get a lot of abuse and obscenity, this time passersby are more sympathetic.
    “We're finding more thumbs up!” he says. “More 'keep up the good work!'”
     I have to ask him something.
     "I've always wondered, Joe," I say. "Do you worry about parents bringing their children downtown? About them passing your signs as they take their daughters to the American Girl store?"
    "Not much,'' he says, then adds brightly: "We've picketed the American Girl store! Children are naturally pro-life. They ask their parents if that's a doll, and if the parent explains the truth to them, it doesn't hurt 'em. I have 15 grandkids and they love to come out here.''
     A few pro-choicers are standing next to Joe, and I talk to them. One holds a sign reading "My Body, My Choice." She chooses not to give her name, and isn't exactly aflame with her cause, anyway.
     "It's still legal and we'd like to keep it that way,'' she says.
     Tepid stuff, next to Joe's glittery-eyed verve.
     That's the problem with the whole conflict. There's no balance. On one side you've got guys like Joe Scheidler, practically a biblical figure, John Brown holding a staff and spreading his arms over bleeding Kansas. On the other, you have bland rationality under the by-definition indecisive banner of "choice" ("hmmm, which one, let's see . . .") afraid to give their names and lacking anywhere near the passion their opponents possess. It hardly seems a fair fight.


  1. Neil Steinberg:

    I am prolife except for rape and serious permanent injury to the mother. This is not based on faith but on my reasoning when positing the sanctity of life as an ultimate value.

    I can challenge most of your above reasoning point by point.

    Is this something you want me to do on your blog?

    1. Sure, politely. Start by explaining how you think it's wrong to kill a fetus, unless it's conceived under certain circumstances (rape). Then it's okay.

    2. I'm pro-choice, but I don't understand the rape exception: if you truly believe that a fetus is a full human life/soul/whatnot, then why would you have this exception? Murder the "kid" because the horrific circumstances of his/her creation?

      Another thing I don't get is one of the legal arguments for why abortion is a Constitutional right. "Privacy" makes sense - though it's arguable whether the right to privacy is indeed in the "penundrums" of the Constitution. Another that would make sense is freedom of religion: when a fetus has a "soul" strikes me as a deeply religious question. But "control over your body" doesn't work for me. The government can order my body to put on a uniform, fly me to Iraq and have me march up and down the street holding a flag with the Danish cartoon of Mohammed depicted as a bomber - how much control over ones body is that?

      My final rambling point: it seems a waste of goodwill on the part of the Pro-Lifers. Even if the country banned abortions, RU486 would then become as easy to get a hold of as weed. In a world where tens of thousands of kids die horrific, long, painful deaths every day, what kind of life-saving-bang-for-the-buck are the pro life activists getting?

    3. A fetus is going to be a person, but I leave the choice to the person, but not late in trimesters, unless the fetus is damaged or mom in trouble. However, I don't want taxpayers paying for that and for heaven sakes folks, use birth control.

  2. Women are busy....we're working to support our families while still bearing the responsibility for child rearing. In many cases, we're alone. The truth is, women will terminate pregnancies, legal or not. We'll drive our friends, family members and colleagues wherever they need to go. We don't need any more challenges to reasoning, especially by men.

    We need access to birth control, freedom from domestic violence, rape and incest. Let's have the reasoning behind the barriors to these items. And dear men, if you don't want unwanted fetuses to be terminated, stop having sex without contraception.

  3. I'll have what jeanmod's having. A double. I have no inclination to read more of the same from those who would control women. Put that time, energy and money into making the world a better place for the born.

  4. I concede that I am NOT supporting my position on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church was given the “keys to the kingdom.” I am sure you know the reference and its implications.

    I assume we agree on the biology of conception and fetal development.

    The 10 week old fetus looks fully human to me. I concede that a 16 cell clump of fetal cells does not look human at the microscopic level but it looks human at the molecular level in a way that a clump of appendix does not. I have looked at the pictures of fetal development. I remember that the fetus looks human very early on. That is enough to tell me that abortion is the killing of a human being.

    Before that 10 week point in fetal development biology teaches us that the embryo has all the unique DNA that the fully grown person will have. Thus conception is the only logical place to say that a new and unique human being has begun to exist. I am simply not willing to play God or to play the role of some murderer by saying that human life begins at any later place.

    Perhaps even the sacredness of your present life and my present life has to be assumed a priori. As we well know Mao, Stalin, and the H person of German history did not share this assumption.

    You claim that positing full humanity to the fertilized egg is arbitrary. I will concede that it is arbitrary only in the sense of positing sacredness to your life is arbitrary. The sacredness of your life is arbitrary ONLY in the sense that I cannot regress to any more ultimate value upon which to assign sacredness to your life.

    However, since the fertilized egg is ontologically/genetically different than mere sperm or ovum it is qualitatively different than these two precursors.

    Perhaps for you all things are equally arbitrary. However, for me, even conceding some arbitrariness as I did above, positing full humanity at conception is immensely less arbitrary than assigning it at one, two, or eight months thereafter.

    Let’s define terms. “Homicide” is the taking of a human life. “Murder” is the unjustified taking of a human life.

    I will concede that self-defense, a just war, and the life of the mother are legitimate justifications for homicide.

    I will grudgingly concede that rape, serious permanent injury, and underage incest are justifications. I am very troubled by and unsure of that concession.

    I concede that the right of any person to control their body is a very important right. However, I just do not understand how that right justifies the taking of a human life.

  5. That's not an argument, Jerry, that's a hymn. I see you're convinced, but there isn't even anything to discuss in there.

