In my latest reading of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, Kristin Luker discussed the development of the pro-life movement. At first, during the 1960’s (prior to 1967), the pro-life movement consisted largely of Catholic male professionals, who believed that there was more of a national consensus that abortion was murder than there actually was, and thus they were shocked by the lack of outrage at such things as California’s liberalized abortion law. After 1973’s Roe vs. Wade decision, however, women who highly valued their identity as wives and mothers regarded Roe as an attack on their values, and so they joined the pro-life movement. There were others who were joining the pro-life movement out of a variety of motives: minorities were joining because they were against devaluing the lives of the vulnerable, people who lost a child were joining because they had issues with people voluntarily giving up their unborn children through abortion, and there were others who realized that they themselves could have been aborted.
One question that I had during my latest reading concerned whether the pro-life movement was right-wing or left-wing. Luker says that there were Republicans (even a Republican organization) who supported California’s liberalized abortion law. My impression, from what Luker and others (such as Lou Cannon) have said, is that the 1960’s was not a time when the Republicans were pro-life while the Democrats were pro-choice, for things were much more complex than that. There were pro-choice Republicans, and there were Catholic pro-life Democrats.
But, according to Luker, there was some conflict between many of the women who joined the pro-life movement after 1973, and the older generation of pro-lifers. According to Luker, many of the post-1973 pro-life women lacked the level of education of many of the pre-1973 pro-lifers, and so many of the pre-1973 pro-lifers regarded themselves as genteel while seeing the post-1973 pro-lifer women as strident and unsophisticated. Was there a liberal-conservative divide between the pre-1973 and the post-1973 pro-lifers? I’m not entirely sure, but there may be a grain of truth to that (and here I’m diverging from what Luker explicitly argues and doing my own speculation). Many of the post-1973 pro-life women were arguably conservative in that they championed a traditional role for women. Meanwhile, Luker quotes a pre-1973 pro-lifer who said that she did not like being told to vote for a pro-life candidate if he was not a good candidate, and she noted that she was also pro-life in her opposition to world hunger, capital punishment, and war. This reminds me of liberals today who chastise right-wing Republicans for being pro-life on abortion but not on other issues, such as poverty, the death penalty, and war. Was this pre-1973 pro-lifer expressing concern that the pro-life cause was being hijacked by the Republican Party?
At the same time, I gather from Luker’s narrative that there were people who were joining the pro-life movement who were not particularly right-wing. Many minorities who were concerned that abortion was devaluing life were probably not right-wing Republicans. At least I doubt that they were, and I’m open to correction on this.
One thing that I was thinking about as I read Luker was the White House Conference on Families during the Carter Administration. I have watched scenes from this conference on the PBS documentary, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Episode 3: We Are Family (1974-1980). What I noticed was that there were obviously a number of pro-lifers at the conference who were conservative, but there was one pro-lifer who said that he was also against war and capital punishment. Was this a time somewhere in between the pro-life cause being open to a variety of perspectives, and the pro-life cause becoming more firmly associated with the Republican Party and right-wing conservatism? Do we see an intermediary stage here?
(UPDATE: On page 216, Luker states that 1976 marked an anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform as well as the Hyde Amendment banning government funding of poor women’s abortions.)
I’d like to close this post with two items. First, please read Mehdi Hasan’s excellent article for the Huffington Post, Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty. Second, I’d like to quote what Luker says on page 157: “To argue that embryos are entitled to all the rights of personhood, despite their ‘condition of dependency,’ because they possess the entry-card of forty-six human chromosomes is to emphatically assert that personhood is a ‘natural,’ inborn, and inherited right, rather than a social, contingent, and assigned right.” That’s a rich statement. Do I regard personhood as a natural right, or as a social, contingent, and assigned right? The latter position somewhat scares me, for I am leery to give society the latitude to decide who is worthy of being considered a human being, and I think that such a power could be abused. And yet, would adopting the former position make life an absolute right, even in cases of war and capital punishment?