A Pro-Life Feminist Critique of the “Rape and Incest Exception”

Posted on May 23, 2017 By

 by Rachel MacNair

Pregnancies resulting from the horror of a rape or incest are often proposed as cases where there should be an exception to allow or fund abortion even when it’s not allowed or funded for other pregnancies.  I’ll propose several reasons why this is a bad idea.

We Oppose Abortion as Violence, Not as a Result of Sex

Ruth Graham, a pro-choice Slate writer, recently discussed the “rape exception”:

“An exception to a rule often illuminates the rule’s essence. Take the rape exception to abortion restrictions. If abortion is what opponents say it is—the killing of a human being—then it’s not clear why the circumstances of conception should affect its legality. But if abortion restrictions are also about punishing women for sexual behavior, then a rape exception makes perfect sense: If it’s not her ‘fault she got pregnant, it’s only fair that she should be exempt from punishment.”

The way I’ve always put this point is: we don’t oppose abortion because we have a hang-up about what kind of sex the woman had. And of course we absolutely don’t regard having a baby as “punishment.”

Aimee Murphy

Aimee Murphy, co-founder of Rehumanize International, offers her personal experience: “I shared  . . . my story of how I became pro-life; how I was raped at 16 and months later thought I was pregnant – by my rapist, no less. How my rapist had threatened to kill me if I didn’t have an abortion. How I had realized that I couldn’t be like my rapist and use violence against those who were inconvenient or smaller than I and how I rejected abortion as an option.”

The question that needs to be asked of those who favor a rape exception, or who think that the pro-life position they normally oppose becomes especially extreme if there isn’t even a rape exception, is:

Rebecca Kiessling

Are you willing to look a woman straight in the eye and tell her, “I know you were conceived in a rape, and therefore, your life has less value than other people’s lives”? If so, one woman to do that to is Rebecca Kiessling, an attorney and international speaker. She’s good at straightening people out on this point quickly.



Legislation is a separate question. We might well put up with a “rape and incest” exception if needed for passage of a pro-life law. It’s better to get something imperfect passed than to get nothing at all. But that’s legislative strategy, where compromises are expected. It’s not principle.

On principle, we want to make abortion unthinkable, no matter what the legal status is.

Adding to the Trauma

Asserting that it’s somehow obvious that there should be an exception for rape is saying that pregnancy through rape is so horrendous that it’s worth killing an innocent child in order to avoid it. That’s outrageous pressure for an abortion. What the mother needs is support and care and a listening ear. She certainly doesn’t need any more stigma.

In some cases, people will even assume she’s lying about having been raped – surely she would have aborted if her story was true. Women already have enough trouble being believed.

Raped women have already been through one traumatic experience. The trauma of having a doctor reach up inside and tear her baby to shreds is not one she should be expected to face. Those who push a rape “exception” think they’re turning back the clock. But once a baby is there, her mother should not be pushed into another trauma.

What sounds especially strange to the pro-life feminist ear is when people assert that she shouldn’t have to bear the rapist’s child. How blatantly patriarchal! It’s her baby.  Isn’t she entitled to be regarded as the mother of her own child?

In reality, at least half, and in many studies the majority, of women with a pregnancy resulting from rape choose not to abort the baby. Many of these babies are placed for adoption, but a large portion of women do choose to raise them.

Laws have considered abortion and adoption, but are often woefully lagging for those mothers who do raise their own children, especially on the crucial matter of visitation and custody rules. Shauna Prewitt became an attorney after she was startled to find the man who raped her trying to get joint custody rights to her daughter. She wrote an excellent Georgetown Law Journal article on the limited legal protections for women who become mothers through rape.

Shauna Prewitt

Women do get to give birth to and raise their own children, so the fact that many US states, and probably many other countries, haven’t thought through how to protect them may be one of the consequences of just assuming that of course they wish to abort.

As for incest, where people are generally thinking of minor girls sexually abused by a father or brother, most people who propose this as an exception haven’t thought through this most basic question: who do you think might be the one to bring the young woman in for the abortion? Abortion clinics can help cover up the crime.

Adding to the Rape

Much of the argument over the rape exception presumes that the idea of women getting impregnated through rape is a fact to start with, not to be questioned. I’d be a lot more comfortable if those arguing would at least preface their remarks by pointing out that rape is an outrage, and shouldn’t be tolerated, whether pregnancy happens or not. Rape prevention measures aimed at men are the very first way to address the problem.

But there also seems to be an assumption that only a given amount of rape exists, independent of what we say about abortion.

Consider: what is the message that a “rape exception” might give to potential rapists?

To give an illustration, here’s the story of a student nurse (Dr. F did do abortions at a different facility):


It was my job to assist the doctors. I scrubbed with Dr. F. While scrubbing at the sink, Dr. F. kidded me about my size. He said that birth control pills would put some weight on me. He asked me if I was on them. I didn’t need to be. He then said he would give me a prescription. . .

[Later that day] Just as I was leaving the lounge, Dr. F. was, as it appeared, on his way to the doctors’ lounge. He said, “come here,” and started walking down the hall. I said, “I’m not going in there.” He then said, “that’s not where we’re going.” I then asked, “where are we going?’ Then he said, “you never ask a doctor where he’s going.” Then he grabbed my arm and pulled me down the stairs. . . . Still holding on to me, he took me down the hall on the left as you leave the stairs. He pulled me into a dark room on the left. . . .

Thinking I could reason with him, I begged him to let me go. . . . I kept pulling away and he kept tightening his grip on my arms. Then he said, “we’ve got to work out something.” I said, “no!” He seemed to really be mad and I pulled away to head for the door and he jerked my arm. . . . He raped me. He then backed away from me and as I stood there crying, he said, “I knew there wouldn’t be another time or place.”

(Affidavit, The State of South Carolina vs. J. F., Case No. 30159.)


For men of that mindset (and we have no idea how many there are), abortion is available as a service to them. They’re entitled to sex with any woman they want. After all, all the woman has to do if pregnant is “exercise a constitutional right,” which doesn’t seem so bad. So her consent to the sex is beside the point.

Pedophiles and incest perpetrators often take the same attitude. Sex traffickers regularly take women in for abortions to make them re-usable (for documentations, see Chapter 3 of Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion). With these long-term forms of abuse, the abortion clinic helps the perpetrators and can be regarded as an accomplice to the crime.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our blog posts on law and public policy, see:

Who the Law Targets

Why the Hyde Amendment Helps Low-Income Women

Noncooperation with Planned Parenthood

Removing Health Care Access is an Act of Violence


abortionrapesex trafficking

Self-Defeating Violence: The Case of the First World War

Posted on May 16, 2017 By

by John Whitehead

John Whitehead speaks to a visitor at our March for Life Expo table

The United States recently reached the 100th anniversary of American entry into the First World War. Although American businesses had provided arms and money to the Allied nations (which included Britain, France and Russia) in their war against Germany and the other Central Powers, US President Woodrow Wilson had sought to avoid sending American troops to fight in the war.  American support to the Allies led to an escalating series of confrontations between the United States and Germany, however, in the winter and spring of 1917. Wilson eventually called for a declaration of war, which the US Congress gave to him on April 6.


