Poetry on the Right-to-Life Issues of Abortion, Infanticide, and Euthanasia: Commentary from Scansion of the Poems

         Poetry written on the right-to-life issues has a history worth examining as much as that history of American works on the life issues in other genres.  One thinks of Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun as the exemplary American short story and drama on abortion.  Infanticide and euthanasia fiction and dramatic works are receiving more attention now that the issues have obtained public attention for several decades.  Extensive criticism can be found on many of these works, increasingly from the pro-life perspective.  The exemplary American poems on the three life issues, however, still need to be discovered, and the accompanying pro-life criticism of them still needs to be generated.

          A review of the scholarship shows that, curiously (after thirty years of abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy and an even longer history of abortion agitation), discussing the right-to-life element of various works has not been a direct concern of most scholars.  Thus, anyone who begins or continues a discussion of poetry from the pro-life perspective may feel as though he or she is developing ab ovo research.  Since it has not been a matter of scholarly concern, poems on the life issues themselves are often difficult to locate.  They are “out there”; once in a while, a newsletter will mention this or that poem about one of the life issues, typically abortion.  Poems on the life issues have been written, continue to be written, and will be written for as long as the first civil right to life is still hanging in a judicial and legislative limbo, but where are they?

          Unfortunately, for the scholar interested in discussing poems on these issues, no easy collection of primary material exists.  Poems on the right-to-life issues surface intermittently, but, to continue the metaphor, they still lurk in the murky waters of the American canon, frightened like whales to surface lest they be harpooned by critics, both anti- and pro-life.  Maybe these poems hide in the deepest Mariana Trench of literature where no light reaches them not because they are afraid, but because they themselves are aware of their fatal propensities.

          The extended metaphor may be a cute idea for a future poem, but this study will attempt to meet that need for a pro-life perspective on contemporary poetry concerned with the life issues.  I will use scansion, which is a traditional poetic tool used in formalist criticism, to explicate representative poems on each of the three life issues.  [1]  The art of scansion involves several general rules.  First, determining where accents go in a line of poetry depends on regular speech.  One would not accent monosyllabic prepositions or articles because in standard American English no one does accent such a word.  Second, demarcating metrical feet is often complicated, but a pattern can usually be established if sufficient attention is given to the length of the poetic line and the general intent of the poet.

          Finally, after the metrical feet have been determined, certain emotional qualities of the meter can be discussed.  For example, the use of the iambic foot, the standard metrical foot in English poetry which consists of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one, indicates that the poet wishes to achieve a normal reading of a line.  A trochaic foot, the reverse of the iambic, signifies that the poet wishes to place stress first in his or her line, thus bringing an alteration to the normal reading of a poetic line, perhaps suggesting heaviness or seriousness to the meter.  An anapestic foot, consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable, increases the speed of the line, usually indicating a happier metrical pattern.  [2]  The dactylic foot, the reverse of the anapestic, may convey more heaviness and seriousness than the trochaic foot, since the accent comes first followed by two unaccented syllables.  A monosyllabic foot can occur, as well as a spondee, which consists of two accents in a row.  The heaviness of the monosyllabic and spondaic feet can indicate a variety of emotions, but the general intent of these feet is to emphasize certain words or syllables for dramatic or profound seriousness. Finally, a pyrrhic foot, consisting of two unaccented syllables in a row, can occur, conveying a sense of emptiness or even a sense of speeding the line along.  [3]

          Once I selected scansion as the tool with which to consider the poems, deciding which presentation scheme would control this paper was difficult.  Should the poems be presented in alphabetical order of the author’s name, in alphabetical order of the life issue, in the historical order of the life issue, or some other scheme?  I chose to order the poems for discussion in strict chronological order; doing so will move us from the easiest to the most difficult poem to scan and to discuss, followed by what I think should be a new addition to the canon of poetry on the first life issue.  Thus, I will focus first on Madison Julius Cawein’s “The Infanticide” (1909), then Dudley Randall’s euthanasia poem “To The Mercy Killers” (1973), Marge Piercy’s “Right to Life” (1980), and finally Jan Beatty’s “An Abortion Attempt by My Mother” (1995).

Madison Julius Cawein’s “The Infanticide” (1909)

          It may be difficult to believe that one must reach early in the beginning of the twentieth century to find a representative American poem on one of the life issues, but that is what I have done in selecting Madison Julius Cawein’s 1909 poem “The Infanticide”.  Several infanticide poems were worth considering. One can point to the anonymous “The Cruel Mother”, but that is a traditional Scottish ballad, falling beyond the scope of this study of American poetry on the life issues.  Similarly, Deborah A. Symonds’ research into infanticide ballads, such as the “Mary Hamilton” version transcribed in her work, must be removed from study here since it dates from eighteenth century Scotland.  I could have used Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1848 poem “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”.  However, since Browning is not an American author, her work falls beyond the scope of this study, even though the poem, as a vehicle for expressing her opposition to slavery, rebukes Americans who boast freedom for whites yet enslave blacks.  Searches for “infanticide” in databases such as 20th Century African-American Poetry, 20th Century American Poetry, and American Poetry 1600-1900 yield “3 matching terms in 2 full texts”, “7 matching terms in 7 full texts”, and “1 matching [term] in 1 full text” respectively–all of which are casual references to the activity of killing a child.  A search in the online MLA International Bibliography of “infanticide” and “poetry” yields six scholarly articles, but those are secondary sources.

          Thus, I am left with an early twentieth century poem which illustrates infanticide as it has been understood since the seventeenth century and as we experience it with greater frequency in our society.  The preceding two dependent clauses are necessary, for “infanticide” came into the English language relatively recently to refer to the growing practice, especially noted by British authors, of killing newborn children.  Similarly, reading about mothers who kill their children is an increasing topic of concern today.  One thinks of contemporary infanticidal mothers who kill their children because of mental illness, frustration with their lovers or husbands, or a sense of powerlessness.  Perhaps Cawein’s poem is not so dated after all. Today’s mother who commits infanticide may find herself in just as helpless or as shameful a situation so that she feels or thinks that the only way out of her dilemma is to kill her child.

          Here is the poem as published in Cawein’s collection New Poems with my scansion:

-/    -/    -/    -/    -/

She took her babe, the child of shame and sin,

-/    -/    —    -/    -/

And wrapped it warmly in her shawl and went

-/    -/    -/    -/    –/

From house to house for work.  Propriety bent

-/    -/    —    //    -/

A look of wonder on her; raised a din

-/    -/    //    -/    -/

Of Christian outrage.  None would take her in.

/-    -/    -/    -/    //

All that she had was gone; had long been spent.

/–    -/    —    -/    -/

Penniless and hungry by the road she leant,

//    -/    —    //    -/

No friend to go to and no one of kin.

-/    -/    -/    -/    -/

The babe at last began to cry for food.

-/    -/    -/    //    -/

Her breasts were dry; she had no milk to give.–

-/    //    -/    //    -/

She was so tired and cold.–What could she do?–

-/    /-    -/    -/    -/

…The next day in a pool within a wood

-/    -/    //    -/    -/

They found the babe.  …  ‘Twas hard enough to live,

-/    -/    -/    —    -/

She found, for one; impossible for two. (210)

          Technically, this poem presents a stable scansion, and there is little debate concerning the designation of this dominantly iambic pentameter sonnet.  One could argue that “Propriety” in the third line could be an amphibrach or just as easily an iamb followed by an anapest.  There could be a good argument to justify such a deviation in the meter.  The term follows a full stop with the terminal punctuation of the first sentence; moreover, the poet personified the term, showing that he wanted to emphasize it.  It is, after all, the propriety of the people to whom the mother goes for help that ultimately leads to her death and the death of the child.  Such speculation cannot be justified, though, since other deviations in the meter make the poet’s case more strongly.

          Perhaps the most noticeable deviations in the regular meter of the poem are the pyrrhic feet, strategically placed to emphasize the powerlessness of the mother.  A pyrrhic foot conveys a sense of wasted activity, two unaccented syllables that seem to go nowhere and that do not add to the drama in the poem. The five pyrrhic feet highlight events that lead to the infanticide.  The first one, which immediately follows the first syllable of “warmly”, should convey a positive connotation, but its position after this positive activity is negated by the nothingness of the pyrrhic foot.  The second pyrrhic foot in line four functions similarly to negate the “wonder” and possible help that should attend the mother’s condition.  Instead, we are drawn to the condemnation that is “raised” against “her” in a spondee immediately following this pyrrhic foot.

          The third instance of the pyrrhic foot in line seven is significant for at least two reasons.  First, it is placed in a hyperbatonic sentence structure; the tortured syntax mimics the torture that the mother must feel.  She has no money and, instead of merely saying that she has no money, when the poet uses the beginning word “Penniless”, he conveys the sense that the money has already been spent by the accent of the opening dactyl.  Second, I think that the pyrrhic foot in the middle of this line helps further to convey the result of the mother’s poverty and hunger.  What else can one do besides exist with the nothingness of one’s poverty and hunger, expressed by the flat, unaccented syllables of the pyrrhic foot?

          The next pyrrhic foot in line eight increases the urgency of the mother’s situation especially because the pyrrhic foot is balanced (appropriately in the middle foot) in a line containing two spondees.  The mother has on one side, almost literally, “No friend” and, on the other side, “no one of kin”.  It is interesting that the next line continues the regular iambic pentameter beat, as though the child him- or herself is unaware of the mother’s dilemma graphed in the previous line.

          The final pyrrhic foot in the last line of the poem increases the sense of hopelessness for the mother, but only after four spondees occur after the perfectly regular iambic line of the one act of the newborn mentioned in the poem.  (The five other spondees before the child’s perfect line occur over a span of eight lines, while the four spondees heightening the mother’s anguish are forced into five lines.)  In fact, the last line’s pyrrhic foot occurs over the syllables of the word which denotes what chances the mother and the child have of survival.  “Impossible”, meaning “not able to do”, reinforces the idea that the ability “to live” is not possible for the mother and the child; the pyrrhic foot over “able” reinforces even this last portion of a word that already has a negative connotation.

Dudley Randall’s “To The Mercy Killers” (1973)

          Several other poems on the topic of euthanasia could have been selected for this study, all of which would lend themselves well to scansion, but three conveyed the nineteenth-century sense of the word, and the remaining one illustrates the twentieth century’s break from the innocent etymological sense to the deadlier sense of active killing.  I could have selected Willis Gaylord Clark’s “Euthanasia”, printed in the 1846 posthumous collection of his works.  However, “euthanasia” had neither the denotation nor the connotation that it has today.  In fact, the poem considers “euthanasia” in its etymological sense, that of a happiness in dying, knowing that death is only the gateway to eternal life.  [4]  Similarly, I could have selected Frances Cornford’s 1923 poem “The Watch”, but the persona’s alliterative and spondaic appeal for death is not euthanasia, an effort on the part of a human agent to procure death, as much as it could be construed as the wish of a speaker for what is traditionally called a plea (since it is not objectively a prayer) for a “happy death”, a quick release from the pain of suffering.  Moreover, her work must be excluded since this granddaughter of Charles Darwin is British and beyond the limit of this study.  [5]

          Linda Pastan’s 1980 poem “Ethics” could also have been used, since it poses a typical situation ethics question: would someone save “a Rembrandt painting / or an old woman who hadn’t many / years left anyhow?” (1112).  The persona’s ambiguous answer indeed “eschews / the burdens of responsibility” and deflects the care for the elderly that the young should bestow (1112-3).  Finally, I could also have chosen David R. Slavitt’s 1983 poem “Titanic”.  The idea promoted in this poem is that we would want to die as those who died in the Titanic disaster because at least we would never be alone in our dying moments; people would always talk about us and rehearse the disaster in tender affection.  However, this poem does not concern euthanasia in the contemporary sense of actively killing someone; rather, Slavitt’s poem offers us a late twentieth-century perspective of how we should recover the original etymological meaning of “euthanasia” as a “good death”.

          Dudley Randall’s 1973 poem “To The Mercy Killers” on the third right-to-life issue, euthanasia, should be explored for three reasons: it directly confronts the issue of euthanasia per se, it offers for the reader’s consideration the voice of the person on whom euthanasia would be performed, and the scansion of the poem has several interesting elements not evident in the other euthanasia poems.

          Here is the poem as published in Randall’s collection After the Killing with my scansion:  [6]

-/    -/    -/    -/    -/

If ever mercy move you murder me,

//    -/    -/    -/    -/

I pray you, kindly killers, let me live.

/-    -/    -/    -/    -/

Never conspire with death to set me free,

-/    -/    //    -/    -/

but let me know such life as pain can give.

/-    /-    /-    /    -/    -/

Even though I be a clot, an aching clench,

-/    -/    -/    -/    -/

a stub, a stump, a butt, a scab, a knob,

-/    -/    -/    -/    -/

a screaming pain, a putrefying stench,

//    -/    -/    -/    -/

still let me live, so long as life shall throb.

/-    /-    //    /-    –/

Even though I turn such traitor to myself

-/    -/    //    -/    -/

as beg to die, do not accomplice me.

/-    /-    //    /–    //

Even though I seem not human, a mute shelf

-/    -/    -/    -/    —

of glucose, bottled blood, machinery

-/    -/    -/    -/    /-    /

to swell the lungs and pump the heart‑‑even so,

//    //    -/    /-    //

do not put out my life.  Let me still glow. (10)

          Randall’s consideration of euthanasia is presented in a strikingly regular iambic pentameter sonnet with deviation in the meter at crucial points.  Spondees occur over the phrases “I pray”, “such life”, “still let”, “turn such”, “do not” (repeated in lines ten and fourteen), “seem not”, “mute shelf”, “put out”, and “still glow”.  The combination of these spondees itself reads like a plea embodied in a fractured sentence that could be uttered by one in pain, perhaps even one who is afraid of being a victim of euthanasia.  Trochees break the iambic pattern on the words “never”, “traitor”, and “even” (significantly, after four feet which are iambic and which mimic the beating of a regular circulatory and pulmonary function), and “Let me” (line fourteen).  Moreover, trochees are significantly found over the subordinating conjunctions “even though” (used three times in the poem)–significantly, for this subordinating conjunction phrase signals a condition to be renounced by a subsequent independent clause affirming the opposite of what was stated in the dependent clause.  As if to emphasize the object of the humanity being assaulted by a possible euthanasia, a dactyl occurs over the word “human” in line eleven.

          Perhaps the item most worth considering in the poem is the variation of meter in two lines (five and thirteen) which are hexameters instead of pentameter.  The persona introduces the first of the three conditional clauses in line five: “Even though I be a clot, an aching clench”.  If one thought negatively about the health situation of the persona, then one would expect a negative outcome in the meter itself.  However, the meter does not change dramatically.  In fact, although the subordinating conjunctions in this fifth line begin the first of three trochees, the next three lines, which refer to usually disgusting items and effects of illness, are rhythmical iambic pentameter.  It is almost as though the persona is celebrating his or her illness, building to a crescendo of terms ordinarily negative in connotation now transformed into positive things.  I designate “clot” as a monosyllabic foot for this reason: the litany of terms with which the persona equates him- or herself is epideictic of praise, not terms of scorn.

          The same strategy occurs in line eleven, where, although the meter is mostly pentameter, the rhetorical effect of the words “a mute shelf / of glucose, bottled blood, machinery” expand the idea that, “Even though I seem not human”, the persona holds to his or her humanity.  Interestingly, the last foot of this twelfth line is a pyrrhic foot, matched with the last two syllables of “machinery”, as if the persona him- or herself recognizes that the equipment around a person is not as important as the person him- or herself.

Marge Piercy’s “Right to Life” (1980)

          Marge Piercy’s 1980 poem “Right to Life” is an interesting venture into a poetic exploration of the entire pro-life worldview.  The fifth stanza does talk about “a partera” who “is performing a table top abortion on an / unwed mother” (96), but that is the only explicit reference to abortion per se.  The poem reads more as an exercise in negation (“A woman is not” begins the first and second stanzas).  The poem then asserts women’s rights to control their bodies.  Why discuss this poem then?  In fact, since Piercy’s poem addresses the milieu of abortion from the anti-life perspective more than the abortion procedure, I could also have considered Jean Blackwood’s 1982 poem “Generation” which addresses the abortion milieu from a pro-life perspective.  I think, however, that it would be worthwhile to determine whether there is any poetic merit in this poem, especially since it reads like an excessive political manifesto of the anti-life philosophy.

          Little critical attention has been given to this poem, and I hope that the following will increase our appreciation of one of the most politically activist poems which distorts the positions of those who support the first civil right, the right to life.  Unfortunately, critics can sometimes get carried away by terminology in their respective literary theory, and commentary on this poem is no exception.  [7]  However, before getting into a politically charged interpretation of the poem, before determining whether there is anything in the poem that, to use deconstructionist terminology, helps us understand how it implodes itself, or before we investigate the oppressive nature of patriarchy (a concern of some categories of an anti-life feminist literary criticism), I think it is necessary to examine the words of the poem itself, and to do so is an objective of formalism criticism.

          Naomi Guttman has isolated only two of the poem’s eight stanzas (stanzas three and four) for discussion.  [8]  At least two major problems present themselves immediately in the scansion of the poem.  One could attack the propriety of using scansion at all, and the other could pose a technical matter which affects the rhetorical value of an interpretation of the poem.  First, why even bother to scan a poem which apparently is written in free verse–especially a feminist poem which would no doubt adhere to the conviction that free verse is a form that poets like Adrienne Rich “saw as less patriarchal and more in tune with her true voice” in which she could express her political views (American Passages 723)?  There is no rhyme scheme and no easy designation of the lines as strictly one meter.  In fact, the extreme variation from three lines which are trimeter to one which is hexameter could argue against the application of the traditional scansion technique completely.  Second, does one accent all instances of the pronoun “you”?  Normally, one need not do so since the pronoun is viewed as relatively less important than a proper noun.  Here, however, the pronoun must be accented since the intention of the poem is dominantly accusatory.  [9]

          Despite these concerns, I think that scanning this poem can help us to evaluate its message in a more substantial way than merely using it as a tool to advance a particular ideology as Guttman has done.  There are two aspects unveiled by scansion worth considering.  The first aspect that scanning the poem makes evident is the significant number of spondees, especially when the second person pronoun is immediately followed by a present tense verb.  Spondees are meant to convey not so much merely heaviness in poetry (the traditional understanding of the function of the dactyl), but a heaviness and a more serious purpose in the language used.  This intentional seriousness can be shown in the second and fourth lines in each stanza, where “You put” and “You slice” in the third stanza and “You lay” and “You value” (the first syllable of the polysyllabic verb being accented) in the fourth stanza, illustrate this pronoun and present tense verb combination.  [10]

          The second aspect is a corollary of the first.  The use of the second person pronoun is particularly striking not only because it works to create spondaic feet, but also because in several instances the pronoun is a monosyllabic foot, drawing attention in two directions: not only towards the person to whom the persona in the poem is speaking, but also away from the persona him- or herself.  Thus, the persona attempts to divert attention away from his or her responsibility (or, perhaps, from his or her own promotion or involvement in the killing of unborn children) to an entity outside the poem who is constantly being accused of having committed some moral wrongs.  The first foot of the third stanza is the monosyllabic foot “You” which sets the accusatory tone for the rest of the poem; it is someone (or it could be a second person plural use of the pronoun) designated as “You” who does the planting.  [11]

                Moreover, the two instances where the second-person possessive pronoun “your” is used should be noted.  The eighth lines of both stanzas contain some form of the possessive pronoun “your” and “yours”.  In the third stanza “yours” is not immediately juxtaposed with its corresponding noun, further isolating the persona from the person or persons being addressed. Similarly, although the use of “your” in the fourth stanza does have the noun it describes immediately following it, the line is a run-on, and the noun which the “your” describes is removed from the reader’s vision if not his or her immediate intellectual understanding by being placed on the next line.

                The above discussion may help to balance the ideological blathering of critics like Guttman, but I think that more interesting commentary on the poem can be made of another stanza. The sixth and seventh stanzas of the poem summarize the political intent of the poem, and, although the final, seventh stanza stresses the power that a woman should have, the sixth stanza is fascinating since it views the unborn child not as a potential force for good in the world, but as the (not the indefinite article, but the definite article) cause of evil in the world.

                What is noticeable about this sixth stanza, besides the invective, is that, when scanned, it is largely pentameter, the normal measure for poetry in English.  Unlike the other stanzas discussed above (three and four), where fourteen spondees are scattered across the two stanzas, this diatribe against the unborn child to be transformed into some kind of born criminal or monster politician contains only three spondees in the largely iambic meter (twenty-two feet).  Can anything significant be said of spondees over the phrases “all born”, “downstream”, and “world burns”–except that the responsibility for the crimes of the unwanted child once born is deflected from his or her condition to what he or she has done?  Can anything significant be made of the seven anapests or the six pyrrhic feet, the anapest being the metrical foot that accelerates the poem and the pyrrhic foot being that measure which expresses a literary waste?  Joining the words or syllables over which the anapests and pyrrhic feet hover would create a forced interpretation.  Still, the beginning of the poem reads rather normally; that is, its reading is consistent with the pronunciation pattern of standard American English.  How to account for the relative normalcy of this stanza which expresses such a vicious view of the child to be born?

                One possible interpretation can focus on the caesura in the fourth line.  The first three and a half lines read almost happily, probably due to the six of seven anapests that can be found in these lines.  A noticeable change occurs at the caesura, though.  Ten of the eleven trochees in the poem occur after this point in the stanza, and, since the purpose of the trochee is to place the stress first in the reader’s mind literally which thus emphasizes the stress of the term uttered figuratively, the heaviness which the balance of the poem suggests can thus be attributed to the meter.  What is frightening, though, is that the speaker who communicates the safety of the womb can so suddenly and dramatically transform into one who myopically sees only an evil–not a “bad”, but an evil–outcome of a pregnancy which some would label “unloved, unwanted”.  In this poetic and fictive world, it is as though an anti-lifer in contemporary culture has the image of a destructive outcome of an untimely pregnancy ingrained in his or her thinking.  Perhaps pro-lifers in society can help him or her see that an alternative reality exists.  The child perceived as “unloved, unwanted” need not ineluctably transform him- or herself into a monster; he or she can not only be loved, but also can become a loving member of society.

Jan Beatty’s “An Abortion Attempt by My Mother” (1995)

                I could have selected other abortion poems which contain perspectives of other agents or victims in the abortion decision. For example, I could have selected Gwendolyn Brooks’ famous 1945 poem “The Mother”, perhaps the first poetic literary evidence of post-abortion syndrome, whose refrain “Abortions will not let you forget” reflects the mother’s anguish (430).  I could have selected Anne Sexton’s “The Abortion”, first printed in the 1962 anthology All My Pretty Ones, whose refrain is now as famous as that of Brooks’ poem: “Somebody who should have been born / is gone” (20; italics in original).  [12]  Finally, I could have chosen Ai’s 1999 poem “Abortion” written from the perspective of the father of the aborted child who, despite the fact that the mother of his son has aborted his child, loves her “no matter what you do” (4).  [13]  I would like to focus on Beatty’s poem, however, since it is recent and, in my estimation, should be a new addition to the canon of poetry on the first life issue of abortion.

          Here is the poem as published in Beatty’s collection Mad River with my scansion:  [14]

/-    /-    /-    -/    /-

Rolling side to side in my warm mother,

-/    –/    /-    /-    //

the juices of life pulsing through my veined skin,

//    —   //    -/

wild juices of calves’ tongues and loose

/-    //    -/    //

stretchy kid skin like young gray wrens.

//    /-    /-    —    /-    //

I drink unborn water in the Garfield back room

–/    /-    /-    /

in the dark while my mother cries.

-/    —    //

The prodding of wolves’ teeth,

//    -/    —    /-

eyes red and ailing, the shaking

-/    /-    //    -/    —

of orange clay and cracked slate, the loosening,

-/    —    /–    /–    //

exposing the underground creatures to full sky,

-/    /-    /–    //    //

the greased worms are screaming, the dead moles stay dead.

/–    /-

This is the feeling. (29)

          If the stress of the initial trochee signifies heaviness, and if the title were not enough to signify this emotion, then the seriousness of the situation becomes obvious with the six trochaic feet within the first two trochaic pentameter lines.  The next two lines, however, convey heaviness, not because of more trochees, but because the lines have been shortened by two feet and have become burdened with the heavy accents of spondees. Thus, even though the lines are now tetrameter, the spondees continue the heaviness, the tension, originally indicated in the first two lines.  The fifth line of the first stanza, still dominantly trochaic meter, is extended by one foot.  I am uncertain which feet need to be emphasized in this line: is it the pyrrhic foot in the middle of the line or the spondees at the beginning and end?  As if to restore the balance that was disturbed by this hexameter line, the last line of the first stanza falls to tetrameter.  The scansion of this last line can be designated in a different way than I have done here, but I hold that the last verb of the stanza, “cries”, should be its own monosyllabic foot to emphasize the one action of the mother in the poem (the other actions denote the unborn child’s activities and those of the abortionist, “disguised” in the metaphor of a wolf).  [15]

          Several technical devices build the drama of the poem’s second stanza, the actual attempt of the abortion.  First, the stanza moves from trimeter to tetrameter to three pentameter lines, falling to dimeter at the stanza’s conclusion, ambiguous outcome though it is.  Four trochees are evident in this stanza, and other feet accentuate, expand, and increase their heaviness. The four pyrrhic feet accentuate the drama for, being essentially nothing in terms of meter, the pyrrhic feet draw our attention when reading the poem, either verbally or mentally, to those feet with accented syllables.  The four dactyls expand, all within the last three lines, the power of the three words thus highlighted. “Underground creatures” is a metaphoric substitute for unborn children in danger of being attacked by abortionists as viciously as the “worms” and “moles” would be attacked by wolves.  That a dactyl alights over “screaming” helps to draw out the pronunciation of the term, especially poignant since it is followed by two spondees over four alliterative monosyllabic words (“dead moles stay dead”).

          Finally, the thirteen spondees increase the metaphoric heaviness of both stanzas in two ways.  Three of the thirteen spondees (“back room”, “wolves’ teeth”, and “eyes red”) pertain to the abortionist.  Six of the thirteen spondees (“veined skin”, “wild juices”, “calves’ tongues”, “kid skin”, “gray wrens”, and “I drink”) pertain to the unborn child him- or herself.  [16]  Two would pertain to the unborn child (“dead moles” and “stay dead”) if the wolf/abortionist succeeds in getting through the “cracked slate”, thus “exposing the underground creatures to” the “full sky”.

          Does the abortion occur?  The argument can be made that the abortion does not proceed.  Although the unborn child expresses what the feeling of being aborted is like, the poem is titled an “attempt”.  However, that the last line contains only two feet may signify either that the abortion process has been itself aborted or that the child has been killed.

General observations

          Some critics have noted that feminist poetry which concerns the life issues lacks a narrative line.  For example, when she notes specifically that the speaker in Mina Loy’s Love Songs to Joannes suggests a “traumatic loss of a child through abortion–a crisis which I will argue is the epicenter of this romance gone wrong” (146), Maeera Shreiber concludes that the sequence lacks “a coherent narrative line” (148) and that the “inability to speak coherently is both a symptom and a cause of a chronic inability to sustain an image of a coherent self, the same inability which informs the fear of procreation” (156).  Similarly, when he discusses the abortion poetry of Anne Sexton from a feminist literary perspective, Philip McGowan suggests that “Sexton is seeking to reverse generations of female texts structured by conceit and overpowered by male domination” (130). An even bolder and feminist reductionist claim that McGowan asserts is that “Sexton’s text transgresses against the male world of reason and its versions of patriarchy and phallocentrism” (131) because she wants “to liberate the female writer from the constraints of the tight, masculine surfaces of textualisation” (139).

          Despite the tendency to veer towards implausible literary theoretical babble, I would elaborate on the sentences in the above paragraph by incorporating the formalist concern for unity in a literary work, expressed in the usual exposition, crisis, climax, and denouement tiers of plot development.  I believe that considering these elements of plot development can help us to appreciate the poems on the life issues discussed here even more. Certainly Cawein’s infanticide poem meets all four tiers of formalist plot development.  The exposition in the poem shows the mother and child, abandoned by proper society.  The several crises occur as the mother seeks work, shelter, friends, and family.  The climax results from a combination of factors: she and her child are hungry, cold, and tired.  The denouement is the death of the child (we do not know what happened to the mother), followed by a narrator’s summary pronouncement of the moral that the mother found it “hard enough to live / [. . .] for one; impossible for two”.

          Similarly, Randall’s euthanasia poem follows a narrative line.  The exposition shows a person who urges either the reader or another group of persons beyond the reader that he or she does not want to be euthanized.  The crises in the poem are potential; the persona anticipates what may happen to him or her if his or her health would deteriorate.  The climax is another potentiality: if he or she “seem[s] less human”, then, despite this conditional clause, the persona urges the persons addressed not to kill him or her, but to “Let me still glow”.  The denouement is not evident, of course, since we do not know whether the “kindly killers” would obey the speaker’s request or not.  This poem may be one of those examples of a problem in unity in a plot structure which formalist critics seek to resolve.

          Beatty’s poem, too, follows a plot sequence.  The exposition is evident in the title certainly and is expanded in the first stanza.  The crises occur in the first stanza when it is apparent that the mother is in the abortionist’s room and in the second stanza when the tools for the abortion and the abortionist him- or herself are compared to wolves.  A climax is apparent in that it seems as though the abortionist has reached the goal of burrowing into the mother as wolves burrow into the ground hunting for smaller prey.  The denouement, though, is uncertain. As discussed above, whether the abortion is successful or not depends on one’s interpretation of the last line.  Further study of the metrics of the poem may be necessary to discover how the author intended to resolve this climax.

          Piercy’s poem, significantly, does not follow the four tiers of plot development.  First, of course, the grammar of the poem frustrates an attempt to identify the traditional elements of plot development; the verb tenses are all present.  Even the exceptions to this rule do not help to identify the four elements.  The verbs infinitive “to fatten” and “to butcher” in the third stanza could be construed as future activities once the “you” has “put the lamb / in the pasture” and “haul[ed] it in”, but these verbs infinitive do not detract from the present tenses of all actions in the poem.  This is the case also with “to tend” in the fourth stanza.  “Wished” is the only verb that is past tense in form, but the meaning of the clause indicates that the speaker suggests an action in the past continuing in the present. With all this present action, then, it is impossible to determine the exposition and some crises in the poem, both of which categories include past actions.  Apparently, then, this poem is all present crisis or present climax.  There is no denouement, since we don’t know how the person addressed responds to the accusations hurled against him or her.  (The person addressed could be female.  Who is to say that men are necessarily the only ones who commit the actions that the persona vilifies?)  More importantly, what can the reader do, then, with a poem like Piercy’s which breaks narratological order and merely engages in the anti-life activity of accusation instead of the pro-life one of affirming life?

          Despite Piercy’s problems, hopefully, one can see how the other poems discussed here can be used to advance a life-affirming perspective.  Some critics are keenly aware of the political implications of poems on abortion, particularly.  In her study of several women who have written on abortion, Barbara Johnson notes that “The world that has created conditions under which the loss of a baby becomes desirable must be resisted, not joined” (36).  If this is the case, then the responsibility to resist the “loss of a baby” becomes a poetic marching order to fight against not only abortion, but also other activities that destroy life.

          Cawein’s indictment of the social conditions which led the mother in his infanticide poem to kill herself and her child can not only impress on the contemporary reader the universal conditions of the poor, but also encourage us to act on their behalf.  The persona in Randall’s euthanasia poem can safely allow us to overhear a monologue from someone who fears he or she is in danger of being euthanized.  We hear too many voices from one side only: that euthanasia is a right, that it is the answer to medical problems, and that others know what is best for us.  Perhaps that is a benefit of literature–to enable us to read or to hear different voices on controversial issues.  The voice of the unborn heard in Beatty’s poem offers a perspective rarely discussed in the culture.  We hear certain anti-life feminists who claim that abortion is necessary for sexual empowerment of women.  [17]  We hear few men who stand up for their rights as men, let alone their paternity.  Perhaps the voice we hear in Beatty’s work will help us to see abortion from a different perspective, for the animalistic violence that it is.

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    [1]  I would like to thank fellow University Faculty for Life members who first heard this paper presentation at the annual conference held in Minneapolis in 2004 who recommended that we should also attend to figures of speech, such as metonymy, metaphor, and irony, which reinforce what the meter suggests in these poems.  Investigating the effects of these figures would be a significant contribution to the canon of pro-life literature, requiring extensive future research.

    [2]  Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, editors of Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, caution that

                        We should avoid, however, the notion that there is any mystical correspondence between certain meters or rhythms and certain emotions.  There are no “happy” meters and no “melancholy” meters [….]  Poets’ choice of meter is probably less important than how they handle it after they have chosen it. (209)

Despite this admonition, I think that even these editors would feel comfortable claiming, as I do, that there may be no such thing as a sad limerick, attributable to the meter used in that poem, just as it is impossible to dance a Polish or Slovenian polka in anything but a lively manner because of the fast tempo–tempo being poetry and poetic scansion set to music.

    [3]  John Ciardi writes in his summary of the various metrical feet that “The fundamental basis of all metrical acceleration should be apparent: the more unstressed syllables are brought together between accents, the faster the line will tend to move” (927; italics in original).

    [4]  The introduction to the work by Clark’s twin brother conveys this idea even further:

                        So imperceptibly and gently did his happy spirit flee away, that it was some time before we could ascertain that he had gone.  I never saw a gentler death.  There was no pain, no distress, no shuddering, no violent disruption of the ties of life.  Both as to the mind’s peace and the body’s composure, it was a beautiful instance of euthanasia. (20-1)

Significantly, as if to reinforce its etymology, the last word is written in Greek.

    [5]  Researching poetry on the life issues in international literature would be a massive future research project.  One could begin, however, with the authors cited in this paragraph and Piotr Wilczek’s comparative literary study on the premiere national poet of Poland, Adam Mickiewicz, and Lord Byron.

    [6]  From After the Killing (c) 1973 by Dudley Randall; reprinted by permission of Third World Press, Inc., Chicago, Illinois.

    [7]  One particularly egregious example where criticism has overtaken logic (in that the criticism has turned from criticism per se to ad hoministic attacks against pro-lifers) is a 1998 article by Naomi Guttman.  After discussing in general terms the importance of gardening as “a necessary enterprise and often one relegated to women by virtue of being a quasi-domestic activity” (10), Guttman hits on many of the major buzzwords in ecofeminist and feminist theory to demean pro-lifers:

                        In this pro-choice poem, Piercy turns around the rhetoric of the so-called “right-to-lifers,” arguing that women should not be treated as though they are fruit trees or breeding animals and that men’s wish to control women’s bodies is only part of their wish to control and dominate all of nature.  Piercy attacks the sophistry that permits the Right Wing to act on behalf of “life” in the case of the unborn human fetus but neglects to agitate on behalf of the environment–the healthy life of the planet [. . . .]  The “Right to Life” Piercy is most concerned with is the continuing life of the planet that sustains us, and it is that right to own–to be responsible for–the quality of life on earth that she champions rather than a view of life that privileges the “rights” of the unborn, and possibly unwanted child. (12; internal quotes in original)

    [8]  Unfortunately, unlike the other poets who granted permission for their work to be reprinted, according to the permissions editor who handles her material, Piercy would not grant permission for certain stanzas of her poem to be reprinted here.  However, although her poem is difficult to locate, readers may be able to search college or university catalogs for an available copy.

    [9]  There is an exception to this rule.  The second foot of the last line of the third stanza may be a spondee instead of a monosyllabic foot if one consistently accents all cases of the pronoun.  One could, however, designate the foot an iamb, presuming that the use of “you” here could refer not only to the person being addressed, but to the common use of “you” as anybody.

    [10]  An interesting variation is that the first foot of the first line of the fourth stanza is a spondee consisting of the adverb first and then the pronoun.  This opening foot functions as a transition from the impersonal situation described in the third stanza to the oppressive situation described in the fourth. Moreover, the mere presence of the spondees–five in the third stanza and nine in the fourth stanza–show that the aggression or at least the anger of the persona is increasing as the poem progresses.

    [11]   Of course, if the opening foot really consists of the spondaic “You plant”, then what I said in the previous paragraph is reinforced with the addition of one more spondee to the four which I discuss.

            Another minor consideration is that I consider the second foot in the ninth line of the third stanza a monosyllabic foot because it sounds as though the dependent clause is a casual response to the independent clause which precedes it.  It is not so much that fish are not called as one’s own possessions as much as that it depends on whether the “you” being addressed is an individual who chooses to consume them.  The “you” here could be the colloquial reference to people in general.

    [12]  There is some confusion among scholars about whether Sexton had an abortion at all.  Lawrence Jay Dessner notes in an interview that Sexton once said, “‘I’ll often confess to things that never happened'” (136).  One of his footnotes for discussion of another poem as the basis for the abortion includes a quote in a 1960 letter in which Sexton says “‘I have written a new longish poem called “The Operation” which is (damn it as I really don’t want to write any more of them) a personal narration about my experiences this fall'” (146; italics in original).

            Earlier, I commented on Guttman whose ideological bent not only manifests itself in her critique of Piercy’s work, but which most likely affected an adequate interpretation of the poem.  Another critic who may have let an anti-life feminist literary criticism distort an appreciation of Brooks’ and Sexton’s poems is Irene Dash, who writes:

                        And although the legitimacy of abortion is recognized, Sexton and Brooks imply that this is not the answer, the anguish in their poems betraying the dilemma of the speakers.  For we have not yet moved beyond the primitive first stages in our attitudes towards mother-child relationship. (12)

Whether it is unfortunate that mothers “have not yet moved beyond the primitive first stages” of love for their children is a claim that may not be a concern for a literary critic per se, especially if the critic chooses to ignore the strong pro-life messages in both works.

    [13]  Many scholars suggested other abortion poems in response to an email query.  Besides mentioning Brooks’ poem, which received the most mention, I was urged to consider Lucille Clifton’s “the lost baby poem” (1972), Rita Dove’s “Motherhood” (1986), and Adrienne Rich’s “To a Poet” (1974).  While Rich’s poem only casually references abortion, examining the others from a pro-life perspective can be the object of future research.

            I would also like to recognize the work of Cynthia Hallen, whose “Saddest Hymn of the Republic” is “a parison of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic'”, only one verse of which has been published in online journals.  I would like to thank Hallen for granting permission for me to print the entire work in this paper:

                        Mine eyes have seen the gory pictures

                                    of dismembered babes;

                        They have pulled them from their mothers,

                                    and then harvested their brains;

                        They have burned them in incinerators,

                                    dumped them without graves,

                        While Right goes marching on.

                        [CHORUS]  Little children are the kingdom;

                        Little children have a mission;

                        Little children bring us vision,

                        And Life goes marching on.

                        From the beauty of the body,

                                    they are suctioned into bits;

                        Or they’re sliced in ragged pieces

                                    to a mass of broken limbs;

                        Or the saline poison stops their hearts

                                    and broils their fragile skin,

                        But Right goes marching on.  [CHORUS]

                        In the name of human freedom,

                                    they tear babies from the womb;

                        They have labeled life sub‑human

                                    and made liberty a tomb;

                        They use violence for solutions,

                                    and their clinic profits boom,

                        But Right goes marching on.  [CHORUS]

    [14]  “An Abortion Attempt by My Mother” from Mad River, by Jan Beatty, (c) 1995.  Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

    [15]  I find it interesting that the image of the wolf operates in other poetry concerning motherhood.  For example, Rita Dove’s “Motherhood” uses this symbol strikingly.  The persona of the poem discusses a female character who dreams about “misplacing” her child.  In the second stanza, “the wolf breaks free” from “three men” who had tormented it.  In the third stanza the woman “toss[es] the baby behind her” and “straddles / the wolf” (185).  Whatever archetypal interpretation can be made of this poem, it is certainly evident that the object of the mother’s affections is abandoned in favor of a wilder force personified by the wolf.

            Perhaps this connection with a wolf is mere coincidence.  Perhaps, though, Beatty and Dove are writing about the darker forces in American society that corrupt the natural ancient view of respect and love between mothers and the children that enable women to be granted that title.  Another poem by Dove, “Mother Love”, shows this corruption even more dramatically.  Again, while an archetypal critic would find great symbolism in the poem, the literal presentation is strikingly grotesque.  The persona speaks of a “male child” whom she has been asked to nurse.  Instead of sitting comfortably by a fire, nursing him, the persona treats us to the following image:

                                                                                    Each night

                                                I laid him on the smoldering embers,

                        sealing his juices in slowly so he might

                                                be cured to perfection.  Oh, I know it

                        looked damning: at the hearth a muttering crone

                                                bent over a baby sizzling on a spit

                        as neat as a Virginia ham. (17)

    [16]  I am aware that the pronoun is neither normally nor necessarily accented.  I can argue that a dramatic reading of the poem, though, does bring attention to the self performing the action of the verb.

