The Two Kinds of Pro-Lifers

Something of a recurring theme on this blog is my war stories from Catholic middle school and high school, as seen here and here and here and also here.  In doing so, I know I am presenting that experience in the worst possible light.  I got a very solid education during those six years, and I know I would not be where I am, and who I am, without the middle school and especially high school experience I had.  So, when I tell negative stories about that experience, there should be an unspoken caveat that, on balance, my experience was very positive.

With that necessary caveat out of the way, I have another high school story, one that relates to a story in the news.  Maddi Runkles is an 18 year old senior at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland.  Runkles is also pregnant, and as a result of her pregnancy, she was not allowed (or will not be allowed--it's not clear from the story when graduation will be) to participate in graduation ceremonies.  I have seen some commentary suggesting that this is some weird, isolated policy of hard-core fundamentalists.  I know that to be untrue, because exactly the same thing happened at my high school to a classmate of mine.  She got pregnant a little bit before graduation, and she was written out of the graduation ceremony.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I pulled the current version of the Bishop Kenny High School student handbook. Under "Level III offenses," there is "sexual misconduct," and sexual misconduct can result in suspension, and suspension during your senior year causes you to miss graduation, so that is a potential vehicle for duplicating the Runkles scenario.  However, I recall during my time at the school there being an explicit provision or set of provisions dealing with pregnancy, but there are no such provisions in the current version of the handbook.  So, I cannot say for sure that Bishop Kenny still has the policy that it had during my time].

To their credit, a pro-life group called Students of Life has stepped in to take up Runkles's cause.  Their argument, and to me this is impossible to dispute, is that policies such as the one used by Heritage Academy incentivize women and girls to get abortions.  If you find yourself pregnant, in addition to all of the consequences that come from raising a child as a young person, you will also suffer being essentially shunned from your school.  Better, they would argue, to celebrate the fact that Runkles chose not to get an abortion by allowing her to graduate.

That argument is rock-solid--assuming what you really care about is reducing abortions.  But, therein lies the rub.  The truth is, and this case demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt this truth, that there are two kinds of pro-life people.  There are the people who genuinely and legitimately believe that a fetus is fully human, and for whom the point of the pro-life movement is to reduce or eliminate the number of fetuses who are aborted.  And then there are the folks for whom the question of the fate of the fetus is either secondary to, or a means to an end of, the real goal of stopping people (and, let's be real, by "people" I mean "women") from having sex.

Don't believe me?  The school's administrator, David Hobbs, says so:

Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. The Student Pledge which every student from 5th grade through 12th grade signs states that this application of Philippians 4:8 “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs”.  Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation.

The issue for Principal Hobbs is that Runkles had sex.  The fact that she chose not to have an abortion is nice, but ultimately beside the point.  What is important here is to keep people from having sex.  There is no ambiguity here--he says it directly.

Let's try a hypothetical, and imagine two female students at Heritage Academy.  Scenario #1 is the scenario that happened, and everyone knows that if you get pregnant you will be preventing from walking in graduation.  So, our hypothetical girls learn their lesson, but one of them internalized this lesson as "I won't have sex, because I am afraid of getting pregnant and not being able to walk in graduation," and the other internalized it as "if I get pregnant, I'm going to get an abortion so I can walk in graduation."  Scenario #2 is the one suggested by Students for Life--Runkles walks in graduation, the worst fears of Principal Hobbs come true, and both of our hypothetical students have sex, get pregnant, and don't have abortions.

For the Students for Life group, I am pretty confident in saying that they would choose Scenario #2, as the number of abortions goes from one to zero.  But I think Principal Hobbs is basically telling us he would prefer Scenario #1, as the amount of people having sex goes from two to one under Scenario #1.  And if that means that we have an abortion along the way, well, that's the price you pay for keeping women from having sex.

Lest you think that this is a fanciful hypothetical, it was common knowledge among my high school class that several girls had gotten pregnant my senior year, but only one of them didn't get to walk in graduation.  The word "abortion" wasn't necessarily tossed around (at least in my circles), but you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened.  Everyone was aware of what would happen if you got pregnant and kept the baby, and people took actions consistent with that understanding.  Again, the Students for Life folks are 100% correct that policies such as the one implemented by Heritage Academy will increase the number of abortions obtained by Heritage's students. Would letting pregnant students walk at graduation have reduced the number of abortions among my classmates?  Put it this way--it surely wouldn't have increased the number of abortions.

As I've laid out before in this space, I do not believe that pre-natal life should be understood as indistinguishable from a born child.  As a result, I disagree with the conceptual framework of what you might call the "type one" pro-life folks like the Students for Life.  But I understand and respect their point of view.  If the pro-life movement consisted of nothing but the Students for Life folks, then we would not agree but at least there would be potential for some common ground in certain contexts.

I have no time, or respect, for Principal Hobbs and the "type two" pro-lifers.  If you want to continue your jihad against female sexuality, I can't stop you, but at least own up to what you are doing. Instead, they cynically exploit the reasonableness of the type one pro-lifers by hiding behind the rhetoric of the fetus, when in fact they don't give a shit about abortion or the fetus.  The only reason they don't like abortion, and contraception for that matter, is that it takes away opportunities to argue that there must and should be karmic consequences for having sex--consequences which, not at all coincidentally, always fall on women and never the men.  All of this "won't someone think of the aborted babies" talk is a rhetorical strategy, and nothing more.  The "type two" part of the pro-life movement is every bit the thinly-veneered vehicle for misogyny that the "radical feminists" claim it is.  And when the rubber meets the road, as happened here, they will show their true colors.

It's a shame, really, that the respectable type one folks get drowned out by the misogynistic nonsense of the type twos.  But, Students for Life in this case notwithstanding, the type one people have in general failed to draw a clear distinction between themselves and the rest of the pro-life movement.  And, in failing to do so, I believe they have done enormous damage to the stated goals of the movement (goals which, unlike the type two folks, the type one people actually care about).

I've said this before, but it bears repeating.  I would be open, as voter and even as a hypothetical legislator, to restrictions on abortions, especially late in the pregnancy.  But my openness to such restrictions is entirely conditioned on being sure that by doing so I was not becoming an accessory to the project of policing the sex lives of women.  I am happy to talk to the type one pro-lifers.  But because the type two pro-lifers are in control of the pro-life movement, then I can't talk to any of them.  And Maddi Runkles shows why that is. 


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