Portraying the conflict against Germany and alongside the Allies as a struggle between autocracy and democracy, Wilson justified the US war effort by saying “The world must be made safe for democracy.” However, far from matching Wilson’s words —or the idea of “a war to end war” that became associated with the First World War—the war was an object lesson in how violence can lead to still more violence.

Although the United States and the other Allies eventually won a military victory over Germany, the costs were staggering, even for the victors. Some 9 million people died during the war years of 1914-1918. This included roughly 116,000 Americans—more than the number of Americans killed in the wars in Korea and Vietnam combined.

Also, on the American home front, the war had consequences that made a mockery of Wilson’s claims to be fighting for democracy. After the Declaration of War, Wilson engaged in what one commentator called “war against the Constitution.” Dissenters against the war and conscription for it were charged with espionage or sedition, and many served prison terms. Wilson even asked the Congress to set up detention camps to quarantine “alien enemies.” Such repression was consistent with other Wilson policies: an extreme racist, he encouraged re-segregation of the previously integrated federal Civil Service. (The pattern of opposing democracy at home while claiming to be fighting for democracy abroad repeatedly shows up in American history.)


Propaganda posters from the First World War. These works are in the public domain in the United States because they were published before January 1, 1923.


Moreover, neither democracy nor peace followed the end of the First World War in Europe. Roughly 15 years after the war was over, defeated Germany became a dictatorship under Adolf Hitler. He would start the still-deadlier Second World War.

Historians and other analysts of the world wars have debated why the first was followed by the second. In particular, the question of whether the Allies’ treatment of Germany after the First World War helped cause Hitler’s rise has been answered in varying ways. What’s hard to dispute, however, is that Nazism’s rise and the Second World War wouldn’t have occurred without Allied victory in the previous war.

What would have happened if there had been a German victory in the First World War? Certainly there were good reasons to dread such an outcome since the German regime of the early 20th century could be repressive and cruel. Nevertheless, its rule in Europe would scarcely be comparable to the Nazis’ rule in the 1930s and 1940s.

As the historian Niall Ferguson noted, in a post-World War I Europe where Germany had been victorious, “Adolf Hitler could have eked out a life as a mediocre postcard painter and a fulfilled old soldier in a German-dominated Central Europe about which he could have found little to complain (The Pity of War: Explaining World War I, p. 460). By declaring war on Germany in 1917 and ultimately sacrificing so many lives to defeat it, the United States was paradoxically helping to make possible a far worse future—one that better warranted the extreme rhetoric Wilson had invoked at the time.

This historical interpretation should not of course be used to justify or endorse the German war effort in the First World War. The only outcome people should have strived for during 1914-1918 would have been for everyone to come to their senses and stop the war and all the governmental cruelties on both sides that went with it.

The point is not that either side in the First World War was preferable to the other, but that the war ultimately made possible a more catastrophic situation than the one the victors had fought the war to prevent.

Although the link between the First and Second World Wars is one of the more dramatic examples of violence bringing about the outcome it was supposed to prevent, it’s hardly the only one. During the American War in Vietnam, the US war effort against North Vietnam led the United States to bomb and send troops into then-neutral neighboring Cambodia. Although intended to hinder the North Vietnamese (and allow the United States to disengage from the conflict), these actions instead contributed to conflict and civil war in Cambodia.

The ultimate result was the murderous Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia. Over 1 million Cambodians were deliberately killed under their rule. One escalation of violence led to another.

American policy toward Iraq may be another example of this same principle. Consistent Life Network endorser Stephen Zunes has argued, in the book Consistently Opposing Killing, that the American-led bombing campaign against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the years of economic sanctions on Iraq that followed had a devastating effect on the Iraqi middle and skilled working classes. These were precisely the parts of Iraqi society that could have led a nonviolent resistance movement to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Instead, the United States and other nations’ policies impoverished these classes or forced them to emigrate, while making Iraqis more economically dependent on Hussein’s regime. Hussein continued to rule in Iraq, and this perhaps made the eventual American-Iraqi war of 2003 more likely.

The tendency of violence to lead to the opposite of what it was supposed to accomplish isn’t limited to the violence of war. While some might excuse the violence of abortion on the idea that it would allow women with unwanted pregnancies to avoid falling into or remaining in poverty, abortion might have the opposite effect. Consistent Life Network Vice-President Rachel MacNair has argued that the negative psychological and relationship effects of abortion may make it harder for women to escape from poverty. Moreover, Pro-lifers for Survival founder Julianne Wiley has argued that access to abortion allows men to behave as if babies are born not because of anything men did but solely because of the woman’s decision not to have an abortion. As a result, men become self-righteous about thinking they don’t really even owe child support, a rather minimal way of being responsible, thus leaving new mothers in the lurch financially.

Similarly, one way to justify the death penalty is the idea that it saves lives by deterring criminals from committing murder. The vast majority of criminologists who study this issue don’t believe it has that effect. In fact, it may be the opposite: potential murderers may see the executions as an example to follow. This is one explanation for why the murder rate in US states with the death penalty is higher than the murder rate in states without it.

To be sure, that violence is sometimes counterproductive should not be the only reason for opposing it. Even if an act of violence did accomplish what it was intended to do, that wouldn’t necessarily justify such an act. Many sound arguments can be made against war, abortion, executions, and other forms of violence, and advocates for peace and life shouldn’t rely on just one.

Nevertheless, the ways in which violence can perversely compound the problems it’s meant to solve is a significant testimonial against resorting to violence in response to problems.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our blog posts reflecting on the dynamics of violence, see:

Guns and Abortion: Extremists Resemble Each Other

Where Violence Begins

When “Choice” Itself Hurts the Quality of Life

For more of our blog posts on war policy, see:

Rejecting Mass Murder: Looking Back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Three Reasons for Opposing the US Bombing of Syria


abortiondeath penaltyfeminization of povertyhistorywar policy

Removing Health Care Access is an Act of Violence

Posted on May 9, 2017 By

by Lisa Stiller

Editor’s note: Many pro-lifers are celebrating the fact that a measure ending Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood is included in the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that was passed by the US House of Representatives on Thursday, May 4. Planned Parenthood does a huge number of abortions and is a major advocate for them, so noncooperation by removing taxpayer dollars has always had our support. We’ve written about the goal of taxpayer defunding, recently and a while ago.  But one of our Board members asks: can it be done better, without being associated with a bill like the AHCA?


Lisa Stiller

I have many concerns about the AHCA.

