The Left-wing Blind Spot: Abortion

prolife liberals

Photo from Father Matthew P. Schneider’s Twitter feed

Maybe I’ll get over it, but my own progressive political leanings now conjure images of lukewarm Sanka — and my party affiliation thrills me as much as Olympic curling.

Such is my vibe after the Democratically-controlled New York legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Act,” which potentially allows abortion up to a child’s birth. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law and then – in a fit of rub-it-in tastelessness – ordered Manhattan’s Freedom Tower and Albany’s Alfred E. Smith Building lit up in pink. A Virginia Democratic legislator proposed similar legislation in her state, although it met defeat.

Just to fill in the blanks: The act’s proponents claimed they were codifying Roe v. Wade in the face of a potential US Supreme Court reversal; late-pregnancy abortions are very rare; and the measure won’t alter New York’s sky-high abortion rates, where one third of all pregnancies are terminated.

Still, members of my persuasion and party display their alienation from political reality, logic, their own genuine humanitarianism, and the international community (Europeans permit abortion only in a pregnancy’s early months). Their alleged “big tent” shrivels into a pup tent. Democrats and progressives should be capitalizing on their 2018 legislative victories and forging coalitions, which would include left-leaning pro-lifers, moderate evangelicals (yes, they exist), and many sympathetic with Catholic social teaching. Instead, the New York legislators displayed their party’s nation-wide malady: Democrats repeatedly estrange themselves from would-be supporters.

Witness their chronic opinion-poll misreading: True, Gallup surveys say 78 percent of US citizenry thinks abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances, but read the fine print. Most frown on its morality. President Bill Clinton felt the pulse and employed his safe-legal-rare terminology, but his party has since abandoned such political acumen. Its 2016 platform called for eliminating the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal abortion funding. Republicans leaped at the opportunity: Democrats, they said, are no longer just pro-choice; they’re pro-abortion.

The progressive divorce from logic is subtler but no less real. Attorney Sara Getsay called it out in a series of four tweets on December 8, 2018, which I combine:

“This is your reminder that being pro-life is progressive. It favors interference by the state in individual actions to protect the interests of the vulnerable. Being pro-choice is conservative. It favors citizens being allowed to make decisions free from state interference.

“It is logically consistent to be progressive and pro-life, and similarly to be in favor of other types of protections for the vulnerable, such as (for example): reasonable gun control, child abuse laws, government regulations that protect consumer and worker safety, etc.

“It is consistent to be conservative and pro-choice, that is, more interested in protecting individual rights than in protecting others from the results. Example: minimizing government regulation of businesses, being pro-gun rights and opposed to interference w/health insurance market.

“Historically, prior to 1980 and even up to about 2010, many Democrats were pro-life. Historically, many conservatives who held to pure principles were pro-choice and most libertarians remain pro-choice today. Just so we are clear, you can be a Democrat and pro-life. It’s actually logical.”      

Progressives have championed the vulnerable and helpless since the turn of the twentieth century and Democrats emerged as their party during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Who is more vulnerable and helpless than the unborn child?

But such reasoning has evaporated. A pro-choice stance is now a litmus test of left-wing orthodoxy and pro-lifers are relegated to heretic status, whatever their overall political stance.

It was not always thus. There were ten to twenty pro-life Democrats in the Senate and over 100 in the House in 1977. Among them were prominent liberals such as Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, and William Proxmire of Wisconsin. Ted Kennedy, who would eventually support legalized abortion with shrill cries, said this in 1971: “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old … When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders lost touch with their own constituency. Mary Meehan pointed to two 1984 polls showing that 46 percent of all Democrats supported a constitutional amendment banning abortion while only nine percent of its convention delegates agreed with it. The party was once the home of unions, working-class Catholics, and immigrants holding traditional family values. Indeed, Planned Parenthood once feared the Democrats more than it did the Republicans. No longer.

My progressive colleagues have draped a misguided Supreme Court decision – Roe v. Wade, written by a Republican appointee – in such clichés as “reproductive rights” and “the right to choose” while neglecting the life that has no voice. And they coat the clichés in false debates: Is that “fetus” really alive?  Is it truly human?  The real answer to both questions is an unequivocal yes. The fetus’s cells multiply; the heart beats; tests show brain activity. Sample the unborn child’s DNA and you’ll find a human.  My deeply compassionate pro-choice friends blind themselves to the irony: they’re stealing the most basic human right amid their cry for rights.

I get that Democratic leaders won’t march with pro-lifers anytime soon – and I know many pro-lifers slosh through their own moral and logical inconsistencies (the right to life doesn’t gel with “gun rights,” climate-change denial, and unaffordable health insurance). I’m only asking my political kin to dig up some savvy: Respect the pro-life argument, even if you disagree with it; seek common ground (“let’s see if we can help pregnant mothers …”); and grasp America’s dubious distinction: We boast the most radically pro-abortion laws in the Western, industrialized world.

Such is not the stuff of celebration, even with pink lights.