    [17]  See, for example, Ellen Willis, who concludes that “Opposing abortion, then, means accepting that women must suffer sexual disempowerment and a radical loss of autonomy relative to men” (466).


Pak Wansŏ’s “The Dreaming Incubator”: An Application of Western Literary Theories to a Major Work of Korean Fiction

     Discussing Korean literature before an American audience forces one to address several obstacles—certainly not if that audience is composed of scholars attending this conference, but definitely if the audience is comprised either of American college or university students or the general public who know virtually nothing of the author under consideration here.  Moreover, a lack of cultural knowledge, scholarly perspectives or biases, and even a problem of orthography can further impede appreciation of an author like Pak Wansŏ.  Thus, literature professors and others who wish to share the didactic and literary values of her work must remove these obstacles first.[1]

          Perhaps the easiest challenge to address concerns orthography, where the Romanization of the Korean alphabet following the McCune-Reischauer or Revised Romanization systems fails due to translator or publisher variation.[2]  Publications in the last two decades use several variants for “Pak Wansŏ,” including the hyphenated variant “Pak Wan-sǒ” (used by Kim in a 1990 discussion and by West and Suh in a 2001 monograph), “Park Wan-so” (used by Suh in a 1998 anthology), and “Park Wansuh” (the spelling used in the translation of the short story discussed here as reproduced in Choi’s 2002 anthology).  This paper follows the most recent orthographic rendering of “Pak Wansŏ” as used by Fulton and Kwon in their 2005 work.

          A much more challenging obstacle, however, is the ignorance that American audiences have of international history, the vocabulary of movements that have shaped world events, and the canon and lexicon of literature.  Scholars writing for the academic world and for the general reading public have commented on American ignorance of world cultural values for decades now.[3]  Perhaps Harold Bloom’s comment about student attitudes toward literature, albeit sarcastic, identifies three reasons why they cannot appreciate it:

Precisely why students of literature have become amateur political scientists, uninformed sociologists, incompetent anthropologists, mediocre philosophers, and overdetermined cultural historians, while a puzzling matter, is not beyond all conjecture.  They resent literature, or are ashamed of it, or are just not all that fond of reading it. (521)

          Finally, sometimes academics themselves have contributed to this cultural ignorance.  Many scholars have reiterated the same themes which inform post-war Korean literature: the national trauma experienced since the Korean War, the disillusionment of the 1950s which culminated in student uprisings and militia control of the government in the early 1960s, and the tension on the social fabric created by the immediate and successful industrialization of South Korea in the last third of the twentieth century.[4]  While similar identification of themes testifies to the consistency, if not integrity, of the scholarship, an educated reader might think that only certain topics inform Korean literature.  The trauma of the Korean War is still being negotiated by Koreans themselves, a psychological factor in the national consciousness that Americans, for example, simply cannot understand.[5]  However, newer, more controversial topics in contemporary Korean literature exist.  Often, these newer themes are suggested by scholarly commentators but not explored in detail and not categorized.  This paper attempts not only to address some of these more contemporary themes lingering just beneath the Korean consciousness that are now rising to the surface, but also to apply some of the major literary theories to Pak Wansŏ’s short story “The Dreaming Incubator” (1994) for the express purpose of helping Western audiences to appreciate her fine work.

Themes in Korean Literature

          To reiterate, commentators have categorized several themes of Korean literature since the war.  The division of the peninsula into two nations, the permanent separation of families caused by that division, and the fratricide caused by family members caught behind the lines of the respective countries who then fight against each other are the standard, disastrous themes which inform Korean literature.  Other scholars have identified more contemporary topics which inform post-war Korean literature: the clash of traditionalism and modernization, the influence of Western political and religious ideas on Korean society, and the effects of a strong capitalist drive on the Korean family—topics which the author under discussion here has addressed.  Fulton and Kwon summarize Pak’s biography by saying that “she has written profusely, focusing in turn on wartime trauma […], the ideological and territorial division of the Korean peninsula […], and changing women’s roles and self-perceptions” (291).  West and Suh affirm that Pak’s work addresses not only the standard themes, but also the newer topics in Korean literature, writing that Pak herself

says that she wanted to prevent the Korean War and its aftermath from becoming a mere historical record of territories lost and gained, and the death of a family member from becoming just a number in the wartime casualty toll.[6]  She wanted to record the personal meanings and consequences created by the war. […]  Pak believes that the breakup, or weakening, of kinship ties, aggravated by the influx of the idea of individualism from the West, has made the Korean people self-centered. (94, 101)

          Other specific topics are only now beginning to emerge in Korean literature, both of which emanate from the subjugation of women: abortion and infanticide.[7]  Admittedly, mention of these topics is often couched in ambiguous or secretive terms, and infanticide is mentioned much more frequently than abortion.  Several examples of the secretive nature of possible abortion or infanticide can be mentioned here.  A character in Kang Sok-kyong’s “Days and Dreams” mentions how, if she had “known better,” she “wouldn’t have done it”—“it” meaning give birth to her second child; the possibility could either mean abortion or infanticide (5).  A character in Kim Yongha’s short story “Lizard” speaks of a lost “baby” who had been killed either while in the womb (abortion) or once born (infanticide), and any verification of the child’s death is frustrated because the event is recounted as a dream (379).

          Infanticide is clearly mentioned in several other stories.  A young woman in Park Kyongni‘s short story “Youngju and the Cat,” reflecting on poverty, exclaims, “I understand why people kill their children first before they commit suicide” (54).  Another possible case of infanticide is alluded to but not depicted in O Chong-hui’s short story “Evening Game” (193).  A young woman in Han Kang’s “Nostalgic Journey” recounts a childhood event, where her father, who had already thrown her sister into the sea, attempted to kill her also; the narrator has taken years to acquire the courage to reveal the event (247-8).

          One clear instance of abortion can be found in Pak Kyong-ri’s short story “Pyoryudo,” and critics have pointed out the disastrous effects of abortion on the main character in terms which match those used by scholars who document cases of post-abortion syndrome:

Kwang-hi meets Min-u while working as a waitress at a tearoom and conceives his child.  She solves the problem by having an abortion, but suffers mentally.  She feels that all the people around her despise her and she thus abhors others.  She thinks she is the lowest woman in the world.  She leaves the tearoom in agony and becomes a prostitute in the red-light district in Seoul.  At the end of the self-depreciation, she is mentally deranged and kills herself. (Kim, Values, vol. 2, 144)

Both abortion and infanticide are well discussed in Pak’s work.  “The Dreaming Incubator,” in fact, is summarized by Choi as “a savage criticism […] of Korea’s prejudice against girls that used to force women to abort female fetuses” (9).[8]

Application of Literary Theories to “The Dreaming Incubator”

          “The Dreaming Incubator” is a first-person narration of a relatively simple event in the life of an unnamed woman.  The narrator goes to her nephew’s school play to videotape the child’s performance.  There she meets the father of another child in the production, and, since she is having trouble working the camera, this man offers to record the performances of both children.  They go to a tearoom after the performance, ostensibly to thank him for his kindness.  During their ensuing discussion, the narrator is amazed that, while he was disappointed on the birth of his second daughter, the man rejects the accepted view regarding preferring sons over daughters.  The narrator finds this extremely difficult to believe.  On their second meeting, when she broaches the topic again, the narrator self-discloses at least two abortions and hatred of the in-laws who coerced her into aborting.  The story ends with the narrator criticizing her family’s support of patriarchal practices, questioning her husband’s role in the abortions, and driving aimlessly away from her home.[9]

          If the plot of the story is simple, what is not simple is the narratological flow of the reminiscences that are interspersed and the interpretative skills demanded of readers as they proceed through the story.  Thanks to decades of college attention to literary theories, although they may not be masters of the vocabulary, Western readers are familiar with key concepts from the major literary theories and know when specifics of any given theory can be applied to works with which they are completely unfamiliar.  Western readers have been trained to apply feminist, formalist, and Marxist theories to American and British works for the past four decades since their secondary education, formalism having been the dominant mode of literary study much longer.  It would be interesting to determine the applicability of these literary theories to an example of Korean literature as well.  To make an analysis of the story as concise as possible, the following will expand on this basic plot summary vis-à-vis several literary theories.[10]


          According to Western formalism, a story should immediately frame the exposition, the essential elements of the plot or the matter to be discussed, so that the reader can understand the events to follow.  Early criticism of post-war Korean literature identified a clear break from the concise formalist exposition of plot development.  While the concern of Korean writers during the Japanese occupation “was story, conceived in chronological terms,” Lee writes that

What the new generation discovered was the inner world of the protagonist, his psychological and philosophical dimension, in fine, his stream of consciousness.  Skeptical of inherited techniques and established reputations, the new writers subjected the leading names and achievements in modern Korean fiction to a fresh valuation.  They freed Korean fiction from its well-knit formalism and made it a medium adequate to contain the quality of complex, contemporary experiences. (Korean, 116)

Reading the first paragraphs of Pak’s story makes it seem as though it will concern resentment between sisters, one who cares little for domestic chores and her big sister, the narrator, who seems to be a contented wife and mother of three children.  This statement of the problem to be discussed in this story, however, changes dramatically halfway through when the narrator mentions “the secret [she] hid away deep inside” (124).  Four pages later it is evident that an abortion that the narrator had ten years earlier will control the discourse of the balance of the story as much as it has controlled her life.  The abortion episodes and the narrator’s reflection on them develop the story further, moving the plot away from an analysis of sisterly relations to the deep psychological hurt of a forty-year-old woman suffering from abortion.  The first abortion is responsible for the narrator’s hatred of her mother- and sister-in-law, both of whom compelled her to abort because the child she was carrying was a daughter and not a more valuable son.  A second abortion, disclosed only seven pages from the story’s end, changes the character of the narrator even more dynamically; she had never told her mother-in-law about an abortion performed three months after her first child was born, indicating the disastrous effects on the family created by events shrouded in secrecy.

          What is especially interesting about the arrangement of details of the abortion episodes is that the narrative, which had proceeded chronologically according to formalist theory before the abortion was mentioned, careens wildly throughout the balance of the story after the abortion is disclosed.  Once the man leaves the coffee shop (the location of their second meeting), the narrator recalls significant details about the abortion ten years earlier.  In the next paragraph she returns to the present.  On her way home, the narrator is forced to drive through a newly-developed area where “On both sides, raw red earth was exposed on the sloping cut [….]  The two sloping cuts looked like two widely spread legs of a woman in a hospital stirrup” (130).  This recollection does not keep her in the past, however; she drives against oncoming traffic and, in a battery of interrogatives, questions whether her husband is as much an accomplice in the abortion as the man with whom she had two dates suggested that all men who brought their wives to the abortion clinic were.  This reflection returns the narrator to the time surrounding the conception of her third child, a daughter, from there to the present, from there to the time of her son’s birth, then back to the abortion episode, back to the time after her first child’s birth, and ultimately to the present.  The byzantine chronological ordering effectively suggests a stream of consciousness technique to mirror the narrator’s confusion.[11]

Feminist Theory

          While it is common knowledge that feminist literary theory is concerned with patriarchal oppression of women, especially by men, what is striking is that neither of the two male characters with whom the narrator interacts manifest patriarchal tendencies.  The man with whom she has two dates certainly does not.  He advocates a greater equality between men and women, arguing that the Korean preference for a male child is morally wrong.  Similarly, he views abortion as a clear violation of the right to life of an unborn female child.  The man bases his position on the fact that Korean reproductive agencies guaranteed that parents would have sons by aborting any unborn child who was female.

          To a lesser degree, since her relationship with him is not portrayed but related from her perspective, the narrator’s husband manifests patriarchal oppression only insofar as he agrees to his wife’s abortions.  Whether he provides full consent, however, is debatable, as is evident by the lengthy consideration that the narrator herself makes regarding whether her husband can be considered an accomplice in the abortions or not.  Conveniently, the husband is not an active character in the story; he either is out of town on business or has a phone conversation relayed to the reader through the narrator’s perspective.

          In contrast, the most patriarchal characters are the narrator’s mother- and sister-in-law, both of whom are the primary agents of persuasion, if not compulsion, for the narrator to abort, and who seem to collaborate with the abortionist while the narrator is silent during the procedure.  The narrator’s attempt to bond with her unborn daughter (humanizing her by calling her “Princess Little Thumb”) is thwarted by two narratological effects: first, the humanization occurs as she “slowly went under anesthesia”; second, her in-laws immediately occupy the dream, forcing the substitution of Princess Little Thumb with “a big fat baby” (139).  The mother-in-law is especially egregious in her patriarchal perception of society, stating outright that, unlike “a girl’s ugly lower part” which should not be shown to any husband, “A boy’s little pecker is something to be shown proudly” (141).

          A final insult to the narrator from a feminist perspective is her dehumanization.  She moves from “Big Sister” at the beginning of the story (101), to “a crazy bitch” (130) as she was called by angry motorists whom she cut off on the road, to a non-human machine: “I was indoctrinated from my diaper days to serve as an incubator” (141).

Marxist Criticism

          While Pak and her contemporaries have addressed the impact of political Marxism on Korea, the principles of Marxist literary criticism can help readers understand several important elements of the story.  An initial application of Marxist criticism would investigate the ideologies and power structures of the characters.  The narrator’s contest with her sister over domestic duties is relatively innocuous contrasted against that which exists between the narrator and members of her family who compel her to abort the third daughter.  The man whom she meets at the school play functions as a catalyst for change, and it is entirely proper that the man was once a college revolutionary—a character type which has an even greater symbolism in Korean literature than it does in the West, especially since student demonstrations helped to topple dictatorships.

          An essential element of Marxist criticism concerns economic forces on characters’ actions.  Moreover, the narrator’s statements that her first abortion occurred in times of poverty (“when my husband had just quit his job with no alternative plans.  We were at the end of the rope” 136) lose their rationalizing force quickly.  The husband is set to inherit significant real estate from his mother; he has traveled to Japan and China on, as the narrator herself affirms, business.  More importantly, the narrator’s sister and brother-in-law discuss at length how she is “a real estate jaebol [business family or monopoly], definitely several cuts above those small businessmen who have to plug a big deficit hole with small profit all year long” (115).  Granted, the abortions occurred ten years earlier, but economic factors should not have been a consideration in the abortions, except that the materialistic tendencies of the family (the mother-in-law especially) contributed to the compulsion towards abortion.

Other Literary Theories

          One can apply historical criticism to this short story only insofar as it is a testament to the lives of women affected by abortion at the time of its writing.  Whether there is a political motive behind the writing cannot be ascertained.  There is no compelling passage in the short story demonstrating that Pak is agitating either for or against abortion laws.[12]  What is significant from the historical perspective is that Pak would write about such a personal topic when many other Korean authors still focus on the disastrous effects of the Korean War on the nation.

          Psychological criticism could also enhance one’s reading of the story, but an adaptation of the general principles of the theory as transmitted to students of literature would need to be made.  Arguing a Freudian or a Jungian interpretation of the story would yield a tortured reading—leading not into mere speculation but fantasy.[13]  Besides, the commentary about post-abortion syndrome above suffices to disclose the psychological bereavement of the narrator.

          As much as there are difficulties which must be resolved before they can appreciate her work, Western readers will find that Pak Wansŏ herself challenges them to view the world much differently than they currently may.  In “The Dreaming Incubator” those who should stand for women’s rights and the freedom of choice much vaunted by some women’s rights activists vis-à-vis abortion act like those in China who implement population control measures by forcing mothers to abort.  The narratological style of the second half of the story breaks Western narrative conventions in two significant ways, allowing the narrator the space not only to explore the causes behind her two abortions, but also to investigate who is to blame; these are questions which are not aired well in Western democracies, where abortion legalization is merely agitated for by certain groups.  Moreover, Western democracies are laboring under a stifling political correctivity; one thinks of the efforts of some professional organizations which discount the existence of post-abortion syndrome even when research has documented its existence since the publication of David C. Reardon’s seminal research on the topic in 1987.  Another significant challenge that Western readers must overcome is the familial breakdown which occurs when abortion infects the institution.  Western readers are raised in societies which lack the cohesiveness of the Korean family structure, a structure which contemporary Korean writers are now warning is in danger because of Western influences.  Thus, having become accustomed to the fragmentation of the nuclear family, Western readers may not understand why Pak’s narrator suspects virtually all of her family members after her abortions.

          Finally, the most significant challenge that Western readers may have involves the subject of the short story.  “The Dreaming Incubator” is not about political commentary or criticism of the economic system in Korea.  It is not about a family struggling to cope with the disasters wreaked upon it by the Korean War.  It is about abortion, a premier example of world literature on the subject that compares to other major works which address this issue.  If Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” presents the American view on abortion in fiction, if the Sudanese Leila Aboulela’s “Make Your Own Way Home” presents the Arab world’s view on the issue, then Pak’s depiction of abortion in “The Dreaming Incubator” adds the much-needed Asian perspective.

Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “Make Your Own Way Home.” Coloured Lights. Edinburgh:

          Polygon, 2001. 83-97.

Badawi, M. M. “Perennial Themes in Modern Arabic Literature.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 20.1 (1993): 3-19.

Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon: the Books and School of the Ages. New York:       Harcourt Brace, 1994.

Choi, Hyung-ki, et al. “Abortion.” The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Updated, with More Countries: South Korea. New York: Continuum, 2004.

Choi, Jin-Young, ed. Unspoken Voices: Selected Short Stories by Korean Women Writers. Trans. Jin-Young Choi. Dumont, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books, 2002.

Fulton, Bruce, and Youngmin Kwon, eds. Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology. New York: Columbia U P, 2005.

Han, Kang. “Nostalgic Journey.” Unspoken Voices: Selected Short Stories by Korean  Women Writers. Ed. Jin-Young Choi. Trans. Jin-Young Choi. Dumont, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books, 2002. 219-51.

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Men Without Women. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927. 69-77.

Hirsch, E. D. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

Kang, Sok-kyong. “Days and Dreams.” Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers. Trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. Seattle: Seal P, 1989. 1-27.

Kim, Chong-un. Postwar Korean Short Stories: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Seoul: Seoul National U P, 1983.

Kim, Tae-kil. Values of Korean People Mirrored in Fiction. Trans. Kim Heung- sook. 2 vols. Seoul: Dae Kwang Munwhasa, 1990.

Kim, Yongha. “Lizard.” Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology. Eds. Bruce Fulton and Youngmin Kwon. New York: Columbia U P, 2005. 371-82.

Lee, Peter H. Korean Literature: Topics and Themes. Association for Asian Studies: Monographs and Papers 16. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1965.

—. Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology. Honolulu, U of Hawaii P, 1990.

O, Chong-hui. “Evening Game.” Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers. Trans. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. Seattle: Seal P, 1989. 181-201.

Pak, Wansŏ. “Three Days in That Autumn.” My Very Last Possession and Other Stories. Trans. Chun Kyung-Ja et al. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999. 156-97.

Park, Wansuh. “The Dreaming Incubator.” Unspoken Voices: Selected Short Stories by Korean  Women Writers. Ed. Jin-Young Choi. Trans. Jin-Young Choi. Dumont, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books, 2002. 101-42.

Pihl, Marshall, and Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, eds. and trans. Land of Exile:   Contemporary Korean Fiction. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.

Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.

Reardon, David C. Aborted Women: Silent No More. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987.

Suh, Ji-moon, ed. The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories. Rev. and exp. ed. Trans. Suh Ji-moon. New York: M. E. Sharpe/UNESCO, 1998. Trans. of Changma oe Han’guk tanp’yon sonjip.

West, Philip, and Suh Ji-moon, eds. Remembering the “Forgotten War”: The Korean War Through Literature and Art. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2001.

Zong, In-sob. A Guide to Korean Literature. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International, 1982.

Works Consulted

Choi, Kyeong-ee. “When the Colonized Mother Speaks: Post-Colonial and

Maternal Narratives of Toni Morrison, Pak Wansô, and Buchi Emecheta.” Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 57.12 (June 1997): 5148. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Thomas Library of Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH. 6 Feb. 2009. <>.

Chun, Kyung-ja. ”My Very Last Possession” and Other Stories by Pak Wanso. Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1998. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Thomas Library of Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH. 6 Feb. 2009. <>.

Hinds, Diana. “Pak Wanso.” The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature. 704-6. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 2003. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Thomas Library of Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH. 6 Feb. 2009. <>.

Park, You-me. “Father’s Daughters: Critical Realism Examines Patriarchy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Pak Wanso’s A Faltering Afternoon [Hwichongkorinun Ohu].” The Postcolonial Jane Austen. 205-17. London, England: Routledge, 2000. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Thomas Library of Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH. 6 Feb. 2009. <>.

[1] The didactic function of modern Korean literature has been noted by Fulton and Kwon, who write that Korean writers hold “the belief that fiction writing is essentially a serous undertaking, and one with ethical overtones.  Writers will not be condemned for didacticism” (xi-xii).

[2] See, for example, Zong’s commentary on translation of Korean works, especially 276ff.

[3] Consider, for example, the seminal work of E. D. Hirsch in his Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987) and Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t (2007).

[4] See, especially, Kim, Postwar, ix-x.

[5] Except for the trauma created by the partition of Palestine in 1948 to create Israel, no other recent historical event can approximate the trauma created by the division of the Korean peninsula into two nations.  The dissolutions of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the past three decades have occurred peacefully or with minimal military action.  Examples of separatism cannot help one to convey the Korean trauma since most separatist movements are proceeding legislatively; the efforts of the Parti Quebecois in Canada and separatist movements in the United States are prime examples.

[6] Pak’s beloved uncle and brother were killed during the war.

[7] Both of these newer topics demonstrate the tension created by the importance that Koreans place on children and the contradiction of that value as evidenced in abortion.  The value of children is especially noted by Kim Tae-kil, who writes that “Childless people are often lamented,” primarily because they have no one to continue the practice of ancestor worship (vol. 1, 79-80).  Writing in 1990, the author comments further on a corollary of infanticide practices: “Sexual discrimination not only affects women but the whole population of Korea.  It is widely known that the general tendency of neglecting girls and favoring boys is making the imbalance of population a very serious problem in Korea” (vol. 2, 122).

            Despite the apparent love for children in Korean culture, casual references to abortion abound in Korean fiction; see, for example, Chong-un Kim’s discussion of So Kiwon’s “The Unchartered Map” (xvi-xvii).

[8] Educated readers, of course, know that the practice of female infanticide is common in India and, especially, China, where a draconian forced abortion policy is part of the nation’s population control efforts.

            Other commentators have not been as direct in categorizing Pak’s works.  Ji-moon Suh writes:

With surgical precision, she exposes the vacuity of prosperous middle-class existence, the enormous cost of maintaining mistaken values, and the unintentional cruelty of people toward themselves and one another.  In her stories, the delight of the critic in exposure coexists with the humanitarian’s pity and horror at the discovery. (204)

It is curious that Peter H. Lee does not include any work by Pak in his 1990 monograph, Modern Korean Literature, while other lesser lights are included.

[9] While the sense of a closure at a the end of a work of fiction is a formalist concern, it is intriguing that the narrator should choose to drive away from her home, thus illustrating in the denouement a significant element of Korean social philosophy:

Because of Korea’s rigid social structure, the person who does not fit in is at a greater disadvantage than he or she would be in the more individualistic societies in the West.  For in Korea, one’s identity is determined almost exclusively by relationships with others, whether family, clan, classmates, or colleagues.  In extreme cases, misfits are virtually nonpersons—people without a society, internal exiles.  It is the status of such individuals that lends tension to a great deal of contemporary Korean fiction. (Pihl, Fulton, and Fulton xiv)

[10] A word of caution must be injected here.  Some commentators object to the application of literary theories to international works on the ground that doing so obscures the primary functions of literature (to teach and to entertain).  M. M. Badawi thus challenges the tendencies of most literary theories to divert attention away from the entertainment and didactic purposes of literature while succinctly challenging the more prominent literary theories in the following passage:

At a more fundamental level, I cannot dismiss as irrelevant the question of value [….]  Nor am I capable of reducing to the status of a mere game of words, however intricate the rules, a work that grapples with the baffling mystery of human existence, exploring the dark recesses of the mind, trying to make sense of the intensity of human passions and suffering, or even endeavouring to lessen the misery of the wretched of the earth by advocating political or social action.  Literature is much more than entertainment: this was once regarded as a truism, but sadly it has to be repeated now, even at the risk of sounding too solemn.  Modern fashionable French-inspired academic literary criticism, particularly in the United States of America—what Frank Kermode recently described as “high-tech, jargoned and reader alienating”—has, in my opinion, with its neo-scholasticism done a considerable disservice to literature by robbing it of its seriousness, even though as a rule it suffers itself from unbearable solemnity. (5-6)

[11] In the biographical introduction of Pak in their anthology, Pihl, Fulton, and Fulton ratify this interpretation of authorial intention:

Her language, enriched by the skillful use of irony and metaphor, implies much about the characters and their world with a minimum of authorial intervention.  Like many Korean writers of fiction, Pak spends more time on people and their attitudes than on physical description.  While using objective description to establish a physical setting, she conveys most of her information through the language of her characters and, in her first-person narratives, the attitude of her narrator.  We are told less about how things appear to the narrator and more about how they make her feel. (150; italics in original)

[12]  A political statement on abortion in South Korea is possible, of course.  Even though abortion is legal in the United States throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever, it is significant that the number of abortions in South Korea is comparable to that of the United States:

In Korean law, an induced abortion, defined as the removing of a fetus before the 28th week of gestation, is allowed in cases of genetically inherited diseases, transmitted diseases, incest, rape, and those cases that may greatly harm maternal health.  However, it has been used as a form of contraception in Korea, and the number of induced abortions runs between 1.5 to 2 million cases annually.  There are 600,000 newborns in Korea each year, and the number of abortions is nearly three times the number of deliveries.  The total number of abortions in Korea is the second highest in the world. One out of two married women has experienced an abortion.  Eighty percent of abortions are done for gender-selection purposes, using an ultrasound scan to ascertain the gender, and then selectively aborting female fetuses. Those who seek abortions for reasons defined by the law account for only 20% of all abortions.  Unmarried women have 18.5% of the induced abortions; 26.5% of these women were between ages 16 and 20.  The overwhelming majority of women who had an abortion, 77.9% of married women and 71.3% of unmarried women, reported satisfaction with the results of the abortion.  This reflects, perhaps, the fact that abortion has become commonplace in Korea. (Choi, “Abortion” 953)

            Despite this possibility of a political statement, one can argue that Pak is more concerned with the effect of abortion on the culture and tries to demonstrate that through different perspectives.  “Three Days in That Autumn” (a short story published in an earlier anthology) recounts the last three working days of an abortionist before she retires.  The story weaves between historical reminiscences of the abortionist and her own thwarted desire to assist in the birth of a child—all in a narrative style which would severely challenge the most astute reader eager to find anything preachy in the writing.

[13] A traditional psychological critical evaluation could be created.  On giving birth to a son, the narrator states, “I gave them an heir and I could be as grand as I wanted to be.  In fact, I became a man.  My son was my newly acquired male organ” (133).  As one can imagine, an interpretation along the Freudian lines of penis envy or a possible application of the Oedipus complex of these few sentences could be entirely coherent, yet ridiculous.


Right-to-Life Issues in Academia: Political Correctivity in American Higher Education and Strategies for Pro-Life Students in a Hostile College or University Environment

Right-to-Life Issues in Academia: Political Correctivity in American Higher Education and Strategies for Pro-Life Students in a Hostile College or University Environment

Abstract:  Expanding on ideas from last year’s presentation, this workshop identifies and analyzes the stifling political correctivity in certain sections of higher education in the United States.  However, the bulk of the workshop is devoted to practical strategies that students and faculty can use not only to overcome such political correctivity, but also to advance the interests of the pro-life movement on the three life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.  These strategies are intended to guide today’s students to greater activism throughout their academic careers and beyond.

          I must express my gratitude to convention organizers for allowing me to present my ideas about censorship of pro-lifers by academia and ways to challenge and overcome such censorship.  I am not only honored to be here, but also fortunate to be in the company of national and international pro-life activists, who, being pro-life, are always joyous people, unlike anti-lifers whose faces are in a permanent scowl because they suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome and whose vocabulary is often peppered with words which rhyme with “rich” and “duck.”

          [slide 2]  This year’s presentation has four sections.  First, I will reiterate one major idea from last year’s workshop: continued scholarly ignorance or lack of concern about the censorship and suppression of pro-life ideas in academia; this section is about 7% of the total talk.  Second, it is necessary to highlight the significant changes I have observed not only in academic suppression of pro-life free speech rights, but also in pro-life challenges and success in overcoming such censorship; this section is about 20% of the total presentation.  Third, the bulk of this workshop (about 73%) will recommend practical strategies that students, faculty, and administrators can use to overcome anti-life political correctivity.  Several case studies will be presented so that you, the audience, will be able to implement these strategies to analyze and resolve specific controversial situations.  [slide 2, click]  Finally, time will be reserved for questions and answers or, to keep this session lively and humorous, utterly hopeless deer-in-the-headlight stares.

I.  Reiteration of major finding discussed in last year’s presentation

          Last year, I demonstrated how academic databases (which contain professors’ scholarly articles and which students use to support claims made in their research papers) seem to ignore the concerns of pro-life students; this is a trend which has continued in the past year.  For example, if one were to enter the keywords “student”, “pro-life”, and “group”, delimiting for full text and scholarly, peer-reviewed articles with only the years 2017-2019 specified in Academic Search Premier, the search will yield no results.  However, using the same search without specifying scholarly, peer-reviewed articles yields one new record, Leigh Jones’ January 2018 article in World, which will be discussed later.

In contrast, search for “feminist” and “Trump” in the database with the same delimiters and you will find articles on topics and perspectives which seem to concern academics the most.  [slide 3]  Nothing in the most recent search of scholarly articles is as pedantic, antagonistic towards pro-life President Trump, or practically useless as Amanda R. Martinez’ 2017 article, “Monstrosities in the 2016 Presidential Election and Beyond: Centering Nepantla and Intersectional Feminist Activism”, the abstract of which reads as follows:

The article focuses on the bad practices in the campaigns of the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election.  It mentions misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia [and] revealed that White supremacist patriarchy plainly affected American politics and accepting [the] multicultural social climate by Donald Trump.  It also mentions Trump supporters are exerting this control through hate crimes, intimidation, and harassment and social media in search of competing interpretations of [its? the? their?] campaign.

Granted that the abstract itself is poorly written, would you read something like this?  If you are like me, the criterion I apply to anything written by a scholar is: how does this help me to advance the pro-life movement?  If the article does, then I read it.  If it obviously does not, then why waste my time?  A better use of my time is to like or retweet what a pro-life group broadcasts on social media.  Given what purports to be scholarly research like this, no wonder most students ignore their Communications, English, Humanities, and Women’s Studies professors and most Americans view academics as out of touch with reality.  All the more reason one should consult work by members of University Faculty for Life, which will be discussed later.

II.  Highlighting significant changes in past year

Like many pro-lifers in October 2016, after working the phone banks and distributing pro-life campaign literature, given how dismal the outcome of the campaign looked, the best thing I could do was pray, especially when it seemed, according to certain sectors of the media, that violently anti-life Hillary Clinton was going to be president.

I am not a theologian, but any pro-lifer can certainly affirm that [slide 4] a miracle happened on Election Day 2016.  Elections have consequences.  Fortunately, for us, the consequences are not only “all good”, but magnificent.  Certainly, just like their comrades in the so-called major broadcast media and biased social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, anti-lifers in academia are still trying their best to stifle pro-lifers’ free speech.  However, those anti-lifers are being challenged to a greater degree than anyone ever imagined, especially now that pro-lifers know that they have friends not only in the White House, but also across the various departments of the executive branch.

The history of pro-life opposition to the censorship of their beliefs is a long one.  [slide 5]  For example, after citing instances of educational bias, Rachel Zabarkes Friedman offers what she classifies as one “of the most heartening acts of courage” in an October 2004 issue of National Review:

Carolina Students for Life, an anti-abortion group at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was intentionally excluded from activities planned by the campus Women’s Center, which also refused to post a link to the group’s website.  So group president Stephanie Evans sent a stern but measured letter to the center and copied it to UNC trustees and administrators.  In response (to the letter and the media attention that followed), members of the group were invited to a meeting with a high-level administrator and the Women’s Center director.  They got a link on the website.  The center also posted links to a pregnancy-support service and a site promoting abstinence.  Finally, Carolina Students for Life was invited to participate in future abortion-related events.  “I don’t think we struck any extraordinary deal,” says Evans.  “I think we got what we deserved and what every other student group had gotten.”  (48 and 50)

          [slide 6]  John Jalsevac of the prestigious had this to say about student pro-life groups in the fall 2010 issue of The Human Life Review:

In 1996 a sobering Gallup Poll was released that confirmed what many pro-life activists already suspected, but nevertheless hoped wasn’t true: while 47% of women said they were pro-life when they entered college, by graduation, a whopping 73% said they were now pro-choice.

          Frighteningly, the pro-life movement was losing 26% of all female students who went through a university program.  Clearly, if the movement had any hope of survival in the long run, more needed to be done to reach out to students.


          In 2006, all of that changed.  In that year American Collegians for Life received a sizable start-up grant, changed its name to Students for Life of America (SFLA), hired a professional staff, opened its first national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and launched its historic Pro-Life Field Program.

          Since then, Students for Life has gone on to become one of the most active, and most successful, pro-life organizations in the country.  (104)

          [slide 7]  Andrew Guernsey confirms the value of assertive student action in his commentary in the fall 2015 issue of Intercollegiate Review:

          Earlier […], the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair had attempted to ban Voice for Life, a pro-life student group I founded, from displaying models of fetuses in various stages of development.  The committee in charge of the fair said the models would be “triggering and disturbing” to students.  But when our group fought back—and Fox News and other media outlets began reporting on the story—the committee relented.

Voice for Life almost didn’t make it off the ground.  In 2013 the student government denied our group recognition as an official student club.  But we fought that, too, and the student judiciary committee reversed the decision.

Johns Hopkins recently created a Task Force on Academic Freedom to reassess the university’s policies relating to freedom of speech, owing in no small part to our campus activism.  You can fight back.  (24-5; italics in original)

[slide 8]  Finally, Leigh Jones’ January 2018 article in World, the sole result of the search mentioned above, contains this interesting comment about students forming pro-life groups in their high schools:

In 2015, administrators at a North Dakota school district denied applications for two pro-life clubs, calling them too controversial.  The district approved the applications only after Christian legal firm Thomas More Society sent a warning letter.


Clubs in Washington and Virginia faced similar initial denials.  And in 2017, a Pennsylvania district tried to restrict a pro-life club’s activities to its own members, forbidding the club from engaging in outreach efforts to other students.  Administrators did not back down when Thomas More attorneys intervened, so the students filed a federal lawsuit.  To avoid the litigation, the school district in October agreed to let the club operate freely.

Many more recent news articles exist not only about colleges and universities censoring pro-lifers, but also about pro-lifers fighting back.  Speaking anecdotally, I read about the censorship of a pro-life student or professor and his or her fighting back against the suppression of his or her free speech rights almost daily on pro-life news services.  Where does one go to obtain qualified information about censorship of pro-life views in academia?

As has been suggested, consulting scholarly databases is often fruitless.  Equally useless is consulting the most common search engine on the internet.  [slide 9]  For example, entering the words “pro-life”, “students”, and “censorship” in Google yields 50,100,000 results—results which are unmanageable, probably off topic in most cases, and therefore a waste of time.  Pro-lifers, of course, have two news services which are invaluable for our research purposes.  [slide 10]  Entering those same keywords in the search box for yields 475 results; [slide 11]  the same search on yields 906 results.[1]  While the hundreds of results could be unwieldy, scanning the various citations in these services is much better for two reasons.  First, both LifeNews and LifeSiteNews are focused news entities; they are pro-life and have our interests at heart.  Second, a near repeat of the previous reason, they’re pro-life, and I would rather promote our own agencies—and have my students consult these reputable sources in their papers and presentations—instead of a biased media outlet/organ of anti-life interests like CNN, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, or Time.

III.  Recommending practical strategies and case studies

Having taught Communications, English, and Humanities courses for thirty years and having been in managerial positions concurrently strictly for seven of those years, I offer the following general comments about the lives of academics, administrators, and students and then recommend various practical strategies to overcome academic hostility to pro-life ideas and persons.

Before providing these recommendations, it would be helpful to determine the mindset of a typical college or university administrator and the mindset of a typical student in today’s politically correct academic environment.  Faculty and administrators first.

A faculty member, whether he or she is adjunct or full-time, goes to his or her office, teaches some classes, may assist in committee meetings, grades papers in his or her college’s online learning management system, and goes home hopefully before traffic is heavy.

[slide 12]  An administrator, in contrast, has several other functions which occupy his or her mind.  He or she may have teaching duties, but these teaching assignments are usually beyond his or her other duties such as: reviewing college policies for accuracy and timeliness in accordance with new federal and state regulations or board directives; obtaining candidates for faculty positions; hiring qualified faculty; training faculty on college systems, most notably the learning management system where students will upload assignments and papers; assigning courses on a regular basis, usually per semester or quarter, but looking ahead at least one year; handling student complaints against faculty; handling faculty complaints against students; managing faculty complaints against other faculty; firing faculty; serving on college committees; establishing college committees for tasks not covered by other committees; presenting papers at conferences; publishing papers and other items (articles and books).

Unless the faculty member or administrator is one of those people who simply “love their jobs” and offer the grand philosophical reasoning that they are in education to serve their students’ needs and to build on the corpus of human knowledge, the reality is that most faculty and administrators are there to make money the best way they can in a field which comports with their talents.  Their ultimate goal is retirement when they can draw down an annuity and finally do what they want to do instead of what they have to do.  This may be a jaundiced view of college and university faculty, staff, and administrators, but true.

Similarly, unless he or she is simply in love with learning for the sake of learning, a student has (or should have) one goal in mind: get those magic letters after your name, whether they denote an associate’s degree, or a baccalaureate or master’s degree, or, ultimately, a doctoral degree for the express purpose of making the most money you can before retirement.  Again, this may be a jaundiced view of student goals in colleges and universities, but true.

          More importantly, these perspectives which seem jaundiced will inform the following recommendations.  [slide 13]  Last year, I developed the idea that SWOT could be used in discussing academic censorship of pro-life views.  I would like to expand on that section now, given the changed circumstances of the pro-life movement in the pro-life Trump era.  This section applies primarily to students and faculty who assist students either in the creation of pro-life groups on campus or by guiding them through their academic careers.

Business majors know that SWOT is an acronym which stands for analyzing the strengths of a business proposal, weaknesses of that proposal, opportunities that the proposal can address, and threats to those opportunities.  However, since I like to move from negativity to being positive, I will reverse that order so that pro-life students and faculty can understand the threats they face, the weaknesses which college faculty and administrators may manifest, the strengths that pro-life students possess, and then opportunities available to pro-life students.

[slide 14]  First, the threats.  Granted, pro-life students face the immediate threat of politically-correct faculty squelching their pro-life views if expressed in the classroom during discussion or in written assignments.  I am primarily thinking about papers submitted for English courses or courses in the social sciences, but any subject area can pose threats to pro-life students if the faculty member is stridently anti-life.  It is my experience that attending an institution previously thought “safe” or “friendly” to the pro-life movement (such as a Catholic college) no longer applies.  For example, I was told by one administrator in a purportedly Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area that the college “does not necessarily follow Catholic dogma” when it comes to the pro-life issues.  [slide 15]  Consider, also, this LinkedIn message exchange with the president of yet another ostensibly Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland area.  I had asked the college president why the institution was not listed as an orthodox Catholic institution in the Cardinal Newman Society’s Newman Guide:

Hi Jeff, good to hear from you.  Here at ***, our focus is more on staying true to the word of Jesus, less about being orthodox.  Are we staying true to helping those less fortunate than us; are we serving the underserved?  Are we helping students to be prepared for the challenges of living a faith-filled life?  Are we helping prepare our students to be successful in life after ***?  I’d be happy to talk with you[r] colleague.  The world of Higher Ed is, as you know, filled with challenges.  Being true to the mission of the school is one of the most important.  Take care.

To which my response was:

Thanks for replying.  Hmmm…you make it sound like being orthodox is not the same as “staying true to the word of Jesus.”  May want to reevaluate that.

