One of the more grotesque highlights of 1996 was watching the secular media grapple with the horrifying realization that it really is a pre-born human being that gets killed every time an abortion is committed. Naomi Wolf’s controversial feature from the New Republic in October of 1995 (Rethinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric – Our Bodies, Our Souls) was the first sign that the solid platform of denial which has for so long supported abortion advocacy, was finally starting to crumble.

In that article Wolf challenged the pro-choice movement to get real: “Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.”

Wolfe maintained that the only honourable stance left to pro-choicers, was to acknowledge that a death occurs (indeed, a ‘killing,’ though she couldn’t muster the honesty to call it ‘murder’) whenever an unborn child is aborted. And as part of facing that horrible truth squarely, her essay ends, not by proposing that we stop the slaughter of the unborn, but by postulating a scenario in which abortions continue but “passionate feminists [will] hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, standing shoulder to shoulder with the doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead.”

How to explain the apparent conviction within the feminist movement of the moral and political efficacy of standing around chanting self-righteous slogans with a candle in gloss on the barbarity of abortion practises or you want to raise the consciousness of lumbering patriarchal legislators all you have to do is break out the dripless candles, link arms and start crooning melodic clichés.

New set of charges

Any movement which acknowledges that abortion is killing but insists that it should continue anyway, has indeed earned itself a new set of charges; replacing ‘callous, selfish and casually destructive’ with ‘callous, selfish and wilfully destructive’.

The secular media had so strenuously limited the expression of pro-life philosophy, that Wolf’s essay (and the mountain of commentary it provoked) was a revelation for millions of people. How else are we to explain the widespread shock and incredulity which greeted a whole series of stories from last year concerning the fate of pre-born human children.

Over Christmas and into this new year, a similar story has gripped my home town of London, Ontario. On Boxing Day in south London, an estranged boyfriend murdered his eight months pregnant girlfriend and on the evening of December 30th, one of the feminist groups in town announced that they would hold a candlelight vigil outside the woman’s apartment building to protest violence against women.

About 75 people turned out for the vigil, and, as the London Free Press reported in the next day’s issue, the commemoration took a turn which the organizers had not foreseen. “Mourners said there should have been charges in two deaths, not just one, and are calling on governments to better protect human foetuses and battle domestic abuse. One woman, who refused to be identified, shook with anger as she reflected on a judicial system that fails to recognize [the] fetus as a person.” There was even a petition, signed by most people at the vigil, calling for legislation to protect the fetus by giving it legal standing.

Well, you never saw such furious back-pedalling as was played out over the next week by the organizers of that vigil. One prominent women’s activist who attended the vigil wrote an editorial a few days later admonishing the wrong-headedness of her fellow mourners.

“I can understand how the tragedy can be felt as a double loss. But as an advocate for women’s equality and autonomy over our bodies, I can’t support laws that take that equality and autonomy away… A law ‘protecting’ the fetus would be used, you can be sure, to stop women from having abortions… What we need are not more laws that interfere with women’s autonomy. We need protection for women experiencing harassment and violence.”

She pretty well restated the Naomi Wolf position; killing the unborn is murder but women, not men, need to have the legal right to do that. But as this position is repeatedly trotted out, in terms that become balder, shabbier and more shameless with every airing, it becomes even less convincing.

Let the dialogue continue, say I. Time is on the pro-life side.

(Herman Goodden is a freelance writer and editor residing in London, Ontario.)