Fatal Mistakes, #1: Reproductive Health


I first confronted the question of infanticide when as a college student I heard that a close friend was planning to have an abortion.  Although I was an atheist by upbringing and conviction, my mind was already being informed by the best of the Greek and Latin classics.  I did not know then what I know now, that Roman law prescribed death for a married woman who aborted her child without the father’s permission or that ancient doctors, trained in the methods and teaching of Hippocrates, were forbidden to perform abortions, but I had read enough to understand how highly the Greeks valued kinship and how seriously they took the duties of parents.

When abortion began to be a major political issue, one of the first mistakes that both sides made was to regard it as a religious issue.  Of course, Christianity puts a higher value on human life than any competing religious tradition, but there are perfectly adequate grounds in science, philosophy, and pagan piety to condemn the practice.  Nat Hentoff, a Jewish leftist jazz critic, rejected abortion rights as contrary to his strong belief in basic human rights, and, while I think such arguments have limited value, they do indicate the possibility of dialogue with non-Christians of every description.

In this series of short pieces—much of it drawn from previous writings (mostly unpublished), I intend to point out the fallacies in the arguments of the infanticide lobby.  I do not intend to cite Scripture or Christian theology, except when it is necessary to refute pseudo-Christian defenses of infanticide.  This is not because I do not accept the Scriptures and Christian Tradition as binding on my conscience, but because exclusively Christian arguments can only appeal to Christians.  By definition, I think it is obvious, those who tell a mother she is free to kill her child, cannot be counted as any kind of Christian. 

Mistake # One: Reproductive Health.

Renegade Catholic Joe Biden has been a staunch advocate of abortion rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. However, in past years he also supported Congressman Henry Hyde’s proposed amendment barring the use of Federal funds for abortions.  

The intent of Biden’s positioning was obviously to save face with the blue collar Catholics that were a major part of his political constituency.  

Biden has worn many masks in his life, many of them borrowed from others—like the life story he plagiarized from a British Labourite politician.  He is Joe Six Pack—even though he claims to drink O’Doul’s—and he is “Handsy” Joe with the ladies, and Joe the Fool every time he goes off script.  Two days ago, he is reported in the New York Times, he was still backing  the Hyde Amendment, but now the same tainted source announces that he is playing Joe the gynecologist, eager to save the lives of women who are being persecuted by Republican politicians:

“If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code,” Mr. Biden said.”

Other news sources report that Biden said that women’s health and safety was under siege in GOP controlled states.  Translated into English, he was arguing that women who live in states where a majority votes for pro-life Republicans have fewer incentives to kill their unborn children.

Setting aside the notion that “health care is a right,” what does Biden’s argument come down to?  That abortion rights must be defended and extended to protect the health of women.  “Health” is an elastic concept, which can extend from preservation of life to freedom from anxiety.  If we stick to the life-and-death issue that is the bread and butter of the infanticide lobby,  the Guttmacher Institute, a strident advocate for abortion rights, estimates that 2.8% of abortions in the US are to save a mother’s life.  

One wonders what Dr. Guttmacher would have said about this statistic.  In a famous book, he said that he had never run across such a case nor had he heard from any colleague of this dilemma.  But let us accept this preposterously high figure as a number to work with.  The Hyde Amendment specifically excludes cases where a mother’s life is at risk.

Decades ago, some pro-life advocates suggested a practical compromise:  Abortion would be permitted only in cases where physicians had determined that it was to save the mother’s life—as opposed to being in the interest of her “mental health.”  Opinion polls indicated that a vast majority of Americans agreed with that position.  

After decades of degrading propaganda from people like Biden, the Clintons, and the Obamas,  thoughtless and feckless Americans are confused.  Many of them appear to believe, seriously, that the right to kill babies is saving the lives of millions of women.  

This is a non-issue, and, by the way, termination of pregnancy in such cases was always a real-world option provided by physicians.  It was so much a part of our thinking that anti-Catholics would warn against Catholic hospitals, because, it was said, they would not take steps to save a mother’s life if it would lead to the death of the fetus.

Philosophically, the argument has been made that saving the mother’s life, even if the medical procedure causes the child’s death, is morally licit, because the intention is preservation of life.  This is the famous theory of the “double effect.”  People like Joe Biden would not wish to consider the fine points, because his mind is Hell-bent on winning elections by hoodwinking the public.

What other health issues does Joe Biden bring forward?  Nothing, so far as I have found.  He is just one more liar caught in the dirty webs he has been spinning for years.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

13 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    “Health” is an elastic concept, which can extend from preservation of life to freedom from anxiety. ”

    With the acceptance of assisted suicide, “health” now appears to extend from preserving life to ensuring death.