It is no surprise, then, that this ostensibly Catholic college hires as its English coordinator an open lesbian who is hostile to the pro-life movement.  That Catholic college has surrendered its Catholic identity for the sake of an ambiguous “inclusion” or “diversity”.  This is not merely a problem that Catholic colleges in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area have, as continued research from the Cardinal Newman Society indicates.  In my estimation, attending a secular institution, such as a community college or state institution, may be more compatible with life-affirming values—as well as significantly less expensive for students.

[slide 16]  How to address this threat of a hostile faculty member or hostile institution?  Students should always appeal to the justice of the pro-life position, making the expression of their pro-life views a matter of equity.  Argue—always politely, yet assertively—that a diversity of opinion requires the pro-life or life-affirming perspective to be included.  Faculty, whether liberal or conservative (using the classic, old-fashioned definitions of the terms), can neutralize fears that their colleagues may have about pro-life students.  Pro-life faculty can counter whatever negative stereotypes that anti-life faculty may have of pro-life students by showing their colleagues that pro-life students are assertive, yes, but eminently educated, reasonable, and willing to work within the institutions to have their free speech rights affirmed.  A final recommendation for this aspect is that faculty need to take the initiative by contacting pro-life groups like the Thomas More Society or University Faculty for Life for (respectively) legal and academic assistance.

[slide 17]  Second, the weaknesses.  All colleges and universities, especially for-profit institutions, depend economically on students.  While some in higher education may hold their jobs because they love to share knowledge and learning, the American reality is that colleges and universities are money-making ventures, and this holds true for non-profits as much as for-profit institutions.  Students bring not only their eager minds to the classrooms, but also their dollars to college bank accounts.

How is this a weakness?  When students leave an institution which is so politically correct that it insults their pro-life beliefs, that college loses the student’s money, whether from Mom and Dad, from the student him- or herself, or, perhaps more importantly, from federal education dollars.  If a sufficiently large drop in the student population occurs, then that college may face serious economic challenges.  Pro-life students should be aware of this weakness and vote not only every two years, but also with their feet to a friendly college if that politically-correct anti-life college does not accommodate their pro-life views.

Moreover, while negative news could have been stifled twenty years ago by a college’s public relations office, any negativity generated by student protests cannot be suppressed today, given the internet, friendly news networks, and social media outlets which, although run by anti-life censors of pro-life free speech, are under scrutiny for censoring us.  No college or university wants the social media hassle of having ordinary people and board members wonder why their college is the target of a social media blast.  Most importantly, a college which is a target of social media protest could influence donors.  Why would any major donor want his or her name associated with a college which is the target of a protest?  As business students and pro-life activists working in various corporate boycott projects know, the mere threat of a boycott can convince a company to stop funding anti-life groups.  Just ask Life Decisions International, which coordinates the corporate boycott of Planned Parenthood, or the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which successfully encouraged Wendy’s to stop funding Samantha Bee’s comedy show (so-called) for her recent vulgar broadcasts.

In summary, to manage these weaknesses from a pro-life perspective, students can demonstrate their opposition to an anti-life institution’s policies by voting with their feet, going to a friendly college if that politically-correct anti-life college does not accommodate their pro-life views.  Both students and faculty (and ordinary pro-lifers, like me, who hop on social media frequently every day) can use such media to publicize censorship of anti-life institutions.

[slide 18]  Third, the strengths.  Pro-life students and faculty have several strengths about which they may be unaware.  Students first.  Pro-life students are young, and any young person invigorates those around him or her.  Whom would you want to have around you, an old man droning on about the Aristotelian concepts of ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos, or a young person able to illustrate how those four concepts apply to the state and national efforts to stop tax funding of the abortion business Planned Parenthood?  Even if a pro-life student does not have a chronological advantage, he or she has passion, a characteristic which may have died in his or her professor, stuck in the stifling politically-correct atmosphere of an anti-life institution.

Moreover, pro-life students bring new perspectives to the life issues that older anti-life academics chose either to ignore or to minimize.  For example, in the heyday of aggressive feminism of the 1970s, no one would have thought that being a feminist was compatible with pro-life beliefs.  Now, that connection is well established.  Around the 1980s, no one would have thought that anyone other than Catholics were pro-life; now, thanks to support from other denominations, only the most ridiculously biased CNN or MSNBC commentator would think that all pro-lifers are Catholic.  In this century, no one would have thought that the movement would shift from the position that legislation had to have exception clauses to allow abortion for rape and incest.  Now, thanks to young pro-lifers, who question the standards of their elders and speak on behalf of those conceived by rape and incest who should not be killed because of the crimes of their fathers, major pro-life organizations are altering their legislative agendas to include those human beings conceived in less-than-perfect circumstances.

And now a word about strength from the faculty perspective.  Faculty are more familiar with end-of-course surveys and ensuing praise from their administrators for work done well or “discussions” with supervisors about teaching which students deemed inferior.  Often, therefore, faculty do not realize how powerful their pro-life witness is in the classroom.  [slide 19]  When I canvassed colleagues for anecdotes to use in this presentation from students who appreciate their pro-life witness, a colleague received this letter from a student, whose words concisely document that faculty member’s influence:

I was never able to write anything influenced by my Christian worldview in my classes previous to meeting you.  […]  You are never afraid to say what you believe (whether it be something Christian, conservative, or pro-life), and I cannot tell you what an impact this has had on me.  Please, if you can, do not stop teaching at ***.  There are so many students like me who are afraid to say what they believe, and you are the one and only conservative Christian professor speaking truth at *** (that I know of).

These strengths will help to convince academics that pro-lifers can be feminist (still a dominant buzzword in the academy), non-Catholic (academia still harbors a strong anti-Catholicism), and inclusive (perhaps the most recent and enduring buzzword added to the list of what constitutes an academic).

[slide 20]  Should anything be said about these strengths?  After all, threats and weaknesses are categories which by definition need recommendations for their resolution.  My three recommendations for this aspect, therefore, are meant to maintain and increase the strengths that already exist.

Pro-life activists who have been in the movement for decades can testify to the lack of a finely developed hierarchical structure to ensure the continuance of their organizations; this is especially obvious in student groups.  For example, a college group may be robust one year, but, when the leaders, who may be seniors, graduate, the activism of students in other leadership positions may decline; when these students graduate, even more leadership skills are lost, etc.  An essential mechanism must be written into the constitution and by-laws of any pro-life group to allow for officers of one level (vice presidents, for example) to move into presidential positions; similarly, for student groups, a by-law should specify that the leadership team of the organization must contain students from the various academic levels (freshmen to seniors).

Second, faculty have the obligation to guide pro-life passion into appropriate channels.  This is not meant to squelch the pro-life passion of younger pro-lifers; it is meant, however, to mentor them so that their action is effective.  After all, pro-life young people are not the snowflakes who smash windows and burn cars when they don’t get what they want.

Finally for this aspect, both students and faculty must constantly perfect what already is going well.  This may not seem as controversial as it is.  After all, why fix it if it ain’t broke?  However, even the most perfect pro-life organizations need to reevaluate their missions, their practices, and their goals.  For example, its mission statement reads that “Students for Life of America exists to recruit, train, and mobilize the pro-life generation to abolish abortion.”  Why is this stated negatively?  Why does the mission statement not read to affirm the first civil right, the right to life?  Where are the other two threats to human life, infanticide and euthanasia?  Should another group be created to fight the killing of the handicapped newborn or the medically vulnerable or aged?  After Terri Schiavo and Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, there should be not be another Terri Schiavo and Charlie Gard or Alfie Evans.

[slide 21]  Finally, the opportunities.  Pro-life students may find two significant effects from their pro-life activism on campus.  First, a pro-life student may find that he or she is not alone.  One pro-life student is only one pro-life student.  Two such students make a group, and three pro-life students form an academic trinity that can change a college.  Second, after identifying themselves, these pro-life students may find that several faculty are pro-life.  Not every academic is a strident anti-life lesbian who attacks pro-life views or who thinks the only way to handle the pro-life policies of President Trump or Rep. Jim Renacci from Ohio (who will unseat anti-life Senator Sherrod Brown in November) is to “resist” them.  Pro-life students may find that many faculty are pro-life and cheer pro-life students (albeit on the sidelines), yet keep silent about their pro-life views because they either must keep their jobs or because they are on the path to obtain tenure.  Pro-life faculty certainly need to encourage students, but students can encourage these pro-life faculty to stand up for their beliefs.

I have six recommendations for this aspect, most of which are complex and long-term and dominantly concern students.  First, donate money now to pro-life groups.  While they are traditionally poor, faculty and students often underestimate their economic power.  Imagine the impact of millions of pro-lifers arranging a donation of five, ten, twenty, or more dollars per month to a pro-life organization of their choice.  Second, some students may want to consider being an academic in your field of interest.  Consider: it is not only the opinions of today’s anti-life professors which are intellectually tired, worn out, and old, but also the professors themselves.  When the anti-lifers retire or go to their eternal reward, who will take their place?  I trust that many of you will investigate this career opportunity so that the half century of academic bias against the first civil right to life can be corrected.  Third, strive for excellence in your academic activities and your scholarship; earn all As.  It is difficult for an anti-life faculty member or administrator to argue against a pro-life student who is polite, academically credentialed, and just plain smart.  Fourth, take advantage of internships not only with companies or organizations in your field, but also with pro-life organizations.  Fifth, aim for the highest degree you can obtain in your field.  Having a certain abbreviated title (like “Dr.”) before your name or certain letters (like “Ph.D.”) after your name substantially increases your credibility when speaking or writing.  This terminal degree will also be crucial in the effort to fulfill the second recommendation, taking the places of retiring or deceased professors.

[slide 22]  Earlier I said that pro-lifers are not alone in fighting for free speech rights in academia.  Fortunately, this is a golden age of pro-life educational resources.  I would like to highlight some of them.


40 Days for Life

Advocates for Family, Life and Religious Freedom

All Girls Allowed

American Association of Pro-Life Physicians and Gynecologists

American Life League

Americans United for Life

Birthright International – 800-550-4900

Campaign Life Coalition

Center for Medical Progress

Christian Medical and Dental Associations

Coalition on Abortion Breast Cancer

Consistent Life

Culture of Life Foundation

Cuyahoga Right to Life

ECLJ • European Center for Law & Justice | Jay Sekulow

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Feminists for Life

Gianna Jessen | Abortion Survivor, Pro-Life Advocate, Speaker

Healing the Culture

Heartbeat International

Heritage House: Pro-Life Supplies for the Pro-Life Movement

Human Family Research Center

I Lived on Parker Avenue Film

International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family

John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute

Life Decisions International


LifeTech Conference

Lutherans for Life

March for Life

Michael Fund

National Catholic Bioethics Center

National Right to Life Committee

National Right to Life PAC

Not Dead Yet | The Resistance

Nurses for Life

Ohio Right to Life

Ohio Right to Life PAC

Pharmacists for Life

Population Research Institute

Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians

Prolife World Congress

Pro Vita Advisors

Right to Life of North East Ohio

Silent Scream

Sisters of Life

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC)

Society of Catholic Social Scientists

Students for Life of America

Teachers Saving Children

Teens for Life

Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation

Thomas More Society

University Faculty for Life


Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Your Life Counts

Now, the case studies.  Four scenarios follow, illustrating controversial aspects of pro-life student activism and college or university administration censorship.  You will not be graded on your responses.  You may use pencil or pen.  No electronic devices are allowed so that no one will text a colleague within this room for an answer.  Seriously, though, since there are no correct answers, enjoy the slides.

[slide 23]  Case study one:   Dr. Hiram Hyperbole teaches Biology.  You like him a lot, especially since he complimented you on your fine research work on embryonic stem cell research in your last paper.  Should you ask him to be the adviser for your campus pro-life group?

a.  Maybe.  Consult first to get others’ opinions.

b.  No.  Anybody who is this old must be a reject from the sixties, probably a hippie.

c.  No.  During class, he mentioned the cons and the pros of embryonic stem cell research.

d.  No.  His car’s bumper sticker reads “Bernie for President.”

e.  Yes.  Another bumper sticker reads “Trump for President.”

f.  Yes.  He supports various free speech causes identified on his left-wing blogs.

g.  Yes.  The door to his faculty office has a “Hillary for Prison” sticker.

h.  None of the above

[slide 24]  Case study two:  Dr. Maria Metaphor is dean of Liberal Arts and a professor of feminist studies.  She opposes your pro-life group’s request for funds to bring anti-Planned Parenthood speakers to campus for a lecture on civil rights.  What should you do?

a.  Ask Uncle Guido to make her an offer she can’t refuse (he makes the best cannoli).

b.  Begin an online petition, asking people to urge the college to uphold students’ First Amendment free speech rights.

c.  Ignore her; there are other votes on the faculty committee which disburses student activities funds.

d.  Picket her house or the restaurant where she dines.

e.  Request a meeting with her to discuss the benefits of having the speaker come to campus.

f.  None of the above

[slide 25]  Case study three:  Mr. Sam Synecdoche, an adjunct faculty member, is pro-life; he began a pregnancy support group in Burkina Faso.  You want to bring Alveda King to campus to discuss the extreme abortion rate among African Americans.  Should you ask him to intercede with the administration to support the effort?

a.  Don’t even try to invite Alveda King, especially if members of your group are all white.

b.  Maybe.  Ask Mr. Synecdoche if he will lose his job over this.

c.  No.  The administration will view you as racist, since you are obviously appealing to mere identity politics.

d.  Yes.  The administration will not reject a request from a person of color.

e.  Yes.  The administration would appreciate anything to assist minority students faced with untimely pregnancies.

f.  None of the above

[slide 26]  Case study four:  The anti-life LGBTQ group on campus (not to be confused with the pro-life one) wants your college’s administration to declare your pro-life group a hate group.  What should you do?

a.  Consult the appropriate code in the student handbook for guidance on how to respond to the charge.

b.  Contact a pro-life lawyer immediately for guidance.

c.  Gather all group communications (emails, newsletters, etc.) to refute the charge.

d.  Hold an ad hoc dialogue with the LGBTQ community to compare how the unborn, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly are just as vulnerable (if not more so) as persons with same-sex attraction.

e.  I wouldn’t touch this with the proverbial ten-foot pole.  Don’t even answer here in this workshop!  This is too hot an issue.

f.  Post online petitions on Facebook, Gab, LinkedIn, and Twitter among others, asking the college to support your free speech rights.

g.  None of the above

I hope that this presentation and your comments during the case studies have helped to encourage you to devote your energies further for pro-life activism in your colleges and universities.  Thank you for your attention and participation.  I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.  [slide 27]

Works Cited

Friedman, Rachel Zabarkes. “The Good and the Bad (Plus Some Ugly).” National Review, vol. 56, no. 19, 11 Oct. 2004, pp. 48-50. EBSCOhost.

Guernsey, Andrew. “Dare to Eat a Chicken Sandwich?” Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015, pp. 24-5. EBSCOhost.

Jalsevac, John. “Hundreds of Pro-Life Student Groups Sweeping Across U.S. College Campuses.” Human Life Review, vol. 36, no. 4, Fall 2010, pp. 104-6. EBSCOhost.

Jones, Leigh. “The New Pro-Life Generation: High-School Students Are Organizing and Engaging in the Fight for Life, Despite Sharp Opposition from Some Administrators and Peers.” World, vol. 33, no. 1, 20 Jan. 2018, pp. 42-5, Accessed 20 June 2018.

Martinez. Amanda R. “Monstrosities in the 2016 Presidential Election and Beyond: Centering Nepantla and Intersectional Feminist Activism.” Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 40, no. 2, 2017, pp. 145-9. doi::10.1080/07491409.2017.1302260.

Students for Life of America. “Mission Statement.” Accessed 24 June 2018.

[1] These searches were conducted on 20 June 2018.


Academic Freedom and the Life Issues: Assistance for Pro-Life Students Facing a Hostile College or University Environment

Abstract:  This workshop not only addresses various assaults on free speech rights of pro-life students in higher education, but also, more importantly, suggests ways that pro-life students can work within the academy to secure their free speech rights and advance the interests of the pro-life movement.  Suggestions made in this workshop are given from the perspective of an academic who has worked in higher education for nearly thirty years as a faculty member and as an administrator for various academic departments.

          First, I must express my gratitude to convention organizers for allowing me not only to hear the work of the new generation of pro-life activists (David Daleiden, Ann McElhinney, and Bobby Schindler), but also to present some ideas to assist students who must navigate the politically-correct waters of academia.  I trust that what follows will change some minds about pro-life opportunities available in higher education and perhaps inspire many young people to consider a career at the college or university level.

          [slide two]  This presentation has eight sections.  First, it may be good to know something about the credentials of your speaker.

Second, I would like to briefly review some points about the dire situation in which academia has placed itself, especially important because our students have to obtain degrees for their various careers through institutions beset by strident anti-life political correctivity.

Third, I will discuss tasks which affect the mindset of any college or university administrator.  This may be helpful so that pro-life students, eager young people that they rightfully should be, may understand how to interpret what they may conclude is hostility when it really may not be.

Fourth, since I like to think positively always, I will reverse the traditional SWOT formulation that Business students know into TWSO, an acronym that will not catch on, but which will help me to identify the threats that pro-life students face in academia, the weaknesses that college and university officials suffer, the strengths that pro-life students can offer those college officials, and the opportunities that pro-life students have to impact their academic culture.

Fifth, there are many unique resources available to pro-life students, and I will highlight some of them.

Sixth, the penultimate part of this presentation involves audience participation.  Specifically, I will pose four scenarios and ask the audience how they would resolve the controversies described.

Seventh, I will offer some final suggestions.

Finally, the eighth section is reserved for questions and answers, or, to keep this session lively and humorous, utterly hopeless deer-in-the-headlight stares.

[slide three]  I.  Credentials Reviewed

Who am I that you should care about what I have to say?  I am a professor of English who has held many teaching and administrative positions.  I obtained a master’s degree in English from Cleveland State University in 1991 and earned a doctorate in English at Kent State University in 2001.  I have taught English courses as an adjunct instructor at various community colleges and universities in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area since 1989.  I obtained my first full-time teaching position at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio in 2002.  I advanced to a full-time administrative position at the Columbus, Ohio Campus of the for-profit University of Phoenix in 2005, where I was Campus College Chair for the three Colleges of Arts and Sciences (the College of Humanities, the College of Natural Sciences, and the College of Social Sciences).  Returning home to Cleveland in 2011, I became associate professor of English for two years at the Cleveland Campus of South University, another for-profit institution.  Thanks to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, I was able to obtain early retirement in 2014.  Now, enjoying the benefits of retirement, I continue to teach part-time at various Catholic and secular colleges and institutions in the metropolitan Cleveland area.

Throughout these years, I have always identified myself, not as a mere English professor, not as a mere full-time faculty here or there, and not as a mere administrator, but as a pro-life English professor.  I have published one monograph, one smaller book (a collection of poems on my favorite topic, Niagara Falls), and over eighty papers on some aspect of the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia (available on various websites like and in print).  I know that I was denied full-time positions in years past because of my pro-life interests.  However, the pro-life writing always came first.  While others may have been circumspect about broadcasting their pro-life views in some colleges when they had to maintain a household and feed their children, I was more open about what I said and wrote on behalf of the pro-life movement, the greatest benefit that early retirement can give anyone.

[slide four]  II.  Discussion of Current State of Affairs

          I think that every pro-lifer can testify to the dire situation that the academy has placed itself in—I use the reflexive pronoun because I believe the politically-correct, anti-life enclosure in which many academics are trapped is largely their own doing, not a result of exterior political forces.

          Here’s a most curious thing.  If one were to enter the keywords “student”, “pro-life”, and “group”, delimiting for full text and scholarly, peer-reviewed articles with open dates in Academic Search Premier, one result appears.  Adding the keyword “censorship” with no delimiters yields no results.  However, searching merely for “student”, “pro-life”, and “group” with no scholarly or peer-reviewed delimiters yields more than twenty items, nearly all written by pro-life sources.

What does this mean?  Either anti-life scholars are not interested in the struggles that pro-life students have in organizing, maintaining, and promoting their pro-life activities and groups on campus, or they are concerned about more important matters.  Search for “feminist” and “Trump” in the database and—voila!—you will find nearly eighty entries, such as Wendy Weinhold and Alison Fisher Bodkin’s article “Homophobic Masculinity and Vulnerable Femininity: SNL’s Portrayals of Trump and Clinton”, published in the June 2017 issue of Feminist Media Studies.

          Although anti-life scholars may have either no interest or no desire to address the problems that pro-life students face in the academy, others are interested.  Four examples from scholarly databases since 2000 sufficiently illustrate activism on behalf of contemporary pro-life students.

          [slide five]  In an April 2000 issue of The Report/Newsmagazine (Alberta, Canada), Shafer Parker states:

New pro-life groups arise when students make them happen, as did first-year University of Calgary student Helen Gardner last fall.  Miss Gardner, 18, found herself on a campus with no pro-life club and knew immediately that she had to start one.  “So many people have never heard a scientific discussion of what the fetus is,” she explains.  “Until now the campus has been dominated by feminists.” (28)

          [slide six]  After citing examples of educational bias, Rachel Zabarkes Friedman offers what she classifies as one “of the most heartening acts of courage” in an October 2004 issue of National Review:

Carolina Students for Life, an anti-abortion group at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was intentionally excluded from activities planned by the campus Women’s Center, which also refused to post a link to the group’s website.  So group president Stephanie Evans sent a stern but measured letter to the center and copied it to UNC trustees and administrators.  In response (to the letter and the media attention that followed), members of the group were invited to a meeting with a high-level administrator and the Women’s Center director.  They got a link on the website.  The center also posted links to a pregnancy-support service and a site promoting abstinence.  Finally, Carolina Students for Life was invited to participate in future abortion-related events.  “I don’t think we struck any extraordinary deal,” says Evans.  “I think we got what we deserved and what every other student group had gotten.”  (48 and 50)

          [slide seven]  John Jalsevac of the prestigious had this to say about student pro-life groups in the fall 2010 issue of The Human Life Review:

In 1996 a sobering Gallup Poll was released that confirmed what many pro-life activists already suspected, but nevertheless hoped wasn’t true: while 47% of women said they were pro-life when they entered college, by graduation, a whopping 73% said they were now pro-choice.

          Frighteningly, the pro-life movement was losing 26% of all female students who went through a university program.  Clearly, if the movement had any hope of survival in the long run, more needed to be done to reach out to students.

          At that time there already existed a group whose mission was to create a pro-life presence on campuses—American Collegians for Life.  But without a full-time staff, and without a significant source of funding, there was only so much that the Collegians for Life, which was entirely student-run, could do.

          In 2006, all of that changed.  In that year American Collegians for Life received a sizable start-up grant, changed its name to Students for Life of America (SFLA), hired a professional staff, opened its first national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and launched its historic Pro-Life Field Program.

          Since then, Students for Life has gone on to become one of the most active, and most successful, pro-life organizations in the country.  (104)

          [slide eight]  Finally, Andrew Guernsey confirms the value of assertive student action in his commentary in the fall 2015 issue of Intercollegiate Review:

In April the Johns Hopkins University student government voted to ban Chick-fil-A from campus, arguing that the restaurant would create an “unsafe space” and subject gays and lesbians to a “microaggression.”  Why?  Simply because the CEO of Chick-fil-A supports traditional marriage.  [….]

          Earlier that month, the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair had attempted to ban Voice for Life, a pro-life student group I founded, from displaying models of fetuses in various stages of development.  The committee in charge of the fair said the models would be “triggering and disturbing” to students.  But when our group fought back—and Fox News and other media outlets began reporting on the story—the committee relented.

Voice for Life almost didn’t make it off the ground. In 2013 the student government denied our group recognition as an official student club. But we fought that, too, and the student judiciary committee reversed the decision.

Johns Hopkins recently created a Task Force on Academic Freedom to reassess the university’s policies relating to freedom of speech, owing in no small part to our campus activism. You can fight back.  (Guernsey 24-5; italics in original)

[slide nine]  III.  Analysis of the Administrative Mindset

          How does one account for the above varying instances of censorship?  Are all college administrators evil anti-lifers, seeking every opportunity to frustrate the tsunami of pro-life students?  What is the mindset of a typical college or university administrator?

Perhaps contrasting the typical day of a professor vs. an administrator may help.  A faculty member, whether he or she is adjunct or full-time, goes to his or her office, teaches some classes, may assist in committee meetings, grades papers in his or her college’s online learning management system, and goes home hopefully before traffic is heavy.

          An administrator, in contrast, has several other functions which occupy his or her mind.  He or she may have teaching duties, but these teaching assignments are usually beyond his or her other duties such as: reviewing college policies for accuracy and timeliness in accordance with new federal and state regulations or board directives; obtaining candidates for faculty positions; hiring qualified faculty; training faculty on college systems, most notably the learning management system where students will upload assignments and papers; assigning courses on a regular basis, usually per semester or quarter, but looking ahead at least one year; handling student complaints against faculty; handling faculty complaints against students; managing faculty complaints against other faculty; firing faculty; serving on college committees; establishing college committees for tasks not covered by other committees; presenting papers at conferences; publishing papers and other items (articles and books).

          Given all of the above, do not be disconcerted if you think that a faculty member or any college administrator is necessarily antagonistic towards you, towards the pro-life movement, or towards your goal of starting a pro-life group on campus.  He or she may simply be just too busy.

[slide ten]  IV.  SWOT Reversed: TWSO

Business majors know that SWOT is an acronym which stands for analyzing the strengths of a business proposal, weaknesses of that proposal, opportunities that the proposal can address, and threats to those opportunities.  However, I will reverse that order so that pro-life students can understand the threats they face, the weaknesses which college faculty and administrators may manifest, the strengths that pro-life students possess, and then opportunities available to pro-life students.

First, the threats.  Granted, pro-life students face the immediate threat of politically-correct faculty squelching their pro-life views if expressed in the classroom during discussion or in written assignments.  I am primarily thinking about papers submitted for English courses or courses in the social sciences, but any subject area can pose threats to pro-life students if the faculty member is stridently anti-life.  It is my experience that attending an institution previously-thought “safe” or “friendly” to the pro-life movement (such as a Catholic college) no longer applies.  For example, I was told by one administrator in a presumably Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland area that the college “does not necessarily follow Catholic dogma” when it comes to the pro-life issues.  Consider, also, this LinkedIn message exchange with the president of yet another ostensibly Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland area:

Hi Jeff, good to hear from you.  Here at ***, our focus is more on staying true to the word of Jesus, less about being orthodox.  Are we staying true to helping those less fortunate than us; are we serving the underserved?  Are we helping students to be prepared for the challenges of living a faith-filled life?  Are we helping prepare our students to be successful in life after ***** ****?  I’d be happy to talk with you[r] colleague.  The world of Higher Ed is, as you know, filled with challenges.  Being true to the mission of the school is one of the most important.  Take care.

To which my response was:

Thanks for replying.  Hmmm…you make it sound like being orthodox is not the same as “staying true to the word of Jesus.”  May want to reevaluate that.

It is no surprise, then, that this ostensibly Catholic college hires as its English coordinator an open lesbian who is hostile to the pro-life movement.  That Catholic college has surrendered its Catholic identity for the sake of an ambiguous “inclusion” or “diversity”.  Maybe this is just a problem that Catholic colleges in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area have.  However, I suspect that is not the case.  In my estimation, attending a secular institution, such as a community college or state institution, may be much better regarding life-affirming values—as well as significantly less expensive.

How to address this threat?  Always appeal to the justice of your position, making the expression of your pro-life view a matter of equity.  Argue—always politely, yet assertively—that a diversity of opinion requires the pro-life or life-affirming perspective to be included.

Second, the weaknesses.  All colleges and universities, especially for-profit institutions, depend economically on students.  While some in higher education may hold their jobs because they love to share knowledge and learning, the American reality is that colleges and universities are money-making ventures, and this holds true for non-profits as much as for-profit institutions.  Students bring not only their eager minds to the classrooms, but also their dollars to college bank accounts.

How is this a weakness?  When students leave an institution which is so politically correct that it insults their pro-life beliefs, that college loses the student’s money, whether from Mom and Dad, from the student him- or herself, or, perhaps more importantly, from federal education dollars.  If a sufficiently large drop in the student population occurs, then that college may face serious economic challenges.  Pro-life students should be aware of this weakness and vote not only every two years, but also with their feet to a friendly college if that politically-correct anti-life college does not accommodate their pro-life views.

Third, the strengths.  Pro-life students have several strengths about which they may be unaware.  Pro-life-students are young, and any young person invigorates those around him or her.  Whom would you want to have around you, an old man droning on about the Aristotelian concepts of ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos, or a young person able to illustrate how those four concepts apply to the drama surrounding the defense of the Fresno State Students for Life Group, which the national Students for Life organization is assisting by circulating an online petition?  Even if a pro-life student does not have a chronological advantage, he or she has passion, a characteristic which may have died in his or her professor, stuck in the stifling politically-correct atmosphere of an anti-life institution.

Moreover, pro-life students bring a new perspective to the life issues that older anti-life academics chose either to ignore or to minimize.  For example, in the heyday of aggressive feminism of the 1970s, no one would have thought that being a feminist was compatible with pro-life beliefs.  Now, that connection is well established.  Around the 1980s, no one would have thought that anyone other than Catholics were pro-life; now, thanks to support from other denominations, only the most ridiculously biased MSNBC commentator would think that pro-lifers are all Catholic.  In this century, no one would have thought that the movement would shift from the position that legislation had to have exception clauses to allow abortion for rape and incest.  Now, thanks to young pro-lifers, who question the standards of their elders and speaking on behalf of those conceived by rape and incest who should not be killed because of the crimes of their fathers, major pro-life organizations are altering their legislative agendas to include those human beings conceived in less-than-perfect circumstances.

These strengths will help to convince academics that pro-lifers can be feminist (still a dominant buzzword in the academy), non-Catholic (academia still harbors a strong anti-Catholicism), and inclusive (perhaps the most recent and enduring buzzword added to the list of what constitutes an academic).

Finally, the opportunities.  Pro-life students may find two significant effects from their pro-life activism on campus.  First, a pro-life student may find that he or she is not alone.  One pro-life student is only one pro-life student.  Two such students make a group, and three pro-life students form an academic trinity that can change a college.  Second, after identifying themselves, these pro-life students may find that several faculty are pro-life.  Not every academic is a strident lesbian who attacks pro-life views or who thinks the only way to handle the pro-life policies of President Trump or Congressperson Karen Handel is to “resist” them.  Pro-life students may find that many faculty are pro-life and cheer pro-life students (albeit on the sidelines), yet keep silent about their pro-life views because they either must keep their jobs or because they are on the path to obtain tenure.  This is an example of the proverbial two-edged sword: pro-life faculty certainly need to encourage you, but you also can encourage these pro-life faculty to stand up for their beliefs.

V.  Resources for Pro-Life Students

Fortunately, this is a golden age of pro-life educational resources, and I will highlight some of them.

Preeminently, every pro-life student must be aligned with recognized chapters and affiliates of national pro-life organizations, especially the National Right to Life Committee.  This is not to relegate any other national pro-life group (such as the American Life League, Feminists for Life, March for Life, or others).  This simply recognizes that the most powerful national pro-life organization needs every pro-lifer aligned with it so that pro-life action is concentrated, coherent, and effective on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Secondly, every pro-life student should be a member of several pro-life groups designed for special interests within the movement.  While the following is an alphabetical listing of my own interests, many have a universal appeal:

[slide eleven]

40 Days For Life

All Girls Allowed

American Association of Pro-Life Physicians and Gynecologists

American Life League

Americans United for Life

Birthright International – 800-550-4900

Campaign Life Coalition

Coalition on Abortion Breast Cancer

Consistent Life

Culture of Life Foundation

ECLJ • European Center for Law & Justice | Jay Sekulow

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International News and Information News and Information

Feminists for Life

Healing the Culture

Heritage House ’76, Pro-Life Supplies for the Pro-Life Movement

Human Family Research Center

International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family

John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute

Life Decisions International 343 companies


LifeTech Conference

Lutherans For Life

[slide twelve]

March for Life

Michael Fund

National Catholic Bioethics Center

National Right to Life

National Right to Life PAC

Nurses for Life

Ohio Right to Life

Ohio Right to Life PAC

Pharmacists For Life

Population Research Institute

Pro Vita Advisors

Prolife World Congress

Right to Life of North East Ohio

Sisters of Life

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC)

Students for Life

Teachers Saving Children

Teens For Life

Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation

University Faculty for Life

University Faculty for Life blog


Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Your Life Counts

VI.  Audience Participation: Case Studies

Now, the fun part: audience participation.  Four scenarios follow, illustrating controversial aspects of pro-life student activism and college or university administration censorship.  You will not be graded on your responses.  You may use pencil or pen.  No electronic devices are allowed so that no one will text a colleague within this room for an answer.  In fact, since there are no correct answers, enjoy the slides.

[slide thirteen]  First scenario.  Dr. Miroslav Hyperbole (pictured here) teaches Biology.  You like him a lot, especially since he complimented you on your fine research work on stem cell research in your last paper.  Should you ask him to be the adviser for your campus pro-life group?

a.  Maybe.  Consult first to get others’ opinions.

b.  No.  Anybody who is this old must be a reject from the sixties, probably a hippie.

c.  No.  During class, he mentioned the cons and the pros of embryonic stem cell research.

d.  No.  His car’s bumper sticker reads “Bernie for President.”

e.  Yes.  Another bumper sticker reads “Trump for President.”

f.  Yes.  He supports various free speech causes identified on his left-wing blogs.

g.  Yes.  The door to his faculty office has a “Hillary for Prison” sticker.

h.  None of the above

[slide fourteen]  Second scenario.  Dr. Heidi Metaphor (pictured here) is dean of Liberal Arts and a professor of feminist studies.  She opposes your pro-life group’s request for funds to bring anti-Planned Parenthood speakers to campus for a lecture on civil rights.  What should you do?

a.  Ask Uncle Guido to make her an offer she can’t refuse (he makes the best cannoli).

b.  Begin an online petition, asking people to flood her inbox with nasty messages.

c.  Begin an online petition, asking people to urge the college to uphold students’ First Amendment free speech rights.

d.  Ignore her; there are other votes on the faculty committee which disburses student activities funds.

e.  Picket her house.

f.  Request a meeting with her to discuss the benefits of having the speaker come to campus.

g.  None of the above

[slide fifteen]  Third scenario.  Dr. Ouagadougou Synecdoche (pictured here), an adjunct faculty member, is pro-life; he began a pregnancy support group in Burkina Faso.  You want to bring Alveda King to campus to discuss the extreme abortion rate among African Americans.  Should you ask him to intercede with the administration to support the effort?

a.  Don’t even try to invite Alveda King, especially if members of your group are all white.

b.  Maybe.  Ask Synecdoche if he will lose his job over this.

c.  No.  The administration will view you as racist, since you are obviously appealing to mere identity politics.

d.  Yes.  The administration will not reject a request from a person of color.

e.  Yes.  The administration would appreciate anything to assist minority students faced with untimely pregnancies.

f.  None of the above

[slide sixteen]  Fourth scenario.  The LGBTQ group on campus wants your college’s administration to declare your pro-life group as a hate group.  What should you do?

a.  Consult the appropriate code in the student handbook for guidance on how to respond to the charge.

b.  Contact a pro-life lawyer immediately for guidance.

c.  Gather all group communications (emails, newsletters, etc.) to refute the charge.

d.  Hold an ad hoc dialogue with the LGBTQ community to compare how the unborn, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly are just as vulnerable (if not more so) as persons with same-sex attraction.

e.  I wouldn’t touch this with the proverbial ten-foot pole.  Don’t even answer here in this workshop!  This is too hot an issue.

f.  Post online petitions on Facebook, Gab, LinkedIn, and Twitter among others, asking the college to support your free speech rights.

g.  None of the above

[slide seventeen]  VII.  Final Suggestions

My six final thoughts are simple.  First, some of you may want to consider being an academic in your field of interest.  Consider: it is not only the anti-life opinions of today’s anti-life professors which are intellectually tired, worn out, and old, but the professors themselves.  When the anti-lifers retire or go to their eternal reward, who will take their place?  I trust that many of you will investigate this career opportunity so that the half century of academic bias against the first civil right to life can be corrected.  Second, strive for excellence in your academic activities and your scholarship; earn all As.  Third, take advantage of internships not only with companies or organizations in your field, but also with pro-life organizations.  Fourth, aim for the highest degree you can obtain in your field.  Having a certain abbreviated title (like “Dr.”) before your name or certain letters (like “Ph.D.”) after your name substantially increases your credibility when speaking or writing.  Fifth, donate money now to pro-life groups.  While students are traditionally poor, it will not hurt to establish a donation pattern of five, ten, twenty, or more dollars per month to a pro-life organization of your choice.  Sixth, keep the communication lines open.  How can we older pro-lifers help you negotiate the turbulent academic waters so that you will be ready to take our places?

[slide eighteen]  I hope that this presentation and your comments during the case studies have helped to encourage you to devote your energies further for pro-life activism in your colleges and universities.  Thank you for your attention and participation.  I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Works Cited

Friedman, Rachel Zabarkes. “The Good and the Bad (Plus Some Ugly).” National Review, vol. 56, no. 19, 11 Oct. 2004, pp. 48-50. EBSCOhost.

Guernsey, Andrew. “Dare to Eat a Chicken Sandwich?” Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015, pp. 24-25. EBSCOhost.

Jalsevac, John. “Hundreds of Pro-Life Student Groups Sweeping Across U.S. College Campuses.” Human Life Review, vol. 36, no. 4, Fall 2010, pp. 104-106. EBSCOhost.

Parker, Shafer. “From the Mouths of Babes.” Report/Newsmagazine (Alberta Edition), vol. 26, no. 52, 24 Apr. 2000, pp. 26-29. EBSCOhost.

Weinhold, Wendy M. and Alison Fisher Bodkin. “Homophobic Masculinity and Vulnerable Femininity: SNL’s Portrayals of Trump and Clinton.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2017, pp. 520-523. EBSCOhost.


Logical Fallacies in the Literature on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

          I intend to explore human embryonic stem cell research from a humanities viewpoint, specifically addressing logical fallacies in the literature which not only discusses but also approves of stem cells derived from abortions.[1]  While I recognize that logic is not specific only to the humanities, fallacies occur in argumentative and persuasive writing, both of which are typically the province of the humanities and, even more specifically, English professors.  Much of the debate about human embryonic stem cell research involves not only the mere presentation of facts about the use of stem cells derived from abortions, but also the effort to persuade the public that such use is ethical. Certainly not all human embryonic stem cell research is fallacious, but I will focus on certain works which contain such errors in thinking.  Thus, I trust that the research I will present can contribute a unique perspective to the purposes and needs not only of this conference, but also of the general public.

          The goal of identifying, responding to, and correcting logical fallacies falls within the purview of English professors, for we academics have been given a serious commission: to encourage our students to write materials which are not only grammatically correct, but also logically correct.  Higher education is keenly aware that most students lack critical thinking skills.  I have perceived this lack among my own students over the past fourteen years, and I can testify to students’ lack of critical thinking skills on controversial issues, such as the use of stem cells derived from abortions.

          My methodology for this presentation consists of the following three items.  First, since there is an extremely large body of literature on the subject of stem cells derived from abortions, I will review only recent scholarly and some popular literature (with a few exceptions, arbitrarily selecting 2000 as the beginning of my investigation).  Second, I will focus on those monographs or anthologized works which address human embryonic stem cell research or which seem to address my particular concern, the logical formulations of ethical considerations used to support such research; thus, general works on the subject of stem cells were omitted as well as those few videographic sources produced since 2000.  Third, I will review individual works in chronological order to determine what logical fallacies could impede the author’s logic. 

          Since I intend to make this brief essay student-oriented, in all of the following analysis, I intend to work from the perspective of a contemporary student.  What would he or she find in the literature on this subject?  Would he or she be able to identify fallacies in arguments on the issue?  What linguistic or rhetorical tools could he or she use to correct the fallacies found in the literature?  Thus, to help our students, I will intersperse within the commentary on fallacies found in the various works linguistic and rhetorical ways to correct errors in thinking caused by such logical fallacies.

          A general definition of “logical fallacy” must be given here.  Logical fallacies are those errors in thinking which occur when rules of reasoning are not precisely followed.  [2]  Fallacies are classified into two general categories: formal fallacies are those involving the structure (or form) of the argument; informal fallacies are those which can be discerned through the content of the argument.  If these two classifications are not complicated enough for some students, identifying fallacies may become difficult because contemporary college and university students are introduced to several sometimes differing taxonomies through the course of their education.  [3]  The taxonomy I follow will, hopefully, be familiar to those who are progressing through the baccalaureate program at least.