The bill in its original form would have taken health care access from approximately 14 million people by 2018 and from 24 million people by 2026, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Votes were taken before new estimates for the updated legislation were done.

The revised legislation gained support from some of the “moderate” Republicans who thought the bill in its original form would have done too much damage to their constituents. Adding $8 billion to a pot to help people with pre-existing conditions pay those sky high premiums won them over. But the total of $23 billion is still a totally inadequate amount of money for the purpose, and past experience with “high-risk pools” is that they don’t have a good track record.

As an advocate for the Consistent Life Ethic, I believe in the dignity of all life, and that all life should be protected, from conception to natural death. I do not believe in acts of violence towards anyone. I believe that poverty, because its presence brings a much higher chance of a shortened life span and erodes the dignity of life, is really a form of violence, and a life issue.

People who lack access to affordable, quality health care have a much higher incidence of death as a result. Barriers to preventative care due to expense; poor diet, housing, and education; and lack of resources for low income people in many areas all contribute to higher rates of death among the poor, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities and women.

Jimmy Kimmel with Billy in a photo shared on Twitter by his wife, Molly McNearney

Even people not suffering poverty can have life-threatening conditions and die without decent health-care coverage. The very affluent late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel revealed recently how his son Billy, born April 21, 2017, had a heart condition that needed immediate expensive surgery. Kimmel acknowledged that although he could afford the care, he realized that most others would have greatly struggled. Kimmel ended his heart-felt story with a plea for health care funding, saying, “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen.”

The Republican legislation also calls for about a 25% cut in Medicaid funding over the next ten years and cuts the subsidies to low and moderate income families which helped them to pay premiums. Instead, it ties subsidies to age, which might benefit some younger people but would send premiums skyrocketing for those who are older.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (08/12/2016), the Affordable Care Act reduced uninsured rates among the nation’s low income population by 11-12% between 2013 and 2015. About 20 million people gained access to health care, many as a result of Medicaid expansion.

Access to affordable health care addresses poverty, saves lives, and improves the quality of lives of tens of millions of people and every community. Removing health care access from 24 million people is an act of violence. It will result in higher unnecessary death rates, and it will contribute to more low-income Americans once again having to choose between health care, housing, food, and utilities.

Therefore, because of its impact on alleviating the effects of poverty, I am deeply concerned about the effect of the current legislation on low and moderate income Americans.

Furthermore, the present administration believes itself to be “pro-life.” Trump and most of the Republicans campaigning for Congress billed themselves as the people who would save millions of babies from abortion.

Yet the new health care bill allows states to eliminate the essential benefits protected by the ACA – including maternity care!

The Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s own research arm, claims that almost 75 percent of abortions occur because women feel they do not have the resources to care for a child. That would include prenatal care and care for the child after birth (medical, day care, housing, and job training/education expenses).

I believe that “pro-life” is much more than simply opposing abortion. The very reason to use the term “pro-life” instead of just “anti-abortion” is because it means supporting pregnant women and children and families, and advocating for those things that help families overcome poverty such as health care, child care, decent housing, and access to education. Being prolife continues after the child is born.

The current ACHA bill allows states to remove care for babies before they’re born, and cut access to care for families, including children. I do not believe that is pro-life.


For more of our blog posts on public policy, see:

Why the Hyde Amendment Helps Low-Income Women

Defunding Planned Parenthood?

Noncooperation with Planned Parenthood

Our Experience with Overturning Terrible Court Decisions


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.


Unconnecting a Dot?

Posted on May 2, 2017 By

by Carol Crossed and Rachel MacNair

Note: a draft of this post was sent to staffers at Campaign Nonviolence for feedback, and they thanked us and offered no comments.   

Rachel MacNair & CNV Outreach Coordinator John Dear when he spoke in Kansas City April 2, 2014

Campaign Nonviolence (CNV) has been a wonderful project, run by the organization Pace e Bene. The Consistent Life Network (CLN), also known as Consistent Life, became an endorser early on, as did several of our member groups. As with us, CNV has a connect-the-dots goal of showing how different kinds of violence are connected – in their case: war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.

We’ve been promoting their annual CNV Action Week every September since they began it in 2014. Many of our members have participated. Some of our over 200 member groups have added, over these three years, a few actions to CNV’s list of actions that happen around the world that week. This year, their goal for September 16-24 is over 1,000 “marches, vigils, rallies and more for a culture of peace and nonviolence.”

Taking Us Down

Yet a problem has arisen All of a sudden, in 2016, the actions we added were removed from the web list.

On a teleconference call CNV had with supporters, Lisa Stiller asked them why this was. The answer on the phone call: The staff didn’t have time. On to the next question.

This being unsatisfactory, we tried to have a face-to-face meeting or, failing that, a phone call to get clarification. The call finally took place April 12, 2017, between three CNV staff members and Carol Crossed.

Carol Crossed’s Report on the April 12 Phone Call with CNV Staff

Carol Crossed

Carol Crossed

Ryan Hall (Executive Director) introduced the participants John Dear (Outreach Coordinator) and Ken Butigan (Strategist/Consultant). I (Carol) indicated Rachel MacNair may join the call. Ryan said they wanted to only hear from me, but that if Rachel joined in, she could stay on the call.

To the statement that war, racism, climate change and poverty were the focus of CNV actions, I asked why actions that dealt with issues such as immigration, capital punishment, or gun control were not removed, but actions related to abortion were. Ryan indicated that this call was about listening to my concerns, and thanked me for my comments.

I asked for honesty and transparency.  Isn’t the disagreement less about narrowing their focus, and more about abortion?  Ryan indicated that their Board agreed to limit their actions, that they could not do everything.  Some issues were divisive.

I asked if they eliminated other actions, besides abortion, from their site. They indicated they weren’t sure.

I related an experience at a CNV Conference in New Mexico.  Rachel MacNair publicly addressed a panel in 2015, indicating abortion’s connection to violence.  She got a round of applause.  Both John Dear and James Lawson privately thanked her for her comments.

I suggested that abortion is both a question about violence and a question about strategy. John said he did understand abortion to be a violence.  Both Ryan and Ken indicated agreement.

I asked if then their decision was based on strategy.  They all agreed that it was.  Some issues were divisive.

I asked if they think abortion is more divisive than it is uniting?  They thought some issues were divisive, yes.  What other issues did they consider “divisive”? John said he gets questions about how transgender rights should be at the center of nonviolence.

I commented about abortion being a positive strategy, one to broaden the movement.  For example, Jim Wallis says that abortion is a threshold issue because it opens a door.  It allows others to come in, allowing those who oppose taking the lives of innocent human beings to connect with the killing of millions of noncombatants in war.

In the Catholic Peace Fellowship newsletter, Michael Baxter writes that when we do violence to those in our families, especially the unborn, we make it easier to approve of and to engage in the violence of war.