    Based on a quick check, approximately 700 women died in childbirth in the US last year. There were approximately 4,000,000 live births. The 2.8% statistic is insanely preposterous.

  2. Allen Wilson says:


  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    That’s about it, but, let us suppose some infanticidalist would say some percentage of abortions are in fact performed to save the mother’s life, whatever that imaginary number might be, it could be countered by the number of women who die in childbirth as the result of an automobile accident, use of drugs, murder, or an incurable disease that an abortion would do nothing to alleviate, much less cure. They are simply making up numbers. The way to put them to the test is to make the offer: We’ll make abortion illegal everywhere, except in cases in which an independent panel of three doctors–none of whom is affiliated with Planned Parenthood or a pro-life group, determines the mother’s life can be saved only if the pregnancy is terminated. Of course they would never dream of accepting that and would go on to argue their real position, which is that women have a unilateral right to kill the one creature they are most required to take care of.

    This is an example of what I have named the adolescent double excuse. Father: “Why is my car dented?” Son: “I don’t know, I didn’t drive it yesterday, and, besides, that guy came out of nowhere so it’s not my fault.”

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    PS Let me say categorically, after reading pro-infanticide arguments for about 40 + years, they do not have a single rational argument. That is what I hope to expose in this series.

  5. Robert Reavis says:

    “would go on to argue their real position, which is that women have a unilateral right to kill the one creature they are most required to take care of.“

    This is true all the way through which is why infanticide is such an expansive evil in our time. It is death in body and spirit to the child of course but death to the spirit of the mother who by her very nature is the giver of life to the world. It is strange that we are in such dire need of a savior only after so tenaciously and purposefully rejecting the one we should have inherited.

  6. Dot says:

    Abortion is wrong no matter what or when. Thousands of sperm compete to fertilize an ovum. Only one does so. As soon as the sperm fertilizes the ovum division occurs, first two , four, eight, etc. Quickly the cells differentiate to what will become the embryo and fetus. If pregnancy is not part of the picture, a woman has to have enough respect for herself to protect herself because ultimately she is to blame for anything that happens. Men get off the hook. Never mind that it is his sperm that fertilized the egg. It seems clear to me that the great onus is placed on the woman. The male just philosophizes. A little humility is in order for the male’s contribution to this horror.

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    “It seems clear to me that the great onus is placed on the woman. The male just philosophizes.”

    Funny, but the men I have known best in my life–my father, uncles, friends and colleagues–spent the better part of the best hours of their lives in working at jobs in order to provide a house, food, clothes, necessities and frivolities like college education and good health–to their wives and children. I feel sorry for women who have not had the good sense to pick such a man and perhaps even sorrier for the males who have failed to accept the duties of being a man. Life is hard work for men and women, and I can think of few more fruitless exercises than to engage in invidious comparisons of sex roles.

    Here is a funny song from 1871 on the them. I believe my sister taught me to sing it way back in the early 1950’s:

    Woman: Reuben, I have long been thinking, what a good world this might be,
    If the men were all transported far beyond the Northern Sea.
    Man: Rachel, I have long been thinking, what a fine world this might be,
    If we had some more young ladies on this side the Northern Sea.

    Woman: Reuben, I’m a poor lone woman. No one seems to care for me;
    I wish the men were all transported far beyond the Northern Sea.
    Man: I’m a man without a victim. Soon I think there’s one will be,
    If the men are not transported far beyond the Northern Sea.

    It goes on for several verses….

  8. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Why are more and more babies being birthed by unmarried women?

  9. Robert Reavis says:

    Marriage is considered a viable but unnecessary institution for the newer generation and also the relatives and accidental offspring of the old man eating feminists are not convinced that hating men is the only available alternative

  10. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Why are more and more single women with children living in poverty?

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    They are mostly people who have gone with the flow in accepting an ideology that a few women helped to craft but was largely the creation of men like Montaigne, Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade, William Godwin, and the creeps who founded Playboy. These women, being human, cannot be exculpated on the grounds of ignorance, stupidity, gullibility, and conformism, but neither should they be singled out. But, I ask you, how dumb can you be, to reject all human experience and trust men? I am astonished. Imagine someone said, give me half your income every year and I’ll do better things with it for you than you could do for yourself. Who would be stupid enough to believe such nonsense? I can imagine FDR and his Cabinet have a big laugh over that one.

  12. Robert Reavis says:

    Yes the philosophy is much older than the practitioners. I did not mention names but Germaine Greer was just one of many others at the university when I was there when the wave was gathering breadth and height and power. She was a very thoughtful woman in ways the university environment of the time respected but was not at all immersed in the tradition other than through the eyes of the revolutionaries you mentioned above.

  13. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming: I regretfully cancelled my subscription yesterday and want to be sure that it is maintained at the charter level. Thank you in advance.