    1. To Jerry, why talk about CAths? Born agains are worse on the subject.

  6. Neil,

    I have been involved in discussions on this issue even prior to Roe v. Wade which I still think was a lousy decision from a legal perspective. However, I support safe and legal access to abortion because two deaths for the price of one in a botched illegal abortion doesn't make any sense to me. After all these decades, I don't think that anyone is going to convince anyone who's already made up their mind on this issue. Frankly, I think that the extremes on both sides don't want this issue to ever be resolved. It's too good of a way to rally the faithful and raise funds from them. And so, I think we ought to be looking at a technological fix.

    If every pregnancy was a deliberate choice on the part of the woman, then the need for abortion would be significantly reduced and the numbers would drop as well. However, current birth control methods can be ineffective, require too much on the part of people and have nasty side-effects. Instead of spending all that pro-life and pro-choice money on buying (oops - I meant "electing") politicians, why not use it in research to develop a birth control method which would address concerns with the current methods. I'd even be willing to pay men and women to use whatever we come up with. Just an idea.

  7. Another take on the issue. After the Atlanta bombings, CNN interviewed a relative of the bomber. The relative, a young woman was asked why she thought the bomber targeted an abortion clinic. She said "we all know that white women have more abortions than black women, if white women keep having abortions, they will outnumber us very soon". It was just announced that minorities in Texas will outnumber whites within 20 years. The same holds true for many southern states. Is the real reason for pro life laws being enacted that those states citizens and politicians are affraid of being outnumbered by minorities?

    BTW, a government agency has decided when life begins. It is the IRS.

  8. I believe that human life begins with intelligence. Right to lifers are not intelligent, therefore they are not human life. We need a new mandatory federal law for the retroactive abortion of all right to lifers, even if they are in their 200th trimester. Congress has the power to define person and human life, the right to lifers say, so I say go for it.

  9. @Anonymous -- Now, now, will that help? The idea of being opposed to abortion is one I can readily understand -- to me it is an unfortunate practice. It's the practice of forcing that notion on the unwilling that is reprehensible. As with so many failings, the root is ego -- they can't conceive that their belief, and God's will, do not perfectly coincide.

  10. There are circumstances in which having an editor would be useful.

    Look, Mr. Steinberg, you and I will never agree on the issue of abortion. But all this insulting claptrap you are regurgitating does nothing to support your cause. One derogatory and inflammatory comment after another. This is the sort of thing you should write and then toss in the circular file, much as Harry Truman would do.

    Let's talk about the word "fetus". Well, ask some pregnant woman how her fetus is doing some time. Or if we're talking about dictionary definitions, perhaps the following will be useful:

    This comparison of pro-life advocates to mullahs is really beneath you. Or is it?

    Even a stalwart pro-abortion type like Peter Singer of Princeton writes:

    [The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life.

    Of course, Singer promotes infanticide so maybe he's not the guy to rely on.

    I could go on about abortion, and throw some mud at the our body, ourselves types who, like you, defend abortion with all the passion of an ante-bellum plantation owner defending state's rights and property rights, but I'd be wasting my breath. At least they let most of their property live. And it was legal, tool!

    Any how, I was hopeful that you would leave this juvenile writing behind you when you started sailing your own boat here, and I confess I liked your early columns. I think I'll spend my time elsewhere in the future.

    By the way: John Brown was on the right side. And being pro-life is in no regard that abortion is a legal scruple. It's the recognition that an embryo is a human being in the state of being an embryo--like all of us were--and that is it, as even Singer remarks, and independent being with an independent genetic structure and that, given time and an unselfish mother it will be born and live and breath, just like you do.

    Best of luck in the future. Go Cats.

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  12. All I have ever wanted to see is these pro-lifers be so concerned with babies AFTER THEY ARE BORN. They can start with the homeless people who hang around by the train stations, then circle to the children who are in DCFS and foster care. That should keep them busy for a little while. If they still want more people to take care of after that, I'm sure you and I can dig up a few more, Neil.

  13. Wendy Weber:

    You are talking complete nonsense. Michael Neubauer above has four adopted children. This fact can be easily confirm by Steinberg talking to his friend Eric Zorn.

    And the Roman Catholic Church does a lot for babies after they are born. Think of the Catholic school system in Chicago and the many Catholic hospitals

    Furthermore your post is a complete non sequitur with respect to the issue of a fetus being a human being.

  14. Jerry and Mike -- Writing this keeps me busy enough -- I can't babysit you guys too. If you like the site, read it, comment briefly. If you're going to complain all the time, go back to Zorn.

  15. If you dont believe having an abortion isright, dont have one. No one believes you should. Thats your business.
    Alternately, if someone chooses to have an abortion, that is NOT your business.
    Your religious beliefs on this subject are your business. My religious beliefs on this subject are NOT your business.
    Americas constitution protects us from theocracy.
    Beyond that, the use of images as described by Mr. Steinberg should be prosecuted as obscene, or at the least, a public nuiscence.....whatever law removes unsavory advertisement.
    Further, I am surprised these religious fanatics havent managed to reenact the laws making the sale of birthcontrol pills, condoms and dispersing knowledge of the rythym method jailable offenses. Makes me want to double check if I am chattle or can own property in Texas.

  16. Not a joke...not making this up: Had to pass through a pro-life picket line so I could buy a flag (The flag store was next to the abortion clinic...or maybe it was Planned Parenthood...and I was looking for a State of Ohio flag).

    When the harpies confronted me and went into their song-and-dance routine, I said: "If you don't like abortion, don't have one!" From the looks on their faces, you'd have thought I'd said something truly vile and awful. Their expressions of sheer horror actually made me laugh out loud.

    It's the Christian Fascist Army now, in the Trumpian Era. And they're not just winning in Texas anymore, but nearly everywhere. Things have changed a great deal since 2013, and not for better...mostly for worse. Much, much worse.


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