Isn’t the best way to draw folks in who disagree with us on broadening violence to have those pro-life folks do the speaking themselves in their own actions, I asked?  Should we not encourage them, showcase them, promote them?  By doing this we model receptivity though our own vulnerability.

Ryan thanked me for the comments, saying that those are my strategies, Consistent Life’s strategies.  CNV has other strategies.

I said that broadening, welcoming, connecting, being vulnerable, were the universal strategies of nonviolence.  That John teaches this in his many books, and Ken’s wonderful TED talk and his workbook on Nonviolence that I read some years ago.

I suggested by not allowing actions on abortion, CNV is marginalizing others, making them step aside, refusing them entry into the [nonviolent] clique. If CNV focuses on the four issues only, they push out many other people.  It’s a strategy of smallness.

Ryan said they had already made those decisions, thanked me for the call and reiterated their desire to listen to my concerns. I asked them if they would take into consideration my concerns and review their decision. Ryan said they would talk among themselves.


Question #1. About CNV’s claim of limited staff time: didn’t removing actions listed by CLN take more time than simply allowing them to remain? Was there something time-consuming about having those listings up, such as perhaps dealing with objections, that they haven’t told us about?

Question #2. CNV addresses the “epidemic of violence” along with their four issues. Since the CNV staff members Carol spoke with agree that abortion is violence, why doesn’t massive feticide fall under an “epidemic of violence”?

Question #3. If a narrow focus is the reason, why didn’t CNV take down the other 50+ actions that don’t fit within their issue limitation?

Question #4. If their reasoning is to avoid divisive issues, why do they not state so as clear policy? The statement in small letters at the bottom of one page, if you hunt for it, is: “Please keep in mind that Campaign Nonviolence reserves the right to remove any action at any time that we feel violates our vision or policies. We expect actions to follow nonviolent guidelines and to focus on efforts that connect the dots between issues related to war, poverty, racism, and environmental destruction.” A very sensible statement, and it gives notice that an action that only focuses on any given single issue doesn’t fit. But if we relate abortion to war, poverty and racism – and we do this all the time – then aren’t we’re following the guideline of “issues related to war, poverty, racism”? Haven’t we still been invited to participate, and then uninvited without notice?

Question #5. Are CNV’s values being pressured by potential or real advocates of abortion availability – supporters and funders?

Question #6. In the conference call, why was “listening” a one-way interaction, and dialog not encouraged? Why did three CNV male staff members feel threatened by a second woman / Board member of Consistent Life participating on the call?

Question #7. Is CNV encouraging the extreme polarized social climate today, by not inspiring a more integrated and diverse nonviolent movement?  In other words, are they not contributing to the divisiveness they are trying to avoid?

A Friendly Suggestion

It’s simple enough: as we always have, we encourage people to do nonviolence education and consistent-life connect-the-dot actions during the week of September 16-24, 2017. Use CNV’s freely-available materials for advice.

As long as no clear policy is stated that precludes us, and actions are consistent with the week’s purpose, go ahead and list the actions with CNV again, both beforehand to encourage participation, and afterward to share photos and a report.

But we now must be prepared for the invitation to submit these actions to once again be withdrawn without notice – if they won’t put it up on their web page, we’ll put it up on ours.

Consistent Lifers Act

in the Week of Action

Possible actions include:

* Have a march between at least three places – one symbolizing the military, one the death penalty, and one abortion. Other sites of violence (or nonviolent resistance to the violence) are also welcome destinations on a march, of course. Protests and/or teach-ins can be held at these locations.

* More modestly, especially if time is short, hold vigils with leafletting of passers-by.

* Attend your local Campaign Nonviolence event, and leaflet the people there to educate them on the consistent life ethic; we’ll have flyers designed for the occasion.

* Plan a march at the end of a Campaign Nonviolence event from that event to a local abortion clinic. Invite participants to come along,

* Hold presentations or panels educating people on a consistent nonviolence perspective.


Those interested in setting something up can contact weekly@consistent-life.org with your ideas. We’ll set up an events web page to help coordinate.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

abortionCampaign Nonviolenceconnecting issuesconsistent life ethic

Three Reasons for Opposing the US Bombing of Syria

Posted on April 25, 2017 By

by John Whitehead

John Whitehead

The United States’ intervention in the Syrian civil war took a new turn on April 7, when American ships launched a missile strike on the Syrian government’s Al Shayrat air base. This attack on Bashar al-Assad’s regime marked a shift in US policy—previous American military actions in Syria over roughly the past two-and-a-half years had focused on various anti-government insurgent groups such as ISIS. US President Donald Trump apparently ordered the strike as a response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on April 4 against Syrians in an insurgent-held part of the country. While the Assad regime’s repression of its own people deserves unequivocal condemnation, the recent American military strike was nevertheless wrong, for three reasons. Attacking Assad’s regime is 1) unlikely to help the Syrian people; 2) not in American interests; and 3) of dubious legality under US and international law.

Before elaborating on these three points, I want to emphasize that revulsion at Assad’s regime and its policies is justified and opposition to the recent US military action should not obscure the essential malevolence of that regime. While a full investigation into the April 4 chemical attack remains to be made, numerous other incidents over the past six years of civil war have demonstrated the Syrian government’s brutality. The regime has targeted civilians by methods that include bombing and denying food and other necessities; it has carried out mass executions and torture, including sexual assault; (which can impose pregnancies and therefore increase the danger of abortion and infanticide); and, whatever the truth of the April 4 incident, it has used chemical weapons in the past. Opponents of US military action should not gloss over any of this.

Even the worst human rights violations by a regime do not excuse an imprudent response. The April 7 strike was a profoundly imprudent response, for the following reasons:

1) Attacking the Assad regime is unlikely to help the Syrian people.

A single missile strike on a single air base is clearly not going to prevent the Assad regime from waging war on its own people (planes were reportedly taking off from the air base within days after the attack). The strike at best served as warning to the Assad regime not to carry out any further chemical weapons attacks, lest it invite further retaliation. Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to stop efforts to win the civil war and crush the various insurgent groups that oppose him, however, even in the face of American threats.

What Assad presumably sees at stake in the civil war is his regime’s survival and even his own personal survival. As recent history has shown, dictators who are overthrown do not live long. If Assad wishes to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, he will likely continue to use the methods at his disposal, including chemical weapons or similarly brutal means, to stay in power.

Stopping Assad from brutalizing the Syrian people would likely require not threats or symbolic missile strikes but significant military action either to overthrow his regime or at least to weaken it sufficiently that he cannot exert significant influence on much of the country. American military action could accomplish such a goal, but the question then arises of what kind of regime would replace Assad’s. As recent history has also shown, overthrowing an oppressive regime is comparatively easy but creating a stable, more humane government in the aftermath of regime change is far more difficult. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya all provide examples of how violence and chaos can follow an oppressive government’s violent overthrow.

