As January is the official “Right To Life” month promoted by the Catholic Church, this seems like a good time to ask: “How Pro-Life Are You?”
As I mentioned in Part One, I was essentially pro-life in my youth. I was a strict vegetarian and ardently anti-war. I believed that killing was never the answer. I especially believed that it was wrong to draft unwilling young people into the military and force them to kill other people, an issue which arose in 1979 when enlistment was down and Congress was considering reinstating the draft. The situation was awkward since my father was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and particularly uncomfortable when I was seen on the evening news giving a speech in which I said, “While it is said that we must defend ourselves against foreign tyrants, we must also remain diligent against tyranny from within our own nation.” I was 16 at the time. Needless to say my father was not happy with my public speech (although I imagine as an officer he probably preferred qualified volunteer enlistees as opposed to drafted persons of dubious commitment and questionable qualifications). I used to bristle when my parents would take me to church at the Protestant Chapel on base, where we would sing hymns to “The Prince of Peace” while just a block away there were bombers on the runway – gorgeous, sleek and deadly airplanes whose sole purpose was to strike fear in the hearts of our enemies and drop bombs, megatons of death, on people. I could not reconcile it. War kills people – including pregnant women and their fetuses. And already-born children.
Of course our military never, ever wants to hurt civilians. We go out of our way to avoid it, and in previous wars (e.g. Korea – remember MASH?) when we were richer and had the funding, we used to actively provide food, medical care, etc. to the local civilians. Well, nowadays finances are scarce and we can’t even afford to provide proper armor to our soldiers in Iraq, so they have to put silver spray-paint on cardboard panels attached to the side of their vehicle to look like armor, and these brave young men and women are managing remarkably well under the circumstances. In any event, we always strive to avoid harm to civilians, but a civilian could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and killed by a strategic strike intended for an enemy target, and/or caught in crossfire between us and enemy soldiers, or even a land-mine. It is an unavoidable and very regrettable reality of war called “collateral damage” and it’s something we try not to think about, but it is something we accept because in the big picture, we are trying to save their country from an evil dictator who treated his own citizens horribly and took away their freedoms. We are trying to help them have a better future. As for the enemy soldiers – well, it’s okay if we kill them because they were going to kill our soldiers, right? Of course in some of the places where we deploy, our older teenage soldiers of 18 or 19 meet face to face on the battlefield with children, because many countries draft children as young as 10 years old. So now we are faced with killing children, albeit they are trying to kill us, because if they don’t, they or their mothers or sisters will be tortured or killed by their commanders. Which is part of the reason we are over there fighting, to prevent such atrocities.
But, it’s funny, I hardly ever hear “pro-lifers” protesting war. They go on and on about “saving babies” but I guess that doesn’t apply to babies that are accidentally killed overseas in war zones, or the slightly older babies who are wearing the enemy uniform, or even our own “babies” now 18 years old who are being sent off to kill or be killed. Perhaps it is more acceptable to kill teenagers because, let’s face it, they do tend to be smart-ass and rebellious and annoying, unlike innocent helpless fetuses. Still, in my youth I felt that it was just plain wrong to kill anybody for any reason at any time.
It was my conservative, Reagan-republican, military commander father who eventually convinced me that pacifism is not the answer; that merely staying alive is not always the best thing; that sometimes killing is the right thing. I had a pretty naïve view of the world – why can’t we all just get along?! I figured if we refuse to fight, everyone would eventually just drop it. And if we do fight and kill, then we have lowered ourselves to our enemy’s level. But, Dad explained to me about dictators like Hitler, and the communists like Mao, Lenin or Pol Pot who would take away everyone’s freedom, who would torture, degrade, starve and enslave people in order to enforce their own political agenda. He asked, “Would you want to live like that?!” So you’ve kept your pacifist ideals and you are still alive, but what kind of a life would it be, a slave of the communist party, where you own nothing and have no choice in the work you will do, or where you will live, or even who you will marry? No freedom, no hope for the future. “This is why we fight,” he said, “to preserve our freedom and the freedom of our allies who need our help!” As I grew older and I saw the evil in the world I reluctantly realized he was right. I realized that there are things more important than “life” per se. We simply cannot allow fascist and communist dictators, religious extremists, terrorists or lunatics to take over our country or our allies, and we must use deadly force to stop them if necessary. Some things – like freedom and justice – are worth killing or dying for. That’s why I am no longer pro-life.