Charles Krauthammer, “Why Pro‑Lifers Are Missing the Point” (2001)

          Reprinted in a 2002 anthology of essays on genetics, Charles Krauthammer’s essay, originally published in Time in 2001, illustrates the central failure of those who support human embryonic stem cell research: recognizing that obtaining such cells means killing human life.  In this reasoned essay Krauthammer writes:

                    At immediate issue are “stem cells,” cells often taken from the very earliest embryo [. . . .]  Pro-life forces find the procedure ethically impermissible, because removing the cells kills the embryo [. . . .]  But their arguments fail.  First, stem cells are usually taken from embryos produced for in-vitro fertilization or from aborted fetuses. (201)

          The fallacy here is ambiguity or unclear language.  Ambiguity is acceptable in some aesthetic situations.  Part of the delight that exists in literature is derived from the reader evaluating the ambiguous information presented to him or her so that he or she can reach a conclusion.  In a typical murder mystery, for example, whether the butler committed the crime is weighed against the quantity of facts which seem to indicate that the heir to the family fortune committed the crime…or was it the maid? or the gardener? or was the murder really a suicide?  In moral positions, however, ambiguity obscures the possibility of reaching a conclusion.  In itself, ambiguity is not fallacious; suggesting that a case is ambiguous when it is not, however, is.

          Krauthammer is correct in saying that “removing the cells kills the embryo” but is incorrect in his reasoning when he writes that “stem cells are usually taken from embryos”.  Perhaps the issue here is one of semantics; it might be possible for such cells to be extracted without necessarily killing the embryo.  However, given the current technology and practice involved in obtaining such cells, this semantic distinction must be made.  “To kill” is not synonymous with “to take”.  This inability to distinguish between the verbs is further confusing because Krauthammer acknowledges that such stem cells can be obtained from two sources, “in-vitro fertilization or from aborted fetuses”.  The latter clearly identifies the means by which the cells are derived; unlike the incorrect use of the verb “take” with respect to “kill”, the past participle “aborted” is synonymous with “killed”.  At least Krauthammer is consistent with his stated purpose.  Although I consider the following statement a red herring fallacy, Krauthammer declares that “the real problem with research that manipulates early embryonic cells–whether derived from fetal tissue or from adult cells rejuvenated through cloning–is not the cells’ origin but their destiny” (202).  [4]

K. R. [Krishna R.] Dronamraju, Biological Wealth & Other Essays (2002)

          The following is how K. R. [Krishna R.] Dronamraju, president of the Foundation for Genetic Research, answers the question posed by the section title, “Stem Cell Research: Which Way to Go?”:

                    Powerful lobbies in Washington and the nation have been debating the pros and cons of allowing stem cell research to go forward [. . . .]  The debate is being carried on at several levels–theological, ethical, political and scientific.  For a scientist, the decision is fairly simple.  If the research is scientifically sound and is likely to yield beneficial results, then one must go forward with the project [. . . .]  However, anti-abortion forces argue that research should be restricted to adult stem cells, which can be harvested without destroying embryonic life.  On the other hand, some conservatives in the Republican Party favor research using human embryos.  They include Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee[,] and Senator Connie Mack, a Roman Catholic, of Florida. (116-7)

Unfortunately, the answer leaves the author open to one charge of oversimplification, one charge of non sequitur, and three charges of ad hominem.

          Perhaps Dronamraju need not be faulted for saying that “the decision [regarding human embryonic stem cell research] is fairly simple”; after all, pro-life scientists would argue that there is no controversy.  Dronamraju’s statement, though, supposes that the world of the scientist is divorced from the other three categories which are identified.  This demarcation could be an oversimplification, the name of the fallacy which generalizes what would be complicated steps in an argument or the reality of the world.  Should or can a “scientist” necessarily abandon his or her “theological, ethical, [or] political” identities when faced with the issue of human embryonic stem cell research?  I suggest not and will leave the elaboration of the arguing that a scientist must have an informed conscience to other professionals.

          The “if…then” proposition following this oversimplification, however, is particularly troublesome since it involves the non sequitur fallacy.  Non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow”, can be determined if a conclusion does not logically proceed from the application of a major and a minor premise.  The correlative terms “if…then” can be used to specify a series of propositions used in deductive or inductive reasoning.  Expanding this “if…then” proposition, one could conclude that the major premise of Dronamraju’s conditional statement is that the research must be scientifically sound.  No problem here; one does not add a drop of water to a container of potassium, but rather a bit of potassium to a container of water. The second conditional statement is not preceded by the subordinating conjunction “if”, but the omission is accounted for by the rule of ellipsis.  Beneficial results may come from any “scientifically sound” procedure, but those results may conflict with ethical, financial, legal, moral, or spiritual considerations.  Dronamraju would have readers ignore such considerations completely, for the conclusion which is given after these two conditional clauses are juxtaposed (the “then” conclusion to these conditional statements) is ineluctable: “one must go forward with the project” (116; emphasis added).

          Dronamraju makes his position unworthy of attention, however, by the three ad hominem attacks which conclude this passage.  Ad hominem, Latin for “against the person”, is the name of the fallacy identifying an attack against the individual him- or herself instead of an attack against what he or she thinks or says.  The first ad hominem involves the use of “anti-abortion”. Calling opponents of human embryonic stem cell research “anti-abortion” is fallacious for two reasons.  First, some opponents may not be identified with the pro-life movement at all.  Second, since many opponents are pro-life, their opposition is grounded on a consistent ethic which respects life from the moment of fertilization to death–thus including two other life issues, infanticide and euthanasia, and to disregard their concern for these other two issues marginalizes their comprehensive position. Calling a pro-lifer “anti-abortion” is simply insulting, since it does not reference the other major issues of concern to the pro-life community.  [5]

          The remaining two ad hominem attacks are easily challenged. Saying that “some conservatives in the Republican Party favor research” implies that opposition to human embryonic stem cell research is primarily the province of “conservative” persons–and not merely conservatives, but Republican conservatives.  Finally, Dronamraju must think it is necessary to attack Roman Catholic opposition to human embryonic stem cell research, noting that even “Senator Connie Mack, a Roman Catholic, of Florida” supports “research using human embryos” (117).  Why is this apposition necessary?  What does it do to advance the argument about human embryonic stem cell research?  Since it does not embellish the argument either for or against the research, then the apposition is as useless as it is inappropriate and should be omitted.  The attack against Roman Catholics is the more interesting because

Senator Hatch’s religious persuasion is not noted.  [6]

Hwa A. Lim, Genetically Yours: Bioinforming, Biopharming, Biofarming (2002)

          The fallacy of hasty generalization occurs when conclusions are drawn from insufficient data.  Contemporary students can identify this fallacy often by linguistic markers.  For example, it would be correct to say that “All humans will die”, for it is our experience that no human lives eternally on his or her own power; we experience the death of those near to us and have learned through study that death is the natural denouement of life.  It would be incorrect, however, to say that “All English professors admire Eminem” since there may be at least one professor who may not admire the rapper.  One must remember that it is not the conclusion that signals a hasty generalization, but rather the premises which may state conditions which are inappropriately worded, making it improbable for one to draw a conclusion.  Thus, the use of the word “all” is too inclusive and linguistically marks a use of the hasty generalization logical fallacy.  Similarly, words such as “each”, “every”, and even “virtually all” may help students identify cases where this fallacy is used.

          Sometimes, however, such linguistic markers are absent, making the task of identification a complicated one.  This is the case in Genetically Yours, a 2002 work by Hwa A. Lim, who, among his other qualifications, has vested interests in companies which would be affected by stem cell legislation.  Lim states that opposition to President Bush’s ban on human embryonic stem cell research came from four groups, one of which is the “[r]eligious group”, for “This group, which believes stem cell research should be banned completely, views the decision compromises [sic] the sanctity of life” (192).  Lim does not consider that there might be at least one religious group that does not object to stem cell research per se.  (In fact, I cannot think of any religious group that has issued such a comprehensive and absolutist statement opposing such research.)  Religious groups do, however, take issue with stem cell research derived from abortions.  [7]

Lewis D. Solomon, The Jewish Tradition, Sexuality, and Procreation (2002)

          Lewis D. Solomon writes about the Jewish perspective on human embryonic stem cells in his 2002 monograph The Jewish Tradition, Sexuality and Procreation.  Although several fallacies can be identified in this work, the ones I will discuss here are ambiguity (leading to dehumanization) and unfair emotional appeal.

           Almost immediately, the reader is aware of ambiguity in language.  Solomon writes about the unborn child in terms which are certainly ambiguous and, thus, dehumanizing.  [8]  Discussing embryos created by in vitro fertilization techniques, Solomon writes that

                    An embryo put into the deep freeze typically consists of about one or two hundred cells, each of these cells containing all the information needed to start a unique genetic existence.  Researchers take stem cells from a frozen embryo, four to seven days after fertilization, when it is a hollow sphere consisting of one or two hundred cells. (208‑9)

The dehumanizing effect of these words should be obvious.  We are not speaking of an unborn human being here, but “about one or two hundred cells”; furthermore, the cells do not so much continue the process that began after fertilization as that they merely constitute “all the information needed to start a unique genetic existence” (emphasis added).  This is equivalent to saying that the Jeff Koloze of the year 2005 does not exist yet, but that what you see before you now in 2004 has all the requirements for the genetic existence that will occur next year.  This, of course, is true.  My 2005 existence has not yet occurred.  Does that mean, however, that my humanity is now in question?  It could be, of course, if I do not meet the criteria that some people use in defining humanity.

          Now, on to the logical fallacy of unfair emotional appeal which can be found in Solomon’s work.  Sometimes it is appropriate to use an emotional appeal.  Think of the typical fundraising letters or television commercials that illustrate for you the reader or the viewer the plight of children who do not have enough to eat in poor countries.  Appealing to our emotions satisfies one of the three factors used in persuasive writing–pathos.  Sometimes, however, an emotional appeal can be inappropriate if the use of the emotional appeal obscures the two other aspects of persuasive writing which could have advanced the argument better: logos, the logical factor, and ethos, the factor concerned with the credibility of the speaker.

          Solomon’s use of unfair emotional appeal is (paradoxically) complex in its brevity.  He devotes an extensive paragraph–about 150 words‑‑to the advantages of the use of stem cells.  No one would contest that; stem cells do have great medical potential.  However, Solomon reduces opposition to stem cells derived from abortions to one sentence.  Solomon writes, “Experimentation with embryonic stem cells, obtained from spare human embryos, lacking any fetuslike features, slated for destruction at fertility clinics, remains controversial in the United States” (209).  Grammatically, this sentence attempts to counter any objection to stem cells derived from aborted or discarded embryos by inserting three participial phrases between the subject and the predicate of the sentence.

          Why is noting this mere fact of grammar important?  We are all familiar with the universal syntax of English sentence structure, usually denoted as the N-V-N (or noun-verb-noun) pattern.  That is, when anyone speaks, he or she identifies the subject (the first N), then what that subject did (the verb), and finally, if applicable, what object received the action of the verb (combined, the verb and the second noun constitute the predicate).  For example, “All Democrats should vote for George W. Bush”.  When an author breaks or interrupts that standard syntax, immediate attention is given to the words, phrases, or clauses which break the usual flow of words, granting them as much importance as what the normal syntax would communicate.

          Solomon could have simply written “Experimentation with embryonic stem cells remains controversial in the United States”, which would have been an unobjectionable attempt to denote the current conflict.  The interpolation of the three–note, not one, not two, but three–participial phrases between the subject and the predicate draws immediate attention away from the controversy to the ideas being communicated in those participial phrases.

          Moreover, the emotional distance is increased by the physical distance between the subject and predicate, especially since the words in the phrases are not so much denotative as they are highly connotative.  The term “spare” implies a positive connotation generally (“spare” indicating something which is beyond necessity and almost optional) but in this case implies that the human lives are expendable.  The connotations of the combined terms “lacking any fetuslike features” eliminates any moral qualms which may be generated by technological advances which show the facial features and other body parts of the unborn, making them much more “personable”.  Finally, the negative connotation of the term “slated” would suggest to someone considering donating his or her embryos from a fertility clinic that the course of action is ineluctable anyway, thus obviating any moral qualm about participating in the act of killing (an act of killing that, interestingly, “someone else” at the fertility clinic would do, thus removing individual responsibility for the killing from the mother or father her- or himself).  In fact, Solomon does not even admit that stem cells can be derived from abortions but only acknowledges those

surplus embryos obtained from fertility clinics.  [9]

Richard Cohen, “Embryonic Stem Cell Research Will Save Lives” (2003)

          Richard Cohen’s 2001 essay “Embryonic Stem Cell Research Will Save Lives” is certainly not as scholarly as other works, but I think that his ideas must be mentioned here for at least three reasons.  First, the original essay “An Ethical Travesty” was printed in The Washington Post in 2001; having been printed in a national newspaper of note thus guarantees wide circulation of his statements.  Second, since this essay has been reprinted in one of the Opposing Viewpoints monographs, students are exposed to his statements–and the fallacies therein–to a greater degree.  [10]  Finally, Cohen’s statements manifest numerous fallacies which are sometimes difficult to identify.  I intend to elaborate on the one instance each of bandwagon, fallacy of many questions, and red herring; two instances each of ad hominem and hasty generalization; three instances of equivocation or ambiguous language; and three instances of the either/or fallacy–thirteen fallacies within the space of a three-page excerpt.

          Bandwagon is the name of the fallacy which implies that all members of a group either are or should do a certain action or believe a certain thing.  Cohen begins one paragraph with an apparently innocuous sentence: “Anyone can see that, ultimately, stem cell research and the related field of cloning are going to produce ethical questions galore” (127).  While one would hope that such a controversy over human embryonic stem cell research need not exist, this is not a perfect world, for some people may not yet have achieved a pro-life perspective.  However, the bandwagon effect is suggested by the sentence that follows: “But the one that exists at the moment is entirely manufactured–the product of calling an embryo a ‘human being'” (127; internal quotes in original).  At first glance this might seem more ad hoministic–ad hominem being the fallacy of attacking those who hold a contrary view themselves instead of attacking their ideas. What constitutes this as bandwagon, though, is its grammatical connection, the use of the coordinating conjunction “but”.  Perhaps Cohen meant to use the conjunctive adverb “however”, which is popularly confused with the coordinating conjunction.  As written here, however, the second sentence, preceded by the coordinating conjunction “but”, suggests a unified compound-complex sentence which merely happens to be divided into two physical sentences.  The first sentence seeks to acknowledge something that “everybody” should know; the second sentence seems to imply that “everybody” should similarly know that “the one [ethical question] that exists at the moment is entirely manufactured”.  This second statement is patently erroneous.  Some people have based their objection to human embryonic stem cell research on ethical, moral, or religious principles.  This fact of the opposition to embryonic stem cell research is what should be believed by “everybody”, not that it is “manufactured”–itself a highly negative connotative word, implying that some people just got together one day and “made it up”.  [11]

          As mentioned earlier, ad hominem is the Latin name for the fallacy involving a personal attack on one’s opponent instead of an attack on his or her position.  I can locate two instances of ad hominem in this excerpt of Cohen’s.  The first instance is doubly devious because it is not only an attack against the individual (President Bush) but also a clever and demeaning use of punctuation.  Cohen writes,

                    [I]t is at that very stage in the process–the mere production of a fertilized egg–that George W. Bush and his fellow “pro-lifers” declare that a “human being” has been created, a term Bush himself has used in reference to mere embryos, particularly those created by cloning. (127;  internal quotes in original)

Cohen attacks President Bush’s ban on human embryonic stem cell research throughout the essay; this is not fallacious and is the province of good argumentative writing.  Cohen’s attack on the individual, however, is not justifiable.

          It is interesting that Cohen felt the need to place the politically-correct term to denote those who support the first civil right to life in quotation marks.  Let’s consider the popular use of quotation marks.  When someone wants to draw attention to what he or she is verbalizing, then that person will make quotation marks with his or her index and middle finger while speaking.  For example, if I say, “John Kerry says he is ‘Catholic'” and use my fingers to put quotation marks in the air while I’m uttering the word “Catholic”, then I am drawing attention to a belief that Kerry’s Catholicism can be seriously questioned, because of his refusal to support the first civil right to life.  In fact, when people gesture like this, they invariably do so to belittle what was said–the classic “He said [with a tonal emphasis on the verb “said”] that he was [the term to be disparaged is inserted here]”.  Scholars call such an accompanying action an “illustrator” (a gesture which reinforces a verbal message) (Pearson and Nelson 29).  Using quotes around the term “pro-lifers” is not meant to be denotative as much as it is meant to be demeaning.  Similarly, the quotes around “human being” seem to belittle the position that President Bush and “pro-lifers” hold that the embryo is a human life.  While it would have been proper for Cohen to have argued against this position, the attack on the people themselves who believe this is unnecessary and fallacious.

          This is Cohen’s second instance of ad hominem:

                    [W]e get stuck with a kind of awful determinism, embracing as “human” embryos that nature ordinarily rejects.  The pro-lifers would even overrule nature itself, insisting that anything moving through the birth canal is a human being and thus inviolate.  They know, somehow, that this is what God intended [. . . .] (128; internal quotes in original)

Is it necessary to malign pro-lifers’ views in the two ways done above: that we “overrule nature” and that we know the mind of God?  Instead of showing why pro-life views are inaccurate, Cohen disparages our beliefs as those of persons who are not only ignorant of the balances in nature but also theocratic zealots.

          There are two instances of hasty generalization worth discussion.  One instance will be discussed further below within the context of another fallacy, so I will focus on the remaining one here.  Cohen writes,

                    Common sense would at least suggest that we are entitled to do what nature itself does all the time.  Yet, by fiat based on religious belief, the president has decided to severely limit stem cell research funded by the government and maybe even conducted by private industry as well. (129)

The hasty generalization should be obvious here.  President Bush did not merely base his decision on “religious belief”, yet Cohen attempts to designate the religious perspective on human embryonic stem cell research as the exclusive basis for the decision protecting the lives of human embryos.  In fact, the connotation of the term “fiat” reinforces the perception that Cohen wants people to have that the decision is a purely religious one.  That is as erroneous as saying that all pro-lifers are pro-life because they are religious, when the truth is that some people may have come to the pro-life viewpoint from objective study (as Bernard Nathanson did, who was attracted to the pro-life view from his fetological studies while he was still agnostic).  [12]

          Equivocation is the name given to the fallacy where terms are used interchangeably and in an inappropriate way; the resulting ambiguity may confuse the reader and impede his or her comprehension of the logic being presented.  As mentioned above in the discussion surrounding the Geron Ethics Advisory Board’s statement, ambiguous language may not per se be fallacious (much creative literature is dependent on a stealthy use of an ambiguous term), but ambiguity should be avoided if one is arguing a certain position.  Cohen’s essay demonstrates the fallacy of equivocation when he uses the term “egg” in two different senses.  Describing the process of fertilization in low register colloquial language, Cohen writes, “A sperm is swimming like crazy toward the egg.  It makes contact and fertilizes it.  The egg then moves up the tube so that it can attach itself to the wall of the womb” (127).  However, this reduction of the process of fertilization and implantation obscures the logical fallacy contained therein.  In the beginning of this brief passage of process analysis writing, the term “egg” is used accurately at first to denote the ovum.  After fertilization occurs, however, one no longer has an “egg”; one has a blastocyst or any one of the other technical terms which denote the entity created by the fusion of sperm and ovum.  The depersonalization of the new human being is accomplished further by the uses of the neuter third person pronoun “it” and the neuter reflexive pronoun “itself” when, to be politically correct, Cohen should have used “he” or “she” and “himself” or “herself”.  [13]

          Finally, I note three instances of the either/or fallacy.  This fallacy is often marked explicitly by the use of the correlative conjunctions “either…or”, either together or singly.  Often, however, the possibility of identifying this fallacy is not as linguistically clear as finding those terms.  The first instance worth mentioning confuses categories that pro-lifers have been familiar with for years, life versus potentiality.  Cohen writes, “if the process [of a human being “progressing from the embryo stage to the fetus stage”] is interrupted, which is more the rule than the exception in nature, then we do not have life.  We had merely the potential for it” (127).  Cohen rehearses the tired divisions used by anti-lifers of the categories “life” and “potentiality”, which division is inapplicable in the circumstance of embryonic stem cell research. The blastocyst, the embryo, and the fetus are all merely names given to different stages of life which is actual.  This instance of the fallacy is especially interesting because, usually, when critics point out the use of either/or fallacy, they demand that the categories offered by an author should be expanded.  That is, if someone argues that there are only two solutions to a problem, the either/or fallacy may obtain, especially if one can point to a third solution.  In this case, the use of the “life” and “potentiality” division is a fallacious use of either/or because the categories should be collapsed into the one category which is applicable: life per se.

          In the second instance of the either/or fallacy, Cohen asks,

                    Who could have thought that back when most of us took sides [on the abortion issue], some of us would have wound up defending late-term abortions on the one hand while others would denounce stem cell research?  In both cases, principle has thoroughly trashed common sense. (129)

He needlessly omits two other alternatives, probably to protect his own hypothesis.  When people in the 1960s and later were taking sides on the abortion issue, they probably divided themselves into three main categories, as Dr. Ray Adamek’s sociological studies on the characteristics of activists on both sides of the abortion issue have consistently documented.  That is, one can be pro-life, anti-life, or a member of the “mushy middle” supporting abortion only under certain circumstances.  When Cohen wrote this essay (2001), the three major divisions still applied.  Moreover, one can argue that within these three divisions are further gradations: one who can be identified as anti-life may be so only because he or she supports abortion in the first trimester or only for reasons of failed birth control. Most importantly, however, a counter argument can be made against the two categories that Cohen proposes.  Popular opinion is not divided into two camps of pro-partial birth abortion and con-stem cell research.  Some supporters of partial birth abortion may not support stem cell research and vice versa.  Similarly, there may be some who call themselves pro-lifers who may even support human embryonic stem cell research.  Reducing the many divisions of thought on the matter to these two categories obscures the many nuances that people must contend with to adequately persuade others of the correctness of their position.

          Cohen’s third and final use of either/or fallacy is a summary statement that has a significant equivocation as well.  “In the end, it’s possible that human beings may die so that embryos will live” (Cohen 129).  [14]  Here is the basest form of the opposition which some people tend to make between those who are born who have diseases which may be alleviated or cured by stem cell research and those who are unborn who may be a source for stem cells to help those who are born.  In Cohen’s estimation, then, a third possibility is completely ignored; those who are born do not have to die, and the unborn do not have to be killed, since stem cells can be obtained from other sources which do not necessitate the killing of the unborn.  [15]  Moreover, one can question why these two categories are necessarily in competition.  Why can’t the needs of both groups of people be met–to service the health needs of those born and to guarantee that the life interests of the unborn are protected? This third possibility is an option that only pro-lifers, it seems, promote, since they do not see the unborn child as an antagonist to someone already born.

William Gentry, “The Morality of Using ‘Surplus’ Human Embryos

in Stem Cell Research” (accessed 15 April 2004)

          The final essay which occupies the balance of this paper is William Gentry’s online article “The Morality of Using ‘Surplus’ Human Embryos in Stem Cell Research”.  [16]  While there is much than can be pointed out in this interesting essay, I will restrict my comments to a severe case of ambiguity and a good or bad syllogism.

          I have discussed Cohen’s concern about religious language above, and it seems that William Gentry, emeritus professor of philosophy, is another scholar who is just as concerned or confused (or deliberately seeking a religious terminology or influence when it isn’t there) as Cohen is.  Gentry writes that

                    Many opponents base their conviction on religious dogma instead of on scientific discovery or philosophical reasoning.  They see no need to provide rational justification for their belief about the essential nature of the human embryo.  They are likely to say that they “believe” their conviction is true rather than that they have arrived at their conclusion as the culmination of a process of sound reasoning. (internal quotes in original)

Unfortunately, Gentry’s attack on Patrick Lee and Robert P. George whom he quotes earlier in his article shows a surprising application of the semantic gymnastics that we are accustomed to see when anti-lifers discuss abortion.  Gentry quotes Lee and George: “‘People of every religious persuasion, or none at all, ought to be able to see that . . . the things that we are, are human physical organisms'” (italics in original), but then Gentry makes the impermissible logical leap in semantics that the use of “see” in the passage “in this rhetorical usage is equivalent to ‘believe'”, neglecting another entirely obvious possibility, that the verb infinitive “to see” in Standard American English also conveys the meaning of the verb infinitive “to understand”.  Thus, Gentry tries to force Lee and George’s text to his own purposes rather than to understand the simple grammar of the verb used.  It is inappropriate to consider that the idea of the verb infinitive “to see” (as in “to understand”) is equivalent with the verb infinitive “to believe”.  At best, Gentry could have speculated such an equivalency but should not have made the linguistic leap that he did.  Perhaps Gentry, attempting to document only a religious influence in the passage, was protecting his own hypothesis by not considering the obvious alternative meaning.

          Another important part of Gentry’s article which can be discussed here illustrates a faulty syllogism.  The syllogism is perhaps the workhorse of argumentation, the vehicle by which different propositions, called premises, can be juxtaposed so that a conclusion can be reached.  Most students are aware of the famous textbook example:

                   Major premise:  All human beings are mortal.

                   Minor premise:  Socrates is a human being.

                   Conclusion:  Socrates is mortal.  [17]

This syllogism concludes accurately because the major premise, which usually enunciates an abstract and general principle, is correct in all cases.  The minor premise, which usually enunciates something about a specific example, is considered true.  When the premises are juxtaposed, one is ineluctably led to the conclusion that Socrates, who is part of the category “human beings”, has one of the specific attributes of that category, mortality, so one can safely assert, which is to say logically conclude, that Socrates is mortal like any other human being.

          Sometimes, the juxtaposition of the premises can lead to an incorrect conclusion, such as the following.

                   Major premise:  All birds sing.

If one did not know how to challenge the specific terms in this premise, or if one had no knowledge of birds that do not “sing”, then one must grant that this is true.

                   Minor premise:  Eminem sings rap songs.

Although one may have a doubt about whether rap involves singing as much as it does verbal presentation, we can acknowledge that Eminem has chosen to be a performer of contemporary music.

                   Conclusion:  Eminem is a bird.

The conclusion is incorrect, and this syllogism is considered faulty.  Eminem is not a bird, but a talented human being.  Where did the conclusion go wrong?  One can point to the obvious hasty generalization in the major premise; not “all” birds “sing”.  Does a penguin “sing” as much as it utters another sound?  Do ostriches “sing”?  Of course, the criticism of the major premise may seem like quibbling over words, but then that is exactly the point.  Understanding the denotative value of words is crucial in argument.  Thus, the verb “sing” may be inappropriate to denote the activity which penguins and ostriches do.

          Gentry’s syllogistic reasoning is especially faulty at one point in his article because it involves similar hasty generalization and inappropriate use of language.  Gentry traces the pro-life logic of respect for unborn human life in the following, what he calls, “syllogistic pattern”:

                    Premise 1:  Whatever possesses human biological components is essentially a human being.

                    Premise 2:  All human embryos, even those excess embryos fabricated in clinical fertility efforts, possess human biological components.

                    Conclusion and Premise 1a:  All human embryos are essentially innocent human beings.

                    Premise 2a:  To kill any innocent human being is murder.

                    Conclusion:  To kill a human embryo is murder.

          Just as the example of the faulty syllogism involving Eminem was dissected by analyzing the constituent premises and terminology, here too we can determine where the language has proven fatal to this syllogism.  First, of course, the obvious equations in the various premises can be attacked.  His Premise 1 “Whatever possesses human biological components” is equated by use of the present tense verb with “essentially a human being”.  This premise, presumably a major one since it seeks to declare an abstract, universal truth, is hasty generalization because of its all-inclusive terminology to which we can find examples to counter its validity.  A fingernail “possesses human biological components” (whatever “human biological components” means–mere DNA or some other factor unstated), but it is illogical to place that fingernail in an equivalent category called “human being” in the sense that the latter phrase is customarily used.  [18]

          Similarly, another inappropriate equation can be found in his Premise 2a.  The verb infinitive “to kill” cannot be equated with the stronger connotation verb “murder”–not so much on the mere point that a verb infinitive cannot be equated with a noun form, but that “to murder” implies three constituent elements which must satisfy the legal definition which distinguishes killing or manslaughter from murder.  To murder, one must know that the act is wrong, have full consent of the will, and perform the deed.  Thus, as much as anti-life thinking would like to paint pro-lifers as those who equate abortion and murder, unless the conditions were met, the premise is false.  By the same reasoning, his terminal Conclusion is illogical because it fails to make the linguistic difference between “killing” and “murder”.

          Perhaps, though, since he is trying to formulate the pro-life view toward unborn human life, Gentry should not be faulted so severely.  He does attempt to proceed logically to define the pro-life view; if certain items were corrected, the syllogism could be improved to convince others that stem cells should not be derived from embryos because of their inherent value as human beings.


          My intention in this paper has been to convey the idea not only that discussion of errors in thinking on human embryonic stem cell research is an important and neglected element of the debate, but also that a remedy to those errors can be found in linguistic analysis of those fallacies.  It can be intimidating to debate scholars and writers who seem to make a case for human embryonic stem cell research.  Seeming, however, is not being, and I believe that, with even the most rudimentary education in logical fallacies, today’s students can determine for themselves whether someone has argued his or her case well or not.  A common theme in literature which supports human embryonic stem cell research is that the technology should be implemented merely because it is available.  It should be obvious that merely saying that one can do something does not mean necessarily that one must do something.  However, given the state of critical thinking in the West, particularly in American society, what I have just said may itself be a hasty generalization.  Today’s students, who may be educated more by ideologues motivated by political correctivity than by professors seeking truth, need to know that an alternative voice to the use of human embryonic stem cell research exists.

          I encourage those students to challenge those who have contorted an essentially life-affirming technological process into a function of an anti-life worldview.  Much more work needs to be done to combat the errors in reasoning which some use to attack unborn life as a source of stem cells.  Since this paper only reviews selected literature from 2000 onward, I ask that students and professors who are more competent or confident in argumentation and linguistics will accept the challenge to develop further the corpus of literature which examines the logical fallacies in human embryonic stem cell research.  I hope that this paper has contributed to that effort.

                                                     Works Cited

Adamek, Ray. “What America Really Thinks About Abortion.” Ts. 1

          May 2004.

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau, eds. Current Issues and Enduring

          Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with

          Readings. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.

Brennan, William. Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games

          Take Lives. Chicago: Loyola UP, 1995.

Chapman, Audrey R., Mark S. Frankel, and Michele S. Garfinkel.

          “Stem Cell Research and Applications: Monitoring the

          Frontiers of Biomedical Research.” AAAS Science and

          Technology Policy Yearbook: 2000. Eds. Albert H. Teich,

          Stephen D. Nelson, Celia McEnaney, and Stephen J. Lita.

          Washington, DC: Committee on Science, Engineering, and

          Public Policy, American Association for the Advancement of

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    [1]  Interested individuals may contact the author by email at for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation which accompanied this paper, which was first presented before the inaugural Pro-Life Science and Technology Symposium held at the Engineers’ Club in Dayton, Ohio on 1 May 2004.  I wish to express my thanks to Dr. Robert Sweet of Clark State Community College for helpful comments regarding logic as he critiqued this paper.  I thank Dr. Sweet for being patient with me as he explained finer points of logical fallacies.  Any errors which may occur in this paper are to be attributed to my own ignorance.  Someday I may have the fortune to achieve his intellectual level.

    [2]  Ignorance per se is not a fallacy.  For example, Robert Wachbroit writes in a 2003 essay:

                    If one believes, as many of the strongest opponents of abortion do, that “life begins at conception”–i.e., that from the very moment of conception we are dealing with something that has the moral status of a person–then the annual destruction of thousands of excess embryos should be at least as offensive as the destruction of presumably far fewer embryos from stem cell research.  Perhaps this difference reflects an inconsistency and the antiabortion movement should include IVF centers in their protests. (79-80)

Instead of attacking him for this apparently ad hoministic statement (veiled in irony or sarcasm), perhaps one should be charitable and presume that Wachbroit is not aware that pro-life opposition to human lives destroyed by in vitro fertilization clinics is a constituent element of the pro-life position and that opposition to such killing could be achieved if the resources of the movement permitted.

    [3]  For example, two grammar and rhetoric textbooks widely used in colleges and universities offer not only divergent taxonomies, but also differing registers of language within those taxonomies.  Diana Hacker’s The Bedford Handbook (2002, 6th ed.) identifies seven logical fallacies: the either/or fallacy (511), false analogy (508), hasty generalization (507), non sequitur (512), post hoc ergo propter hoc (510), straw man (516), and unfair emotional appeals (514).  Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau, editors of Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings (2002, 6th ed.), which has a much higher register of vocabulary, identify seventeen fallacies, only three of which are replicated in Hacker’s work by the same term.  Their seventeen fallacies are: ad hominem (322), ambiguity (318), appeal to authority (323), appeal to ignorance (325), composition (321), death by a thousand qualifications (318), division (321), equivocation (320), false dichotomy (either/or) (319), genetic fallacy (322), hasty generalization (320), many questions (318), oversimplification (319), poisoning the well (322), post hoc, ergo propter hoc (326), protecting the hypothesis (327), and slippery slope (324).

    [4]  I found it interesting that the Geron Ethics Advisory Board argues against the “moral status” of the unborn child by suggesting that the mere existence of divergent views supports the ambiguity inherent in deciding the moral issue of human embryonic stem cell research.  (Although this document falls two years before my arbitrary cut off of 2000, I include it here since it was reprinted in a 2003 monograph.)  When discussing whether the blastocyst has “moral status”, the Ethics Advisory Board suggested in its 1998 “Statement on Human Embryonic Stem Cells” that

                    This question has riveted political, religious, and ethical attention, and profound and substantial disagreement is based not only on contending biological interpretations but also on deeply held philosophical and theological considerations. Some have argued for conception as the relevant consideration, others for the development of the “primitive streak” (the precursor to the spinal cord of an individual fetus) as a defining moment, and some for utilizing implantation as the crucial threshold for moral status [. . . .]  Drawing upon this wealth of philosophical and theological reflections and situating ourselves relative to it, the EAB affirmed our understanding of moral status as developmental and consonant with the pluralistic approach. (109-10)

For those interested in comparison, this language approximates that used by the United States Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade ruling which legalized abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy.  The Supreme Court’s attempt to argue that the mere existence of divergent opinions on the beginning of human life somehow points to inherent ambiguity is now well-known as feeble. The Ethics Advisory Board, similarly, bases its support for human embryonic stem cell research by noting that, although “[a] second source of cells is human embryonic germ (hEG) cells derived from gamete ridge tissue removed from early fetal tissue following elective abortion”, it “cannot resolve the contentious abortion debate” (Geron 111).

    [5]  At least Charles Krauthammer, who supports human embryonic stem cell research, does use the correct term “pro-lifers” in his essay.

    [6]  It is possible to refer to divergent political opinion without engaging in ad hominem attacks.  Marcia (Marti) A. Lewis and Carol D. Tamparo refer to such opposition in an appropriately neutral sentence in their 2002 monograph, Medical Law, Ethics, and Bioethics for Ambulatory Care: “Many pro-life politicians see [human embryonic stem cell research] as a positive outcome of a negative act [. . . .]” (178).

    [7]  Interestingly, Steve Usdin noted recently in a 2003 essay that “The United Methodist Church, which has affirmed a woman’s right to elective abortion, objects to the derivation of stem cells from embryos” (7).

    [8]  Lest this sound like a non sequitur, consider other categories of humans who have been stripped of their humanity by the use of ambiguous terminology and thus were reduced to non-human entities.  The research of William Brennan in his seminal 1995 monograph Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives has assisted scholars in understanding this principle for the past decade.  Brennan writes, “Removal of individuals from membership in the human community and re-classifying them as animals has the effect of consigning them to a lower level of existence where their victimization can be more easily rationalized” (89).  After this dehumanization occurs, of course, anything can then be done to the dehumanized entity.  African-American slaves during the nineteenth century in the United States were dehumanized in a variety of “work animal” metaphors (95).  Jews during the Nazi era were dehumanized as “beasts of prey” (93).  Unborn children today are similarly dehumanized as “a form of lower animal” (180), or as the being behind “the ‘disease’ of an unwanted pregnancy” (114; internal quotes in original), or as subhuman (77).

    [9]  Solomon’s collapse of the moral objections starkly contrasts against the extensive recognition of pro-life objection to stem cells derived from abortions by Audrey R. Chapman, Mark S. Frankel, and Michele S. Garfinkel in their 2000 statement “Stem Cell Research and Applications: Monitoring the Frontiers of Biomedical Research” (published in the 2000 yearbook of the American Association for the Advancement of Science).  While the authors consider embryos from fertility clinics to be “disposable” (“Embryonic stem cells should be obtained from embryos remaining from infertility procedures”), they also declare that

                    Human stem cell research can be conducted in a fully ethical manner, but it is true that the extraction of embryonic stem cells from the inner mass of blastocysts raises ethical questions for those who consider the intentional loss of embryonic life by intentional means to be morally wrong.  Likewise, the derivation of embryonic germ cells from the gonadal tissue of aborted fetuses is problematic for those who oppose abortion [. . . .]  Public funding should be provided for embryonic stem cell and embryonic germ cell research, but not at this time for activities involved in the isolation of embryonic stem cells, about which there remains continuing debate [. . . .]  Although the derivation of human stem cells can be done in an ethical manner, there is enough objection to the process of deriving stem cells to consider recommending against its public funding. (411)

    [10]  Greenhaven Press publishes a series called Opposing Viewpoints, each volume including pro and con essays on contemporary social issues.  Based on my experience with students in community colleges and universities and, more importantly, on the opinions of librarians who have guided my research paper students in library orientation programs, the Opposing Viewpoints titles are considered reliable sources of information for essays which discuss social problems.  The handy volumes may be a student’s first source of information on controversial matters, especially if an instructor demands that the student cite a number of authorities to argue his or her case.  The volumes, being anthologies, admirably meet this criterion.  In fact, the companion website for the Opposing Viewpoints series may provide even greater access for students to essays within the volumes.  Published by the Gale Group, this internet-based service, accessible to students through their colleges’ libraries, provides the full texts of many articles published since 1980.

    [11]  The two remaining single instances of logical fallacies are the fallacy of many questions and red herring.  The fallacy of many questions, which suggests that there are unanswered questions or unsupported claims embedded within what seems to be one proposition, is evident in one compact sentence: “In the purported cause of forbidding others from playing God, Bush and like-minded people would themselves play God” (Cohen 129).  This one sentence can be exploded with a barrage of epistemological questions which demand to be answered.  How does Cohen know that pro-lifers have the goal of “forbidding others from playing God”? How does Cohen know that this is the “cause” of pro-lifers?  How does Cohen know that Bush wants to play God?  How does Cohen know that “like-minded people” want to “play God”?

          The red herring fallacy suggests that one is trying to divert attention from the matter at hand by alluding or referring to another, sometimes completely unrelated matter.  Cohen does so by diverting attention from discussing the morality of using human embryonic stem cells to claiming that opponents know “what God intended” (128).  This is also the case when Cohen attacks President Bush for being privy to a similar divine enlightenment. Both of these cases are instances of the red herring diversionary tactic, for, when one is debating the morality of stem cells, one need not erroneously suggest that an opponent’s position is based on a speculative and private divine revelation.

    [12]  The first sentence of Cohen’s above quote also illustrates the non sequitur fallacy.  “Nature” does many things “all the time”.  Some in the animal kingdom kill their newborn, but it does not follow, just because a male cat will kill a newborn kitten, that “Nature” will “suggest” to human fathers not only that they could kill their newborn children but also that they “are entitled to do” so.

    [13]  The two remaining uses of ambiguous language are relatively easy to identify.  Cohen speaks of “embryos” or “mere embryos” as though they are not the same as “‘human beings'” (internal quotes in original) in two locations (127, 129).

    [14]  This is the sentence that the editors use as an attention getter to head the essay (126).

    [15]  I highly recommend that interested individuals consult the website of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at and subscribe to weekly email notices.  The Center frequently carries summaries of recent research showing that stem cells derived from sources other than abortions have greater research potential and practical use.

    [16]  The URL indicates that Gentry’s paper was produced for what appears to be the “2001-02” academic year.  Keeping to the chronological ordering of my review of the literature, I conclude this essay with Gentry’s article since, thanks to the immediacy of the internet, the chronology of this undated online article will always be current until the site carries an update.