The prospect of regime change in Syria is particularly daunting given the nature of the insurgent groups fighting against Assad. Anti-government groups, which include ISIS and the Fatah al-Sham Front (once associated with al Qaeda), are no more respectful of human rights than the current Syrian government. During the Syrian civil war, insurgent groups have also carried out atrocities such as attacking civilians, torture, and even using chemical weapons. To replace rule by Assad with rule by one of these groups or—what is a more likely result of regime change—to reduce Syria to a state of permanent anarchy in which such groups fight for power is not going to help the Syrian people.

From Wikimedia: Syrian refugees around the world, March 11, 2017, by Puskechina

2) Attacking the Assad regime is not in American interests.

While realpolitik calculations of national interest should not be the only consideration in responding to conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, these kinds of calculations should be considered. The Assad regime, for all its repression of its own people, does not pose a threat to American citizens. An insurgent group such as ISIS, which has inspired various terrorist attacks that have killed Americans, does pose a threat, however. To overthrow the Assad regime and allow these groups to operate without the restraints imposed by opposition from a hostile regime is no more in the American people’s interests than the Syrian people’s.

Moreover, American actions against the Assad regime entail opposition to the regime’s chief sponsor, Russia. While the April 7 airfield attack was apparently executed so as to avoid killing any Russian personnel who might be assisting the Syrian military, the attack escalated the already high tensions between Russia and the United States. Taking further military action against the Syrian government would likely worsen relations further, especially as future attacks might well kill Russian troops and bring the American and Russian militaries into direct conflict. High tensions, let alone open military conflict, between the nations with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world is not in the interests of the United States or of humanity.

 3) Attacking the Assad regime is of dubious legality under American and international law.

The legal sanction for President Trump bombing Syria is tenuous at best. The US Congress has not declared war on Syria or otherwise authorized military action in that country. While the US president has some authority, under the 1973 War Powers Act, to use military power without congressional approval, this authority exists only in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The Syrian civil war clearly does not qualify as such a situation.

Such legal considerations were largely ignored by the Obama administration in some of its uses of military force, including the ongoing military operations in Syria. Nevertheless, the Syrian campaign had at least a semblance of legal justification: President Obama argued that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force in response to the September 11th attacks by al Qaeda gave him the authority to fight against ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot, in Syria. Even this legal justification, strained as it was, does not apply to the April 7 missile attacks, however, which targeted the Syrian government, not any al Qaeda-connected terrorist group.

The missile strikes were also unjustified under international law. An American attack on Syria in response to the Syrian government abusing its own people cannot be justified, under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, as self-defense. The United States was in no way acting in direct defense against an attack. Moreover, the missile attack was not authorized by the UN Security Council, so it cannot claim the sanction of international law in that way either.

In the absence of legal justifications, the American attack on Syria must be considered another regrettable example of a nation using military force unilaterally, without restraint by international norms and institutions. Within the United States, it must also be considered another example of a chief executive unilaterally using force without constitutional or other legal restraints. These are not patterns of international behavior that promote a more peaceful world.

To repeat, none of these problems with the recent American bombing excuse or lessen the monstrous behavior of Bashar al-Assad and his regime. However, the understandable horror that the Assad regime inspires should not lead anyone to support a misguided policy. For the reasons given above, I would argue that American military attacks on the Assad regime are misguided. Any attempts by the Trump administration to conduct further attacks such as that on April 7 should be opposed.


Also by John Whitehead:

Rejecting Mass Murder: Looking Back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

militarywar and peacewar policy     ,

Intolerance Knows No Partisan Boundaries

Posted on April 18, 2017 By

by Lisa Stiller

Lisa Stiller

As a CL board member who has been working to promote CL representation at conferences and festivals—and the vast majority of the time loving it!—I have sometimes been amazed and discouraged at the amount of intolerance found on both the Left and Right.

In the spring of 2015, I applied to have CL represented in the Activist Area (social justice groups) at the Clearwater Festival, held each year about 30 miles north of New York City.  In May I received a phone call from one of their staff letting me know that our application had been rejected. The reason: We are faith-based, and they do not accept faith-based organizations.

I told them we are secular, but the response was that our Web site indicated that most of our member groups were faith-based, despite the fact that our home page clearly indicates we are not tied to any faith. So I asked why the Fellowship of Reconciliation is always present at their festival, noting that their Web site clearly points to their faith roots.  Simple answer: No, they are not faith-based!  Even if that were true, I also noticed at the festival this year that the Unitarians and a faith-based retreat center were given tables.

I was also told that Clearwater selects organizations that are in line with their “values.” “We are a pro-peace organization,” I responded. I did not get much of a response to that. Clearly, our opposition to abortion was the issue, but my disappointment was that they could not, or would not, say this!

This is not the first time this has happened.  Our applications to have a table and program ads at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 100th-anniversay conference in the Hague was turned down.  Although the conference organizers didn’t state the reason for the rejection, we point out that the organization has spoken against restrictions on abortion, calling it a sexual and reproductive rights.  However, two of our board members attended the meeting to leaflet and advocate on behalf of the CL message.  We will not be deterred.

We have been turned down multiple times for workshops at other traditionally progressive events as well, but we are usually at least “allowed” a table at such events.  We take advantage of these opportunities to engage attendees in conversation, get sign-ups for our newsletter, and recruit people who would like to help us organize at the local level.

Bill Samuel & Lisa Stiller

The past few years have surprisingly taught me that the Right has no monopoly on intolerance.  Any pro-choice Lefty who tries to tell you they are open minded while cursing you out for your support for unborn lives needs a gentle challenge.

And every so-called tolerant social justice organization that does not tolerate and does not want to at least open up the floor to a presentation that presents a view that holds all life sacred may deserve to have their claim to support social justice challenged.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our blog posts on Actions and Adventures, see:

The Adventures of Organizing as a Consistent Lifer

Violence Bolstered by Professional Contradictions

Mourning After & Hoping for the Future, We Call for a Consistent Life Texas!

My Day at the Democratic National Convention

Adventures as a Delegate to the Democratic Party Convention

A Tale of Two Cruises

The Marches of January (2017)



consistent life ethichistoryliberalsorganizingprogressives    

Noncooperation with Planned Parenthood

Posted on April 12, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

As nonviolence advocates, when we take on abortion as one of our issues we naturally want to apply the knowledge about effective nonviolent action to countering abortion practice.

A major part of the theory of why nonviolence works is that any kind of power relies on other people cooperating. From independence movements to civil rights movements and toppling dictatorships, noncooperation is key.

An appropriate focus for such noncooperation is the organization that both runs the largest chain of abortion clinics in the world and is also a major advocate for public policy and social acceptability of abortion internationally: Planned Parenthood (PP).

