Editor’s Note: A version of this article previously appeared as Professor Hollis’ syndicated column.
For many Christians—and for some Catholics in particular—self-identification as politically “progressive” is as much a part of their identities as religious affiliation itself. One hundred years ago, it may have made sense for Christians to gravitate to the new movement called “progressivism” as a means to improve the plight of the poor. But progressivism has wandered far afield from that uncontroversial objective.
Today, there are still a good many Christians who seem to consider progressivism to be the only political perspective that is truly consistent with a Christian worldview. But recent events should permit us to call that conclusion into question.
Over the past few weeks, we have watched video after video of Planned Parenthood operatives displaying a shocking disregard for the humanity of the tiny people it is killing, dismembering and selling. We have seen them callously describe certain abortion procedures as “less crunchy,” as they “crush above” and “crush below” to preserve the most sought-after human tissue; joke about shipping severed heads; cut open the face of an aborted baby boy whose heart is still beating; and proclaim gleefully the variety and quality of human specimens they provide. (The most recent Awful Planned Parenthood Quote: “Oh, my God! Gonads! Everything we provide is fresh.”)
There are very uncomfortable silences in conversations with Christian progressives about what the Planned Parenthood videos reveal. The astonishing lack of attention that the media has given the videos betrays a profound discomfort as well. It is not merely that the videos reveal the seamy underside of abortion. It is that they reveal the true nature of progressivism.
For all the talk about “higher taxes” and “income inequality” and “a preferential option for the poor,” progressivism is really just another strain of the fatal and failed collectivist impulses not to improve human society (yes, a worthy objective), but to perfect it. Once these delusions seize the fevered imaginations of their advocates, the individual loses his or her inherent value and becomes just a cog in a wheel—valuable only to the extent that he or she advances the cause (or is the convenient embodiment of a slogan: the “little guy,” “the proletariat,” “the 99 percent”), expendable otherwise. In the most extreme cases, the individual is not merely expendable, but detrimental—and thus fair game for destruction—if he or she actually stands in the way of progressives’ utopic societal designs. There is a reason that collectivist societies produce so much imprisonment, privation, and death.
Progressivism has an ugly relationship with eugenics. Thus it should be no surprise that Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a progressive. As innumerable quotes from Sanger reveal, abortion was intended as a tool to rid civilization of what she called “human weeds”—the poor, blacks and other minorities, and the infirm or ill.
Nor is this some vestige of benighted early 20th century thought. In 2001, authors John J. Donohue III and Steven Levitt published a widely cited (and oft-criticized) work of scholarship in which they argued that legalized abortion reduced crime. In a 2009 interview with Emily Bazelon in the New York Times Magazine, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was quoted as saying:
“Yes, the ruling about that surprised me [Harris v. McRae, 1980, in which the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions]. Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
I read that interview. I was stunned. And yet the so-called “mainstream” media’s silence after Ginsburg’s remark was deafening. It took another three years before Bazelon could produce a new interview in which Justice Ginsburg was rehabilitated by “clarifying” what she had meant three years earlier.
To the extent that Planned Parenthood was created to eliminate the populations Margaret Sanger did not want to have too many of, it has been sadly successful. Nearly 80 percent of Planned Parenthood’s surgical centers are within walking distance of black or Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods. Blacks are 12 percent of the U.S. population, but black women have 35 percent of abortions nationally. The New York Department of Health released data in 2012 revealing that more black babies had been aborted than were born in New York City that year.
This year, we now have not one, not two, but 10 separate and distinct interviews with multiple Planned Parenthood personnel (and companies that contract with Planned Parenthood) in which they manifest an appalling disregard for the value of human life. (This is without mentioning a significant number of earlier videos in which Planned Parenthood personnel are shown to have overlooked allegations of sex trafficking, refused to report instances of statutory rape, and coached clients on how to avoid compliance with other laws.)
After each instance, Planned Parenthood scrambles to defend its “services” to women, attacks its challengers, and/or insists that what was captured on film was “inaccurate,” “uncharacteristic,” or a deviation from official procedures. How many times do we have to see this before there is a national admission that this is no outlier? The Planned Parenthood videos do not show us an exception to progressivism’s objectives; they show us the goal—and the means for achieving it.
Planned Parenthood’s practices are indefensible. And it is Mengelian to argue—as they do—that the sale of aborted baby parts is okay, because it’s supposedly for science and the betterment of humanity.