    [17]  This “classic example” can be found in Barnet and Bedau (67).

    [18]  It is difficult for me to determine whether the language of this and subsequent premises in Gentry’s work is merely hasty generalization or a more complex sequence of logical fallacies without more detailed analysis of his work.  Barnet and Bedau discuss the fallacy of composition (not covered elsewhere in this paper) which may apply here.  “The fallacy of composition […] is called [such] because the reasoning commits the error of arguing from the true premise that each member of a group has a certain property to the not necessarily true conclusion that the group (the composition) itself has the property” (321).  That fallacy could apply here, if we consider that Gentry is identifying the “human biological components” as the requisite “certain property” that he holds “a human being” to have.  As I have discussed, though, the qualities (or properties) of a fingernail are not necessarily the qualities or properties of a human being him- or herself.

          Arthur Lueders writes about another fallacy, the sorites fallacy, which he defines in terms which make it seem as though the error in thinking can be attributed solely to grammatical elements: “The Sorites Fallacy is an argument consisting of propositions so arranged that the predicate of any one forms the subject of the next and the conclusion unites the subject of the first proposition with the predicate of the last”.  This methodology could apply as Gentry’s series of premises and conclusions is followed.  Perhaps the difficulty in identifying the fallacy can be accounted for by different taxonomies as discussed earlier in this paper.


Life-Affirming Technology in Modern Art: Reviewing Major Works of the Abstract and Plastic Arts in Selected Museum Galleries and on Websites

I.  Three Philosophical Matters  [slide two]

It is worth noting that art is always pro-life in the absolute sense of life-affirming.  After all, anyone who creates a work of art wants to convey something about his or her life, whether that is a positive or a negative message, and the mere act of communication is an affirming event.  One can even argue that a work of art which transmits a negative message can be life-affirming, if only because the art work, being a reflection or reformulation of the event which happened in the real world, is the artist’s way of “dealing with” a sad or traumatic event, the expectation being that the act of processing the negative event through artistic rendition will alleviate or eliminate the negative effects of that event.  I hesitate to say “coping with” since that terminology is too restrictively psychoanalytical.

Given this essential philosophical premise, any artifact could be included in this paper to illustrate how art affirms life.  However, since this is a technology-based conference, except for a few paintings and sculptures, I will focus on those art works which use technology or technological processes to convey life-affirming positions on the life issues (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia).  A further restriction is that I intend to include only modern art.  Finally, given time constraints of this conference and for the sake of convenience, major works addressing the life issues from the last two decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of this twenty-first century are studied.

[slide three]  Perhaps a second philosophical question should be answered.  In the popular mind, doesn’t modern art merely consist of amorphous shapes in sculpture or mere splashes of color thickly placed on the surface of a canvas?  Couldn’t anybody’s grandchild innocently create something just as easily with a batch of dollar store paints?  Matching this dismissive approach to modern art is an equally damning claim that all modern artists are just a bunch of leftist, irreligious loons who innocently paint or sculpt nonsense works anyway, so why pay attention to them?

These objections are not groundless.  [slide four]  “Innocent” may not be a suitable adjective for some artistic productions.  Two contemporary art works illustrate modern art’s intense hostility to things religious (specifically Roman Catholic Christianity).  [slide five]  Andres Serrano may have excited the art world with what was thought to be an innovative use of urine and photography, but he also offended Christian, specifically Catholic, sensibilities when he created Piss Christ in 1987.  (Note that the attack against Catholic Christianity is evident since a crucifix, not an Orthodox or a Protestant cross, was used in the photograph.)  [slide six]  Similarly, a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI may seem a contemporary example of representational art.  [slide seven]  While Niki Johnson’s use of 17,000 multicolored condoms to create the portrait is as unique as Serrano’s artistic product, it is just as confrontational.  Johnson’s anti-religious intention should be obvious, even though art critic Megan Griffo focuses on topics other than the hostility toward religion when she says that Johnson “hopes to take aim at the church’s [sic] stance on using condoms, but also promote sexual diversity and a more open discussion about sexual health.”

A final philosophical matter must be considered.  One might not think that modern art concerns itself with the standard three life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia at all.  Since the art world has been stereotypically perceived as the province of so-called liberal entities, it could be presumed that life-affirming creations are not possible in a domain populated by individuals espousing anti-life tendencies.  [slide eight]  One thinks, for example, of the feminist artist Cindy Sherman, whose 1991 print portfolio is listed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website as benefitting the National Abortion Rights Action League, [slide nine]  or the listing of Jennifer Bartlett’s 1991 work on the Museum of Modern Art’s website, clearly showing her anti-life bias.  [slide ten]  In our new century, although technological means used in art have become even more sophisticated, the anti-life bias has not abated, as this commentary on Josephine Pryde’s work in the Museum of Modern Art illustrates:

In her series It’s Not My Body, Pryde makes reference to the history of darkroom experimentation and contemporary medical–imaging techniques.  She superimposes low–resolution MRI scans of a human embryo in its mother against desert landscapes shot through tinted filters, engaging questions about the reproduction of images and the impact visuals have on political debates surrounding “personhood” and a woman’s right to choose.

Of course, persons who support the first civil right to life will immediately cringe at the use of the neutered possessive pronoun “its” to refer to the unborn child, who should be identified either by the masculine “his” or the feminine “her” or the politically-correct non-sexist formation “his or her.”  Similarly, that the commentator places the word “personhood” in quotations is not to indicate that it is being referred to as a word, but that the veracity of the term is doubted, as though unborn children have no right to personhood.  Finally, pro-lifers have long recognized that the phrase “woman’s right to choose” is a logically fallacious euphemism since it omits the object of the verb infinitive (which is that one who supports abortion supports the mother’s choice to kill the unborn child).

These linguistic concerns aside, however, if one studies contemporary art further, one may find that, while some art works do not necessarily broadcast pro-life themes in a heavily didactic manner, there is a collection of work from various artists across genres to justify the claim that modern art captures, displays, and promotes life-affirming values.  Perhaps the pro-life messages in various art works, even by those artists who may not be aligned with the right-to-life movement, are inescapable because, as I asserted above, art is inherently pro-life in the absolute sense of being life-affirming.

II.  Definitions and the Role of Technology in Modern Art

Several definitions of words in the title of this paper may be necessary to define for this technical audience to frame the following discussion.  First, what is meant by modern art, abstract art, and the plastic arts?  Second, how does one define a major art work?

          Art historians consider the second half of the nineteenth century as the beginning of modern art.  Although they use this designation for any work produced since the nineteenth century, what we know as modern, non-representational art became fully engaged in the culture only in the twentieth century.  Beyond these mere historical facts, critics are hard pressed to define the art of our age, and the most understandable definition of modern art operates in negation, the statement of what something is not.  For example, the famous works of modern art are not representational as much as they are abstract; the works do not indicate or refer to objects in the real world.  Moreover, modern art works tender political statements much more than representational work used for ecclesiastical or aristocratic adornment.  These general statements apply to abstract paintings as well as works categorized as anything crafted, such as a ceramic, or a sculpture (the plastic arts).[1]

Perhaps the most striking difference between art pre-Impressionism and the art of the twentieth and our own new century concerns a topic valued by this conference, technology:  [slide eleven]

In more recent times it was not scientific ideas but technological hardware that stimulated the visual arts.  While the result has undoubtedly been a preponderance of very ordinary and much bad art, this is beside the point: oil on canvas is also mostly mediocre.  Artists have grasped at the opportunities which technical advance gives them because that is their nature—to seek symbolic languages appropriate to their time and their vision.  In some cases the languages used in the second half of the [twentieth] century borrowed from those of the first, merely translated into contemporary terms.  Much video-installation art, for example, looks like the kind of thing Dada would have been doing had they been lucky enough to possess D.V.D.  On the other hand, because the material from which art can be made has become so radically different, there have been immense changes in what can be produced: stainless steel, plastics, fiberglass, polyester resin, neon, acrylic paints, and N.A.S.A adhesives have all had their effects, as have airbrushes, aerosol sprays, Polaroid cameras, photocopiers, and fax machines.  (Blake 11-12)

          Regarding the question of how one defines a major art work, with one notable exception (an art work which itself was censored by the art community for reasons which will be clear later), I defer to major art museums themselves.  Most art museums have always operated under tight budgets; since they must be highly selective about works deemed worthy to be in their collections, the inclusion of a contemporary piece must obviously have been made following not only severe aesthetic criteria, but also limited financial resources.  [slide twelve]  While most museums listed on this slide were those which I have visited in person (those visited only through the Internet are marked with an asterisk),[2] for purposes of this study all of the museums’ collections were searched using the keywords abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, and reproductive rights to discover art works addressing the life issues.[3]

III.  Depictions of Motherhood

Certainly, modern art incarnates attitudes about human life which could be construed as avant garde (in the sense of identifying philosophical positions contrary to the beliefs or opinions of ordinary people).  That what was once avant garde is now mainstream testifies to the power of artistic work to reshape the cultural milieu by giving people, not necessarily a new vocabulary, but something much more important: a new image, which in turn affects their vocabulary.

Modern art’s contribution in reshaping culture is evident in the definition and depiction of a concept of central concern to this conference—motherhood, the definition and perception of which, of course, determines the choice that a mother makes regarding the unborn life she happens to carry.  [slide thirteen]  For example, the image of a mother being life-affirming dominated the arts for almost two millennia; perhaps this can be attributed to centuries of art works depicting the Virgin Mary embracing, protecting, or honoring the Child Jesus, as depicted in Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna and Child (ca. 1530) held in the Allen Memorial Art Museum on the campus of Oberlin College.  [slide fourteen]  The millennia-old respect for the Virgin Mother as the epitome of motherhood still obtains, and Salvador Dali’s Madonna of Port Lligat (1949) testifies to modern art’s ability to use non-representational and geometric forms to create a masterpiece.

The image of the mother as killer, of course, never left the Western mind; after all, Western culture is based on an ancient Roman and Greek literary heritage which contains examples of mothers who chose to kill their unborn or born children.  [slide fifteen]  William Wetmore Story’s Medea (1868) illustrates in sculpture a surprising move away from mother as life-affirming force.  Although the sculpture is now owned by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s description is telling: [slide sixteen]

To nineteenth-century theater audiences, Medea was a sympathetic character forced to choose between relinquishing her children and protecting them by destroying them herself.  Story similarly deemphasized Medea’s revenge, leaving to the viewer’s imagination the scene of infanticide to come.

Granted that the sculpture’s description is a twenty-first century perspective, if the claim should be taken at face value (after all, shouldn’t the writer at one of the premiere museums in the United States know what he or she is saying?), then the contemporary viewer may well wonder what happened by the middle of the nineteenth century to make Medea, the ancient symbol of the infanticidal mother, a sympathetic character.  Since documenting the historical shift in motherhood is not the purpose of this paper, we must accept the sculpture’s description at face value; certainly, it is evidence that the view of motherhood shifted from the perspective of a life-affirming being to a life-denying one.

[slide seventeen]  The role of motherhood becomes further removed from that of a nurturing human parent with a late twentieth-century sculptural example, Louise Bourgeois’ Maman (1999).  What may seem a mass of twisted bronze, marble, and stainless steel to one is a spider to another; an art critic, moreover, would delve deeper to see the work as a commentary on maternity.  “The title of the piece Maman (1999) was by no means incidental,” Tuohy and Masters write, “its towering structure and the marble eggs in its sack combining in a contradictory image of motherhood” (28).  That motherhood can be qualified by the adjective “contradictory” may be the intellectual result of a century steeped in feminism, modern art merely reflecting the impact of a life-denying version of that cultural phenomenon.

IV.  Representative Contemporary Art Works on the Life Issues

Having perused some philosophical matters and offered necessary definitions about modern art, including its technological component, we can now consider two modern art works which use technology in their presentation of one or more of the life issues: Mary Cate Carroll’s American Liberty Upside Down (1983) and Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych (1992).  Instead of merely lecturing on these works, I will ask the audience at two intervals to respond to a set of four questions about each work.  Thus, this audience activity will meet two goals of any art work: first, just as one would peruse art works in a gallery, the viewer will have time to appreciate the art work, either determining that it has aesthetic value or not; second, the viewer will be able to determine whether the art work has a wider function, either persuading him or her to engage in some social action or not.

Long before the current controversy involving the sale of fetal body parts by the abortion business Planned Parenthood, the art world faced a serious challenge from Mary Cate Carroll’s painting American Liberty Upside Down over its content.[4]  [slide eighteen]  Carroll describes her work thus:

The painting American Liberty Upside Down…is a work depicting an American family scene—a man and a woman sitting on a couch, and a child on the mother’s lap.  But the child is depicted only in red dotted outline.  In the middle of the child I built an actual door which the view[er] can open[;] if you open the door you will see the actual remains preserved in formaldehyude [sic] of a saline abortion—a small greenish male fetus/child curled up head down in a real jar.

[slide nineteen]  At this time, I ask the audience to consider the following questions.  First, is this art work significant enough to merit anyone’s attention?  Second, does the technological component add to or detract from the art work?  Third, going beyond mere appreciation, could this art work lead to social action?  Finally, are there other considerations omitted from the above?

What does the conference audience think about this work?  Table 1 is an alphabetical listing of comments written by those who attended this paper presentation.  Please note that these comments were written before any audience member learned more about the artist, her position on the first life issue, or the circumstances of her work.

  Table 1: Representative Audience Reactions to Mary Cate Carroll’s American Liberty Upside Down (1983)  
1.  Is this art work significant enough to merit anyone’s attention?I think this should merit some attention.   It is not in itself significant.  As a reflection of the larger society, it is not only significant, but damning.   No.   No.  Except for the police, since a murdered human body is on display.   Raises interesting question (shows fact that [what] they are smiling [over] is wrong?)—yes.   Yes.  [three such responses]   Yes, because it depicts the ultimate tragedy of the abortion holocaust.   Yes, because it presents a question of the picture: why happy when the baby is dead?   Yes, very controversial at closer look.
2.  Does the technological component add to or detract from the art work?Add.   Add, because it goes to the real purpose of the work.   Add, somewhat.  It’s just a door.   Detract.   Detract, maybe.   It adds it, because it says, in a visual manner, why the child is missing.   Not sure.   Technological component, other than the fetus, is irrelevant.   The technological component seems to make the statement more realistic—gruesomely so.   This definitely adds to the powerful language behind this art.   What’s the truth?
3.  Going beyond mere appreciation, could this art work lead to social action?It could lead to social action, although it seems like there is a lot of apathy about a dead fetal picture/image (like Planned Parenthood videos), especially if a person is pro-abortion.   Might reinforce either the views of the abortionists or the pro-lifers.   Not sure.   Probably.   Social action appears to be the main point.   Social action could follow if one interprets it as a life that “could  [sentence not completed]   This art definitely inspires me to social action.  Why not others?  Big yes.   Yes.  [two such responses]   Yes, because [we] see the aborted children could cause social action.   Yes, to lead on to see the emptiness stemming from abortion.
4.  Are there other considerations omitted from the above?Does it disrespect the baby’s life that was lost?   I noticed the Raggedy Andy inside the door, opposite the aborted child.  It says the “choice” is to make even the living child no more than a thing, not a person.  There is also an idea of a reliquary, but the door gives an iconic content.   Love to see what interactions have occurred.   Political questions are relevant but omitted.  How is this even legal?   Probably.   “Reliquary”?  Religious connotations.   Shows tremendous gap left by our missing children killed by abortion.  Title is Upside Down.  The question is the art work’s use of real fetus vs. representation.   With so much acceptance of abortion in our culture, what is the family of tomorrow going to look like?   Yes, the legal ramifications of displaying a murdered human.   Yes, the reason for the aborted children in the context of the picture.

Besides these audience responses, other pro-life commentary on the value of the painting can be provided.  While the facts surrounding the controversy generated by the art work are important, especially since they come from the artist directly, other technical considerations and their effects should be noted, especially since they comport with the focus of this pro-life technical conference.

First is the obvious fact that, although it uses low technology, the painting succeeds in conveying a complex life-affirming message for the viewer.[5]  While the viewer’s eyesight may be drawn to various points of the canvas, the ambiguity which greets him or her is the same: if one focuses on the parents, then one wonders why they are smiling at something missing; if one focuses on the outline, one would wonder who the child would have been to fill the gap.  If the viewer focuses on the parents and then opens the door containing the unborn child’s body, then the viewer experiences psychological dissonance.  (Why would anyone–even the most strident anti-lifer, such as, for example, someone working at any of the offices of the abortion business Planned Parenthood—smile at the remains of an aborted child?).  Similarly, if the door is opened first and the viewer then looks at the smiling parents, the emotional reaction should be one of repugnance, for no sane person would find delight at the remains of a dead human being.  All of these ideas crowd the viewer when he or she realizes that this low-technology painting illustrates the deadly effects of high-tech methods used to kill unborn children in contemporary society.  Perhaps the cognitive dissonance which the painting stimulates is the artist’s intention, for Carroll herself can testify to the power of this psychological concept: “When I saw an aborted fetus for the first time, I came to a crisis between my feminist beliefs and what I was seeing….  Two years later I became a Christian” (“American Liberty”; ellipsis in original).

A second consideration is that the painting has a substantial social effect that was barely recognized in the 1980s and needs to be reaffirmed today, especially after the numerous revelations about the selling of fetal body parts by the abortion business Planned Parenthood and subsequent efforts by anti-life groups to censor videos of the transactions made over the unborn children’s bodies.  Carroll’s commentary about the censorship of the painting is crucial for right-to-life history:  [slide twenty]

I was invited by my Alma Mater to participate in an art show of six alumnae of Mary Washington College.  I was told in writing to bring whatever I wanted to show, up to six pieces.  I brought a series of paintings which I call the American Liberty Series.  Two days after I hung the show and before the opening the college called and said there was a problem with two of the paintings and that they had debated whether to remove both and finally decided that the one American Liberty Upside Down would have to be removed and I was to come forwith [sic] and remove it from the campus.  I challenged them on this but they insisted.  I called the school and local newspaper.  The case escalated into a little national brouhaha when writer/activist Nat Hentoff championed my cause in articles in The Village Voice, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.  A detailed description of my case can be found in Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book, Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee.  It should be noted that the censorship of this artwork was not covered by any art periodical or any art critic because I believe the art world while decrying censorship regularly censors the work of what they deem the politically incorrect.  It was after all the Art Department that did the initial censorship.

          A final, semantic matter can summarize this brief critique of the painting.  Throughout this paper I have identified Carroll’s work as a painting; that is how the art world categorizes it.  However, the more accurate term which should be used to classify the work is one which contemporary society would have great difficulty in understanding.  If the classification was challenging for the 1980s, then it is even more so now after nearly forty more years of intense secularization and attacks on religious institutions.  As the sole pro-life news account used for this study states, “Carroll considers her work to be a reliquary—a work of art to enshrine the remains of part or all of a human being—usually a martyr” (“American Liberty”).  The controversy of the work should thus surrender to a more important consideration, for it is clear that the artist herself wishes the viewer to approach the work with the sense of religious awe which it deserves.

[slide twenty-one]  The second art work to be considered is Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych (1992), which uses that traditional form to juxtapose three life scenes: the moment of birth, a human being submerged in water, and the moments of an older woman near death.[6]  [slide twenty-two]  As with Carroll’s work, I ask the audience at this time to consider the following questions.  First, is this art work significant enough to merit anyone’s attention?  Second, does the technological component add to or detract from the art work?  Third, going beyond mere appreciation, could this art work lead to social action?  Finally, are there other considerations omitted from the above?

What does the conference audience think about this work?  Table 2 is an alphabetical listing of comments written by those who attended this paper presentation.  Please note that these comments were written before any audience member learned more about the artist and general critical and my own commentary about his work.

  Table 2: Representative Audience Reactions to Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych (1992)  
1.  Is this art work significant enough to merit anyone’s attention?I don’t think so.   Maybe.   Need more info—don’t understand.   No.  [three such responses]   Not so sure this merits attention.  I don’t get the human submerged in water connection.   Yes.   Yes, I am drawn in.  I am intrigued, and I want to learn more and understand.   Yes.  It catches the eye.
2.  Does the technological component add to or detract from the art work?Add.  [two such responses]   Definitely couldn’t be done without the technological component.   Detract.   Detracts—too confusing at first.   It makes the effective point of saying we float through life from birth to death.  It does not give a compass for the true spirituality in his art.   Neither.   The technological component adds to the interest of the art work.   This definitely adds to the real aspect of the art.  Much.   Yes, but the purpose is not clear.  It leaves to the human [an] interpretation of what is being presented.
3.  Going beyond mere appreciation, could this art work lead to social action?I don’t know; I am confused. If its meaning was explained, maybe I could better understand.  What is the significance of the submerged human?   I don’t think so.   No.  [three such responses]   Not sure if this would lead to social action.  I think it is more subtle.   There does not seem to be a goad to social action, but something has to be a source of a rule of life.   Yes.  [two such responses]   Yes, but what action is required?
4.  Are there other considerations omitted from the above?“Float through” life?  Don’t like imagery.  The “dash” on the tombstone.  Neither piece of art is necessarily anti-life.   Is there significance to the circumstances of each of the three people’s lives?   N/A.   No.   Probably.   “Triptych” is a divine layout done in art.   We seek for beauty.  Where is the symmetry?   Yes.  However, I have no context for the art work presented.

Besides these audience reactions, other pro-life commentary can be provided.  While Tuohy and Masters critique the art work as an illustration that “life and death reflect and contain each other” (194), I argue that Viola’s Nantes Triptych is powerful not only for what it says, but also for what it does not say.  The ideas expressed within the correlative conjunctions can be easily clarified.  [slide twenty-three]  Critical evaluation of the work repeatedly highlights the spirituality of life and death:

Viola believes that art has an enlightening and redemptive function.  “Images have transformative powers within the individual self…art can articulate a kind of healing or growth or completion process…it is a branch of knowledge, epistemology in the deepest sense, and not just an aesthetic practice.”  For him birth and death, the markers which delineate our life-span, “are mysteries in the truest sense of the word, not meant to be solved, but experienced and inhabited.  This is the source of their knowledge.”  He believes that in our Western science-oriented culture “issues such as birth and death no longer command our attention after they have been physically explained,” and that it is essential to return to them as “wake-up calls” with powerful emotional and spiritual effects.  (Manchester; ellipses in original; internal citations omitted)

If this is what the art work says, then what it does not say is just as worthy of attention, especially among pro-lifers or anyone who espouses a life-affirming approach.  The art work does not devalue either the newborn or the elderly.  Even though the mother is obviously experiencing the pain of childbirth, the viewer intellectually knows that a child will be born, not aborted, and that virtually all mothers rejoice over the birth of their children despite transitory childbirth pain.  The central figure, as in a traditional triptych, illustrates the intellectual point suggested by the left and right panels that all born human beings “float” through life (between the moment of birth and the moment of death) just as the representational figure literally floats.

Similarly, the condition of the elderly woman in the last panel could be construed by anti-life persons as the unfortunate consequence of getting old, suffering needless pain, and losing one’s dignity.  However, this is not what the art work says, or, more correctly, should be interpreted as saying, especially when one considers, as Manchester points out, that “Viola filmed his mother as she lay dying in a coma in 1991 as a means of confronting her death artistically.”  Would the artist’s intention be as cruel as an anti-life person’s summary statements of an elderly person whose life is without meaning or beauty?  We should presume not and affirm that Viola respects his mother as any son would.

Taken as a whole, from a pro-life perspective, it is obvious that there is no destruction occurring in the first panel of the child’s birth.  What should be obvious in the last panel is that, although the elderly woman’s life is ending, there is no active destruction of her life; nature is taking its course. 

Finally, what is especially interesting is that Viola uses the triptych form, customarily used in religious settings, as the frame for the work.  Since the form has not lost its religious associations, even by a secularized art world, even the elderly woman’s death can be interpreted as an affirmation of and movement of her physical life to something higher, a triptych by its nature affirming the human connection with the divine.

V.  Strategies for Discovering and Promoting Life-Affirming Content in Art

          [slide twenty-four]  It may be helpful to conclude this paper by offering some strategies to assist one to uncover life-affirming and pro-life content in modern art.  Five can be enumerated here.

The first two recommendations are personal.  First, visit galleries and museums, which are the traditional sites for the presentation of contemporary art.  The engineers and technologists in the audience may at first focus on mathematical computations and geometric criteria in art displayed in the galleries, but it is hoped that the scientific appreciation of any work will lead to an aesthetic one encouraged by the humanities.

Second, fill your residence and office areas with life-affirming art.  The maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words has obvious application to the life issues.  The photos of aborted babies in the 1970s were as effective for the right-to-life movement then as the videos and photos of fetal body parts sold by the abortion business Planned Parenthood are today.  Likewise, a positive image of an unborn child or an elderly person may reinforce the value of human life more than reams of well-reasoned argumentation in finely crafted books.

The third through fifth recommendations are social and should follow from the adoption of the first two.  Third, be aware of and contest life-denying connotations of words and euphemisms used in titles of art works; for example, just as in the legislative arena, the term choice in any art work may refer to abortion.  Fourth, suggest that artists use various technological means to illustrate the groups of humans targeted by anti-lifers (the unborn, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly); when they agree, finance their efforts or buy their works.  Fifth, use social media to promote specific life-affirming works.  I offer my own recent post about the censorship of Mary Cate Carroll’s reliquary on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter as an example.

Future research could identify many more art works which address the life issues.  It is hoped that this paper will encourage others who have more time and expertise to investigate those works at greater length.  It is also hoped that future scholars will expand commentary on the corpus of life-affirming art work in academic journals which cater to the intellectual elite and that non-academic persons will comment on pro-life art work on social networking sites which serve the informational needs of society, including two important categories within that population (teenagers and college students, the next generation of pro-lifers).  Finally, it is hoped that this paper will reverse decades of censorship against pro-life artists like Mary Cate Carroll so that their contributions not only to the right-to-life movement, but also to the larger culture are recognized.

Works Cited

American Liberty Upside Down–Aborted Fetus as Art Is Censored.” A.L.L. About Issues. Feb. 1984. PDF file. 17 Aug. 2015.

Blake, Robin. Essential Modern Art. New York: Bath, UK, 2001. Print.

Bourgeois, Louise. Maman. 1999. National Gallery of Canada/ Musée des beaux-arts du Canada. Collections: Maman, 1999, Cast 2003. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>>.

Carroll, Mary Cate. Carroll, Mary Cate Paintings. N.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015. <>.

Griffo, Megan. “Niki Johnson Used Condoms for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Portrait to Promote Sexual Health.” 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

Lauter, Rolf. “Bill Viola: Survey Exhibition, Frankfurt 1999, Part 3: Dominikanerkloster. Curator: Dr. Rolf Lauter.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 6 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

Manchester, Melissa. Nantes Triptych. 1992: Summary. Tate Gallery. Sept. 2000. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

Pryde, Josephine. It’s Not My Body XII. 2011. Museum of Modern Art. The Collection. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

Russell, John. The Meanings of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981. Print.

Serrano, Andes. Piss Christ. 1987. Wikipedia. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.

Sherman, Cindy. Untitled from The Art Pro Choice II Print Portfolio. 2015. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Collection Online. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.>.

Story, William Wetmore. Medea. 1866. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Collection Online: Medea. 2015. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

Strobel, Jennifer. “Artist’s Theme Found Unsuitable.” Free Lance-Star. Free Lance-Star, 8 Oct. 1983. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <,1118620&hl=en>.

Tuohy, Andy, and Christopher Masters. A to Z Great Modern Artists. London:

Cassell Illustrated, 2015. Print.

Viola, Bill. Nantes Triptych. 1992. Tate Gallery. Web. 17 Aug. 2015. <>.

[1] See John Russell’s introductory chapter “The Secret Revolution” in his The Meanings of Modern Art (1981) for an expansive treatment of the ideas in this paragraph.

[2] I have had the pleasure to visit the following museums in person: Akron Art Museum, Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), Allen Memorial Art Museum (Oberlin), Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, Cleveland Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Dayton Art Institute, Haggerty Museum of Art on the campus of Marquette University (Milwaukee), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), National Gallery of Canada/Musée des beaux-arts du Canada (Ottawa), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, and the Walters Art Museum (Baltimore).  The following museums were visited through the Internet: Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC), and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

[3] Often, the results of the search string included museum entries which had nothing to do with the topics discussed here.  For example, some museums collated anything with the word reproduced as a result for the search reproductive rights.

[4] Locating an image of the painting for this paper proved a most challenging task.  I am deeply grateful to Bonnie Seers, managing editor and art director of Celebrate Life Magazine, which originally printed an article about the censorship of Carroll’s work in the February 1984 issue of what was then titled A.L.L. About Issues.  “American Liberty Upside Down–Aborted Fetus as Art Is Censored” is the earliest coverage within the right-to-life community on this case of censorship of pro-life art that various editorial and library science professionals have been able to locate.  I am also indebted to Karen Zoller, Library Director of the Clara Fritzsche Library at Notre Dame College (South Euclid, Ohio) for the alacrity with which she filled my reference request for newspaper articles addressing the ethical issues surrounding Carroll’s painting as recorded in print journalism at the time of the event.  The earliest news account that could be found in the non-pro-life press was the October 1983 article by Jennifer Strobel in The Free Lance-Star.  Researchers who wish to obtain copies of these pdf files may email me at

[5] “Participant” may be a better term to use since the art work demands that the viewer engage with the painting by opening the central door to view the unborn child’s body.  Thus, the visual component is enhanced by a kinetic one, which may be further enhanced by an aural component.  When the painting was displayed at a Cleveland gallery in 1994, if I recall correctly, opening the central door activated an audiotape of a scream to symbolize the horror of the act of abortion.

[6] Finding a suitable version of Viola’s work so that an appropriate clip could be shown to the conference audience would have been exceedingly difficult had it not been for Dr. Rolf Lauter’s YouTube upload.  Although the commentary is in German and may present challenges for an English-speaking audience, viewers are able to see a sufficient portion of the art work.


Latino Literature on the Life Issues: Commentary on Tato Laviera’s “Jesús Papote,” Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Silent Dancing,” and Bella

Abstract:  This paper considers literature written by American Latino authors who address any of the three life issues (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia).  After surveying literary criticism of recent Latino literature, the paper focuses on works in three separate genres: Tato Laviera’s poem “Jesús Papote” (1981), the prose passage “Silent Dancing” (1990) by Judith Ortiz Cofer, and the film Bella (2006).  The paper explicates and critiques these works so that non-Latino audiences can appreciate the themes evoked in the literature.[1]

          Issues surrounding the Latino population in the United States are fascinating.  The chronology of events showing the dominance of the Hispanic or Latino culture involves a rapid sequence over the past century of publications of narratives, sociological studies, popular articles, and scholarly treatises analyzing the shift in ethnic power in the nation.  The Latino dominance in the nation is predicated, of course, on a proud heritage which spans five centuries.  Authors in the New World whose linguistic origins can be traced to Spanish (thus accounting for the variety of languages descended from that base) kept their language, ideas, and cultural artifacts alive over the past five hundred years either by maintaining Spanish publications, by creating a new dialect of English (Spanglish), or (ironically) by crossing over into English, the language of the conquering United States, especially after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The irony is evident when one considers that works by Latino authors in English are often peppered with Spanish phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs and thus introduce an English-only audience to Spanish terms and ideas.  Moreover, the ascendancy of Latino literature to its current position is impressive even though it became fashionable in academia to study Chicano/Chicana, Hispanic, or Latino/Latina literature only within the past four decades.

Census data showing that the minority Latino population in the United States is now the oxymoronic “majority minority,” surpassing the African-American population, is now part of common knowledge.[2]  This shift in minority dominance confirms what many had speculated about the social and political implications of such a change in status of a minority group.  Two examples can serve to illustrate these implications.

The first example concerns politics.  Even though they are generally viewed as religious voters, Latinos support Barack Obama, who is pro-abortion, much more than they support his challenger for the US presidency, Mitt Romney, who is pro-life.  Percentages summarizing poll data fluctuate, and the percentages may change even more as the US economy further weakens and as Obama’s positions on abortion and other issues become more evident.)[3]  The second example, a striking sociological fact, bolsters this political one.  Recent research shows that the number of babies born to minorities has now surpassed the birth rate of European-based Americans, and Latinos play a significant role in this demographic change:

Data for 2010 show Hispanic women give birth to 2.4 babies on average, compared with 1.8 babies for non-Hispanic whites, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.  But the rapid growth of the Hispanic population isn’t just due to higher birthrates: Minority women also are younger on average, so more of them are in childbearing years.  (Dougherty)

Despite these academic, political, and social successes, the Latino population in the United States suffers a significant demographic challenge.  The abortion rate for Latino mothers, although lower than that for African-American mothers, is still much higher than that for white mothers.[4]  Furthermore, except for pro-life activists working in pregnancy support centers, who wish to lower the abortion rate among Latino mothers, abortion may concern social scientists more than leaders of Latino organizations or academics.[5]  In fact, abortion may not be a concern to Latinos themselves, if credence can be given to the most recent compendium of Latino literature yet produced, The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.  This copious and weighty (literally, the hardcopy volume coming in at least four pounds) 2,700 page volume documents a variety of themes of concern to Hispanics and Latino citizens in the New World for the past five hundred years, and most of the entries can be placed under five categories (in alphabetical order): 1. devotion to one’s ethnic heritage, 2. difficulties of finding and performing work, 3. faith, 4. family, and 5. love of children as the future of the race.  Thus, the life issues (abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia) are literary outliers in the canon of Latino literature.[6]

          The above summary of one volume is not meant to say that Latino literature does not concern itself with the life issues.  While infanticide and euthanasia are, to continue the statistical metaphor, extreme outliers (being issues which are so alien in the Latino universe perhaps because the intense devotion to family and children is central to the Hispanic worldview), abortion has been considered in several key literary works.  Tato Laviera’s poem “Jesús Papote” (1981) is neither excerpted nor mentioned in The Norton Anthology, yet in his review of Latino literature in The Companion to Latin American Studies, William Luis credits it as a major work.[7]  Although the mention of abortion is brief, the poem recounts not only an attempted abortion, as Luis suggests, but also a monthly analysis by the embryonic narrator as he becomes aware of his surroundings and the circumstances of his mother’s drug addiction and how that would affect his own life.  Another work which uses the device of an unborn narrator is Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987), a major work addressing the possibility of abortion.[8]  Judith Ortiz Cofer’s collection of short stories, Silent Dancing (1990) delves deeper into this first life issue.

More recently, the 2006 film Bella raised the abortion issue with several surprising effects.  That the film shows that abortion is an issue that could involve Latinos and not merely Anglos is not controversial.  Some critics may have found it incredulous that the film could argue that even a life gone disastrously wrong (the main male character suffers a severe reversal of fortunes, moving from being a famous soccer player to a restaurant worker) can not only itself have—but also help others to see—that every life has purpose.  Perhaps the reason why the film generated rabid criticism from some abortion activists is that the main female character chooses to give birth to her unborn child.

Literary Criticism of Latino Literature on Abortion

          What literary criticism of abortion in Latino literature has been generated is scant.  More importantly, literary critics may be more concerned with what they would like to find in the literature than what is actually present.  Kristina Puotkalyte-Gurgel identifies abortion in her analysis of Ricardo Chávez Castañedaʼs El día del hurón, but the mention is merely casual, however humanizing her notation may be.[9]  Aída Hurtado summarizes what she perceives are current trends in Latino studies thus:

Currently there is a flurry of academic and artistic production from Latina feminists who are making connections with Latina activists in the United States and in the rest of the Americas.  Some of the most exciting work is being created by Latina feminists who are questioning the heterosexism of Latino culture and are beginning to document the lives of Latina lesbians.  These scholars are also working with Latina feminists and women of color to form domestic and international alliances around women’s issues.  In the domestic arena are such organizations as the Women of Color Resource Center, which is committed to creating inclusive political agendas to span ethnic and cultural differences.

Politically, Hurtado is more direct in enumerating the specific issues that, to her, drive the Latina community:

Latinas in the United States have been forced to resist gender subordination within their own communities as well as gender, class, and race/ethnic discrimination in society at large.  Latinas’ “triple” oppression has resulted in their earning less, receiving less education, and having more children to support than whites or than men in their own group.  The core concerns of Latina feminists are material conditions such as employment, poverty, education, health, child care, and reproductive rights.

Since the language of this discussion is obviously politically leftist, doubt exists whether abortion, which in most leftist agendas falls under the euphemism of “reproductive rights,” is a social justice issue that the larger Latino population, nurtured and living dominantly Roman Catholic religious and ethical values, would support.

          What does the literature itself say about the life issues?  What do Laviera’s poem, Ortiz Cofer’s short story, and the film Bella and its novelization suggest as the Latino approach to the first life issue?  What follows are analyses of these three seminal works.

Tato Laviera’s Poem “Jesús Papote” (1981)

          The relevant passage in Laviera’s poem pertaining to abortion is brief, but not only the content, but also stylistic features support a position on abortion overlooked by criticism.

My name is jesús papote may month flowers she dis-

covered me making her green throwing up she wanted

abortion she took pill after pill she had to wait

syphilis infection i came between the habit she

needed more i was an obstruction constant pressure

wrinkled inside cars in out constant pounding those

men were paying they had a right to hurt the habit

stronger tricks longer she became oral more and more

the money was not there one night nobody wanted her

she decided to extricate me she pounded punch after

punch like those men punch after punch abortion at

all costs she tired herself i lost my voice


My name is jesús papote june [….]

she threw up the world she greened

she scratched-drew-blood nails on scars scabbing

pores blood vessels eruptions hands on blood she

painted open mental torture digging into wall’s

electricity cabled concussion paralyzing currents

she wrote god let me die god let me die she fought

we fought i was not an added burden i kept quiet

i held if she survived detoxified normal life no

more deserted streets no more pains no more misery

she won grandma she won she smiled she ate she

beat the odds.  (15-6)

          Presuming that the poetic narrator is reliable (the poem ends in his joyous birth, so the recollection of the abortion threat occurs at a safe distance), the depiction of the mother’s life is one which surely engenders sympathy in the reader and, if the reader lacks a life-affirming philosophical perspective, certainly a justification for abortion.  The drug addicted mother survives on the streets by prostituting herself, and she is pregnant.  Would anyone suggest that such an environment is a worthy one in which any child should be born?  The answer, of course, is yes, not only from the mother herself, but also from her child.  (The father’s reaction to the pregnancy is irrelevant because he is absent.)

          The stylistics of the passage wherein the mother contemplates abortion cannot be ignored.  The lack of punctuation and sentence structure could be attributed to the general “norms” of vers libre, where the absence of conventional meter qualifies any work as being poetry.  However, the absence of terminal punctuation and orderly sentence structure is mandatory in Laviera’s work to convey the eclectic emotions and events occurring in both the mother’s and the unborn child’s lives.  External events and the mother’s spoken words and emotions which threaten the unborn child must be delivered in a rapid-fire mode to convey the urgency of the situation and the chaos that is the mother’s life.  Note that the mother has no reference points for moral authority: no religion, no person who values her beyond a sexual object, and no faith.  Even the “god let me die” (written twice, not, presumably, in the throes of religious fervor as much as it may be the scrawl of a child being reprimanded after class) reads more as a mere interjection and not intercessory prayer to the Divine Being.

          What is most significant about the passage is not only the resolution of the conflict between abortion and the affirmation of life, but also the lack of traditional characters who are usually depicted in abortion narratives.  No activist on the politicized issue of abortion intervenes.  The lack of such a character is noteworthy since the politics of the issue were fresh in the culture at the time of the poem’s publication.  The US abortion decisions which legalized abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever were eight years old when the poem was written.  Besides no activist character, no individual doctor or abortionist intervenes to resolve this moment of crisis between characters.  The characters themselves resolve the dilemma of life gestating in horrible conditions.  The narrator’s affirmation that “she fought / we fought i was not an added burden” demonstrates that, having been devastated by the world, the mother chose to fight against her circumstances instead of surrender to them.  The only person to help her was not the father of the unwanted child, but the child himself.

          Concluding the poem with direct address to the grandmother is a life-affirming torque that any feminist on either side of abortion as a political issue would appreciate.  The unborn child’s exclamation “she won grandma she won she smiled she ate she / beat the odds” is not merely a replica of what a child would say to his grandmother.  Considering it from a feminist perspective, it is also an affirmation of the life-giving forces conserved by the women in the family.  Given the devotion to the maternal and to the feminine which is purportedly dominant in Latino culture, how right and just it is, then, that, even though he has six more months to be born, the unborn child could see his future secure.

Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Short Story “Silent Dancing” (1990)

          Judith Ortiz Cofer’s collection of short stories, Silent Dancing, has done much not only for setting the tone of Latino studies in the United States, but also for beginning a resurgence of such studies just as the multinational category “Hispanic” began to achieve ethnic dominance in the country.  While the original purposes of the collection may either have been superseded by other concerns (Latino literature has become more prominent in the past twenty years since its publication) or has fallen victim to the now tired interpretation of feminist literature with its emphasis on patriarchal oppression of women, Ortiz Cofer’s story offers a unique view of abortion in Latino literature that cannot be found elsewhere.

          While critics discuss Ortiz Cofer’s place in Latino literature and themes of her works in detail, discussion of abortion is absent.  For example, R. Baird Shuman’s essay summarizing the author’s major works for college and university students in the Literary Reference Center database does not mention the abortion element in the short story.  This lapse could be attributed to the presence of other, politically-correct themes (patriarchal oppression, clash of cultures, etc.).  The one reference to abortion in the slim Silent Dancing volume occurs in the short story of the same name and poses many questions that future research needs to explore.  For now, it is sufficient, first, to list what is absent in the short story when contrasted against its Anglo- or European-American counterparts; second, to comment on the high number of “removes” that the narrative establishes to distance the reader from the event; and, finally, to contrast the short story’s perceptions of the mother who has aborted, the father of the child, and the unborn child him- or herself.

Authors may linger over love or sex scenes either for the salutary purpose of emphasizing the inherent beauty of sexual activity or for the salacious reason—a further bifurcation—of making the scene uncomfortable for the reader or of cheapening the beauty of sex between married persons by merely appealing to the reader’s baser if not pornographic interests.  Authors do not, however, linger over abortion procedures in their novels and short stories.  The disastrous post-abortion effects may be evident throughout the balance of the narratives after the abortion has occurred, but the actual abortion is not provided in extreme detail (probably because any horrific event in a narrative needs to be passed over quickly to advance the plot).  This feature of abortion episodes is the rule not only for novels of hundreds of pages where every page is lugubrious with detail (for example, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules) but also in novels which, though they may consist of hundreds of pages, have sparse paragraph content, such as Audrey Thomas’ Blown Figures, where nearly 70% of the novel (373 of the 547 pages) contain brief one-line statements.  This rule of quick treatment of the abortion procedure is even more pronounced in the short story for the obvious reason of space.

Ortiz Cofer’s account of an abortion in her short story “Silent Dancing” is consistent with this rule of quick reportage.  Here is the passage:

I came to tell you that story about your cousin that you’ve always wanted to hear.  Remember that comment your mother made to a neighbor that has always haunted you?  The only thing you heard was your cousin’s name and then you saw your mother pick up your doll from the couch and say: “It was as big as this doll when they flushed it down the toilet.”  This image has bothered you for years, hasn’t it?  You had nightmares about babies being flushed down the toilet, and you wondered why anyone would do such a horrible thing.  You didn’t dare ask your mother about it.  She would only tell you that you had not heard her right and yell at you for listening to adult conversations.  But later, when you were old enough to know about abortions, you suspected.  I am here to tell you that you were right.  Your cousin was growing an Americanito in her belly when this movie was made.  Soon after she put something long and pointy into her pretty self, thinking maybe she could get rid of the problem before breakfast and still make it to her first class at the high school.  Well, Niña, her screams could be heard downtown.  Your aunt, her Mamá, who had been a midwife on the Island, managed to pull the little thing out.  Yes, they probably flushed it down the toilet, what else could they do with it—give it a Christian burial in a little white casket with blue bows and ribbons?  Nobody wanted that baby—least of all the father, a teacher at her school with a house in West Paterson that he was filling with real children, and a wife who was a natural blond.  (96-7)

Although the cousin’s abortion is briefly mentioned in “Silent Dancing” and therefore lacks the detail of a lengthier treatment in a novel or more extensive short story, what is more pronounced in the above text is the series of several removes from reality in which the abortion episode is related.  Granted, one can argue that any text—written, verbal, or online—is removed at least once from the original source; the reader cannot immerse him- or herself in any actual abortion episode.  The philosophical discussion of literature’s removes from reality (or distancing) is not the concern here; what does concern this study is the cumulative effect of the multiple removes under which the abortion in this specific case is narrated.

There are at least six such removes.  First, of course, is the obvious and previously stated removal (the text itself as the initial distance from reality).  An immediate categorization of the short story as a work of fiction, not as a nonfictional account of a historical event, qualifies as a second remove.  The third remove involves the fact of authorship; the mother who aborted is not relating her account, but another person is.  The fourth remove becomes obvious when several layers are uncovered.  The reader needs to appreciate the distance involved in having the person relating the abortion matrimonially removed several times from the event; she is not merely a common law wife of a relative closer to Ortiz Cofer, but the narrator’s “great-uncle’s common-law wife” (96).  A fifth remove manifests itself when one considers the means used by Ortiz Cofer to relate the narrative of another woman’s abortion; it is recalled not in standard narratological form of a plot in past or present time, but as a dream, where facts about the abortion episode can be altered either intentionally or not.  The final, sixth remove is evident when the reader understands that the narrator within this particular episode of the short story (the great-uncle’s common-law wife) does not quote the mother directly but instead offers her own evaluation of the abortion episode.

          What is the contemporary reader to do with such narratological layers?  Are they just meant to be enjoyed or, as all good literature from ancient times has striven to do, can some didactic value be obtained?  Certainly, the short story is enjoyable; what began as reminiscence about a film archive of a particular family assumes greater poignancy when the silent faces moving in the camera being described for the reader become tragic characters, or at least characters with a hamartia consistent with ancient drama.  The didacticism of the short story is enhanced when other passages in the short story collection are juxtaposed here.  Ortiz Cofer adopts Virginia Woolf’s dictum that fiction should contain “strong emotion” (13).  She further asserts in the initial pages of the collection that, even though some details may have been altered or emphasized, the stories are “based on real events” (13).

The juxtaposition of these two statements leads the reader to consider what he or she will read as, if not autobiographical, then at least biographical with an authorial liberty to change facts and character development, as Hawthorne asserted was the romance writer’s privilege in the explanatory introduction to The Scarlet Letter.  Ortiz Cofer reaffirms such authorial privilege when she writes that a benefit of writing is that “hurtful parts can be edited out” (11)—a clear affirmation that some topics such as abortion and others mentioned in the collection (adultery, abandonment of young women before marriage, and the vicissitudes of traveling to and from the homeland) cannot be written about without creating intense hurt.  If the preceding tends to highlight the moral purpose of the short story, then a final note from Ortiz Cofer’s categorization is necessary; this and others in the collection are cuentos, which are specifically defined in the preface as “morality and cautionary tales” (15).

          Besides considering the various removes from reality evident in this short story, one can also excavate a literary perspective towards the mother, the father, and the unborn child much at odds with those who support legalized abortion.  The attitude toward the mother is intriguing because it contrasts with the amount of attention that either a mother who contemplates abortion or an aborted mother would receive in a fictional work written from a life-denying perspective.  Although equal attention is given in the abortion passage to the unborn child and the mother, a condemnatory view could be applied to the aborted mother if the message of a subsequent passage in the anthology about mothers in general can be appropriated to her.  If negativity applies to “a responsible mother [who] did not leave her children with any stranger” (92), then the calculus of negativity could swing further against the mother who aborts, since she has “left” her child to the extreme (in the hands of an abortionist and thus abandoned the child to death).[10]

          The narrator’s attitude toward the father is apparent in this story; the father of the child is a typically self-centered American man who values sex more than his marriage commitment and who does not regard himself as a role model for his children.  However, this is a twenty-first century criticism of the sexual excesses of the mid- to late twentieth century.  Elsewhere in the anthology, Ortiz Cofer treats men and their sexual needs with a tolerant attitude.  When she writes about her father, Ortiz Cofer apologetically states that “It was not his fault, after all, that every year or so he planted a baby-seed in Mamá’s fertile body, keeping her from leading the active life she needed and desired.  He loved her and the babies” (26).  Whether the blame for too frequent pregnancies can be attributed to nature or the grandmother’s lust for the grandfather or vice versa, is left unsaid.

          The author’s attitude toward babies in general is not as negative as one would think.  Admittedly, having children deprived her grandmother of “the active life she needed and desired,” but this description may be filtered more through the granddaughter’s perspective than the grandmother’s; at no point does the grandmother resent having children, although she is firm in having decided that her husband would ultimately move to a separate bedroom.  Moreover, the grandmother delights in having her children and grandchildren around the house.  Reflecting on the film images in the short story, Ortiz Cofer further indicates the Puerto Rican attitude towards children:

Here and there you can see a small child.  Children were always brought to parties and, whenever they got sleepy, were put to bed in the host’s bedrooms.  Babysitting was a concept unrecognized by the Puerto Rican women I knew: a responsible mother did not leave her children with any stranger.  And in a culture where children are not considered intrusive, there is no need to leave the children at home.  (92; italics in original)

Ortiz Cofer’s example is trenchant, for the attitude thus illustrated is greatly at odds with the negativity or hostility towards children in Anglo culture.

Bella (Film 2006; Novelization 2008)

          Although this study is concerned with the written aspects of the life issues in Latino literature, it is necessary to include Bella, which was released as a film in 2006 and novelized two years later.  Considering the film and novelization as one literary artifact is justified because of the importance of abortion as a core theme not only in this work, but also, as the work itself suggests, vis-à-vis Latino culture in the United States.

          The plot for both film and novel is simple: Nina becomes pregnant, loses her job at an upscale New York restaurant, and considers abortion, but, thanks to the kindness of José, with whom she worked at the restaurant, gives birth to the child, surrendering the baby to José so that she can pursue her dancing career.[11]  This severe reduction of the plot of a film that runs for one hour and thirty-two minutes and a book of 187 pages ignores some refined and crucial details (  José had been a star soccer player until he was convicted of vehicular homicide of a little girl; his employment now is that of a humble restaurant chef.  Nina is pregnant by one of the restaurant’s management staff.  Both José and Nina are suffering souls.  Exasperated with her condition in life (she is considering abortion because she is a failure at virtually everything: her dancing career, the reason why she moved to New York in the first place, and now her employment), Nina exclaims, “I can’t even take care of myself [….]  How am I going to take care of a kid?” (Samson 102).  José’s psychic burden is the killing of the little girl and its attendant consequences: ignominy, a life of penance, even a radical change in appearance; the most frequently noted physical characteristic of the character is his long and apparently unkempt beard—he calls himself “scruffy-bearded” at the denouement of the novel (181).

          Details of the plot, however, are relatively unimportant when the functionality of the work is examined.  Bella illustrates the effect of a life-affirming perspective on a situation which is common in American culture.  When pregnant women lose their jobs in the “new normal” of the Great Recession of the past four years, and when those women are irreligious, have no support systems, and have no moral basis to distinguish between abortion, adoption, or giving birth, then abortion is an ineluctable choice.  Nina is such a young woman.  She has no family support, her beloved father died when she was a little girl, and her relationship with her mother is precarious.  Her religious background cannot be determined; a possible indication of familiarity with Christianity, if not Catholicism, can be suggested by her feeble effort to make the Sign of the Cross when she dines at José’s family’s house (“Nina tried but failed, sort of waving her hand in a circle in front of her chest” 155).  The father of the child would support her only by paying half of the cost of an abortion.

          And then comes José and his family, of Mexican heritage, all of whom are imbued with a focus on family, good food, Catholic Christianity, and tolerance—even tolerance for a young woman who seems intent on abortion.  Since the opening scene of the work shows Nina seemingly prepared for an abortion, the rest of the narrative (in both film and novel) follows what would seem to be an in medias res structure.  Nina is strongly affected not only by the sense of devotion to family asserted throughout the work, but also by José’s ethics.

Moreover, Nina wishes she could have a loving mother like José’s.  The matriarch of the family, significantly named Maria, plays a pivotal role in tending to Nina’s social and physical needs (anything from helping her clean up after working at the family’s house, to providing a meal for her, to relating the adoption of the first son in the family as a persuasive argument to assist her regarding the reproductive choice she faces).  Similarly, it is Maria before whom José is able to release powerful emotions in a scene that evokes the image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child:

She leaned over and put her arms around him as he sobbed, allowing something to release in him he never had before, something that watered the dried-up belief that he deserved to live a life that meant something, anything.

          “Cry it all out,” she whispered, as if that were possible.  He wrapped his arms around her waist from where he sat and rested his bristled cheek against her bosom.  (148; italics in original)

          Is the loving support and quasi-religious imagery of this Mexican-American family relevant in a study concerning Latino literature on the life issues?  Yes, especially since ethnicity forms a crucial background of the plot.[12]  After identifying himself as “RicoMex” (half Puerto Rican and half Mexican), José wonders about Nina’s ethnic heritage in a passage that concentrates the narrative’s focus on ethnic values:

José realized he knew so little about her.  Obviously not Hispanic, what type of family did she come from?  Irish?  German?  Or had they been over here so long they were simply typical Americans with nothing left of their old countries in them?  (166)

It is the final rhetorical question that the rest of American society must answer.

The argument could be made that these three works demonstrate a shift in the Latino attitude toward abortion, a transformation that is most welcome as a response to the high abortion rate in that community.  What is the poem “Jesús Papote” vis-à-vis the topic of abortion if not a documentation of American society’s attempt to affect the Latina mother in the most desperate way possible, to encourage her to abort her child?  Similarly, what is the short story “Silent Dancing” if not an illustration that American society succeeded in affecting the Latina mother so that she aborted her child?  Finally, but most encouragingly, what is Bella if not the Latina response to American society, a clear si to la vida and no to aborto?

Whatever the current literature shows, an abortion rate twice that of white mothers “will out”—will need to be documented in literature, whether written or visual, to satisfy the basic need of catharsis.  Mothers cannot live with abortion in their history; such a disruption of the maternal instinct has been documented well by commentators in literatures of other ethnic groups.  Now that Latinos are the dominant minority in the United States, and now that Latinos are becoming much more integrated into American society, as the twentieth-century European immigrants did before them, one can expect a deluge of narratives on the first life issue of abortion.  Moreover, as Latinos become further integrated into American society, their exposure to the remaining two life issues (infanticide and euthanasia) could follow the sociological trend of other ethnic groups which—secularized, focused on material comforts, and bereft of their ethnic identities—adopted infanticide and euthanasia positions contrary to those of their cultural and religious heritages.  Alternatively, if Latinos retain their positive and life-affirming values, then the anti-life philosophy which seems ascendant in American society may find a worthy adversary in a culture that has promoted respect for family and life for the past five hundred years and has demonstrated no inclination yet to abandon those values.

Works Cited

Abrajano, Marisa A., and R. Michael Alvarez. “Hispanic Public Opinion and

Partisanship in America.” Political Science Quarterly 126.2 (summer

2011): 255-85. N.d. Web. 23 May 2012


Berger, David K, Wendy Kyman, Gloria Perez, Manuela Menendez, Janice

F. Bistritz, and Julia M. Goon. “Hispanic Adolescent Pregnancy Testers: A Comparative Analysis of Negative Testers, Childbearers and Aborters.” Adolescence 26.104 (winter 1991): 951-62.

Bolks, Sean M., Diana Evans, J. L. Polinard, and Rorert D. Wrinkle. “Core

Beliefs and Abortion Attitudes: A Look at Latinos.” Social Science Quarterly 81.1 (March 2000): 253-60.

Brown, Robert W., R. Todd Jewell, and Jeffrey T. Rous. “Abortion Decisions

Among Hispanic Women Along the Texas-Mexico Border.” Social Science Quarterly 81.1 (March 2000): 237-52.

Dougherty, Conor, and Miriam Jordan. “Minority Births Are New Majority:

In Demographic Watershed for U.S., Newborns Among Non-Hispanic Whites Are Surpassed by Others.” Wall Street Journal (17 May 2012). Web.

Ellison, Christopher G., Samuel Echevarria, and Brad Smith. “Religion and

Abortion Attitudes Among U.S. Hispanics: Findings from the 1990 Latino National Political Survey.” Social Science Quarterly 86.1 (March 2005): 192-208.

Fuentes, Carlos. Christopher Unborn. Trans. Alfred MacAdam and

the author. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989. Trans. of Cristobal Nonato. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1987.

Hurtado, Aida. “Feminism and Feminisms.” The Reader’s Companion to

U.S. Women’s History. Web.

Irving, John. The Cider House Rules. New York: William Morrow, 1985.

Koloze, Jeff. “Breaking the Linguistic Permafrost of Current American Anti-

Life Fiction: A Guide for Students of Literature.” Life and Learning VI: Proceedings of the Sixth University Faculty for Life Conference. Ed. Joseph W. Koterski. Washington, DC: University Faculty for Life, 1997. 215-33.

Laviera, Tato. Enclave. Houston: Arte Publico P, 1985.

Luis, William. “Latino US literature.” The Companion to Latin American

Studies. Web.

The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Gen. ed. Ilan Stavans. New York:

          W. W. Norton, 2011.

Ortiz Cofer, Judith. Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto

Rican Childhood. 2nd ed. Houston: Arte Publico, 1991.

Pazol, Karen, Suzanne B. Zane, Wilda Y. Parker, Laura R. Hall, Sonya B.

Gamble, Saeed Hamdan, Cynthia Berg, and Douglas A. Cook. “Abortion Surveillance—United States, 2007.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 60.1 (2-25-11).

Puga, Maria Luisa. “Young Mother.” A Necklace of Words: Stories by

Mexican Women. Secret Weavers Ser. 11. Eds. Marjorie Agosin and Nancy Abraham Hall. Trans. Nancy Abraham Hall. Fredonia, NY: White Pine, [n.d.]. 125-9.

Puotkalyte-Gurgel, Kristina. “Violence and Apocalypse in Ricardo Chávez

Castañedaʼs El día del hurón.” Nomenclatura: Aproximaciones a los Estudios Hispanicos (spring 2012): 1-21.

Samson, Lisa. Bella: A Novelization of the Award-Winning Movie. Nashville:

Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Shuman, R. Baird. “Judith Ortiz Cofer.” Literary Reference Center. Web. 9

May 2012.

Teal, Stephanie B., Tabetha Harken, Jeanelle Sheeder, and Carolyn

Westhoff. “Efficacy, Acceptability and Safety of Medication Abortion in Low-Income, Urban Latina Women.” Contraception 80.5 (Nov. 2009): 479-83.

Thomas, Audrey. Blown Figures. Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 1974.

U.S. Census Bureau. Population Estimates July 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006:

Hispanic Population: 2000 to 2006 [Excel file]. 8 Feb. 2008. 13 July 2012 <


[1]  The author is under the fortunate obligation to thank colleagues who attended the presentation of this paper at the annual conference of The International Journal of Arts and Sciences on the campus of Harvard University in May 2012 and at the University Faculty for Life annual conference held at Brigham Young University in June 2012.  The multicultural literary forces shared by the IJAS audience (whether from India, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, Thailand, or elsewhere) and those of the multidisciplinary UFL audience created trenchant questions for me to consider in the question-and-answer period following the presentations and in the final draft of this paper.

[2]  US Census data shows that the Hispanic or Latino population reached 44.3 million in 2006.

[3]  The political dichotomy between Cuban Americans and other ethnic groups within the category “Hispanic” or “Latino” is well-known.  Abrajano notes that “the likelihood of Hispanic Americans identifying with the Democratic Party is influenced by the individual’s age, political ideology, and position on abortion, and that Cuban immigrants are more likely to identify with the Republican Party than immigrants from Central America and South America.”  Another factor to consider regarding Latino political activity is sectarianism.  Ellison and his researchers show that

Committed (i.e., regularly attending) Hispanic Protestants, most of whom belong to conservative groups, are more strongly pro-life than any other segment of the Latino population, and are much more likely than others to support a total abortion ban.  Committed Catholics also tend to hold pro-life views, but they are relatively more likely to endorse an abortion ban that includes exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life.  Less devoted Catholics and Protestants generally do not differ from religiously unaffiliated Hispanics in their abortion views.  There are also modest variations in the links between religious involvement and abortion attitudes across the three Latino subgroups.  Religious factors are highly important predictors of Hispanics’ preferences regarding abortion policies.  Contrary to some previous discussions, it is committed Protestants, more so than Catholics, who are the staunchest opponents of abortion in the Latino population.

[4]  Research by Pazol et al. summarizes abortion trends up to 2007:

Among women from the 25 areas that reported cross-classified race/ethnicity data for 2007, non-Hispanic white women accounted for the largest percentage of abortions (37.1%), followed by non-Hispanic black women (34.4%), Hispanic women (22.1%), and non-Hispanic women of other races (6.4%).  Non-Hispanic white women had the lowest abortion rates (8.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years) and ratios (144 abortions per 1,000 live births); in contrast, non-Hispanic black women had the highest abortion rates (32.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years) and ratios (480 abortions per 1,000 live births).  Hispanic women had intermediate abortion rates and ratios; however, although Hispanic women had abortion rates that were 125% higher than non-Hispanic white women, their abortion ratios were only 34% higher.  (7)

[5]  Social scientists’ recommendations for the Latino community are typical for a profession focused on high pregnancy rates as problems rather than the exercise of Latino reproductive choice.  See, for example, the articles by Berger, Bolks, Brown, Ellison, Teal, and their fellow researchers.  Analyzing the circumstances of fifty-six Hispanic teenagers, Berger and his colleagues declare that “Most of the teenagers were at risk for unintended pregnancy; therefore, subsequent family planning counseling efforts should be directed at this population.”  The abstract for research by Teal and her colleagues concludes that “Medication abortion can be a very appealing, safe and effective option in low-income, non-English-speaking populations.”

[6]  The rarity of abortion as a theme in Latino literature is suggested in another collection of Mexican women’s writing.  Of the twenty-two selections in the thin volume compiled by Marjorie Agosin and Nancy Abraham Hall, only one short story concerns the chronologic time of a pregnant woman.  Maria Luisa Puga’s “Young Mother” could have been a vehicle to illustrate the anxiety of a mother challenged by the changes brought on by pregnancy; instead, the story is a fictional treatment of an actual postpartum case.  The denouement consists of the death of the newborn child and thus concerns infanticide more than abortion.

[7]  Luis argues that “If [Rodolfo] González’s I am Joaquín provides a voice and a certain (albeit male) history for Chicanos, Tato Laviera’s Jesús Papote (1981) is an epic poem that does the same for Nuyoricans.”  While it excludes Laviera’s poem, The Norton Anthology includes Gonzales’ poem, noting that, while the book which contains the poem “was mainly political, it also has influenced some contemporary writers” (787).

[8]  See my commentary about this novel in “Breaking the Linguistic Permafrost of Current American Anti-Life Fiction: A Guide for Students of Literature,” available on University Faculty for Life conference proceedings at

[9]  In summarizing one section of the plot, one could consider that Puotkalyte-Gurgel rises above the standard language used by anti-life feminists regarding abortion as a choice when she uses the term “death,” an interesting term which conveys humanity to the unborn child, the victim of abortion:

Vania makes a significantly different decision when faced with the prospect of apocalypse. Eight months pregnant, she is a potential victim of the fatal beatings often suffered by expectant women in Zagarra.  While numerous terrified women line up in front of abortion clinics preferring the death of their fetuses to their own, Vania does not give into the panic.  (10)

[10]  The possibility exists, of course, that the attitude would be one of consolation for an aborted mother instead of condemnation, especially given that the mother was induced to consider abortion by the circumstances of the father’s neglect of her and of his child.  However, nothing in the short story leads to this alternative interpretation.

[11]  The denouement of the film could be interpreted ambiguously, as though Nina has the abortion and, since the denouement proceeds in a dream-like sequence, to show what might have been.  Although the novel makes it clear that Nina gives birth, the alternative perspective may be justified if the viewer retains the initial abortion sequence as the event in Nina’s life which controls the rest of the narrative.

[12]  Furthermore, disregarding the ethnicities evidenced by the surnames of Alejandro Monteverde (the director) and Eduardo Verástegui (the actor who plays José) would be as unfair as to discount the textual evidence that ethnic influences matter in this abortion narrative.


Educational Resources on Cloning for Contemporary Students

Demographics and Psychographics of Today’s Students

          In September 2005 I had the privilege to present this brief paper before the Second Annual Pro-Life Science and Technology Symposium at the Engineers Club in Dayton, Ohio.  I hope that the audience assembled for the event found what I had to say useful not only in their own research, but also in their activism on behalf of protecting human life, now threatened by those who advocate indiscriminate cloning.  My intention for the initial paper proposal was to collate research on cloning to that date, but in the course of my research and discussion with colleagues it became evident that what was needed was a succinct paper not so much on cloning per se, but on the techniques that those who support the life-affirming use of technology must know when they engage in research.  The paper thus assumed much more a library science focus.

          While it deviated from its original course, this paper addresses two corollary issues which should be the concern of any life-affirming researcher.  Developing adequate research on cloning involves two activities: first, a discovery of principles of basic research for the twenty-first century student and, second, an explosion of certain myths held by library science professionals or those whose political correctivity precludes an honest evaluation of resources which oppose cloning.

          Before investigating and evaluating those resources which can assist contemporary students as they research cloning from a perspective which has the respect of human life as its first ethical principle, we must begin with four demographic and psychographic facts affecting all research in the academy.  [See slide two, the first slide beyond the title page.][1]The terms “academy” or “academia” as used in this paper mean any institution of higher learning, whether public or private, religious or non-religious, for-profit or not-for profit.

          First, the Reagan‑Bush babies are now flooding college enrollments.  Many of us can recall that colleges experienced a precipitous decline in students in the early 1990s–seventeen years after the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy.  While academia may have been puzzled by this drop in students, abortion activists knew exactly why the drop occurred: an entire generation had been aborted.

          Fortunately, the years of the Reagan-Bush presidencies were hopeful years for those abortion activists who were pro-lifers.  Much anecdotal evidence exists to demonstrate that they were busy not only doing pro-life work, but also increasing the population by having children.  Now, in the late 1990s and these early years of the twenty-first century, the children born in the Reagan-Bush years have begun to enter colleges and universities; many are already doing graduate work.

          The impact of large numbers of pro-life young adults into academia has several profound consequences, not the least of which is that traditional academia must respond to the trenchant questions that pro-life students will raise to challenge their hegemony.  Professors in the traditional academy will view this surge of pro-life young people as a threat because professors are solidly so-called “liberal” and anti-life while their students are increasingly “conservative.”  The transformation by young people has already begun, as demonstrated by the 2004 presidential election.

          The second important characteristic of today’s students is that the vast majority of students turn to the internet first for research.  While the internet is the first site for research for both anti- and pro-life students, the fact that pro-life students are as adept at using the tools of the internet as their anti-life counterparts is significant.  Students can now directly challenge the autocratic pronouncements of anti-life professors with a choice excerpt from a primary document on the web.  Moreover, besides being exorbitant and outdated as soon as they are published, hardcopy materials, especially reference works, are little used by contemporary students.  The pc labs in college and university libraries are the places humming with research activity, not the stacks of dusty reference works.

          Third, today’s students are increasingly conservative politically.  A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education intimates as much.  Christopher Hayes, a contributing editor at In These Times, suggests that, while students at evangelical colleges focus on religion, “what they learn is to become Republicans” (“Turning” B6; italics in original).  Apparently, the process of conversion to a conservative philosophy is simple:

                    Worldviews take religion as total truth, and in doing so blur the distinction between facts and values, says Mr. Hayes.  If a student is taught that homosexuality is a sin, for example, then a Christian worldview requires that it should also be illegal.  But that attitude flies in the face of the “fundamental” fact-value split necessary in a functioning, pluralistic society, he says.  “If you suggest to students that an opposition to abortion and a defense of ‘traditional marriage’ are foundational aspects of a Christian worldview,” he writes, “you will very likely produce reliable Republican voters.” (“Turning” B6)

          Fourth, today’s students are greatly concerned with the relevancy of their education.  This feature is evident not only in the great numbers of students entering community colleges instead of four-year universities, but also in the numbers of non-traditional adult learners who enter for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix.  Students in community colleges and for-profit universities are aware that the educational agendas of these institutions are real-world based, unlike traditional four-year institutions which have been unable to shed the perception that their educational programs are irrelevant.  The perception of the irrelevancy of traditional education is well established.  Writing in their 1998 monograph, What Business Wants from Higher Education, Diana G. Oblinger and Anne-Lee Verville state that

                    Employees’ most caustic comments about their education are reserved for courses, activities, and professors considered to be largely disconnected from the work world and, therefore, a waste of their time.  A consistent theme–whether they had majored in the liberal arts, business, or engineering–was a desire for more courses offered by professors who had hands-on experience in the business world rather than purely theory-based knowledge. (148)

          The perception from seven years ago has only been exacerbated.  According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

                    The leaders of liberal‑arts colleges have failed to change the widespread perception that their institutions are bastions of irrelevance, particularly among increasingly career‑minded students.  In recent national surveys, 80 percent of freshmen say getting a high‑paying job is their primary reason to go to college.  Applicants are less interested in a comprehensive educational experience than ever before. (Hoover A11)

Demographics and Psychographics of Today’s Faculty

          To match those of today’s students, I have isolated four demographic and psychographic facts pertaining to today’s faculty.  [See slide three.]  First, academics and their work are perceived as liberal and, as mentioned above, irrelevant by the general public.

          Second, they are, in fact, increasingly liberal politically.  According to triennial surveys by the Higher Education Research Institute, in its survey for 1989-1990, 4.9% of professors identified themselves as “far left” and 36.8% identified themselves as “liberal.”  By the 2004-2005 survey, 7.9% of professors identified themselves as “far left” and 43.4% were “liberal”–a net increase of almost 10% in the total number of “liberal” professors whom students have to face in increasingly hostile classrooms.  The number of “middle of the road” professors dropped from 40.3% to 29.2% between the same survey periods, and the number of “conservative” professors increased 1% (“Faculty Attitudes” A25).  [2]

          The third fact, a dominantly psychographic one, is that they are under pressure from accrediting bodies and legislatures to demonstrate that resources are used efficiently.  Certainly, in Ohio and elsewhere, state dollars available for education are limited, especially now that anti-terrorist activities occupy much of the federal government’s interests.  Moreover, citizens are–justifiably–wondering whether their taxes deserve to go to institutions which produce such a poor product–a work force that should be educated but lacks, for example, basic writing skills.

          Finally, today’s college and university faculty is getting older.  According to a 2004-2005 Higher Education Research Institute survey, 54.5% of community college faculty is aged fifty and older (“Views” B10).  A massive wave of coming retirements will enable today’s students, especially those who espouse a life-affirming position, to take their places.

Four Nondebatable Library Science

          Although they are well-known to be politically liberal to the extreme,[3] library science professionals point out several axioms regarding websites when providing library instruction to today’s students.  Four of these axioms I do not contest.  [See slide four.]

          First, students are encouraged not to use anonymous sites.  The wisdom of this axiom should be obvious.  Anybody can post his or her most illogical opinions on the internet.

          Second, students are taught by library science professionals to distrust personalized sites, indicated by extensions following a tilde (~).  As with the first axiom, information on a site identified merely by a name is effectively as unimportant as an anonymous entry.

          Third, library staff encourage students to prefer edu, gov, and mil websites.  Although arranged alphabetically here, information from these three domains is generally considered primary, unbiased source data.  That a government site can be unbiased may confuse those who think that government entities consist of politicians who may want to assert their positions by advancing certain information over another.  However, government agencies and legislative bodies do produce not only committee reports, but also indispensable statistical information and other primary source data.

          The fourth axiom is that students should evaluate the credentials of the personal author.  [See slide five.]  A personal author (a human being living or dead) should have his or her terminal degree, be working in his or her field, and be published professionally.  A corporate author is not necessarily a corporation, but any non-human entity, such as a not-for-profit charity, a lobbying organization, or, indeed, a for-profit corporation on a com or org site.  A corporate author is automatically suspicious because it is perceived as an organization presenting a biased perspective on a controversial issue.

          A fifth library science axiom regarding websites (avoid com, net, and org sites) should be challenged for two primary reasons. [See slide six.]  First, the internet has become a savior for life-affirming activism.  When information often cannot be disseminated to the public because of the opposition of the media elite to the first civil right to life, pro‑life activists can turn to emails, web pages, and blogs to provide the public with the necessary freedom of choice when it comes to an alternative perspective on one of the life issues.

          Second, pro-life researchers display some of their best work through these alternative websites, commanding as much respect as scholarly hardcopy publications.  In fact, I argue that these alternative websites provide much more current information than either monographic or serial scholarly sources.  Scholarly monographs can take up to a year to be published, and by then the information contained within the book may be outdated.  Similarly, serial publication–journals, yearbooks, etc.–can be outdated since there is a significant lag time of several months from accepting an article for publication and seeing it published.  Scholarly material on the web, appropriately reviewed by peers just as it would be in monographic and serial publications, offers students the immediacy of current research.

          Often, students who do not think critically about the resources they consult may merely do a search on Google for their topic and are besieged with thousands, if not millions, of sites.[4]  [See slide seven.]  However, searching significant standard online sources has been made easier by college and university libraries, which qualify as better depositories for scholarly academic works on stem cell research than public libraries for one primary reason.  Academic libraries, operating on restricted budgets, must be careful in choosing materials that not only meet the specific information needs of their students, but also present both sides of controversial issues.  Thus, based on this last aspect, scholarly sources purchased by academic libraries may not be tainted with as much bias as less expensive works found in public libraries catering to the general public (see, for example, the work of Gregory E. Pence, which is obviously non-scholarly and in some instances biased against a life-affirming position on stem cell research).

          Moreover, academic libraries can afford premier subscription databases, such as Academic Search Premier and the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, especially if their resources are pooled with other academic libraries.  Moreover, databases such as Ohiolink, which combine catalogs of most college and university libraries within Ohio, are invaluable sources of bibliographic and audiovisual material.  Fortunately, two public libraries in Ohio are now connected with Ohiolink.  Patrons of the Cuyhaoga County Public Library (in the metropolitan Cleveland area) and patrons of the Westerville Public Library (in the metropolitan Columbus area) now offer to their patrons the vast resources of the Ohiolink system.  A patron in Cincinnati can access materials held by a library in Cleveland; more importantly, that patron can interlibrary loan material and have it reach him or her within a few days.

Significant alternative Websites

          The intent of this paper is to promote certain resources that offer a life-affirming view of stem cell research.  To enhance their research, students can access significant alternative websites which, unfortunately, are not frequently mentioned by library science professionals.  I will discuss these alternative websites in alphabetical order.  [See slide eight.]

          The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity ( offers premiere scholarly summaries on all bioethical concerns for the researcher.  Students can subscribe to the Center’s weekly news alerts for more information on current news and activities.

          A new research center is The Humanitas Project: A Center for Bioethics Education (  Interested students may want to subscribe to the group’s newsletter, “Living in the Biotech Century” by contacting Michael Poore, Executive Director, at

 provides a venue for life-affirming scholars to offer results of their work for the general public.  This site has the advantage of being internationally-based and thus able to comment on life issues around the world.

 and offer daily email summaries of news on pro-life issues.  LifeNews is US-based, and LifeSitenews is Canadian, but I value both services.  Often, news on the Canadian site cannot be found elsewhere, and the coverage is thorough.  Both services provide succinct coverage of pro-life news–an important feature for today’s students who may not have time to sift through lengthy articles.

          There is another advantage to both LifeNews and LifeSitenews that should be mentioned here.  Few people rely on network news any more, especially after various scandals such as that involving Dan Rather and other media elites.  Moreover, an increasing majority of Americans rely on Fox stations for unbiased coverage, but committing oneself to avidly watch a Fox talk show may be interrupted by family, school, or work duties.  For today’s students, especially those who are tech savvy with pcs, laptops, and other devices allowing for email and text messaging, I highly recommend that students subscribe to both LifeNews and LifeSitenews to obtain the pro-life perspective on news.

          The National Right to Life Committee ( is still the premiere pro-life organization in the United States.  It should be obvious that one would want to sign up for its email alerts and to check its website frequently for educational and legislative news.

          Pharmacists for Life ( is another organization which may especially appeal to pharmacy and other medical students.

          Finally, University Faculty for Life (, a non‑profit scholarly research organization, exists to promote research, dialogue, and publication among faculty members who respect the value of human life from inception to natural death and to provide academic support for a life‑affirming position.  It strives to address the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia from various perspectives so that society and our students can benefit from scholarly work.  The organization sponsors the “University Faculty for Life Scholarly Achievement in English Studies” essay contest each year; the grand prize is $300.

          I hope that this brief discussion of key principles in research will assist students as they venture into a topic which has generated massive amounts of data and information, most of which may seem biased against a life-affirming position.  More importantly, today’s students should enjoy the fact that they are well advanced over their older and politically stagnant professors in certain aspects of research, especially that which is internet based.  Unlike those older biased professors and librarians, when today’s students research the issue of embryonic stem cell research, supporting their life-affirming position is virtually a click away.

Works Cited

Durant, David. “The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian.”

          Chronicle of Higher Education 30 Sept. 2005: B12.

“Faculty Attitudes.” Chronicle of Higher Education 16 Sept. 2005:


Hoover, Eric. “Higher Education 2015: How Will the Future Shake

          out?: Can Small Colleges Survive?” Chronicle of Higher

          Education 52.14 (25 Nov. 2005): A1+

Oblinger, Diana G., and Anne-Lee Verville. What Business Wants

          from Higher Education. American Council on Education/Onyx

          Press Ser. on Higher Education. Phoenix: Onyx P, 1998.

Pence, Gregory E. Cloning After Dolly: Who’s Still Afraid?

          Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

—. “Will Cloning Harm People?” Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of

          Cloning Humans: A Reader. Ed. Gregory E. Pence. Lanham, MD:

          Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. 115-27.

“Turning Students into Republicans.” Chronicle of Higher

          Education 16 Sept. 2005: B6.

“Views and Characteristics of Community-College Professors.”

          Chronicle of Higher Education 28 Oct. 2005: B10.

Works Consulted

Basic Documents on Human Rights. Eds. Ian Brownlie and Guy S.

          Goodwin-Gill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.

Brannigan, Michael C. and Judith A. Boss. Healthcare Ethics in a

          Diverse Society. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2001.

Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies About Human Cloning. Eds.

          Martha C. Nussbaum and Cass R. Sunstein. New York: W. W.

          Norton, 1998.

Cloning and the Future of Human Embryo Research. Ed. Paul

          Lauritzen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

Contemporary Issues in Bioethics. Eds. Tom L. Beauchamp and LeRoy

          Walters. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning,


Doglin, Janet L. “Embryonic Discourse.” Issues in Law & Medicine

          19.3 (spring 2004): 203‑61.

Ethical Issues in Human Cloning: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives.

          Ed. Michael C. Brannigan. New York: Seven Bridges Press,


The Ethics of Human Cloning. Ed. William Dudley. At Issue: An

          Opposing Viewpoints Series. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,


Fidler, David P. International Law and Public Health: Material on

          and Analysis of Global Health Jurisprudence. Ardsley, NY:

          Transnational Publishers, 2000.

The Future Is Now: America Confronts the New Genetics. Eds.

          William Kristol and Eric Cohen. Lanham [MD]: Rowman &

          Littlefield, 2002.

Human Cloning: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. Ed. Barbara

          MacKinnon. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000.

Life Choices: A Hastings Center Introduction to Bioethics. Eds.

          Joseph H. Howell and William F. Sale.  Washington, DC:

          Georgetown UP, 2000.

Reuter, Lars. Modern Biotechnology in Postmodern Times?: A

          Reflection on European Policies and Human Agency. Dordrecht:

          Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003.

Ruse, Michael. Cloning: Responsible Science or Technomadness?

          Eds. Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard. Amherst, NY: Prometheus

          Books, 2000.

United States. Congress. House. Committee on Science.

          Subcommittee on Technology. Review of the President’s

          Commission’s Recommendations on Cloning: Hearing Before the

          Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Technology, U.S. House

          of Representatives, One Hundred Fifth Congress, First

          Session, June 12, 1997. Washington: US GPO, 1997.

United States. National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Cloning

          Human Beings. Volume II, Commissioned Papers: Report and

          Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory

          Commission. Rockville, MD: The Commission, [1997].

Waters, Brent, and Ronald Cole-Turner, eds. God and the Embryo:

          Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning. Washington, DC:

          Georgetown UP, 2003.

Yount, Lisa. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. New York:

          Facts on File, 2000.

    [1]  Since a PowerPoint presentation was used simultaneously when this paper was presented, and since that presentation is included with this paper, notations in brackets within the text will designate when to advance to the next slide.