For making the case about PP, see our previous blog post, and an excellent resource by our member group Secular Pro-life called Fund Women’s Health. This second one also offers links for donations to alternative women’s health outlets that help low-income women without being involved in abortion. These alternatives are crucial to a noncooperation campaign, as I’ll explain more below. But first, I’ll cover the simplest form of noncooperation: boycotts.



Boycotts – named for 19th-century Irish landlord Charles Boycott – means a large group of people agreeing not to buy specific products or otherwise deal with specific targets. What has been the history of using boycotts on the abortion issue?

We at the Consistent Life Network had the idea a while back of doing a petition drive targeting a couple of peace-and-justice-oriented companies. The petition would encourage them to consider the consistent life ethic and stop donating to PP. It didn’t take long to realize what was wrong with this idea:  it would be child’s play for PP supporters to offer a counter-petition demanding the companies keep giving PP grants, and they would likely get an avalanche of signatures.

But this works both ways when there are huge numbers of sympathizers on polarized sides. An example was that decades ago abortion defenders were upset at legislation passed in the state of Idaho and threatened a boycott on Idaho potatoes. Pro-life groups immediately said they would splurge on potatoes if that happened. After all, if you buy a bag of potatoes to give to your local soup kitchen, your charity dollar does double duty – and you didn’t even spend very much.

So a boycott on one side will be met by a spending spree on the other, as long as the proposed product to boycott allows for that. A boycott of products associated with foundations who grant money to PP will only work if it’s not a product that abortion defenders can splurge on.

Taxpayer Funding

For decades now, the US federal government’s funding of International Planned Parenthood goes back and forth by executive order depending on whether the US president is Democratic or Republican.

In contrast, deciding whether US government money goes to PP within the United States is a question being argued in the US Congress and state legislatures. The main source of taxpayer revenue is Medicaid payments that cover individuals using PP services. Courts have ruled that states can’t dictate which medically-qualified facility Medicaid recipients use. Another source is Title X – Family Planning money, given as grants.

It’s long been established law that taxpayer money to PP doesn’t generally go directly to abortions. The argument is over whether public funds should cover services other than abortion that PP provides.   PP mixes genuine health care with stomach-churning violence, as well as advocacy for such violence. So from the perspective of those of us accustomed to nonviolent movements to counter violence, noncooperation is required.

Noncooperation Campaign

When dealing with medical services unrelated to abortion, community health centers in the U.S. are an already-existing institutional nonviolent alternative to PP clinics.

In many places, they’re fairly near PP clinics. Efforts to persuade women to use the community centers instead of PP promote noncooperation with PP. Successfully persuading women to go elsewhere for services they need depends on many factors, but when going to providers other than PP is easy to do, that makes persuasion far more effective.

However, in other places, there’s no community health center nearby. Therefore, to establish noncooperation with PP, we need to lobby state legislatures to establish such centers. If that’s a bit too much of a project to take on, we can try to persuade those people who lobby for pro-life causes already, in states where the legislatures are inclined toward PP defunding, that establishing alternative centers is worthy for them to do.

In yet other places, those centers do exist, but they’re stretched and wouldn’t be able to handle the extra patient load if PP weren’t doing the care. In that case, we can lobby for more resources for those centers.

Also, sometimes PP is the only place in the vicinity that accepts Medicaid. Working on getting others in the vicinity to also accept Medicaid is another possible action.

Homework for US activists: You can locate the Planned Parenthood facilities in your state. Then see which community health centers are near them. If no community health centers are near PP centers, then do some more homework on how to establish such a center. If community health centers are located near a PP center, check out if those centers require more resources to handle more patients.

Effective Noncooperation

The idea that PP is necessary to get health care and family planning to low-income women is one of the major arguments against defunding. But health care can be offered in alternative ways. Therefore, this is a necessary step to the policy goal of government de-funding

But beyond that, ensuring women have an alternative to PP as far as receiving health care may prove an effective means of noncooperation by itself. After all, missing funds may be made up for by an upsurge in individual and foundation grants, especially from billionaires. Several billionaires are strong PP supporters and might give substantial donations if they see taxpayer funding cut; for them, giving a few million dollars would be like the rest of us buying extra potatoes.

Yet the fewer the number of women who are going to PP, the less power PP has. Its funding flows are only part of the picture.

If you know of good alternatives, in the same vicinity, to your local PP center, that makes it easier to talk women into going there instead of PP. Not all women will want to, of course, but the information that they can go to these alternative health centers fairly easily is the first step in giving them the facts about PP and persuading them to do so.

Because whatever happens with PP funding – all the money that comes not just from taxpayers but from supporters – lower numbers of clients coming is crucial to the long-term success of noncooperation with PP.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our blog posts on taxpayer funding of abortion, see:

Why the Hyde Amendment Helps Low-Income Women

Defunding Planned Parenthood?


abortionnoncooperationPlanned Parenthoodtaxpayer funding

Pondering Justice

Posted on April 4, 2017 By

by Carol Crossed

Carol Crossed

Why is it so difficult to get people to act for justice? There are seven qualities that acts of justice embody.

First: Justice is public. You are trying to change the culture; people need to see you.  It’s not private.

Second:  Justice is judgmental.  People “admonish the sinner” and “instruct the ignorant.”

We judge the system that creates the poor, that fosters military might, a lifestyle of individualism that applauds abortion as a legitimate choice. When it comes to abortion we jump through hoops to avoid being judgmental.

Third: Justice is risky.  It confronts us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Who is my neighbor?  Or rather who is not my neighbor?

Every religion has some version of the Golden Rule: From the Bible, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). From Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” From Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow.” (Rabbi Hillel, first century C.E.).

When we proclaim killing is killing, we will fall.  We will be pushed.  Our good name will be destroyed.  A contractor who refused to work at an abortion clinic spoke about how his walking away from the job cost him business. My husband, who did affordable housing, refused to be part of his company’s contract to build housing in Fort Drum.  Think of the people who put their lives on the line and are arrested trespassing.  During the 1960s, during the lunch counter sit-in and freedom rides, about 3,000 people were jailed. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of persons arrested in front of abortion clinics was 71,000.

Fourth: Justice is anonymous.

We generally can’t measure its success.

It doesn’t count clients like social services. It’s more impersonal than seeing someone smile in a soup kitchen line.  It’s not a high-gratification job.

Fifth: Justice is divisive and confrontational.

Frederick Douglas said we have to welcome “agitation,” Martin Luther King said we have to employ creative tension.

Sixth: Justice is counter-cultural. 

Sure, you are going a different way. Pro-life feminists are doing that very thing. Abortion violates every tenant of feminism, and now we feminists have changed our principles to accommodate abortion.

The principle of equality

Abortion is domination over another.  It’s the opposite of conflict resolution because it destroys a party to the conflict. Senator Patricia Schroeder, a leading proponent in choice on abortion, fought for the rights of women to be combatants in war.

