The Ideology of Being Pro-Life pt. 1
By now we all know about Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana (or hopefully we’ve forgotten about them in their unconditional and consistent defeat), and now failed congressional candidate John Kloster coming out and romanticizing rape as “something God intended to happen” in Mourdock’s case and Akin’s belief that “women can shut that whole thing down.” Thus, implicitly, if a pregnancy occurs in either case, either God (in Mourdock’s case) or the woman and God (in Akin’s case) wills it. This seems absurd to all of us thinking people, but there is a lot more to analyze in these cases in relation to the general Pro-Life platform, Obamacare, and birth control. What is going on here? When something absurd like this surfaces, perhaps by looking at all the contradictions we can learn something about conservative ideology in general that synthesizes all the crazy into one basic principle. Throughout, keep in mind Marx’s famous and succinct definition of ideology: “They are doing it but they do not know they are doing it.” What are Republicans really doing?
The first contradiction of the Pro-Life platform (that they would even acknowledge) is this: unwanted pregnancies are wanted. What does this tell us? The premise here is that any mother-to-be who does not want the child is mistaken, and does not realize the true value of “life,” which is supposedly God-ordained. A calvinist worldview implies that everything that happens is God’s will, so a fertalized egg was ordained by God. The underside of this belief is that, according to Mourdock’s logic (and Calvin’s), an abortion would too then be caused by God. So invoking the logic of God’s sovereighnty to defend unwanted pregnancies (let alone rape) and then to act as if an abortion interrupts this is not only prima facie absurd, but perhaps confronts the believer that God is not all powerful and that all it takes is a doctor to intervene and disrupt the will of God. But I digress.
Back to wanted unwanted pregnancies. Presumably, the logic here is not simply that every sperm is sacred. So the principle is not more life for the sake of life at all times in all circumstances. No, the principle not that we should want more wanted pregnancies, but that unwanted pregnancies are particularly important. Surely others have pointed this out, but what the real issue seems to be is what Foucault famously called “Biopolitics,” which is the “explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” by the state or ruling power. What is proffered as a defense of the unborn sacred life is more like a kind of control over life itself. At first blush, this might seem to be an inversion, i.e. that the pro-choice position is more of an assertion of “control” over life, as it seeks to place in the hands of human beings the “choice” to choose life or non-life for a potential life. But the control, or biopower, goes much deeper, revealing how the biopower of pro-life proponents seeks a much more powerful and sinister goal.
It is in fact a red herring to posit that the pro-life people are the advocates of fighting against biopower by virtue of their stance against the “artifical” ending of potential life. We can see this by analyzing the contradiction present in the platform that abortions should be illegal, and that government ensured birth control, either through the government itself or a mandate to private employers, is antithetical to Christian values. So the line of reasoning is thus:
1. No pregnancy should be terminated
2. Guaranteed access to birth control is not a right
3. Therefore, actually what is desired are unwanted pregnancies themselves
Here is the key, that blocking birth control access combined with the fetish of carrying pregnancies to term results in the strange conclusion that what is truly desire by pro-life advocates are unwanted pregnancies. Why is this the case? Why don’t they take the more consistent position, given that they do not think “every sperm is sacred,” i.e. we should just have more and more people, that to reduce abortions, we should widely distribute contraceptives? Why not do everything to increase the rate of wanted pregnancies rather than taking up a position that obviously generates unwanted ones? In line with Zizek, we might say that the best way to expose ideology is taking it more seriously than it takes itself. Here psychoanalysis helps us to see the root.
Pro-lifers are neurotic in that they are obsessed with controlling the bodies women, but not just any women. While abortion overall is down over 8%, it has dramatically increased amongst poor women, 18% in the last few years. So what is really at stake is guaranteeing the unwanted pregnancies of poor women. Most pro-life advocates do not have to worry about unwanted pregnancies in as serious of a way, because they are of a higher income bracket that can afford to procreate. We must ask why is it so essential for people who cannot afford to have children have them? Is it merely a coincidence that pro-life individuals tend to be conservatives, and conservatives have the least sympathy for the poor and are in favor of cutting social programs and funding? It seems as though they are two sides of the same coin, part of the same exact ideology. This is where we turn back to biopower of the state.
We live in a political and economic state that depends on things not getting better. As Tad Delay points out in a recent blog post, “Your political leaders want you to think an economic crisis is the exception, not the rule. They would rather you not realize that since the Great Depression capitalism has experienced a downturn every 18 months on average. That is the power of ignoring the exception that constitutes the rule.” As Tad quotes Zizek, we see the claim that the real goal of reactionary politics is ““to change things so that, at their most fundamental, they can remain the same.” In a world where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan expressed a desire to end medicare/medicaid as we know them, get rid of social security, and cut social funding for all kinds of things from food stamps to public housing, this principle is in play. Our system is predicated on a very few controlling the wealth, and it is actually to their benefit to see the lower and middle classes pummeled by social inequality.
One tactic to ensure things remain the same, if not get worse, is to take away the right of a women who cannot afford to be pregnant or have a child to choose what to do with her body.Remember, this is an issue that does not really affect affluent people. It is affluent people telling poor folks how to (not) control their own bodies. This is biopower. Conditions are set in place to ensure more unwanted pregnancies, more unwanted children that cannot be supported, and thus the circle of poverty is ensured to continue more so than it would be otherwise. Foucault explains the concept further:
A set of processes such as the ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on – related with a whole series of political and economic problems…in the 18th century… we see the beginnings of a natalist policy, plans to intervene in all phenomena related to birth rate…Biopolitics last domain is, finally…control over relations of the human race, or human beings insofar as they are a species, insofar as they are living beings, in their enviroment, the milieu in which they live… And also the problem that the environment is not a natural environment that it has been created by the population and therefor has effects on the population.This, essentially, is the urban problem.
With biopolitics, pro-life advocates ensure a particular kind of “environment” that controls the relations between social groups and strata. The double insistance upon fertilized eggs being taken to birth and the concerted effort to restrict birth control are a high form of biopolitics, control over life itself as it functions. This contradiction is the site where the ideology becomes apparent. Our economic system is grounded on exploitation, and the proliferation of the poor plays into the direct interest of the wealthiest among us. As Marx says, the capitalistic class depends on structural and organization exploitation of labor to grow and thrive. The bottom line is that the abortion debate is fought primarily on a ground where the issue is not very relevant- amongst the middle and upper class wherein having a child is a normal part of life, sustainable, and even a joyous occasion. What the fight is about is what to do with unwanted pregnancies amongst those who cannot afford to have children and who’s lives would be consumed by doing so (those who cannot afford day care, nannies, basic care, etc.). The only logical conclusion in regard to these facts is that this is, absolutely, an ideological social-economic issue, not one of morality or even about the “life” of a fetus, at least in a certain sense.