    [2]  Interestingly, however, the numbers of professors who designated “influencing social values” as a goal of the academy dropped from 46.8% to 37.3%.  Similarly, while 73.7% thought that “colleges should be actively involved in solving social problems” in the earlier survey, by the 2004-2005 survey that number dropped to 64.1% (“Faculty” A25).

            Community college faculty may be less liberal.  The 2004-2005 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute identifies only 33.% of the 2,678 professors who responded as “liberal” and 5.5% as “far left”; 24.9% are “conservative and 35.3% are “middle of the road” (“Views” B10).

    [3]  A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that

                        When David Brooks did some research into political donations by profession for his September 11, 2004, column in The New York Times, he found that for librarians “the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1.”  By contrast, the corresponding ratio for academics was 11 to 1. (Durant B12)

    [4]  On 4 December 2005 a search for “stem cell research” on Google yielded 35,400,000 hits; searching “embryonic stem cell research” yielded 42,000,000 hits.  Some students may be tempted to access the first few websites on any search engine and consider them reliable sites.


Critical Disability Studies and Fiction on the Right-to-Life Issues: Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987), Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), and the Million Dollar Baby Franchise

Critical Disability Studies and Fiction on the Right-to-Life Issues: Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987), Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), and the Million Dollar Baby Franchise

Abstract:  After supplying examples of the jargon-laden academic discussion of critical disability studies, this paper summarizes major ideas which constitute the literary theory.  Two life-affirming fictional works which concern abortion and infanticide (Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn and Lois Lowry’s The Giver) are then briefly examined, using key ideas from the theory.  A significant portion of the paper is devoted to applying critical disability studies to a euthanasia work, identified here as the Million Dollar Baby franchise, consisting of the short story and its film equivalent.  The discussions of these three works are amplified by providing further commentary from a pro-life perspective.  Finally, the paper determines how the principles of critical disability studies comport with the five elements of right-to-life literary theory and demonstrates how critical disability studies is compatible with the aims of the pro-life movement, which counters the dehumanization of the disabled in anti-life fiction.

          Critical disability studies is the newest literary theory which students of literature can use in their analysis and appreciation of literature.  Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), a trusted and popular resource used by faculty and students, dates the theory from the 1990s, so scholarly attention to its tenets is relatively still in formation.  However, several scholars have attributed the growth of the theory to political activism on behalf of those who are disabled or who otherwise have access issues which prevent them from full participation in society, much like political action after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 stimulated academic discussion of gay and lesbian themes in literature.  For many critical disabilities scholars, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 was the beginning of concerted efforts to further the opportunity of looking at literature from the disabilities perspective.

Methodology and Structure of the Paper

The methodology for this study is relatively simple.  After several paragraphs of significant summary, the Purdue site recommends seventeen titles for further reading: Michel Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and his Madness and Civilization (1964); Lennard J. Davis’ Enforcing Normalcy (1995); Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s Extraordinary Bodies (1996); David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis (2000); Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell’s Cultural Locations of Disability (2005); Ato Quayson’s Aesthetic Nervousness (2007); Michael Davidson’s Concerto for the Left Hand (2008); Tobin Siebers’ Disability Theory (2008); Fiona Kumari Campbell’s Contours of Ableism (2009); Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s Staring: How We Look (2009)[1]; Tobin Siebers’ Disability Aesthetics (2010); Tanya Titchkosky’s The Question of Access (2011); Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip (2013); Kim Nielsen’s A Disability History of the United States (2013); Rebecca Sanchez’ Deafening Modernism (2015); and Maren Tova Linett’s Bodies of Modernism (2017).  All of these monographs have been read, the essential elements of the literary theory have been identified, and it is my task to discuss how the ideas relate with the right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

Although surprising, since one would think that disability critics would be vocal in their criticism of politicians who support the killing of the handicapped person (whether he or she is unborn or born), searches on academic databases for critical disability studies on the three right-to-life issues yielded dismally few results.  While I am certain that much more research exists on the intersection of critical disabilities studies and the three right-to-life issues than what I located, queries conducted within Academic Search Complete, a database recommended for college students as their first choice for beginning research, for example, support this claim.  Entering only the phrase “critical disabilities studies” (which automatically populates as a possible search phrase) and “abortion”, “infanticide”, and “euthanasia” in three unique searches (specifying that only scholarly, peer-reviewed articles would be found) yielded two results.

While the infanticide search found no scholarly article, the abortion search yielded one article.  Michelle Jarman’s highly connotative language in the abstract, provided by her to the database service, makes it clear that she does not support the first civil right to life:

The article challenges the politically reductive ways that disability is leveraged by both antiabortionists and pro-choice supporters—on one side to claim “protection” of all life, and on the other to use disability as a crucial justification for abortion rights.  It centers disability for two reasons: first, to demonstrate the deep connections of disability to the ongoing political erosion of access to reproductive healthcare services, which disproportionately impacts women of color and economically vulnerable women; and second, to build on recent scholarship suggesting a merging of critical disability and reproductive justice approaches to reconfigure the dominant pro-choice public discourse on abortion.  To bring these two approaches closer together, this article focuses on two key elements of the abortion debate—access and autonomy—from a critical disability studies lens.  By foregrounding disability approaches to access and critiques of autonomy, the complicated relational concerns of reproduction are brought into focus.  Ultimately, it argues that an interconnected relational context provides a more nuanced approach that both supports women’s access to reproductive options and demands an expansion of the political frame based on choice and rights to include valuing and sustaining lives, challenging precarity, and supporting complex reproductive decisions.  [46]

The sole euthanasia article obtained in the search vaguely concerns critical disabilities studies.  Nicola Gavioli’s purpose is direct and much less biased against the pro-life perspective than Jarman’s:

This article focuses on the way in which contemporary Brazilian literature participates in the international debate regarding bioethical issues, with a particular focus on the representation and discussion of euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Analyzing novels [and] in dialogue with scholars in Critical Disability Studies, I demonstrate how Brazilian literature today is engaged in such problematic discussions as: patients’ rights, disability, and “good death,” presenting unusual points of view […] and offering nuanced approaches that do not necessarily fit into binary simplifications for or against euthanasia.  (129-130; internal references to various novels omitted)

Fortunately for the pro-life researcher, the paucity of scholarly attention to the intersection of critical disabilities studies and the life issues indicates the opportunity which awaits younger scholars emerging in the otherwise leftist-controlled humanities and social sciences fields.

Monographic scholarship is careful not to endorse a pro-life perspective.  One can attribute such hesitancy to the general leftist perspective of most academics, who may either be intolerant or simply ignorant of what they perceive as a “conservative” position of support for disabled or handicapped persons.  For example, Lennard J. Davis is concerned about leftist support for abortion when he writes,

While the race-class-gender grouping tends to coalesce around what might be termed “progressive issues”, the disableist position may require realignments and rethinkings of some ideological “truths.”

For example, and very tellingly, the position of people with disabilities on the issue of abortion and fetal screening is not seamlessly in accord with a liberal/progressive agenda.  (162)

Despite this admonition, most critical disabilities scholars are firm in their use of the “race-class-gender” axis.  For example, Kim E. Nielsen’s decidedly feminist-oriented history of disability suggests that disability rights should be pursued in the same way that “scholars have examined the historical expansion of democracy” through “race, class, and gender” (xiii).  Similarly, Tanya Titchkosky mentions the race-class-gender axis several times and in various formations, whether as “race, class, and gender”, “race, class, gender, and sexuality”, or “race studies, queer studies, and various feminisms” (xii, [3], 6).

After surveying the constituent elements of the literary theory, the final step in the research involved locating major works which concern characters who are affected by disability or access issues.  Fortunately, pro-life literary scholars have considered not only many major literary works, but also emergent works which are popular but may not yet be in the category of canonical.  Since more research will add to the pro-life analyses of these scholars, the online volumes of University Faculty for Life’s annual conference proceedings will assist future researchers who wish to expand or update the work already done.

          Following the above methodology, this paper first examines the academic jargon which intrudes on scholarly analysis using disability theory.  I label this jargon the psychobabble which occurs in much literary criticism: the use of polysyllabic, abstract terms which signify not only the standard vocabulary used in any of the dominant literary theories available for students of literature (for example, feminist, Marxist, or queer theories), but also the political, usually leftist, intent of the academic who wrote them.  The second major section of this paper discusses political and religious bias evident in critical disability studies.  Once these linguistic impediments and biases are eliminated, the paper isolates five major ideas which constitute critical disability studies.  This study then advances to the application of critical disability studies to two areas of literature: first, a general discussion of how critical disability studies can be applied to several literary works which have heretofore not been analyzed through that literary theory, at least from a right-to-life perspective; second, to a more detailed examination of a significant euthanasia work, the short story “Million $$$ Baby” by F. X. Toole and its film adaptation, Million Dollar Baby, notable for having been acted by three Hollywood greats: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank.  The final section of the paper demonstrates how right-to-life literary criticism enhances critical disability studies.[2]

I.  Academic Jargon or Psychobabble?

          If they dislike writing research papers, it is no wonder that students either hate or despise literature assignments which demand that they do not merely read and enjoy great works of literature, but require them to read those works from the perspectives of one of several literary theories which present arcane vocabulary, tortured expressions, and unrealistic if not ridiculous conclusions or interpretations.  The terms and phrases death of the author, any formation of gender (such as gender fluidity), oppression, any formation of patriarchy (such as heteropatriarchy and patriarchy itself), white privilege, and other often-used terms and phrases from contemporary literary theory do not so much stimulate students to social action (note how many of them pertain to contemporary leftist political agitation) as they reduce them to the trite tears of boredom, probably because the terms themselves have now become so trite as to be devoid of meaning or laughable.

          While psychobabble can be found in any work which uses one of the major literary theories in the effort to explicate, overthrow, or distort a literary work, the following are some of the more obvious examples of psychobabble from the monographs recommended by Purdue’s OWL for further study of critical disabilities theory.

          Usually, the psychobabble occurs when critics use terms from the feminist literary lexicon to make critical disability studies claims about a literary work.[3]  For example, David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder use a barrage of standard feminist terms when discussing Montaigne’s essay “Des Boiteux”:

While the eroticization of a physical difference is by no means undermined by the narrator’s equation of physical incapacity with heightened sexual potency, the challenge to an absolute devaluation of aberrant physicality requires the strategy of a radical inversion of cultural precepts.

          In part, the narrator’s sexualization of the boiteuse rhetorically appeals to patriarchal desires for feminine objectification.  The addition of physical difference to an economy of masculine erotics complicates the issue of desire (and desirability) by disrupting the visual field of the patriarchal gaze itself.  (75)

Sometimes, the psychobabble suggests a criticism of feminist theory, a bold move since feminist criticism is the foundation on which many critical disabilities scholars attribute the birth of their own perspective in literature.  This is the case when Michael Davidson writes that

disability also complicates feminist film theory’s treatment of filmic gaze predicated on an able-bodied male viewer whose castration anxiety is finessed by the director’s specular control over the female protagonist.  Laura Mulvey’s influential essay avoids the alliance between the objectified woman and a disabled male, the latter of whose loss of limb or eyesight is a necessary adjunct to masculine specular pleasure.  (4-5)

Davidson’s concern (obsession?) with castration anxiety continues in other psychobabble passages where he asserts that

Finding the historical specifics of compulsory able-bodiedness is an important task for disabilities and queer studies, but such scholarship is often limited by residual medical and psychoanalytic models that generalize the connection of bodies and sexualities around narratives of loss and lack.  [….]  Because [feminist psychoanalytic film theory] has been important for understanding how cinema structures acts of looking through gendered spectacles, it has disabled the disability narrative of many films by treating acts of looking and gazing as defined by castration.  (64)

          Of course, feminist criticism is not the only literary theory whose vocabulary scholars use to hang their ideas about disability criticism.  Ato Quayson’s postcolonial research argues that

Attitudes to disabilities in the West also evolved in response to interactions with other races.  The colonial encounter and the series of migrations that it triggered in its wake served to displace the discourse of disability onto a discourse of otherness that was correlated to racial difference.  […]  Disease provided a particularly supple set of metaphors to modulate some of the social anxieties that emerged in the colonial period around interracial encounters, both in Europe and in the United States, with the discourse on leprosy in the period being particularly productive.  (10-11)

The above passage is not as cumbersome as the following, which, seeming to abandon the vocabulary of any other theory, aims to discuss canonical authors, such as Samuel Beckett, from a disabilities studies perspective:

The primary effect of evacuating the facticity of disability is that its significance then serves to permeate the entire representational nexus while being simultaneously absented from that nexus as a precise site for interpretation.  Yet to read Beckett through a framework of disability is to have to forcibly intervene in the signifying chain that allows disability to be so easily assimilated to philosophical categories.  Indeed, this would be the central task of a criticism informed by a consciousness of disability studies and its place in the critique of the overall scheme of aesthetic representation.  (85)

Non-canonical authors fare no better, although the following may be a victim of tortured literary criticism more than evidence of psychobabble from a critical disabilities perspective:

[The American Sign Language poem] “Poetry” presents a seemingly paradoxical embodied impersonality that suggests how we might rethink the relationship between texts and bodies in such a way so as to remain responsible to diverse lived experiences while still opening up to post-modern fluidity and eschewing a version of personality (or impersonality) that would align it with absolute authorial control.  (Sanchez 48)

Sometimes, the scholarly psychobabble occurs when academics attempt either to justify their monographs or to define key terms in disabilities studies.  This category of scholarly psychobabble occurs when Rosemarie Garland Thomson introduces her research thus:

My purpose here is to alter the terms and expand our understanding of the cultural construction of bodies and identity by reframing “disability” as another culture-bound, physically justified difference to consider along with race, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexuality.  In other words, I intend to introduce such figures as the cripple, the invalid, and the freak into the critical conversations we devote to deconstructing figures like the mulatto, the primitive, the queer, and the lady.  To denaturalize the cultural encoding of these extraordinary bodies, I go beyond assailing stereotypes to interrogate the conventions of representation and unravel the complexities of identity production within social narratives of bodily differences.  […]  Therefore, I focus here on how disability operates in culture and on how the discourses of disability, race, gender, and sexuality intermingle to create figures of otherness from the raw materials of bodily variation, specifically at sites of representation such as the freak show, sentimental fiction, and black women’s liberatory novels.  (Extraordinary 5-6)

Thomson’s verbal dexterity is not only able to collapse thousands of years of human history into one sentence (“In the tradition of Aristotle’s view of women as mutilated males, female genitalia—for the Western culture that later produced Freud—were the stigmata marking the putative absence that defined female lack”), but also to reduce her challenge of the grotesque in disabilities studies to a sentence which contains key terms from the lexicons of other theories: “Aestheticizing disability as the grotesque tends to preclude analysis of how those representations support or challenge the sociopolitical relations that make disability a form of cultural otherness” (Extraordinary 72; 112).

This reduction of the ideas from many other literary theories into an effort to explain disability theory as concisely as possible obtains when David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder discuss prosthesis, an essential term in their Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse:

Narrative Prosthesis is first and foremost about the ways in which the ruse of prosthesis fails in its primary objective: to return the incomplete body to the invisible status of a normative essence.  The works under scrutiny here tend to leave the wound of disability undressed so to speak.  Its presence is enunciated as transgressive in that literary works often leave the disabled body as a troubled and troubling position within culture.  (8)[4]

While it may not have been his intention to critique her, Tobin Siebers thought it was necessary to clarify a prominent feminist thinker’s definition of the body (a key term and concept, one would think, for any critic concerned with disability studies) with the following:

Donna Haraway, although eschewing the language of realism, makes a case for the active biological agency of bodies, calling them “material-semiotic generative nodes.”  By this last phrase, she means to describe the body as both constructed and generative of constructions and to dispute the idea that it is merely a ghostly fantasy produced by the power of language.  (Disability Theory, 203; internal citation omitted)

          Two final examples can illustrate the linguistic heights which critical disabilities scholars sometimes reach.  A passage in Lennard J. Davis’ analysis of deafness rises almost to grand philosophizing, replete with a great number of literary critical buzzwords which every academic should use at least once in his or her life:

For the writer, garrulousness and silence both empty meaning from language.  Meaning is the surplus value of the text’s production.  Or, in another modality, meaning is the symptom of the neurosis of totality.  Loquaciousness and silence reveal the symptomatic nature of meaning, and therefore are constant reminders of the deconstructive threat hovering around the text.  Loquaciousness, too, in an overdetermined way, also represents the transgressive sublimation of female power.  If women could legitimately give voice to their complaints, they would not need the subaltern tactics of unruly domestic linguistic infringement.  (116)

To their (dis?)credit, Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell collapse many literary critical buzzwords in one sentence, when they argue that “Williams’s ‘anatomy of film bodies’ [diagram] refuses simplistic demands of body genre films as crass or merely ideologically duplicitous, while using their fantasy structures as a means to expose ideologically invested formulas” (161).

II.  Political and Religious Bias

          Another noticeable aspect of academic discussion of critical disability theory is its political and religious bias, especially against Judeo-Christian values which shaped the Western world.  Academics’ biases against political conservatives in the United States may account for many politically leftist statements throughout the seventeen volumes suggested by the Purdue site.  For example, using terms with highly negative connotations to disparage a union between disability activists and pro-life conservatives, Michael Davidson writes that

The current administration of President George W. Bush is orchestrating its own biotech nightmare scenario around stem-cell research and abortion.  […]  Given this conflation of geopolitical and biopolitical discourses, it is little wonder that disability advocates, who have forcefully argued against physician-assisted suicide and genetic engineering, have found themselves in an unholy alliance with the religious Right.  (221)

The political bias is not as pronounced as the religious bias in the scholarship, yet the number of instances is sufficiently large to deserve comment.  Of course, many critical disabilities scholars accept the intellectual premise that the modern world is irreligious; for example, Quayson asserts that, “Even though in the modern world the notion of the proximity of the divine and metaphysical orders to the human lifeworld is no longer predominant, such beliefs have still flared up from time to time” (12).

Often, the bias against religious entities is subtle, as when Fiona Kumari Campbell suggests that the Roman Catholic Church had nothing in common with Islam in fighting the promotion of abortion at the United Nations: “Interest convergence has sometimes resulted in unlikely bedfellows (i.e. groups in the community forming alliances where normally their interests might be different or even conflicting)” (18), or her undisputed reference to a claim “that for people of European Christian decent [sic], internalised racism can empower, if not privilege, feelings of superiority” (21).

The person or, more correctly, the body, of Jesus Christ poses a particular problem for some critical disability scholars.  Rosemarie Garland Thomson writes that

The prodigy plot informs many of the foundational narratives of Western culture.  […]  Prodigious births came in the form of unusual bodies that could be distinguished from run-of-the-mill births so as to provide a discernable text.  While Jesus is not represented as monstrous per se, his body at both birth and death functions as a prodigy: its distinction offers it up as a preternatural gesture to be read.  Like monsters, Jesus was imagined as a sign from the gods.  (Staring, 210)[5]

          Despite these instances, the bias against religious contributions to human life is most obvious in its absence.  Foucault’s two monographs discuss religion in general and the Catholic Church specifically.  See, for example, his discussion of the Church’s role in creating leprosaria throughout medieval Europe in his Madness and Civilization  ([1]) or the idea expressed in The Birth of the Clinic that doctors after the French Revolution became “priests of the body” (37).  However, the contributions of religious entities regarding the sanctity of human life are rarely noted.  Why critical disabilities scholars do not explicitly recognize this vitally important factor of human life is a complex subject which must be relegated to future research.

III.  Key Ideas of Critical Disability Studies

          What remains from the rubble of academic critical disabilities psychobabble and the bias against religious ideas and conservatives?  Once the debris has been cleared, at least five key ideas remain, which can be useful to help students appreciate literature.  The catalog which follows is not progressive, in the sense of moving from one idea causing another, but cumulative; one idea does not ineluctably cause another.  The order of these ideas is my own summary of their occurrence across the works identified on the Purdue site and moves from general philosophical ideas to more specific and usually political matters of concern to the theorists.

          The paramount idea remaining is that critical disabilities theory considers disability not as a medical diagnosis, but as a social construct.  That is, while one’s perception of a disability may have a diagnostic foundation, it is unwarranted to conclude that the disability itself is or should be solely controlled by the decisions of the medical community.  Much more important is how people react to the diagnosis of a disability either to themselves or to another person and how life is affected by those perceptions.  Thus, the theory adopts feminist literary criticism’s notion that gender is a social construct more than a physical reality.  Critical disability scholars’ reliance on this feminist principle poses some problems, which will be discussed below.

          Second, critical disability studies posits that the ideology of humanness had been corrupted not earlier than the Enlightenment and certainly no later than the industrialization and attendant quantification of human work in the nineteenth century.  According to critical disability studies scholars, the nineteenth century especially saw the transformation of humanity from being celebrated for its diversity to one which was standardized, quantified, and controlled by medical authority so that any deviation from the norm of what a human being should be capable of doing became a disability.

Third, critical disabilities theory challenges the perspective that one who has an access issue or disability is not less-than human, but fully human with a body structure different from the norm of a human being with one head, two arms, two legs, and all five senses in functioning order.  While this tenet contradicts the ancient understanding of human nature and the perfection of the able-bodied (Aristotle has few friends in the critical disabilities theory community), one can quickly finish the possible syllogism resulting from these propositions: that critical disabilities theory is much more pro-life than, for example, standard anti-life feminist literary criticism or deconstruction, both of which seek to destabilize common notions of humanity which have obtained in the Western world since the rise of Judeo-Christianity.

          Fourth, several critical disability theory scholars have noted that disability is a universal phenomenon and part of human nature.  That is, disability does not apply only to those who are handicapped or who have access issues or other impediments that prohibit them from full participation in able-bodied society.  Critical disabilities scholars’ contention is that all of humanity is disabled if only because at some point in everyone’s life he or she requires some technological device to meet the criteria of an able-bodied person: from medicines (which can vary from the sporadic use of ibuprofen for caffeine-withdrawal headaches to life-saving insulin) to prosthetics (which can vary from the most complex of prosthetic devices, such as flesh-colored and computerized appendages for quadriplegics, to the simplest, such as glasses).  There is a danger in asserting this proposition.  If everyone becomes disabled, then one can argue that no special concern for the disabled should be tolerated, let alone mandated by law.  Herein are critical disability scholars caught in a philosophical jam: either they are justified in bringing attention to the lives of those who are disabled or they are not since all the uniqueness of the disabled body has evaporated in the universal claim of sameness.

          Finally, critical disability theory confronts persons (for example, Peter Singer[6]), cultural artifacts (the film The Best Years of Our Lives[7]), and institutions (such as the Jerry Lewis telethons[8]) which the critics say either distort the existence or jeopardize the right to exist of those who are categorized as disabled.[9]  Although they are advocating pro-life positions when they support the right to life of disabled individuals, critical disability scholars are hesitant to equate their support of the right to exist with the right to life.

IV.  Applying Critical Disability Studies to Various Literary Works

          Now that some general principles of critical disability theory have been identified, it is possible to illustrate how the theory can help to offer a reading of specific literary works different from the one which seeks patriarchal oppression of women by men (the tired axiom of feminist theory), or the conflict of ideologies, especially economic ones (as in the divisive class-warfare language of Marxist literary criticism), or in the distortion of heterosexual normativity (as in gay and lesbian criticism’s assertion of the validity of alternative “sexualities”).  Since this paper is designed for a conference of researchers who are concerned with the three life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, I have selected novels which address each of the three issues and will discuss how the major ideas from critical disability studies could enhance a standard reading.  Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987) challenges readers to think about abortion and the life of the unborn, Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993) includes infanticide in its plot, and F. X. Toole’s short story “Million $$$ Baby” (2000)[10] concerns euthanasia.  The first two works will be briefly examined, while Toole’s forty-page short story and its two hour and twelve minute film adaptation will be discussed at greater length.

Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987)

          Carlos Fuentes’ Christopher Unborn (1987) is a first-person narration of an unborn child who recounts the various stages of his development.  Literary theorists can view the novel as, from a feminist perspective, an exercise in patriarchal oppression; after all, Christopher is not only a male, but a male unborn baby who qualifies as a “parasite” in the feminist lexicon, feeding off (which means depriving his mother of) essential nutrients for her life.  The bulk of the scholarship attending Fuentes’ novel comes from this feminist focus.

A critical disability theorist, however, could discover the obvious: Christopher is as immobile as any born human who uses a wheelchair.  In fact, Christopher is more “crippled” than a wheelchair user, since the wheelchair user can move from his or her appliance to another location while it is impossible for the unborn child to experience anything but his mother’s womb.  Thus, Christopher is in an extreme subordinate (literary critics would use the standard term “subject”) position which critical disability theorists would find most objectionable since no one, whether disabled or able-bodied, should be so subordinate or subject to another human being.

Moreover, a critical disabilities theorist would recognize what pro-lifers have long argued since the beginning decades of the movement: the science of fetal development signifies one’s humanity.  Thus, whether Christopher consists of a clump of cells; a body with nascent arms and legs, similar to a born child or adult with phocomelia from having been a Thalidomide baby; or a fetus about to be born, one who is utterly incapable of surviving outside the womb without direct intervention by his parents: critical disabilities theorists should assert Christopher’s unqualified right to live as much as his mother’s.  Since one’s condition of dependency does not negate one’s right to life, he is a character whose birth would be welcomed in the fictional world of Fuentes’ novel.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993)

          Ostensibly concerned with overpowering a dystopian world where not only human emotions but also memories are banned, perhaps the most enduring feature of Lois Lowry’s The Giver are passages where handicapped newborns are killed.  In fact, it is the infanticide scene which becomes the crucial scene of anagnorisis in the novel which matures the adolescent Jonas into a young man on a mission of liberation.  That his father commits the infanticide of a defective child called a “newchild” in the eugenically-correct community is especially horrifying for Jonas:

          His father was talking, and Jonas realized that he was hearing the answer to the question he had started to ask.  Still in the special voice, his father was saying, “I know, I know.  It hurts, little guy.  But I have to use a vein, and the veins in your arms are still too teeny-weeny.”

          He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty.

          “All done.  That wasn’t so bad, was it?”  Jonas heard his father say cheerfully.  He turned aside and dropped the syringe into a waste receptacle.

          Now he cleans him up and makes him comfy, Jonas said to himself, aware that The Giver didn’t want to talk during the little ceremony.

          As he continued to watch, the newchild, no longer crying, moved his arms and legs in a jerking motion.  Then he went limp.  He [sic] head fell to the side, his eyes half open.  Then he was still.


          He killed it!  My father killed it!  Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing.  He continued to stare at the screen numbly.

          His father tidied the room.  Then he picked up a small carton that lay waiting on the floor, set it on the bed, and lifted the limp body into it.  He placed the lid on tightly.

          He picked up the carton and carried it to the other side of the room.  He opened a small door in the wall; Jonas could see darkness behind the door.  It seemed to be the same sort of chute into which trash was deposited at school.

          His father loaded the carton containing the body into the chute and gave it a shove.

          “Bye-bye, little guy,” Jonas heard his father say before he left the room.  Then the screen went blank.  (149-151; italics in original)

A Marxist literary critic would find in this passage the necessary conflict between ideologies which is an essential feature of the theory.  In this perspective, Jonas and his comrades are adolescent protagonists who oppose and overthrow the dominant ideology of their world to secure a more fulfilling and more human world for themselves.

          A critical disabilities theorist, of course, would elaborate on this essential plot resolution and point out that the protagonists are advocates of human life deemed inferior and subject to being killed, what the authorities euphemistically call “release” (2).  Moreover, while acknowledging that it depicts the disastrous effects of a totalitarian government on human life, a disabilities critic would emphasize that the novel concerns the rights of newborns who are handicapped, elderly persons who are valued for being repositories of mankind’s collective history, and the assertion that the state does not grant the right to life, but merely recognizes it.

          All of these positions of the disabilities critic have long been held by the pro-life movement.  The pro-life community has a written record addressing the threat of infanticide since the 1980s.  Effie A. Quay wrote And Now Infanticide in 1980, Joseph R. Stanton followed with his Infanticide in 1981, Melinda Delahoyde expanded the pro-life perspective on infanticide in her 1984 monograph Fighting for Life: Defending the Newborn’s Right to Live, and pro-life research in this area has continued since then.  Similarly, in the area of experience with totalitarian governments, Steven W. Mosher introduced the pro-life movement to the anti-life practices of the world’s most totalitarian state, the People’s Republic of China, in his seminal 1993 work, A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy , and pro-life special interest groups like Reggie Littlejohn’s Women’s Rights Without Frontiers continues promoting awareness that, as the masthead on its website announces, “Forced Abortion Is Not a Choice.”

F. X. Toole’s “Million $$$ Baby” (short story 2000; film 2004)

          F. X. Toole’s short story “Million $$$ Baby” illustrates the tenacity of Mary Margaret Fitzgerald who wants Frankie Dunn not only to train her to be a boxer, but also to manage her.  She is insistent that she will have no one else work with her, and Maggie’s devotion to her profession generates her success in the ring.  The possibility of her being a boxer winning a million dollar prize, however, is negated by a disastrous punch from an opponent and a fall onto a metal surface which transform her from a gifted boxer to a quadriplegic.  Thus immobilized, breathing on a ventilator, and having undergone one leg amputation, Maggie asks Frankie to kill her.  Although refusing at first, he agrees to kill her at short story’s end.  The film largely coincides with these essential details of the short story, although there are significant differences, discussed below.

          While some may use the short story as an argument for the medical killing called euthanasia, a critical disabilities scholar would emphasize not merely the bodily integrity of Maggie in both her able-bodiedness and her quadriplegic state, but also her humanity.  Maggie remains the same person she was after the accident in the ring; the difference post-accident is that she uses specific prostheses and technological appliances to continue living.

Her essential humanity is something which other characters in the short story do not recognize because they are focused on her mere body.  Frankie’s litany of distortions about Maggie’s body begins subtly in the story and film when he constantly asserts that he does not train “girls” for boxing.  The narrator reinforces Frankie’s perception of Maggie’s gender; she is a “girl”, even though she is thirty-two:

Two thick braids of deep auburn hair hung down behind each ear, framing a freckled face and a pair of agate eyes, like Frankie’s daughter’s.  She was maybe five feet nine and weighed a fit 140.  She was relaxed and stood gracefully, her weight balanced on both feet, and despite a broken nose, she was a looker.  (64)

Frankie’s focus on Maggie’s body continues when he eventually becomes her trainer:

“When you throw a right-hand, you got to step out to the left six inches as you move half a step in with both feet.  That frees your right hip and leg and foot, like this, so you can snap your ass into your shots.  I mean your backside.”

          “You got it the first time.  Got one on me like a forty-dollar mule.”

          Do you ever, Frankie thought, and long legs with calves like a ballerina.  Long arms and a short body, perfect for a fighter.  Because of her sweatshirt and T-shirts, he couldn’t be sure about her bustline, but she didn’t seem to be top-heavy, which was good for a girl fighter.  (70; italics in original)

          After the accident, Maggie is described more in medical terms that any disabilities critic would abhor and which pro-life scholars would classify as standard dehumanization, replacing the humanity of the patient with medical terminology.  “I’m a C-1 and C-2 complete” Maggie tells Frankie, explaining that “that means my spinal cord’s so bad they never can fix me” (85).  The narrator elaborates a substantial medical summary by asserting that

her neurologists determined that she was a permanent, vent-dependent quadriplegic unable to breathe without a respirator.  As a C-1 and C-2, she was injured at the first and second cervical vertebrae, which meant she could talk and slightly move her head, but that was all.  She had lost the ability to breathe on her own, to move her limbs.  She could not control her bladder or her bowel movements.  She’d be frozen the rest of her life. (85)

          Maggie’s dehumanization continues as the story races towards its denouement.  She is transformed into a non-human entity: “Twice she spasmed into a grotesque caricature of herself” (87).   If her humanity is referenced, then it becomes metaphorically transformed into another non-human entity, ice: “Most of the patients were cheerful.  Maggie was one of the ones who wasn’t, as each day the dread of a frozen life engulfed her” (87).  Maggie herself asserts her lack of humanness when she identifies with the term most commonly used by elderly persons who fear what they will become to their children, and the dehumanization is intensified being delivered in her hillbilly twang: “Bein a burden ain’t somethin I could handle” (88).  Besides being a burden, Maggie dehumanizes herself further by reducing her humanity to that of an animal.  “’Frankie’,” she said, now looking him straight in the eye.  “’I want you to put me down like Daddy did Axel [the family dog].’  [….]  The next day she asked him again.  “’You’d do it for a dog’” (92-3).

          Once the dehumanization has been fully depicted, Maggie’s request to be killed seems ineluctable.  At this point so late in the narrative, it is odd that Frankie likes being in “St. Brendan’s [which] was an old church, one in which the smells of burning candles and incense were ever present.  For Frankie it was a holy place, and he took solace from it, knowing that his torture was mirrored in the broken body of the crucified Christ” (96).  That he does not see the crucified Christ in the equally broken, immobilized, and therefore symbolically crucified body of Maggie makes Toole’s short story all the more compelling as evidence of the blindness that some have towards those who are medically vulnerable.

          Maggie’s killing in the short story differs greatly from the film.  In the movie, Frankie disconnects Maggie’s breathing tube so that she can “fall asleep”; he then injects adrenaline into an intravenous tube.  Thus, Maggie’s death scene is shown as utterly peaceful and passive, gentle music composed by Clint Eastwood himself swirling around the final scenes.  In the short story, however, Frankie plays a much more active role in killing her.

“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered in her ear.  “First I’m going to put you to sleep.  Then I’ll give you a shot.”


Frankie stood behind her so he wouldn’t have to see her face.  He firmly pressed his thumbs to both sides of Maggie’s neck, cutting off the blood flow to her brain at the carotid arteries.  In a few seconds, Maggie’s eyes closed and her mouth came open.  Oxygen from the vent escaped and became part of the whirlwind inside Frankie’s head.  He stood pressing for three minutes, long enough to give himself the time he needed.

          Frankie looked at her, had to choke back a howl.[12]  But he still pried her mouth open the width of three fingers, and injected the contents of the hypodermic needle beneath the stub of Maggie’s tongue.  The adrenaline, all thirty millimeters of it, was enough to kill a dragon, but Frankie knew it would dissipate in Maggie’s system shortly after being injected.  Should there be an autopsy, the tiny spot where the needle had entered would not to [sic] be noticed.  But even if it were, the adrenaline would never be detected.


He checked Maggie’s pulse.  It raced faster than a speed bag.  Then the stroke hit her and her face contorted, one eye sagging open.  (100; italics in original)

          Maggie’s killing scene allows critical disability theorists to demonstrate how warped contemporary society has become regarding the rights of the disabled.  A disabilities critic would emphasize Maggie’s humanity, despite her condition of dependency.  Such a critic would also emphasize the intrusion of the medical sphere into her life; Maggie’s equation of herself with the diagnosis that “I’m a C-1 and C-2 complete” is merely evidence of the degree to which a disabled person can internalize another person’s opinion of his or her medical condition.

Moreover, the disabilities critic would highlight the irony that Frankie and his associate Eddie are just as socially handicapped or disabled as Maggie herself.  Besides her medical condition resulting from the boxing injury, Maggie is handicapped in class status; in one passage the narrator simply reports that “She was born and raised in southwestern Missouri, in the hills outside the scratch-ass Ozark town of Theodosia.  […]  She was trailer trash” (68).  Frankie is similarly socially handicapped; he does not connect with his apparently large family, even though the text refers to “his children” and “his sons and daughters and grandchildren” but no wife (63, 95).  To reinforce the gruffness that probably accounts for his emotional distance from his family, Clint Eastwood, who plays his character, utters his lines with a grainy, smoker’s voice.  Frankie’s associate Eddie is also handicapped, literally; he lost one of his eyes in a boxing match.  With such handicaps or disabilities, it is no wonder that Frankie and Eddie do not perceive what it would take a formalist literary critic or a pro-lifer to perceive from Maggie’s essential biographical detail: Maggie, the trailer trash woman, hails from “Theodosia”, which means “gift of God.”

V.  Enhancing Critical Disability Studies with Right-to-Life Literary Criticism

As the commentary on Toole’s short story suggests, critical disability studies can be an intensely life-affirming school of literary criticism without explicitly identifying itself as such.  While critical disabilities scholars may be hesitant to identify themselves with the pro-life movement, we who support the first civil right should not be reticent in making the connections clear.  Certainly, the goals of the disabilities rights and pro-life movements are almost identical; while legislative goals may differ, both the disability rights and pro-life movements work to advance respect for more vulnerable persons who may be targets of infanticide and euthanasia activists.[13]  Therefore, we can complete the intellectual linkage between critical disability studies and the pro-life movement explicitly.

I have written elsewhere about five questions that right-to-life literary theory brings to the explication, analysis, and appreciation of literature concerning the life issues.  As life-affirming as critical disabilities theory is, these questions cannot only enhance that theory, but fill in significant gaps so that students of literature receive a comprehensive perspective of the controversial literature they are reading.

          Each of the five questions of right-to-life literary theory addresses some aspect of literary works which critical disabilities theory either briefly considers or ignores.  For example, whether the literary work supports the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some “thing” which is priceless, is obliquely affirmed.  Granted, any disabilities critic must conclude that any life is a philosophical good, even one which happens to be less-able-bodied than another.  However, scanning the scholarly literature, one is hard pressed to find an explicit acknowledgment of this universal human right as a philosophical good.  Much more common is a recurring theme, expressed by Siebers and virtually all critical disability scholars, for example, that the specific human attributes of “race, class, gender, and sexuality” are important for securing human happiness, but not an explicit mention of the foundational right without which no discussion of these accidental characteristics could ensue, the right to life (Disability Aesthetics 28).

          Fuentes’ and Lowry’s novels are not as ambiguous as they seem in determining whether human life itself is a good.  Christopher’s struggle to be born is as life-affirming as Jonas’ struggle against the totalitarian state which encroaches on his life.  These are affirmations of life that a reader must work out beyond the mere plot development of an unborn child moving like a handicapped entity through nine months of gestation or teens moving from a dystopian world into an unknown and freer site for human development.

Determining whether human life is a philosophical good in Toole’s short story is much more challenging.  Most scenes occur, not in glamorous venues where Maggie revels in her boxing prowess, but in a poverty-stricken gym where “the stink” as Frankie calls it permeates the environment and where the intellectual development of the boxers in training is trumped by the physical growth of muscles, movements, and boxing technique.  That Frankie kills Maggie supports this dismal view of human life; if he thought that human life were indeed a philosophical good, then he would have acknowledged it, argued more forcefully against Maggie’s comparison of herself to a dog, and, most obviously, not killed her.

          The second question of right-to-life literary theory considers whether the literary work respects the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life.  After all, any critical disabilities critic reviewing a work of literature must affirm the life of the person depicted in the work who may not be able-bodied as other characters.  However, the reasons why such a character should have his or her life affirmed are not provided in any of the three works considered here, and the assertion for the right to exist remains on the surface level.  This fundamental philosophical difference between disabilities and pro-life literary critics is profound, for pro-life critics usually base their support for a person’s existence, whether fictional or real, usually on a religious basis or on a common understanding that certain rights are inherent in human beings, having come from the Creator.

          The third question of right-to-life literary theory covers the actions of a family, specifically whether the literary work respects heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family.  In all three works discussed here, the families are broken or distorted, adjectives which would be used by any critical disabilities scholar to describe the less-than-perfect family situations in which the characters live.  Fuentes’ family consists of Christopher and his mother, and his father is spoken of as though he is always absent.  Christopher, whose vocabulary in Fuentes’ work is amazingly erudite, receives no whispers through the abdominal wall from a loving father as contemporary fathers sometimes do.  Jonas has a traditional family, but his father is ideologically handicapped by his anti-life philosophy of killing defective newborns; thus, Jonas’ father is automatically disqualified as a functional father, understood in the Jewish and Christian culture of the West as a man who performs the triple “provider, protector, and priest” duties for the family.