The principle of nonviolence 

Because of abortion, we have changed our definition of nonviolence to accommodate killing in certain circumstances.  Listen to abortion doctor Don Sloan: “Is abortion murder? All killing isn’t murder.  A cop shoots a teenager who ‘appeared to be going for a gun,’ and we call it justifiable homicide – a tragedy for all concerned, but not murder.” (Don Sloan, Abortion: A Doctor’s Perspective, A Woman’s Dilemma, page 84).

Judith Arcana in her psychology book on psychology and reproductive choice: “I think abortion belongs in the same context as assisted suicide, and war . . . all situations that require the taking of life with moral, ethical knowledge and acceptance of responsibility.” (“Feminist politics and abortion in the US,” Psychology and Reproductive Choice)

Jason Deparle on feminism and abortion: “It’s not surprising that the defenders of abortion don’t like pictures of fetuses; General Westmoreland didn’t like the cameras in Vietnam either.” (Washington Monthly, April 1989)

And then there’s war. In theory, soldiers shoot only at each other. But in practice, lots and lots of other folks get killed.  We drop bombs where there are non-combatants – women and children and old people – and when they die we call it not murder but “collateral damage.”

(See more quotations of abortion doctors relating abortion to war)

The principle of ecology

Putting a saline solution in one’s body is not care of creation. It’s sexual strip-mining;

The principle of community is replaced with rugged individualism.  Women have become the Marlboro man.  “If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one” mentality gives us “If you don’t like irradiated food, then don’t eat it.”

There are fathers’ rights groups who wanted to exercise their right to abort and are opposing child support.  The “child-free movement” doesn’t want to pay for public education for children they didn’t have.

We have become like 1984, the novel by George Orwell, where war is peace, slavery is freedom, and Truth is Choice.

Seventh: Justice is political.

It is by necessity political.

Not partisan political. The Consistent Life Network doesn’t endorse candidates.  We aren’t shaped by the parties.  Rather, we shape candidates.  When Pope John Paul was in the U.S. in 1992, someone said he couldn’t figure out of this guy was radical left or radical right.  Fr. Brian Hehir of the US delegation said, “He is neither.  He is just radical.”

So justice is political.  We have to shape good laws and Supreme Court decisions, because these are teachers. The two years following Roe v. Wade, abortions tripled.  Why?  The Court said it was not immoral to kill.

Justice is mercy on steroids.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our posts from Carol Crossed, see:

Spice Things Up with the Consistent Life Ethic

The Parable of the Bridge

First Stirrings in Connecting the Life Issues




abortionconnecting issues

More than Double the Trouble: Another Way of Connecting

Posted on March 28, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

An important idea for understanding how social injustice works is making the rounds. It’s called “intersectionality,” and it’s a specialized way of connecting issues. That makes it right up our alley.

Many good examples of intersectionality  have been offered, but those of us familiar with the consistent life ethic can offer some that others might not think of. That’s what we’ll do here.


What is “intersectionality”?

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw coined the term, and defines it as “drawing attention to interaction effects of inequalities.” It’s when one kind of being discriminated against intersects with another. You don’t just have inequality times two, but more.

Here’s an example Dr. Crenshaw gives: an African American woman took an employer to Court for discrimination because they hired no Black women at all. But they hired Blacks (only men), and they hired women (only Whites), so the court said there was no discrimination. There wasn’t discrimination against either group individually, just both of them together. But the Court thought that didn’t count.

Another startling example is the amount of news we’ve had about African American men being shot by police – but not the women.   Dr. Crenshaw has listed many of the men for a variety of audiences, and reports that in general people who pay attention to the news have heard the names. She then lists African American women who have met the same fate, and draws blanks. For information on these women, who U.S. news-watchers should have heard of, see “Say Her Name.”

Dr. Crenshaw explains that the reason the intersectionality idea is important is to make sure any intervention we design includes everybody. For example, some immigrant rights advocates didn’t think about domestic violence victims, and domestic violence advocates didn’t think about immigrants, but some immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, because of being without papers, are scared to call the police. So when different kinds of violence intersect, it’s compounds the injustice.

Credit: Miriam Dobson. From “A Beginner’s Guide to Intersectionality”


Applied to Pregnant Women

In the past, there have been employers who claim they’re not being sexist so long as they do hire women. It’s just that they take some over others. They don’t want those who are pregnant, or married, or who have children. Fortunately, legislation and the courts haven’t bought this, and, in the United States at least, discrimination against women for being pregnant is indeed sex discrimination. It’s regarded as such by the United Nations’ 1979 treaty, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and by the Maternity Protection Convention of the International Labour Organization (2000).

So in certain countries the law protects pregnant women, but such women still have to face behavior and attitudes that put them down. Here are ways that being negatively viewed as a pregnant woman intersects with other forms of discrimination:


      Pregnant Women X Domestic Violence

Women subjected to intimate partner violence are already vulnerable, but those who are pregnant are more physically vulnerable. Additionally, there are cases where it’s the pregnancy itself that brings on the violence.

Sufferers of domestic violence are also more likely to have partners harshly insisting on abortions for women who don’t want them. In the extreme, there are dozens of documented cases of women actually being murdered by the men who impregnated them because the women refused to have abortions. Since murder is already illegal, with harsh penalties, and the reason we even know about these cases is that prosecutors are doing their jobs, legal reform of murder laws isn’t the remedy. It’s a matter of changing attitudes. But surely for every case reported there are many more that aren’t documented, and for every case of actual murder, there are many cases of “only” being beaten up. And for every case of physical violence, there have to be many cases of verbal abuse and threats.


      Pregnant Women X Disabilities

Women with disabilities are already subjected to discrimination. When other people assert that such women can’t handle a life event such as pregnancy, or shouldn’t reproduce, this can add to the disdain. The stigma inflicted on those with disabilities increases when it’s used as a reason to avoid reproducing.


       Pregnant Women X Racial, Ethnic, or Religious “Others”

When a woman belongs to a community that is held in contempt, her becoming pregnant multiplies that community and therefore multiplies the contempt.

A common attitude was articulated by Edward Allred: “When a sullen Black woman of 17 or 18 can decide to have a baby and get welfare and food stamps and become a burden to us all, it’s time to stop. In parts of South Los Angeles, having babies for welfare is the only industry the people have.” (San Diego Union, October 12, 1980). Dr. Allred’s aversion to government subsidies didn’t prevent him from accepting millions of dollars in California tax dollars for his abortion practice. In the same article he expresses contempt for Hispanic immigrants and speaks of setting up an abortion clinic at a strategic location to “stem the tide.”


 Applied to Unborn and Newborn Children

Unborn children are literally invisible, unless an ultrasound or intrauterine camera is focused on them. Newborn babies, whose femaleness or disability was hidden until birth, can by virtue of those features become suddenly vulnerable at birth.


      Babies X Females

Millions of girls and young women are missing, especially in certain Asian countries. It’s bad enough to cause a gender imbalance in the population.