If our forefathers had been “pro-life” there would be no America. They were perfectly willing to kill or be killed to be free from the relatively benign oppression of England, which involved mere “taxation without representation” and was certainly very mild compared to, say, Hitler of Nazi Germany or Pol Pot of Cambodia. As Thomas Paine said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” In all likelihood, the taxes they were paying were probably less than what we modern Americans are paying now, and our “representation” is dubious since most political offices are won by funding provided by corporate lobbies that have no regard for the common person. Nonetheless, George Washington and his cohorts happily fought, and many died, to gain freedom from England’s unfair taxation, which is how we became America. And in the process of becoming the great nation that we are today, we fought several other wars, including a Civil War where brother fought against brother. We have a great country but much blood was shed in the process and we accept that as an unfortunate reality of war.
So, apparently it’s okay to kill people including teenagers, preteens, incidental children, pregnant women and their fetuses, in order to preserve the freedom of a nation. But according to the pro-lifers, it’s never okay to kill a single fetus to preserve a woman’s personal freedom. Of course, in my naïve youth I did not even know this was an issue, because I assumed every woman had access to health care, including birth control. If only that were true.
And then there is the question of animals. I very rarely, if ever, hear from pro-lifers who are vegetarians. I was a vegetarian for most of my early life, but at some point I began eating animals. I have never really felt comfortable with this, mainly because of the suffering they endure on the factory farms and especially in the slaughterhouses. After I fell ill to a wasting disease (CFIDS), the doctors felt that I could use more protein. In retrospect, I probably should have ignored them. I began eating organic “happy farms” meat, under the impression that the farms were licensed to ensure that the animals not only had a happy, natural life, with access to pasture and sunshine, but also that they were subject to humane slaughter methods. That may or may not have been true of “Happy Farms” in California, but after moving to Florida I learned that organically raised animals were still crowded into the same barbaric trucks, without food and water for days, and sent to the same horrible slaughterhouses and endured the same suffering as their factory-farmed brothers. I considered “kosher” meat but was informed that this, too, was a terrible form of death.
At times I reassured myself with the knowledge that, after all, animals eat other animals. It is part of the Circle of Life. This all sounds like a nice philosophy until you actually watch an animal kill and eat another animal. It’s not pretty. My teenage “kittens” frequently bring rats, mice, moles and even birds into the house, kill and eat them with great gusto, right in front of me. The little victims struggle and scream piteously. It’s particularly unpleasant when the cats crunch the skull and devour the brains. The entrails all over the floor are also unnerving; fortunately we have tile floors. I actually love rodents, and rats in particular are very intelligent and make great pets. Of course, it’s a dilemma because we live on a farm and without the cats, the rodents would literally take over and we simply can’t allow that. If we did not have the cats I would have to poison the rats, which is even more unpleasant because then they crawl up into the walls and die there, stinking up everything; their just revenge, perhaps. Who could blame them? Then, our beautiful and brave mamma cat, Lady, actually challenged a coyote who had wandered onto our farm. Protecting her kittens, she lost the fight and was eaten by the coyote. Her dying screams were terrible. “The Circle of Life.” I decided I could no longer be part of it.
Even though I am now a vegetarian again, I do understand killing animals for food, as long as we respect them and are thankful and recognize their death as a sacred gift, as the Native Americans do. They honor the spirit of the animal and give it thanks for sacrificing its life so that they may eat. They consider this a sacred gift, like Christ giving His life for us in and through Nature. For this reason I am morally okay with hunting when it is done properly and reverently, as did the Native Americans, and today some people such as Ted Nugent, whose animals have a happy life and are killed quickly and humanely and with honor. But I personally cannot participate in this because I am just too squeamish about killing things. I felt horrible when I killed a deadly copperhead snake which was in my garage and could have bitten my godchildren. I love reptiles, and in retrospect thought maybe I should have tried to capture the snake and move it somewhere else, but I am not sure I could have done this safely and I don’t have health insurance.
We are told, of course, that animals do not have souls and that their suffering, if any, is irrelevant. When I was a little girl my father used to take me fishing. I saw the worms impaled on the hooks and he told me, “Worms don’t have feeling.” But yet they writhed horribly. I watched the fish we caught gasping and struggling and Dad told me, “Fish don’t feel pain as we do.” But, he was at least kind enough to whack them on the head to end their (nonexistent?) suffering. When I became a vegetarian around age 13 and asked my father how he could condone the eating of innocent animals, he replied: “But that is why God created them – to be our food.” My father is a good, kind man who loves animals. But like most Americans, he believes the mythology of our meat-eating culture.
