The Aristotelian argument for democracy relies on our deliberative capacity, that is, on our willingness to learn from one another.
In 1993, Stephen Spielberg released perhaps his most deeply personal and serious film, Schindler’s List. Celebrating the efforts of German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who saved the life of over a thousand Jews during World War II, the film immediately became a cultural touchstone. Most of the film’s audience responded with admiration for Schindler, compassion for the victims, and condemnation of those who facilitated the death of innocent civilians.
Negative reaction to Schindler’s list was largely confined to foreign countries with a history of hostility to Jews, as well as very marginal elements in American society. In the early 1990s, it was assumed that the majority of Westerners considered racial hatred and the willingness to allow the death of millions of innocent humans to be wrong. Indeed, Schindler’s List, although unique in itself, was part of a long series of American films that contrasted the racial chauvinism and violence of German National Socialism with the (albeit imperfect) liberal Christian democracies of the West. The central argument was that the Nazis were the bad guys because they made an idol of their race and because they were willing to take innocent life. They were not evil because they were German, or European, or because they were advocates of (a perverted version of) the patriarchy.
In the third decade of the twenty-first century, this perception has changed.
The notion of eliminating not only unborn children but even post-natal kids as well as the elderly has a great deal of popular currency. Eugenic ideas are popular not only on the left, but on the far right as well, which, although still a relatively small movement, has, via the internet, gained much more popularity in the twenty-first century than it did in the 1990s.
Amidst this chaos and confusion, two prolife advocates, Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis—both of the Ethics and Public Policy Institute—have penned Tearing Us Apart, hoping to galvanize the prolife movement into a “once more unto the breach” push to overturn Roe vs. Wade and provide further peaceful advocacy and education at the state level.
Anderson and DeSanctis’s book has come at an especially appropriate time. Despite the Dobbs decision, social conservatism, which has traditionally marched under the banner of advocating the same concern for the human dignity of all people, seems to be in a state of confusion within American Christianity. The papacy of Pope Francis has galvanized the Catholic left, and significant numbers of Evangelicals have moved leftward, embracing the “post-Evangelical” movement. Until the near-miraculous decision in Dobbs overturning of Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it seemed as if the social conservative movement had lost a great deal of momentum after Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as in the Trump Era, when economic and cultural issues took center stage.
On one level, Tearing Us Apart, will be familiar to those who have worked in the prolife movement. There are numerous stories of abortionists who, having in some cases literally ended the life of tens of thousands of unborn children, have repented and dedicated their work to the prolife movement. There are also narratives from women who regret the (traumatic) experience of abortion—either via a surgical procedure or in the form of “chemical” abortions.
Anderson and DeSanctis further engage in rational and scientific arguments for the personhood of a human developing in his or her mother’s womb. They also argue that abortion has negative mental and potentially physical effects on women. To counter claims from groups such as “Shout Your Abortion,” who attempt to celebrate their abortions, Anderson and DeSanctis document the way women who have had abortions often experience suicidal ideation and depression. The authors quote from psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty who argues that abortion has a profound effect on a woman’s “maternal identity.” Anderson and DeSanctis additionally provide the example of the Catholic religious order, the Sisters of Life, who minister to women who have experienced the trauma of abortion.
However, Tearing Us Apart is also very much at home in the bizarre world of the twenty-first century. Anderson and DeSanctis note that the Democratic Party, once the party of the “little guy,” is completely beholden to the abortion lobby. They point to examples such as pro-life Catholic Democrat Ellen McComack’s surprising popularity as a potential presidential candidate, as well as the prolife Catholic Democrat Bob Casey Sr., who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1987-1995. However, the authors suggest that financial and other motivations have changed the Democratic Party. Democratic Congressman, Dan Lipinski, a prolife Catholic, was ousted from his seat in 2020 by prochoice Democrat Marie Newman. Nonethless, Lipinski remained faithful to the prolife cause, even though he was clearly no longer welcome in his party. Even Tulsi Gabbard’s repetition during the 2019 Democratic presidential primary debate of Bill Clinton’s infamous line that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” was met with scorn by abortion advocates.
In the twenty-first century, abortion is no longer viewed by progressives as something unfortunate, but rather as something that should be celebrated and broadcasted. With the demise of Roe, Democrats have become embolden in their support of abortion. Hillary Clinton, echoing FDR’s comments after Pearl Harbor, has stated that the Dobbs decision “will live in infamy.” This language is clearly hyperbolic and reflects the anger of a left that had been used, not only to winning, but to stifling all dissent.
Anderson and DeSanctis further note that much of the media has abandoned any pretense of honesty in reporting on abortion (or, in fact, any other issues). The authors give examples of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek seemingly defending Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s suggestion that it was right to deny medical care to a baby after the child was born. We live in a post-truth age in which the Republicans and other conservatives are always “extremists” peddling “false information” and who need to be fact checked and censored. No longer can prolifers rely on fair and unbiased coverage or even the opportunity to have their argument heard without the threat of verbal or even physical violence. The authors interestingly note that due to media blackout and obscuration of the prolife movement, it is very unlikely that the average American has heard a sincere prolife argument. Anderson and DeSanctis see this media manipulation as preventing rational debate among informed citizens in a democratic republic.
Anderson and DeSanctis also chronicle the emergence of the Alt Right, which has resurrected the long dead “right wing” argument for eugenics and abortion. Ironically, figures like Richard Spencer present statements in support of abortion, using very similar terms to that of the “progressive” founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. For both Sanger and Spencer, abortion helps keep in check the reproduction of poor whites as well as members of allegedly “inferior” races. Anderson and DeSanctis provide examples from American history and even quotes from early American political figures in support of eugenics and population control. Anderson and DeSanctis see the anti-humanism of both the radical left and the far right as being very similar and contrary to the liberal humanism, informed by Christianity, which the authors identify as being at the heart of the American project.
The emergence of the Alt-Right is just one of many signs of attack on social conservatism from “the right.” There are a host of marginal but vocal movements on the right, which seek to sideline life issues and promote economics and ethnic issues as being far more important than the protection of human life. Happily, galvanized by the Dobbs decision, social conservativism may regain its place at the table and triumph over the cruelty and nastiness of the Alt Right.
Ultimately, in Tearing Us Apart, Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis present compelling arguments in support of the prolife movement. Despite recent suggestions from National Review’s Nate Hochman as well as Jonah Goldberg that social conservatism may be finished, the Dobbs decision has reinvigorated the prolife movement. If conservatives want to remain the “good guys” in the perennial struggle against evil, then opposition to abortion must remain a central plank of the conservative movement.