It is also, however, completely consistent with progressivism’s MO: Your death is okay, as long as other people’s lives are improved by it.
The irony is that progressives purport to care about the lives of women, children, the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the destitute. But without a consistent pro-life ethic, these are the very populations who are most devastated by modern-day progressive policies. Abortion, as we know from over 40 years’ experience—and from those damning videos of Planned Parenthood—is just the tip of the iceberg.
Christians are being played for fools by today’s progressives, who have precious little respect for religious belief except to the extent it is useful to achieve progressive policy aims. We need look no further than our own disastrous experience with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Progressives—the president included—used Catholics and other Christians to engender support for the idea of “universal” health care as a human right. Catholics, for their part, assumed that once the healthcare law was in place, their support for the law would be reciprocated by the Obama administration’s respect for Catholic objections to funding abortifacient contraception, sterilization, and abortion itself.
Notwithstanding the easy and inexpensive access to myriad forms of contraception, this administration has insisted that Catholics and other Christians provide all forms of contraception—and pay for them. Christian individuals, hospitals, educational institutions, and family businesses have been forced to litigate dozens of cases. The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has deterred the Obama administration not at all, and the litigation continues. After a series of federal appellate decisions in the administration’s favor, the Eighth Circuit has just decided a case in favor of the plaintiffs, virtually assuring another Supreme Court case.
What should we anticipate next?
The progressive war against Christian mores will not stop with contraception. We can fully expect abortion and euthanasia to be the next battlegrounds, under the guise of “health care” and “human rights.”
Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and Washington have already legalized assisted suicide. Two weeks ago, the California legislature followed suit. (Governor Jerry Brown has not, at this writing, signed the act into law.) In a recent New York Times article, Mark Reno, a Democrat legislator from San Francisco, hailed the result, comparing the issue to that of gay marriage.
Using gay marriage as a template, therefore, this is what will likely follow: the states will pass laws either legalizing assisted suicide or expressly forbidding it. As this is taking place, assisted suicide will increasingly be pitched (à la Brittany Maynard) as a “civil right,” eventually resulting in a Supreme Court case and subjecting us to another one of Anthony Kennedy’s lachrymose opinions in which he concludes that somewhere buried in the blank spaces of the Constitution is the “dignity” of every elderly, terminally ill, depressed, anxious, disabled, and destitute person that can only be attained if they are put out of their misery. (Conveniently, as it now happens, this will also end their claims on the public purse.)
For every right, there is a corresponding duty. Again, gay marriage provides a glimpse of the future. In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has become the Left’s latest punching bag for taking the position that her religious beliefs preclude her issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Opponents insist that her views are irrelevant; gay marriage is now the law, and so issuing those licenses is her job.
What then for the Christian physician? Abortion has been legal since 1973. When the Department of Health and Human Services issues a new regulation requiring abortion to be “covered,” will progressive Catholics and other Christians object? Should Christian physicians be compelled to perform abortions because it is “the law”?
And when assisted suicide and/or euthanasia become “law,” will Catholic and Christian doctors be required to comply with that as well—as is being contemplated now in Canada?
Advocates of assisted suicide insist that there are “safeguards” against abuse. That is demonstrable nonsense. The “abuse” will result from the confluence of two trends: the inevitable equal protection argument characterizing every conceivable human suffering as justifying death, and increasing government control over health care.
One need only look to Europe. Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg all permit assisted suicide. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg permit euthanasia as well. Assisted suicide has already been extended well beyond its initial limits for the “terminally ill” only. Chronically ill and depressed people can now be terminated at their request. Significant numbers of patients—often mentally ill—are being euthanized without their request or consent, and in some instances without the knowledge of family members. Large numbers of assisted suicide and euthanasia cases go unreported, notwithstanding the laws’ requirements that a report be filed in each such instance. Belgium is harvesting organs from euthanized patients, and in 2014, passed a law allowing children under 12 to request assisted suicide.
An ethos that purports to improve lives by taking them will always degenerate, because it starts from the premise that some lives have no value. This is a fundamental tenet of progressivism (and always has been), and it is utterly antithetical to a Christian worldview. When combined with excessive government power and control, it is a prescription for oppression.
There are many Christians who are both progressive and pro-life. But the direction of the American progressive movement leaves little room for them. And there will be less in the days to come.
Laura Hollis is a Double Domer (English and Law) who teaches Business Law and Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College of Business and is a concurrent Associate Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.