I do know some people who are seriously pro-life. Mostly they are Hindus and Buddhists and they are absolutely against killing whether for food, or freedom, or even for self-defense, and they believe that if you defend yourself with violence, you reduce yourself to the level of your attacker (although the Bhagavad Gita would seem to imply otherwise). They believe that it is not okay to take a life, period, and that all living beings have souls. This is in part why Communist China was able to take over Tibet, and also why many Buddhist nuns who were raped during the brutal occupation, have children by Chinese soldiers. I respect them because they are consistent although I would never want to be in their shoes. The principle is “ahimsa” – non-harm, which extends to all living beings, including your enemies, or even insects. The most extreme pro-lifers are the Jains, who traditionally carried a soft broom to sweep away insects from their path to prevent stepping on them.
But, it has been argued, don’t plants also have feelings?! Indeed they do, according to some research, which has shown that a plant experiences some form of distress when it is cut down. Therefore, we have yet another level of ahimsa which is the fructarians: people who eat only the fruits of plants, which the plant would have given up anyway, and the harvesting of which will not harm the plant. And then there are the “after the fall” fructarians who eat only those fruits which have already been dropped, and are therefore harming no one at all. Although it sounds attractive, it goes a little too far for me.
So, here is the pro-life position as it is generally found in America:
It is perfectly okay and in fact commendable to kill animals, and plants are not even an issue.
It is okay to kill people in war, including our own older teenaged children and the enemy soldiers who may be children or adolescents.
It is okay if civilians die in war zones in order to secure freedom, including fetuses, as long as the mothers die, too.
It is never okay for a fetus to die to preserve the freedom, the sanity, or maybe even the life, of its mother.
It is not okay for suffering people with terminal illnesses to die of their own free will. (I will address this in a future blog.)
Ironically, here in America, often the people who are the most ardently “pro-life” in regards to fetuses are also very much opposed to social programs such as welfare, public housing, school lunches or public health insurance. In other words, a child’s “right to life” is essentially limited to the right to live inside a woman’s body for 9 months (with or without her permission) and then to be born, but once born, you’re on your own. If you starve or die of a preventable illness, oh well.
But the “right to life” isn’t just about babies. Every day 1400 women die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, or about 511,000 (over half a million) per year. Had the doctors not performed the abortion, the little 9-year-old girl in Brazil (discussed in Part I) would certainly be among them. This is unfortunately very common in countries which practice child marriage, particularly in parts of Africa and some Muslim countries where little girls are forced into marriage as young as 10 years old and often die in childbirth within the year because they are too young to safely give birth. In America “only” about 600 women per year die in childbirth, which is 50 a month or 1+ per day. Worldwide, for every one woman who dies, another 30 are injured with complications such as diabetes, stroke, hemorrhage, infection, fistula or spinal cord injury which, if she survives, can make her life a living hell. In spite of this, the pro-lifers insist that women and girls must be forced to give birth, no matter what the consequences, even if it means her own death.
So again we must ask, “How Pro-Life Are You?”
Personally, I must admit that the older I get, the more I lean towards pro-death, particularly in terms of war. After learning what they have done to their own people, especially the women and children, I would gladly kill Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein with my own hands, were I able to do so, but unfortunately I am too old to go to war. And as I understand the justice of killing to defend a nation from tyranny, so I also respect the right of a woman to defend her body from occupation by an unwanted pregnancy. After seeing my mother die a horrible lingering death from end-stage diabetes, I especially defend the right of people suffering from an incurable illness to voluntarily end their life in comfort and with dignity. “To every thing there is a season/ and a time to every purpose under heaven…”
I am not a soldier, but I am a member of the NRA, and a pretty good shot, and I will take up arms if my country is invaded. I hope I will never have to use deadly force to defend myself or my loved ones, but I will if necessary. I hope I will never become involuntarily pregnant but I thank God that in America I still have the right to choose. I don’t eat meat because there is enough suffering in this world and I do not wish to contribute to it, and meat is not necessary or even beneficial to my survival. But I respect the right of others to make their own decisions about these matters and I believe we all should have the freedom to do so. These are choices that every person must make according to his or her own conscience.