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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

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10 Comments on “The Left-wing Blind Spot: Abortion”

  1. TM Says:

    This is a misreading of the New York State legislation. The law permits abortions after 24 weeks if a health care professional determines the HEALTH or LIFE of the mother is at RISK, or the fetus is NOT VIABLE. And by “viable,” what is meant is actually able to live, with treatment or on its own. Having a disability that is treatable is still “viable.” Please read the actual legislation, and be sure you understand before disseminating misinformation.

    People don’t seem to know that for some women, pregnancy can exacerbate dangerous health conditions.And some women develop dangerous infections or eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures.) It seems that most everyone understands the life of the mother is paramount. The legislation in NY state is meant to codify the law in that state in case the federal law changes.

    I would agree that the Virginia legislation, which did not pass, was not as carefully reasoned as the NY, and that happens all the time, sending drafters back to their
    . But misrepresenting the intention and the New York state legislation, is not honest. Suggesting this means that women will be wandering into doctors in the last days of their otherwise healthy pregnancy because they feel like ending it, maybe they’re feeling a little blue, is not what this legislation allows. It does not allow for the murder of a live infant who will survive, as others have said — with treatment or on its own –this is not what this means.

    This explains the abortion law

    And this 2012 article explains legislation in Europe regarding what in the US are called “late term abortions.” Note this explains legislation regarding 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions. It is simply not accurate that European countries only permit abortion “in the early months.”

    Click to access 1130W7Late-abortion-in-Europe-laws-practice-and-unmet-need-Anne-Rey.pdf

    I have to say that what I find most difficult in this whole conversation is the misrepresentation of facts, however well intended the presenter. We never get anywhere if we misconstrue the case of those we disagree with.


    • Charles Redfern Says:

      Thank you for your response.

      A couple of replies:

      1. I did say that this particular law will not alter New York’s abortion rates.

      2. I think a key paragraph in the Factchecks articles is this:

      “In what is considered a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment.”

      I have heard abortion practitioners interviewed who say they will use this phraseology as a reason for any abortion.

      3. I’ll repeat: I appreciate your reply.


      • Charles Redfern Says:

        Another well-balanced explanation of the law, given from an admittedly pro-life view, is found here:

      • TM Says:

        It is extraordinarily difficult to have a conversation when one side says, “I have heard abortion practicioners interviewed . . .” That is the crescendo of your argument, and if we don’t have the actual words in front of us, I can’t respond. Of course I don’t think murder of a healthy infant on the table should be allowed. If the law needs to be tweaked to disallow, fine. But I am utterly exhausted from arguing with people who use hearsay.

        The America article is generally more tempered but even it says the NY law avoids “any protection to a child before birth.” If that were the case, the legislators wouldn’t have bothered with the language of viability.

      • TM Says:

        I would also add — the extraordinary nuance in deciding what is the appropriate measure of a woman’s health (or lack thereof) that ought to matter, is something that the blunt instrument of the law is going to have a hard time parsing. I don’t think a common cold made more miserable in pregnancy should be a reason for an extremely late term abortion. But outside that –I am not a physician — what is a reasonable difficulty, and what is not, how does one parse a survivability rating of 10 percent, 5 percent, 20 percent — I don’t imagine any of us well equipped to decide these rare cases, –which is why we think a woman and her physician may be in the best spot to make decisions.

  2. Jon Says:

    Thank you for reminding us that abortion is about the sanctity of human life, and it is an issue that should supersede whatever political ties we might have. Although I am not affiliated with any party, I appreciate your perspective!


  3. nancyehead Says:

    I guess I’m an inconsistent conservative. But the consistency on the conservative side (to distinguish myself from a libertarian who does fit the bill as you describe it) is personal responsibility and respect for the rights of others–especially the helpless.

    I do find the argument that pro-life is consistent with progressivism fascinating. May your tribe increase.


  4. TM Says:

    From today’s Post explaining the law and so called late term abortion. And while it isn’t the thrust of the article it also explains why NY may have the “sky-high” rate you mentioned in your original post. Women travel from states where the abortion laws are restrictive to places where they are less so.


    • Charles Redfern Says:

      TM: As the author of the article in America points out, there’s interpretive nuance in the law. But remember the post’s overall point: A pro-choice stance has now become progressive-Democratic orthodoxy. I’ll add this: By today’s standards, many of progressive heroes — such as Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Susanne B. Anthony, and others — would not qualify. Much more could be said, but i made my points in the article itself.


  5. Paul Szymanowski Says:

    The abortion argument has been continuing all these decades for a reason. Why? I propose the following. Perhaps the political parties and our country are so sinful that an end to abortion will not happen until both sides convert of their sins first?

    The right wing has just as much of a blind spot as the left. Republicans are not more Godly than Democrats just because they purport to oppose abortion. Republican fund raisers and politicians have admitted that their pro-life stance is used to mostly gain votes from Catholics.

    Ultimately, the will of people must coincide with the will of God, or there will be no peace on earth. Four things cry to heaven for vengeance: willful murder, sodomy, oppression of the poor, and defrauding laborers of their wages. It is quite obvious which political parties are guilty of which cries to heaven. If the proposal is true that God requires conversion of both parties and our country as a whole first, then we have a long way to go before abortion ends.


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