In her award-winning book, Unnatural Selection, pro-choice writer Mara Hvistendahl explains how this came about as a matter of military strategy. She reviewed archives that showed people in the US presidential administrations of Nixon and Ford were terrified that countries with many poor Asian peasants would “go communist.” Therefore, rather than offering programs to help prevent the peasants from being poor, they were determined to have fewer poor people by drastically reducing their birth rate.

If the number of girls is reduced, this has a far greater impact in reducing future population growth. One man can impregnate several women during the same time period, but one woman generally produces only one baby at time.

So sex-selection abortions were seen as a positive. Being unborn and newborn intersects with being female. Add another intersection: military targets.


      Babies X Disabilities

In the United States, after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, this anti-discrimination and pro-accommodation legislation should have had a positive effect on perceptions of the disabled. For those well beyond infancy, it did. Yet right after the ADA passed, there was a dramatic decrease in the birth rate for Down Syndrome babies. There’s no reason to think they were conceived at a different rate, and screening was about the same. But there were demeaning media depictions. Negative images came from positive portrayals of prenatal testing followed by terminating the pregnancy when a diagnosis resulted. While children and adults with disabilities were making progress, unborn children who would have been safe otherwise became targets if they had disabilities.

Throughout history, disabled newborns have been targeted for destruction. Older children and adults were treated outrageously due to their disabilities, but intersecting with being a baby made imposed death much more likely.



With the consistent life ethic, we’ve often talked about how issues of violence are connected, and how therefore when you tackle one of the issues, your advocacy for nonviolence and protecting human beings gets around to helping on all the other issues as well. Here we have another important way of connecting issues: noticing that violence can more than double down when two or more kinds of targeted people are found in the same person. As Dr. Crenshaw asserts (though she hasn’t made the points above and is herself pro-choice), our strategies for remedying this will be more effective when we’re aware of how adding up the kinds of discrimination can multiply. We might come up with practical solutions we might not have thought of otherwise.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For our blog posts on lethal discrimination against those with disabilities or motivated by racism, see:

Women with Disabilities Speak

Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills

connecting issuesdisability rightsintersectionalitymilitaryracismwomen's rights

Progressive Prolifers at the Progressive Magazine 100th Anniversary Celebration

Posted on March 22, 2017 By

by Mary Krane Derr

Note: this was originally published in the Consistent Life Network’s paper newsletter at the time it happened in 2009. It is offered now in the history of our adventures.

At the conference: Stephen Zunes, Rachel MacNair, Mary Krane Derr

We weren’t gate crashers. We were there as part of the festivities, sometimes recognized, sometimes not, sometimes welcome, sometimes, not.

For starters, take two of the speakers on the official program, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and political scientist Stephen Zunes. Most of the event wasn’t about abortion, and these two activists were both present to speak on issues other than abortion. But their respective stances on that particular subject are a matter of public knowledge. Anyone with Internet access can look up Marcy Kaptur’s legislative record, including her good record on labor, LGBT rights, family planning, and maternal/child health and welfare, among other recognizable-to-all progressive concerns. Stephen co-edited the recent anthology Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War.

Rachel MacNair and I are friends who go way back and have long histories of our own with Consistent Life. We team-staffed a literature table for CL in the exhibit hall at the Progressive Magazine celebration. Our table featured a large, eye-catching banner:

And who was the very first person to approach us, when we were still setting up the table? A young man who told us he was pro-life, but did not feel free to disclose this opinion in progressive circles. Throughout the day, we met a number of pro-every life women and men who also gladly outed themselves to us.

Quite a few of the people who stopped by were pro-choicers who said lovely, hospitable things like, “I may not agree with you about everything, but I’m glad you’re here” and “I like your kind of prolife.” We had good, respectful dialogues about relieving the root causes of abortion as well as better understanding our areas of disagreement — including not one but two long conversations with an abortion clinic escort.

Rachel and I enjoyed the overall positive climate of these exchanges. We didn’t know quite what to expect at the Progressive Magazine event. But not a single person came up to our table and issued one of those dreaded ad hominem rants, or scolded us along the lines of “What the hell are YOU PEOPLE doing here?” Which has happened in the past, far more than once. That’s progress among progressives.

Now, a few folks did raise eyebrows at our banner or shake their heads and walk briskly away. And once, when I was by myself at the table, I did distinctly see and hear a pair of conference-goers stop dead in their tracks, proclaim “Yikes!” and turn about-face. As if there were not a quite involved and sentient being (me!) taking all this in just inches away. And a sentient being at the ready to make eye contact and smile sincerely at them in passing, at the very least, and if they allowed, to ask them, quite seriously, what specifically was behind that “Yikes!” I did want to know, I did want to listen, but if people don’t give you an opening, then it’s not yours to grab after. But any of these responses sure beat the bad old unreality-based ad hominem rant.

However, something quite troubling did happen to Rachel, after I had taken my leave of the conference. Rachel attended a bigwig panel discussion on the future of the progressive movement. During the question/comment period, she pointed out the existence of progressive pro-lifers. She recommended that the progressive movement as a whole work with us to reach people who otherwise might not give progressive values and politics any serious hearing. Now, Rachel says she wasn’t going on any longer, and probably was going on shorter, than others who lined up behind the questioners’ mikes. I did attend previous panel discussions, and there sure were a lot of talkative folks with strong opinions who leapt up behind those mikes the instant they were switched on. But the bigwigs on the panel grumbled that they could see where Rachel was going with this (they could? How did they know before she went there?). There amidst the champions of free speech, she was summarily cut off. Then the panel bigwigs unleashed a number of statements Rachel had no chance to publicly respond to. And no one challenged the censorship dynamic here. Indeed, there was apparently a lot of applause for it.

On the other hand, some women in the audience approached Rachel afterwards and shared their own reproductive challenges. They quickly grasped that hers was not the stereotype they expected, and they all ended up hugging each other. But why were complex, very human, small-scale interactions like these, the kinds of exchanges we had both experienced elsewhere in the conference, not reflected in the overt, bigwig-marshalled, publicly unchallenged group dynamics that cut off Rachel’s mike?

Like Rachel would tell you if she had a chance — that question matters to the future of the progressive movement, to the hundred more years we wish the dear old Progressive magazine.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

See more on the life of Mary Krane Derr.

For another of our blog posts with her as author, see:

Ancient Roots of the Consistent Life Ethic: Greece

For more of our blog posts on Actions and Adventures, see:

The Adventures of Organizing as a Consistent Lifer

Violence Bolstered by Professional Contradictions

Mourning After & Hoping for the Future, We Call for a Consistent Life Texas!

My Day at the Democratic National Convention

Adventures as a Delegate to the Democratic Party Convention

A Tale of Two Cruises

The Marches of January (2017)




consistent life ethicliberalsprogressives     , , ,