Author John Irving Is Wrong About Pro-Life Crusaders
Author John Irving Is Wrong About Pro-Life Crusaders
John Irving, author of several bestselling novels, has an Op-Ed in the New York Times with the overly broad and overtly contentious title “The Long, Cruel History of the Anti-Abortion Crusade”. The subtitle is equally controversial: “Abortion opponents don’t care what happens to an unwanted child, and they’ve never cared about the mother.” As blanket statements go, those two are are broad enough to cover the galaxy. In reading the article by Mr. Irving, it seems “blanket” describes his intellectual makeup.
Mr. Irving begins his article with a misconception about the anti-abortion laws being passed in many states. He believes that the patriarchy is denying women their reproductive rights. Of course, that is wrong. Women citizens, women lawmakers, and even a woman governor (Alabama) have supported these pro-life laws. The next paragraph is also terribly misleading:
Prior to the 1840s, abortion was widespread and not illegal in our country. In the time of the Puritans, America’s deeply religious founding fathers, abortion was allowed until the fetus was “quick” — when the woman could feel the fetus move. Before modern diagnostic ultrasound, abortion was permissible beyond the first trimester — up to four or five months. Our founding fathers got this right; the choice to have an abortion or a child belonged to the woman.”
I think it’s difficult to obtain statistical data on the widespread use of abortion as birth control or to hide a sexual misadventure prior to the early twentieth century (Gallup was founded in 1936.). I am not a fan of polling data anyway since numbers can always be manipulated and massaged. And, let’s not look to the Puritans for “best life” guidance, since they liked to punish crimes with branding and maiming and hung witches from the gallows.
John Irving has an entirely different perception of the purpose of the medical profession than what I had been led to believe of that vocation. This excerpt is from the middle of the fourth paragraph:
Beginning in the 1840s, doctors sought to gain control of the reproduction business. Doctors were establishing their new profession; midwives and homeopaths were their competition. But why did doctors lobby for abortion to be illegal? What was their logic? Did doctors underestimate how great the need for abortion was? We know what the doctors wanted, and they achieved it; they became the arbiters of women’s reproductive health care. We don’t know the doctors’ reasons for making abortion illegal. In the 1840s, the fetus wasn’t yet sacred. Fetal life was still defined by “quickening” — when the woman felt the fetus move, not before the fourth or fifth month. From the 1840s to 1900, we know the results of what the doctors did — not their thoughts.
First of all, the Hippocratic Oath, which was written in the B.C. times is more than “Do no harm.” The original Greek text (English version here) contains the line:
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
A brief Google search led me to three words that have saved many lives. Ignaz Semmelweis said “Wash your hands” in 1850 and in the late 19th century, Louis Pasteur began work on what became known as “germ theory”.
Apparently, according to John Irving, medicine is not a vocation of higher calling but a power play for the patriarchy.
Mr. Irving wrote “The Cider House Rules” and, in the following paragraphs, he describes his thought process:
One job of a society with a social conscience is to rescue its citizens who are trapped, who are painted into a corner. I see my job as a fiction writer with a social conscience as the opposite. As a storyteller, I look for worst-case scenarios; my job is to trap my characters. I began “The Cider House Rules,” my sixth novel, in the early 1980s. I purposely wrote a historical novel, beginning in the 1920s, when abortion was illegal, unsafe and (for the most part) unavailable. Maine was one of the first states to make abortion illegal; I put the orphanage I called St. Cloud’s in Maine. I purposely painted my protagonist, Homer Wells, into a corner. Homer is an orphan; his several adoptions don’t work out. Homer keeps coming back to the orphanage — St. Cloud’s is his only home. Dr. Larch, the orphanage physician (and abortionist), teaches Homer to be a doctor. In Dr. Larch’s opinion, Homer has near-perfect obstetrical and gynecological procedure. But Homer doesn’t want to perform abortions. He’s an orphan; his mother let him live.
Homer has no argument with Dr. Larch’s decision to give women what they want, but Homer has a personal reason (and a good one) not to perform abortions. Here’s the corner Homer is painted into: How can Homer not feel obligated to help women, when women can’t get help from anyone else? If women have no choice, how can doctors have a choice? Homer will leave St. Cloud’s; he refuses to perform abortions. What he will encounter, in the world outside the orphanage, is a woman who can’t get help from anyone else. The death of Dr. Larch will bring Homer back to the orphanage — this time, to be the physician (and the abortionist) at St. Cloud’s. In a no-choice world, Homer is trapped.
Since I have never liked any John Irving novel, I now know why. Mr. Irving writes his stories with a “social conscience”. His characters don’t get any choices because their progenitor denies them choices. Mr. Irving is so locked in his own bias confirmation, that he cannot see other options.
Here is a scene from “The Cider House Rules”. The dialogue seems off to me.
That is why Mr. Irving cannot see that women could propose and sign pro-life/anti-abortion laws. He cannot see men and women of conservative ideological bent daily try to improve the lives of women in local communities. It’s not well-known Conservative politicians that work these issue daily. It’s locally known community members.
Mr. Irving also accuses pro-life advocates of “sacralizing” the fetus. And, I say, I am guilty. I cannot speak for all Conservative or the members of Big Pro-Life. I believe every life is sacred from conception until natural death. And, I care what happens to those “unwanted” babies. They truly are not unwanted. Someone wants and needs them.
Women who do not want any or any more children have many options today. The IUD, implant, shot, pill, ring or even morning after pill are all easily available, cheaply and sometimes free.
Poor John Irving lives in such a narrow world with little imagination. He cannot see other choices. Painted into a corner. Just like his poor, fictional characters. Pity really.