Author John Irving Is Wrong About Pro-Life Crusaders

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.

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  • Fen says:

    I think Irving says this because, on some subconscious level, he knows his abortion position is monstrous. So he has to make people on the other side of the debate appear just as monstrous, so he can face himself in his morning mirror.

    It’s a trap intelligent people routinely fall into: the more creative your mind, the more complex your self-delusions.

    • Gordon Richens says:

      Let’s just call him ‘creative’ rather than ‘intelligent’. Intelligent people are capable of introspection.

    • Teacher in Tejas says:

      Like most liberal policies and thoughts, (guns, illegal aliens, welfare, “violent conservatives”, conservative “intolerance) its just simple projection, through and through. Paging Dr. Freud.

    • jimpithecus says:

      When your mind gets too open, your brain falls out.

  • johannamiller says:

    I find your typeset so difficult to read, I often give up despite the appeal of your articles. It looks lovely but it’s so delicate – like having to listen to a whisper.

    • GWB says:

      Depending on your browser, you should be able to use some “accessibility” preferences to make the print larger or change the font.

      (But, yes, there are times the page is difficult to read.)

  • Theo says:

    The Weekly World News!
    BatBoy Seen in Florida! Hitler Driving Taxi in Argentina! John Irving Still Alive!
    At least with the old grocery store tabloids EVERYONE was reminded of fake news.

  • John Fembup says:

    Irving, as usual, spins a marvelous tale.

    I ask only a simple question – on what exact day does a human fetus change into a living human being which legally and morally cannot be killed?

    On the date of birth all babies are human beings and almost all are viable. So the legal and moral protections against killing those babies are clear and present on the date of birth.

    But what about the day before the baby is born? The day before that? The day before that? The day before that? At some point in this process of counting back one arrives at the date of conception. Between the date of conception and the date of birth, the fertilized egg changes into a living human baby. Can anyone say with legal and moral certitude on what exact day that change occurs?

    I’ve never heard an answer to this Q that does not depend on some arbitrary date or approximate dates. Perhaps there is an answer that is not arbitrary. I’m listening. But haven’t heard such an answer. Any arbitrary date used in law to permit the killing of an unborn human baby before it is born, strikes me as no more ethical, moral, or just than an arbitrary date used in law to permit the execution of living humans above some arbitrary age.

    Am I suggesting there is no difference between a just-fertilized fertilized egg and a baby on the day its born? No. That would be silly.

    What I am suggesting is that just-fertilized eggs possess a unique biological trait that sets them apart from all other types of cells in human bodies. The unique biological trait is that, left alone, just-fertilized eggs naturally and inevitably develop into living human babies. No other cells or clumps of cells that I know of have this trait. In this respect, I say the just-fertilized egg is ethically and morally equivalent to a living human baby. Killing one is ethically and morally equivalent to killing the other.

    Or do I owe John Irving an apology?

    • George V says:

      I’ve long wondered what mystical process happens to the child once it is outside the womb to transform it to a human being from a “clump of cells”. And, does it happen all at once when the child’s last cell clears the birth canal, or is it a partial process, maybe the head is human but the torso and legs are not? Inquiring mind want to know!

  • GWB says:

    it seems “blanket” describes his intellectual makeup
    As in “a wet blanket smothered his intellect.” Yes.

    not illegal
    abortion was allowed until
    Those two statements seem to be contradictory, Skippy. If it was allowed “until” then it was (by definition) not allowed after that. Which would seem to make it “illegal”. (If you intended to not contrast those two, then there’s this little thing in English writing called a “conjunction”, and “but” might work there.)

    abortion was allowed until the fetus was “quick”
    Putting that in non-Elizabethan English, “until the fetus was alive.” Because they had no diagnostic to determine it being alive until they could feel the baby. We do now. He’s essentially arguing that because they were ignorant of some parts of science then, we should ignore the bits we’ve learned since then.
    (BTW, this was one of the lies/stupidity in the Roe v. Wade opinion.)

    Our founding fathers got this right; the choice to have an abortion or a child belonged to the woman.
    That conclusion has absolutely nothing to do with the premises mentioned in the beginning of the paragraph.

    how great the need for abortion
    Ummm, there is never a NEED for abortion. There might be a NEED for a medical intervention to save the mother or child that kills the other, but there’s never a NEED for an abortion, imo.

    We know what the doctors wanted
    We don’t know the doctors’ reasons
    Huh? You keep writing contradictory statements in the same paragraph.

    the fetus wasn’t yet sacred. Fetal life was still defined by “quickening”
    Again, not really contradictory. The baby most certainly was sacred after it could be defined as “alive”.

    How can Homer not feel obligated to help women
    This is the crux. It is a false premise. Killing one person to ‘help’ another is only necessary when the first is actually harming the second.
    We don’t allow the death penalty for someone who cuts you off in traffic. Nor for someone who embezzles a million dollars. Nor for a car thief. We allow it for murder. We allow it for treason. We should (imo) allow it for rape (with strict evidentiary rules). That’s pretty much it.
    Killing a baby because you can’t afford a child is NOT the appropriate response.

    I now know why
    Yeah, I tried Owen Meany ages ago, and it’s one of the only books I never finished and never will (because I didn’t want to – I have a *stack* of “I’ll get back to it, eventually” books). His ethos comes through murkily in that, but it does come through: he’s not a believer in a higher authority from which we derive our morals and rights.

    Painted into a corner. Just like his poor, fictional characters. Pity really.
    Absolutely. Funny that he’s pro-abortion because he’s ultimately anti-choice. He believes those women don’t have one, when they really have a lot of them. And it’s us pro-life sorts who are trying to actually get the women in crisis to see them.

    I’ve known some women who felt trapped by their pregnancy. One gave hers up for adoption. Another went through with her pregnancy and has a fantastic son (aside from her other two fabulous children). I’ve helped out with a couple of women in other crises. There’s always a choice to do the right thing.

  • Roger Burk says:

    Irving is right that in English law a human fetus was not considered a person until “quickening,” when the mother felt movement (or sometimes until the fetus was “fully formed,” i.e. looked like a baby). In the early 1800s it was gradually realized that the fetus is moving all along, and just becomes big enough for the mother to notice at some point. That was the reason for the criminalization of abortion.

  • GWB says:

    It’s odd, though, that a progressive would appeal to the past to make his arguments for the future, isn’t it? These are the folks who will tell you that all the past is dispensable because they just weren’t enlightened enough. But he appeals to not only the past, but a religious group in that past.

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