          The fourth question of right-to-life literary theory investigates whether the literary work comports with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist.  Unfortunately, if critical disabilities studies counts a pro-abortion position, one of the major tenets of feminist literary criticism, as one of its own, then the philosophic problem which that tenet creates limits the universal applicability of the theory.  Thus, if feminist literary theory has enshrined the belief that the mother has greater rights than the unborn child, and if disability criticism accepts this premise, then critical disability studies is schizophrenic; it cannot argue for the right to life of all handicapped or disabled persons since it supports the killing of the most vulnerable and (like Christopher in Fuentes’ novel) most disabled person imaginable, the unborn child in his or her mother’s womb.  While many disability scholars ignore the right to life of the unborn as much as they are silent about Margaret Sanger’s support for eugenicist abortion,[14] others understand the disturbing connection between eugenics, abortion,[15] and attacks on the disabled.  For example, Rosemarie Garland Thomson writes that “Both the modern eugenics movement, which arose from the mid-nineteenth century scientific community, and its current counterpart, reproductive technology designed to predict and eliminate ‘defective’ fetuses, reveal a determination to eradicate disabled people” (Extraordinary, 34, internal quotes in original).[16]

Similarly, of course, if one accepts the proposition that the unborn child is, in true Nazi thinking, a life unworthy of life, then persons at the end of the chronological spectrum could also become vulnerable targets of eugenic forces.  Adopting the eugenic proposals of the Nazi regime would be especially schizophrenic since many critical disability scholars have demonstrated how the American and Nazi eugenics movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries assaulted the rights of those persons for whom disabilities studies was first created—the medically vulnerable, the disabled, and the handicapped.[17]

          The final question of right-to-life literary theory asks, when they are faced with their mortality, do the characters in any literary work come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective.  Fortunately, for brevity’s sake, the main characters in both Fuentes’ and Lowry’s novels need not concern themselves with a final religious reckoning; Christopher and Jonas and his companions have their lives ahead of them to explore the religious possibilities of their lives.  The religious sensibility in Toole’s short story, therefore, becomes all the more important for analysis since the characters are elderly, past their prime fighters, and, in Maggie’s case, near death.

          Eddie and Maggie have no religious background, and there is no evidence that either character is aware of basic religious teachings about death and the hereafter.  Frankie, however, supplies some evidence that he is aware of the divine presence in the world, a presence which does not assist him, apparently, in deciding moral issues.  Frankie’s love for the sacramentals involved in worship were noted above.  However, while he is aware of his religious duties as a Catholic (“In a few days it would be All Saints’ Day, a Holy Day of Obligation”), he does not find strength in his faith (“Frankie hadn’t received the Eucharist since Maggie’s injury” 95).  His confession to his parish priest illustrates how conflicted he is about how he “murthered a girleen [….] In me mind” (97).

          The lack of an effective sensibility of the divine presence in the world can be attributed not only to critical disabilities scholars’ rightful emphasis on the body, but also to their omission of other components of human life which most critical disabilities scholars dismiss.  While philosophers and theologians must debate what elements constitute human nature, it should not be debatable that human nature concerns the physical body, yes, but also the soul, the mind, one’s community with the living, one’s communion with the dead, and one’s responsibility to the future.  A disabled person does not live merely for the sake of enabling his or her physical being for his or her span of eighty or more years; he or she also lives intellectually, socially, and, hopefully, spiritually.

Maggie, however, is solely concerned about her body.  “I’ma dyin ever’ day,” she says to Frankie.  “Now they’re talkin ‘bout cuttin off my ulcerated leg.  [….]  I’m gettin worse, boss [….]  I don’t wont [sic] to live on like this” (92).  Living as a quadriplegic presents problems, as critical disabilities scholars would say, for able-bodied persons more than the quadriplegics themselves.  Having a leg amputated is further distressing, for both the quadriplegic and for others around him or her.  It is unfortunate that Maggie could not move beyond her physicality and develop her mind or inquire into the existence of her soul.  It may be a faulty comparison since no person’s life is an exact match with another’s, but, if the atheist Stephen Hawking could live as a quadriplegic and yet develop his mind to an exceptional degree, then Maggie, asking to be killed, permanently foreclosed her opportunity to discover how she, the trailer trash from Theodosia, Missouri was a “gift from God.”

          The above discussion hopes to demonstrate that critical disability studies has much in common with the right-to-life movement.  Partisan differences of most academics aside, those who use critical disability studies as their vehicle for a greater understanding and appreciation of works of literature are proposing pro-life ideas without, apparently, being aware of it.  While it is unfortunate that most academics who use critical disabilities theory cannot take the logical move to connect themselves with the pro-life movement, such a step is unnecessary, since pro-life faculty and students can make that connection for them.  Thus, many thanks should be given to those academics who have advanced critical disabilities theory to where it is today.  It is now up to contemporary pro-life faculty and students to take the theory to the next level, one which demonstrates how a life-affirming approach is manifest in even the most egregiously anti-life work of literature and can be overcome, “transgressed” in the parlance of jargon-laden academics, for the cause of protecting human life in whatever form it is found.

Works Cited

Campbell, Fiona Kumari. Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Davidson, Michael. Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body. U of Michigan P, 2008.

Davis, Lennard J. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. Verso, 1995.

Delahoyde, Melinda. Fighting for Life: Defending the Newborn’s Right to Live. Servant Books, 1984.

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. 1963. Translated by A. M. Sheridan, Routledge Classics, 2003.

—. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. 1961. Translated by Richard Howard, Routledge Classics, 1989.

Fuentes, Carlos. Christopher Unborn. Translated by Alfred MacAdam and the author, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford UP, 2009.

Gavioli, Nicola. “Bioethical Issues in Contemporary Brazilian Culture: Euthanasia and Literature.” Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 54, no. 2, Dec. 2017, pp. 129–151. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3368/lbr.54.2.129.

Goodley, Dan. Foreword. Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness, by Fiona Kumari Campbell, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. ix-xii.

Jarman, Michelle. “Relations of Abortion: Crip Approaches to Reproductive Justice.” Feminist Formations, vol. 27, no. 1, spring 2015, pp. 46-66.

Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Indiana UP, 2013.

Linett, Maren Tova. Bodies of Modernism: Physical Disability in Transatlantic Modernist Literature. U of Michigan P, 2017.

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Million Dollar Baby. Performances by Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank. Warner, 2004.

Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. U of Michigan P, 2000.

Mosher, Steven W.         A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy.  Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Nielsen, Kim E. A Disability History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2012.

Purdue University, College of Liberal Arts. Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism, 2019,

Quay, Effie A. And Now Infanticide.  Sun Life, 1980.

Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation. Columbia UP, 2007.

Sanchez, Rebecca. Deafening Modernism: Embodied Language and Visual Poetics in American Literature. New York UP, 2015.

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Aesthetics. U of Michigan P, 2010.

—. Disability Theory. U of Michigan P, 2008.

Snyder, Sharon L., and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. U of Chicago P, 2006.

Stanton, Joseph R. Infanticide. Americans United for Life, 1981.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia UP, 1997.

Titchkosky, Tanya. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. U of Toronto P, 2011.

Toole, F. X. “Million $$$ Baby.” Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner. HarperCollins, 2000, pp. [61]-101.

—. “Million Dollar Baby.” Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner. HarperCollins, 2005, pp. [61]-101.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. Forced Abortion Is Not a Choice, 2019,

[1] Rosemarie Garland Thomson and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson are the same person.  However, since the title page of Staring hyphenates her name while Extraordinary does not, I will use the hyphenated surname throughout when quoting from that monograph, following MLA format.

[2] I offer many thanks to colleagues who ended the presentation of this paper at Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois with a vibrant question-and answer period.

[3] Disability studies’ reliance on feminist principles is pronounced throughout the scholarship.  For example, in his foreword to Fiona Kumari Campbell’s work, Dan Goodley writes, “Through increased alliances with feminist, queer and post-colonial comrades, disability studies is continuing with its emancipation of disabled people at the same time as destabilising the dominant social order” (ix).

[4] Students would find Fiona Kumari Campbell’s effort at definition a bit more complex: “In contrast with biomedicalism, contemporary disability studies scholarship argues that the neologism disability is a relational signifier emerging out of interactivity between impairment and modes of socio-economic organisation framed by epistemologies of corporeal perfection” (131).

[5] Thomson’s distance from Christianity is again evident when she writes about how St. “Augustine delights in curious and inexplicable bodies as signs of his Christian god’s benevolent purpose and constant intervention in the universe” (Extraordinary, 56).

[6] Tobin Siebers is one of many critical disabilities scholars who identify Peter Singer’s anti-life positions. He argues that “Surprisingly, little thought and energy have been given to disputing the belief that nonquality human beings do exist.  This belief is so robust that it supports the most serious and characteristic injustices of our day [including] euthanasia [and] assisted suicide (Disability Aesthetics, 23-4).  Siebers’ intense opposition to Peter Singer is evident when he writes about the schizophrenic nature of some contemporary leftist political positions that the philosopher espouses: “Peter Singer concludes that we should outlaw animal cruelty and stop eating meat but that we should perform euthanasia on people with mental disabilities or difficult physical disabilities such as spina bifida [….]  This horrifying conclusion shows the limitations of eighteenth-century rationalism” (Disability Theory 92).

See also Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell, who oppose Singer’s “argument that some disabled children should be passively euthanized because they lack the sentience that his brand of utilitarianism accords to fully ‘human’ organisms’” thus: “Such arguments characterized nearly all eugenic sentiments; they hinge upon scientific and philosophical willingness to empty certain individuals of qualities and thus reduce them to a state of mere matter” (214; internal quotes in original).

[7] The 1946 Oscar-winning film The Best Years of Our Lives is singled out by critical disabilities scholars for particular criticism.  Although previous generations may have viewed the film as an optimistic post-war film whose serious theme of the integration of soldiers into American society is balanced by the sentimentality of a romance between a typical girl-next-door and a returning seaman who lost both hands in the war, most criticism of the film by disabilities scholars seeks to dampen the positive emotions the film creates with a cold dose of emotionless psychobabble.  For example, Davidson reduces the range of emotions in the film to an

attempt to normalize the prostheticized body [as] represented in The Best Years of Our Lives and other films about the difficulties of disabled soldiers attempting to reenter social and private life.  Such normalization through prosthetics and film have implications for heteronormalcy, but the dark doppelgänger of this restorative trend—what I am calling the phantom limb of cold war normalcy—is played out in film noir.  (78-9)

[8] While some critical disability theorists are softer in their critique of Jerry Lewis (for example, Rosemarie Garland Thomson merely states that “Jerry Lewis’s Telethons testify not only to the cultural demand for body normalization, but to our intolerance of the disabled figure’s reminder that perfection is a chimera”, Extraordinary 46), others are brutal in their criticism, to whom no benefit of the doubt is granted that Lewis may have accomplished some good work.  For example, Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell state, “We recognize the ‘bumbling fool’ of comedy (as in the screwball plots of the 1960s that featured later disability telethon sycophant Jerry Lewis)….” (Cultural, 162).

[9] Michael Davidson’s generic critique of telethons could apply to Jerry Lewis or Danny Thomas, founder of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, since he uses the third-person masculine pronoun, but his claim, which sounds more jealous than scholarly, could apply to Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, whose television commercials saturate the airwaves: “The celebrity telethon host who patronizes his poster child guest disables with one hand whole soliciting funds for that child’s rehabilitation with the other” (176).

[10] For some reason, the 2005 reprint of Toole’s short story used the word “Dollar” for the symbols; the film version also uses the word.  Since Toole died in 2002, three years before the reprint and two years before the 2004 film, and may not have approved the substitution, I will use the symbols throughout when referring to the original style of the short story’s title on first publication.

[11] In this exchange, because she cannot speak (she bit her tongue off in an effort to commit suicide by bleeding to death), Maggie blinks twice to signify her affirmation.

[12] The idea that killing a human being in any act of euthanasia dehumanizes the killer him- or herself can be supported by this bit of fictional evidence.  Note that Frankie chokes back not a cry, something a human being would do, but a howl, which indicates that he has become not only less-than human and not only animalistic, but a ferocious animal, a wolf.

[13] Some disabilities scholars are keenly aware pf the convergence of the disability and pro-life movements.  David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder express their appreciation for “the latest generation of disability rights activists [including] the entire ‘Princeton 7’ of Not Dead Yet” (Narrative, xv; internal quotes and italics in original), appreciation expressed as “We are forever grateful” in another of their works (Cultural, xiv).

In contrast, while her attack on the group fails because her arguments are clear summaries of the case for activism from Feminists for Life with the disabilities movement, Alison Kafer categorizes members of Feminists for Life as “antireproductive rights activists” who are “moving steadily to present themselves as the better ally to disability movements” because “the FFL presents itself as more aligned with the interests of disability communities than the pro-choice movement is; according to this logic, advocates for abortion and other reproductive rights are too closely tied to eugenic practices and histories to support disabled people” (163).

[14] Few critical disabilities scholars note Sanger’s support for eugenics as the foundation on which the artificial birth control movement began.  To her credit, Maren Tova Linett makes the connection clear: “Eugenics formed a strong component of the birth control movement, as Margaret Sanger in the United States and Marie Stopes in Britain sought to popularize birth control among ‘undesirable’ populations” (12; internal quotes in original).

[15] It is striking, however, to read scholars who ignore the unborn completely when they should include them, as when Campbell writes, “From the moment a child is born, he/she emerges into a world where he/she receives messages that to be disabled is to be less than, a world where disability may be tolerated but in the final instance, is inherently negative” (17; italics in original).  Later in the work, however, Campbell calls abortion “eugenics by proxy” (157).

[16] To her credit, Thomson reiterates her opposition to the killing of disabled unborn children when she argues that “Indeed, one of our strongest cultural taboos forbids the extraordinary body, as the […] abortion of ‘defective’ fetuses, and other normalization procedures attest” (Extraordinary, 79; internal quotes in original).

[17] Fortunately, some critical disability scholars are not only aware, but also oppose euthanasia as a solution for a non-able-bodied person’s existence.  Their opposition spans the range from the casual notation of Sharon L. Snyder and David T. Mitchell’s remark that “All the films that return disabled charges to institutions—or worse, offer euthanasia” (180) to the attempt at compromise offered by Lennard J. Davis: “I am not saying that euthanasia is a bad thing, but rather that until we understand the social and political implications of disability, we cannot always make rational decisions about the right to die” 166).


Contemporary Jewish Fiction on Abortion: Ethical Considerations of Abortion from Various Responsa and Their Absence in Recent Jewish-American Fiction

Abstract:  This paper collates several major ethical considerations from responsa concerning abortion as pronounced by rabbinic authorities from various branches of Judaism.  The paper then examines twentieth- and twenty-first century Jewish-American novels and short stories which concern abortion, discusses the absence of the major ethical principles in the literature, and offers insights regarding the application of the principles.  The trajectory of future Jewish-American fiction vis-à-vis these ethical pronouncements will be suggested.

          Jewish fiction concerning abortion is largely unexplored territory in literary criticism.  Much is written about the abortion decision juridically, but virtually no examination of the impact of abortion in relation to rabbinic pronouncements exists either in the criticism or in the fiction itself.  This literary critical gap is especially interesting since a work of fiction should respect the cultural and religious heritage it is supposed to represent if it is to be considered a work in that category.  Thus, for example, Leila Aboulela’s short story “Make Your Own Way Home” can be considered an artifact by an Islamic author who is herself faithful to Islam while her characters are bereft of a religious basis for moral action in their lives as much as James Farrell’s Studs Lonigan fairly represents a family whose Catholicism is perfunctory at best.

          A problem of definition could be made at this point.  While defining “abortion” as a topic in literature is unnecessary since it is self-evident, what exactly is “Jewish” fiction?  Is Jewish fiction a discrete category like Catholic fiction or Islamic fiction?  Is Jewish fiction to be bifurcated into secularized American and Orthodox Israeli halves?  This problem of definition has been an issue for academics and critics for decades, responding most probably to the effects of assimilation of immigrants as their children intermarried with a dominantly Christian American population.  After commenting on the work of Cahan, Lazarus, and some nineteenth-century authors, Hana Wirth-Nesher and Michael P. Kramer attempt a definition in their 2003 collection of essays, The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, saying

Each wrote what might be called “Jewish American literature.”  But it is problematic to say that they belonged to a common literary tradition.  [….]  This makes the task of the literary historian difficult indeed.  Ruth Wisse has argued that “modern Jewish literature is the repository of modern Jewish experience” and, as such, “the most complete way of knowing the inner life of the Jews” […]  Yet the phrase “modern Jewish experience” is hardly self-evident, and knowing “the inner life of the Jews” no simple matter, particularly in America.  (3-4)

For purposes of this study, however, “Jewish fiction” on the topic of abortion will include novels and short stories written by authors either identified as adherents of the Jewish religion or categorized as Jewish by critics, this latter stipulation thus including secularized, non-religious Jews.

          The structure of the paper follows this format.  [slide two]  The five ethical principles regarding abortion in Jewish religious thought will be identified before advancing to a critical commentary on abortion in Jewish fiction.  Three fictional works will then be examined: Sheila Schwartz’ 2009 novel Lies Will Take You Somewhere, Allegra Goodman’s 1990 short story “Variant Text,” and Saul Bellow’s 1953 novel, The Adventures of Augie March.  Finally, the trajectory of Jewish fiction on abortion will be suggested.

I.  Five Ethical Principles on Abortion in Jewish Religious Thought

          An overview of rabbinic pronouncements, or responsa (the singular being responsum), on abortion is necessary before a review of contemporary criticism of Jewish fiction can be provided.  These responsa decide moral and ethical questions brought to the rabbis for their adjudication vis-à-vis Talmudic and other authorities.  Much like case law, the responsum of one rabbi will build on the work of previous responsa and either agree, refine, or reject previous decisions.  While abortion is a relatively recent social problem in the United States (one can argue that its political and judicial appearance is only half a century old), rabbis have discussed abortion for millennia, and their commentary has been substantial.

          However, the pronouncements can be sorted into five categories.[1]  [slide three]  While the five ethical principles which inform the religious thinking of Judaism on abortion are treated at greater length elsewhere,[2] the following will summarize discussion of the principles across the major branches of Judaism.

A.  The Lex Talionis

          [slide four]  The first aspect is the lex talionis, the Exodus 21.22-25 passage which explicitly mentions miscarriage, but which is the basis for religious thinking on abortion:

When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges.  But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Frequently, critique of the lex talionis seems more linguistic than doctrinal.  Orthodox Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits argues that “this crucial passage, by one of the most curious twists of literary fortunes, marks the parting of the ways between the Jewish and Christian rulings on abortion” (“Jewish Views” 483).  According to Jakobovits, the key phrase in Hebrew which is usually translated as “no harm follow” (which in the above translation is rendered “no further injury”), “was replaced by the Greek for ‘[her child be born] imperfectly formed'” (“Jewish Views” 484).  For Jakobovits, the import of the original translation is clear.  Since only someone born could be considered fully human, the fetus is not considered a legal person who could be murdered.  Rabbi Moshe Zemer affirmed this idea in his 1999 compendium on contemporary controversial matters, Evolving Halakhah: A Progressive Approach to Traditional Jewish Law: “Because a fetus is not considered to be a person, the concept of murder does not apply as long as it has not emerged into the air of the world” (337).[3]

          Conservative Rabbi David M. Feldman elaborates on this matter when he writes in his influential 1968 monograph Birth Control in Jewish Law that the lex talionis

tells us, in the words of a modern writer on Roman and Jewish law, that in both systems the foetus has no “juridical personality” of its own.  Slightly more relevant is the factor of “doubtful viability” that attaches to an embryo: it is not reckoned a bar kayyama [a viable, living thing] until thirty days after its birth—unless a full nine-month pregnancy is definitely known to have been completed. (254)

Thus, Jewish law is more concerned with the legal culpability of the person who causes a miscarriage than it is with the matter of abortion or the status of the unborn child.

          Research by L. E. Goodman suggests that other influences can account for the change in terminology of the Exodus passage.  Goodman’s argument for the historical change in the lex talionis is extensive:

The Pentateuch does not directly consider the possibility of an intentionally induced abortion [….]  The reason is not far to seek: it is beyond the moral horizon of the community the Law initially addresses to expect that a father or a mother might consider intentionally aborting a foetus [….]  In this context the solitary and oblique reference to abortion in Exodus is all the more striking, since it shows us that aborticide, even through an assault, is not biblically deemed a homicide—although fatal injury to the expectant mother, as a result of the same incident, would be.  But in the Hellenistic period, contact of Jews with the ideas and practices of other nations regarding abortion and infanticide put the matter in a different light [….]  Here the Greek glosses the Hebrew with a clear nisus towards finding an authority for the sanctity of human life, even before birth.  It dissolves the mention of “other harm” into a disjunctive reference to the interests of the formed or unformed foetus, rather than the mother, whose interests it presumes to be already covered by the laws of assault, homicide and injury. (176-7)

          Despite differences in the reception and interpretation of the lex talionis, a remarkable consistency on the matter of abortion is maintained in Jewish law.  The Talmud is much more concerned with the ritual purification of the pregnant woman who has miscarried than it is with codifying the legal or theological status of the unborn child.

B.  “Health” and “Life”

          [slide five]  “Health” and “life” are the two terms which, when combined, constitute the second aspect of concern to Jewish authorities formulating abortion positions.  Jewish scholars have added particular insights to the Talmudic commentary on health matters, not only as it relates to the lex talionis, but also to general ethical norms which influence abortion.  For example, Jakobovits argues that a passage in Exodus antecedent to the lex talionis determines which of the two principles has more weight and thus constitutes the spiritual foundation for Judaism’s practical concern for health:

While modern medicine is above all therapeutic in its aims, Hebrew medicine received, at its origin, a different orientation by this biblical verse: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”  (Exodus xv, 26)  This declaration has the value of a veritable program.  With this declaration as their basis, many Jewish thinkers who are considered authorities recognized and demonstrated the prophylactic effect of a series of religious laws of primary importance, such as, notably, those concerning food and the purity of conjugal life. (Jewish Medical, xxi)

From this basis of health having a greater priority over life itself, Judaism has not only allowed but in some cases mandated abortion because the health of the pregnant woman is “the sole indication for terminating a pregnancy” (Tendler 31).

          The most important sections dealing with feticide can be found in Maimonides and Joseph ben Ephraim Karo.  According to Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried’s translation of Code of Jewish Law: Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, a brief handbook of everyday procedures (1963; revised edition 1991), Maimonides provides several reasons for justifying feticide:

When a woman has severe pain in childbirth, the physician is permitted to destroy the child before its birth, either with medicine or with instruments, for as long as it has not yet been born, it is not considered a living soul, and it is permissible to save the mother by sacrificing the child; it is akin to a case of self-defense.  However, as soon as it protrudes its head, it must not be touched, for one living soul must not be sacrificed to save another, and this is the way of nature. (4: 78)

The relevant section of Karo’s code pertaining to abortion reads much more concisely:

If a pregnant woman cannot give birth to a child naturally, and it is impossible for the doctor to save both lives, or in order to give birth to a live child the mother must die, or in order to save the mother’s life the child must be killed, it is permitted to cut the child in pieces and save the life of the mother. (1: 428a)

          Moreover, since mental health can be just as important as physical health, Judaism can justify abortion on the same basis as it justifies contraception (Feldman, Health 49).  Rabbi Mordechai Winkler affirmed in is 1913 responsum that the “mental-health risk has been definitely equated with physical-health risk.  [A] woman, in danger of losing her mental health unless the pregnancy is interrupted, would therefore accordingly qualify” for an abortion (qtd. in Feldman, “This Matter” 389).  Thus, for example, while Tay-Sachs is harmful only to the unborn child, the pregnant woman can abort if she claims that her mental health would be impaired (Feldman, “This Matter” 389).  Later twentieth-century Reform responsa have similarly adopted this reasoning for abortion in such cases, such as Rabbi Emeritus Solomon B. Freehof, who determined in 1973 that abortion of a child “born imperfect physically, and even mentally” is permitted “for the mother’s sake (i.e., her mental anguish now and in the future)” (193; emphasis in original).  [slide six]  Sandra B. Lubarsky expanded the circumstances for permitting abortion in 1984, arguing that:

By “medically advised” abortion I mean the traditional “therapeutic” abortion, that is, abortion for the purpose of preserving the life of the mother, a definition that was often broadened to include any severe threat to the mother’s physical health, and less often included a threat to the mother’s mental health.  By “non-medically advised” abortion I mean abortion that is justified by ecological, sociological, economic, emotional, or intellectual reasons.  These reasons may be predicated upon such current concerns as pollution, overpopulation, and male and female liberation.  (392)

C.  The Unborn Child as “Aggressor”

          While the focus of the preceding aspect was the health and life of the pregnant woman, the third ethical aspect which informs discussion of abortion determines whether the unborn child is an aggressor against his or her mother.  In Judaism an unborn child can be considered a rodef (a “pursuer” or “aggressor”) against the mother if there is difficulty in birth which necessitates abortion.  This is the only consideration given to justify abortion in Talmudic writings.  Section 7.6 of Oholoth (the tractate in the Babylonian Talmud which is concerned with ritual impurity caused by contact with corpses, either by touch or by being in proximity with a corpse) reads:

If a woman was in hard travail, the child must be cut up while it is in the womb and brought out member by member, since the life of the mother has priority over the life of the child; but if the greater part of it was already born, it may not be touched, since the claim of one life cannot override the claim of another life. (Danby 660)

An unborn child can become a rodef, Feldman insists, if he or she seems to “pursue” the life of the mother.  The rodef principle was amplified by Maimonides in his Law of Homicide (1:9) as follows:

This is also a negative precept, namely, not to have compassion on the life of a pursuer.  Therefore, the Sages ruled regarding a pregnant woman in hard travail, that it is permissible to dismember the fetus in her womb, whether by means of drugs or by hand, but if it has already put forth its head, it may not be touched, for one life may not be set aside for the sake of another one and this is the natural course of the world.  (qtd. in Sinclair 203)

Critical evaluation of the rodef concept becomes more complicated because Maimonides uses a simile, k’rodef, “like a pursuer” (Feldman, “This Matter” 387) to compare the unborn child to an aggressor.  [slide seven]  On the importance of this simile L. E. Goodman writes that

As Novak explains, “This is why Maimonides emphasized that the fetus is ‘like’ a pursuer”—not that it literally is an aggressor, with the deserts of a person that may be set aside because of an intentional threat, but because it has material deserts of its own, which approach those of personhood and ultimately reach those of personhood at the point of birth. (182; emphasis in original)[4]

D.  “Potentiality” and “Actuality”

          The fourth aspect consists of another pair of terms denoting different concepts, but which are mutually dependent: whether the unborn child possesses “potential” or “actual” life.  Feldman argues that Judaism’s understanding of the potentiality of human life is based on authorities who argue that

there is no permission for Sabbath violation in order to save a foetus [….]  Two points, then, are suggested by this exchange: the foetus is not a person, not “a man”; but the foetus is indeed potential life and is to be treated as such, which is essentially the teaching that emerges from our other analyses. (Birth, 263-4)

Determining whether the unborn child is a potential or an actual human being can be further complicated in Judaism by the use of “viability,” a modern rendering of the potentiality concept.  [slide eight]  For example, Balfour Brickner, Director of the Department of Inter-Religious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, used rhetorical negation to define the unborn child in testimony before the United States Senate in 1974:

Jewish law is quite clear in its statement that an embryo is not reckoned a viable living thing (in Hebrew, a bar kayyama) until thirty days after its birth  [….]  In Judaism the fetus in the womb is not a person (lav nefesh hu [he is not a person]) until it is born.  (280-1)

E.  “Formed” and “Unformed” Fetuses

          The fifth aspect investigates whether another pair of terms, “formed” and “unformed,” which aim further to classify the status of the unborn child and to determine the permissibility of abortion within Judaism.  Jewish scholars incorporated the ancient view that formation of the male or female fetus depends on whether forty or eighty days had elapsed.  According to Feldman:

Another distinction gives the first forty days of pregnancy a special status […] all the more notable because the status of so undeveloped a foetus is precarious indeed.  According to one statement in the Talmud, this is the stage of “mere liquid.”  The fortieth day is when the embryo “forms,” according to other Talmudic references, just as Aristotle and Roman jurisprudence had assumed. (Birth, 266; italics in original)

The distinction between a “formed” and an “unformed” fetus, and the resulting philosophical question of personhood for the unborn child if he or she has not yet reached a certain gestational age, may be based on a misinterpretation of the lex talionis .  [slide nine]  Feldman has demonstrated that

The word in question is ason, which we have rendered as “harm,” hence: “if [there be] no harm [i.e., death, to the mother], he shall be fined […]”  The Greek renders the word ason as “form,” yielding something like: “if [there be] no form [yet, to the foetus], he shall be fined […]  But if [there be] form, then shalt thou give life for life.”  The “life for life” clause was thus applied to the foetus instead of the mother, and a distinction was made—as Augustine will formulate it—between embryo informatus and embryo formatus, a foetus not yet “formed” and one already “formed.” (Birth, 257-8)

          Apparently, the distinction between formed and unformed still has some force within Judaism, the applicability of which can be illustrated by two representative twentieth-century responsa.  The following recommendation is offered for Orthodox Jews by S. I. Levin and Edward A. Boyden in their 1940 compendium:

When a woman discharges a sac (shefir) full of water or full of blood, or full of various colors, there is no fear of a child (walad), but if it is articulated (merukam) [i.e., distinctive enough to suggest an embryo], she should “sit to a male and to a female”‘ [i.e., avoid intercourse until her period of purification has elapsed—in this case a compromise between that required for a female child (40 days) and that for a male (80 days; see Lev. 12:2-8), as set forth in Niddah 25b]. (128)

Reform Judaism adopts the ancient view regarding the forty days after fertilization as a decisive aspect to consider.  In his Contemporary American Reform Responsa (1987) Rabbi Walter Jacob writes that

traditional authorities would be most lenient with abortions within the first forty days.  After that time, there is a difference of opinion.  Those who are within the broadest range of permissibility permit abortion at any time before birth, if there is a serious danger to the health of the mother or the child.  We would be in agreement with that liberal stance.  (27)

II.  Critical Commentary on Abortion in Jewish Fiction

          While a large quantity of commentary on Jewish fiction addressing significant cultural topics exists, critical commentary on fiction concerning the first life issue of abortion is scarce.  Early critical summaries of the literature enumerated long lists of topics which concern Jewish writers.  [slide ten]  Commentary by Meyer Levin in a 1970 anthology of selections from major works by Jewish authors praises the multivolume saga of the Polonsky family written by his co-editor, Charles Angoff, saying,

Almost every major aspect of Jewish life is dealt with in the saga: Zionism, socialism, atheism (straight and devout), unionism, religious intermarriage, politics (within the Jewish community and in relation to the “outside” American community), anti-Semitism, education (both religious and “worldly”), Hasidism, secularism, assimilation, the Jew in industry, in business large and small. (69)

Absent from the list is abortion, the most important social problem that percolated through the sixties, often at the insistence of activists who based their beliefs on the primacy of abortion solely as a right of the mother and who were often classified as Jewish.[5]

          While the editors of  a 1992 anthology note the caution which seemed to preclude Jewish writers from becoming too political, Ted Solotaroff relegates specific new subjects in contemporary Jewish fiction to speculation:

Now that American-Jewish fiction has achieved a comparable freedom, resourcefulness, and diversity, as reflected in this collection, the question of its further development may well rest on its ability to put the dimming concerns of the post-immigrant ethos even farther behind it and to take up those of our deep and open present.  (xxvi)[6]

This speculation about the “deep and open present,” apparently, does not include abortion; if it did, the topic and other controversial ones could have been explicitly mentioned, especially in the politically safe 1990s, when nine-month legalized abortion had been firmly established in American culture.  The closest the editors come to suggesting without explicitly mentioning abortion is their recognition of the impact of feminism on Jewish life (xviii).

          Janet Handler Burstein references abortion on one of the two hundred pages of her Writing Mothers, Writing Daughters: Tracing the Maternal in Stories by American Jewish Women (1996).  The passage recounts the effects of post-abortion syndrome in Tess Slesinger’s Unpossessed (1934) more than it demonstrates, in standardized feminist literary critical vocabulary, the assertion of women’s rights over their subjugation by patriarchal forces:

In the final chapter, one female protagonist whose mother’s voice and image were previously clear and formative, returns home with her husband after an abortion to realize that—despite their intellectual and political commitments—“in each of them the life-stream flowed to a dead-end.”  This woman had always defined herself by her power to nurture, to protect, to love.  But now that she has followed her husband’s lead, refusing parenthood in order to avoid becoming “bourgeois,” she sees herself “as a creature who would not be a woman and could not be a man.”  (60)[7]

Commentary by Glenda Abramson in another 1996 volume, The Oxford Book of Hebrew Short Stories, indicates that the hesitancy to address controversial social issues is not restricted to North America.  Discussing young women writers who should be most vocal about asserting either a stereotypical anti-life feminist view towards abortion or the more substantial pro-life one, Abramson notes that

Today’s post-modernist female writers are not afraid to deal with female experience in a strongly and traditionally male-dominated literary society, taking the principal components of Israeli literature and recasting them, often with underlying hostility, from a woman’s perspective.  They withdraw from the so-called “Zionist experience”; if they do contend with Jewish or Israeli experience, it is made abstract, almost as a protest against the customary engagement with social issues.  (13)

Although it focuses on the ancestral homeland of Israel as a topic in Jewish-American writing, Andrew Furman’s 1997 volume suggests other contemporary social issues of concern:

To be sure, American Jews continue to grapple on their own distinct terms with a host of mainstream issues.  I am thinking, specifically, of the heightened tensions between Jewish and African Americans, the influx of Russian Jews into Jewish-American neighborhoods, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the curious alliance between Jewish neoconservatives and the Christian right, and, of course, the turmoil in the Middle East.  (200)

Although hinted by the reference to the “curious alliance” between Christians and Jews, abortion and reproductive matters are omitted from this litany as well.  Describing an “alliance” as “curious” suggests a political or ideological bias exists which would preclude objective analysis of life issues in the literature.

          Critical silence about abortion in Jewish fiction has continued in this first decade of the new millennium.  The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature (2003) indexes neither abortion nor persons of Jewish heritage whose views and actions played major roles in the legalization of abortion (for example, Bernard Nathanson) or groups which agitated for abortion legalization (the National Abortion Rights Action League or Planned Parenthood).[8]

III.  Examination of the Literature

          [slide eleven]  Despite the relative paucity of critical discussion on abortion in Jewish fiction, what fictional representation of the issue exists is substantial in the repetition of certain characteristics; furthermore, a unifying term for all is “absence.”[9]  The status of the unborn child is not suggested, if he or she is even mentioned at all.  Similarly, the rights and responsibilities of the father in abortion decisions is subordinate to the rights of the mother; usually, though, he is absent from the abortion episodes.  References to rabbinic decisions or principles is non-existent.  Reviewing three recent works may illustrate these characteristics better.  Moreover, to understand how the ethical principles are treated in the literature, one would normally proceed in chronological order to show how the accomplishments of one author may have influenced another.  In this instance, however, one must proceed in reverse chronological order, moving from twenty-first century authors who have either ignored, were ignorant of, or did not know how to incorporate the ethical principles within their religious tradition to one of the twentieth-century masters whose writing is rich territory for such an analysis.

A.  Sheila Schwartz’ Lies Will Take You Somewhere (2009)

          Sheila Schwartz’ Lies Will Take You Somewhere (2009) uses abortion more as a plot development tool than an essential matter in a study of adultery and a married woman’s effort to discover herself.  Jane abandons her family (her husband, Saul, who is a rabbi, and three daughters) in New York and goes to Florida where she tries not only to reexamine her relationship with her recently deceased mother, but also to determine her future, specifically whether she would be content to remain in her relatively placid life.  While there, she learns much to her horror that her mother had worked with a pro-life group in distributing pamphlets.  Jane falls in love with the group’s leader, Tony—a charismatic person who lives in squalor and who is aggressive in his sexuality.  She becomes pregnant by him and aborts the child.  Jane eventually returns to New York, becomes pregnant by her husband, and bears that child; some catharsis or plot closure is thus realized.

          An opportunity could exist for exploration and examination of rabbinic counsel regarding abortion (remember that Saul is a rabbi).  There are no health considerations to consider; Jane is, by all accounts, young and healthy physically.  One could argue that her adulterous behavior is a sign of mental or psychological collapse, which could justify the abortion of the child, according to Lubarsky, but there is no evidence that Jane either feels so psychologically distraught that the pregnancy could not be carried to term or that she considers herself a victim of rape since she consents to Tony’s aggressive sexuality and lingers with him in his poverty.  No other ethical principle is expressly offered as a factor when she considers abortion.

          Saul’s role is non-existent regarding the killing of Tony’s child and ambiguous regarding the paternal foundation of his own.  Saul mourns profoundly over the space of fourteen pages the death of his daughter Malkah, who committed suicide, yet his involvement in his wife’s pending abortion decision is, at best, remote.  [slide twelve]  No better example of a Jewish father who does not evince patriarchy can be found than Saul’s query to his wife: “We are having this baby, aren’t we?” (292).  The use of the first-person is a relatively flaccid assertion (because it is powerless and without effect) to indicate that he wants to include himself in the generation of the child.  Moreover, the use of the interrogative is an inferior way to assert his authority; if he had authority, he would have used the declarative sentence function instead.  Perhaps the clearest reinforcement of Saul’s lack of fatherly input, let alone control in the abortion decision, is that, after Jane aborted Tony’s child and becomes pregnant by Saul, she names the child after another lover she had before going to Florida.  Jane’s whorish activities can lead a reader to ask: What man, except an emasculated one, would have stood for that?

B.  Allegra Goodman’s “Variant Text” (1990)

          Although abortion is only briefly mentioned, Allegra Goodman’s 1990 short story “Variant Text” concerns the desire to live faithfully according to Jewish precepts without the philosophical and ritual certainty of, for example, Orthodox Judaism.  One episode in the story, however, is significant as an entree into understanding the main character, Cecil Birnbaum, a Shavian scholar who holds an important position as a Torah reader but who is agnostic.

          When Cecil comes to shul wearing an “ABORTION RIGHTS” pin (capital letters in original), the following interchange occurs with George Lewis, a fellow member of the congregation “who found the variant text of Major Barbara and was written up in Shavian Studies” (102).  [slide thirteen]  Lewis calls Cecil’s button “extremely offensive,” to which Cecil retorts:

“Do you now? […]  Well, if we are to be perfectly candid, I found your little book rather offensive.  I can imagine that twenty years ago, a book like yours could accrue some kind reviews and perhaps earn you a lectureship at York.  But at this time, at a point when the whole question of the variant text has ceased to be an issue, when it is acknowledged—universally acknowledged, as far as I’m concerned—that every variant is equally valid, when the very concept of a normative, authoritative text has been discarded, I am simply at a loss to understand how your book could contribute anything to the field.”  (102-3)

Lewis responds to this critical challenge thus:

“This congregation is not a place for statements, political or otherwise.  This is a holy place.  A place for family.  And I will say this: If you utter a word in Shavian Studies challenging my work, I am prepared to write a letter such as the pages of that review have never seen.”  (103)

          The interchange is noteworthy for the absence of rabbinic considerations of the ethical principles, on either side.  Cecil could have advanced various permissive responsa on abortion (which would have been a supremely intelligent move, a form of using the “oppressors’ words against the oppressors,” in this case the weight of millennia-old responsa against the rabbis themselves), but admitting the conclusions of rabbis on the abortion issue over the millennia would have been counter to Cecil’s intellectual being, since responsa are themselves variant texts of a master entry (the lex talionis) and since Cecil expressly states the validity of every text, which could frustrate his argument since responsa which do not permit abortion would need to be included as well as permissive ones.  Similarly, Lewis could have argued that the validity factor has not been overcome by deconstructionist equalization of “every view is just as valid as every other” by pointing out the strong logical arguments which rabbis have used either for or against abortion over the millennia.  Granted, a thorough discussion of the various responsa could have contorted the short story from a work of fiction to a tract, but mentioning the ancient history of competing claims on the topic of abortion would not have detracted from Lewis’ character; on the contrary, it would have supported him as an exemplar of Jewish patriarchy, which, had that been the author’s intention, would have made the characterizations of the two men clearer.

          Moreover, speaking in the tired guise of contemporary literary criticism, especially from the extremist subjective reader-response perspective, one could consider Lewis’ response as a manifestation of the patriarchal need to assert the validity of one interpretation over others.  However, it is more important to comment from a Marxist literary perspective on the competing ideologies present in the excerpt.  That the declaratives “This is a holy place.  A place for family” are frontloaded in Lewis’ response lessens their rhetorical force since what the reader sees next is verbal pugilism, whether a deliberate choice by the author or not is unknown.  For Cecil, the agnostic, a political statement—especially an egregiously and violently worded one like his (note that the pin does not read the euphemistic “Freedom of Choice” but “ABORTION RIGHTS”) is entirely permitted on a sacred site, primarily because he does not acknowledge either the sacredness of that site or the divine being for whom the site is sanctified.  Cecil’s anti-life position can be easily determined from this philosophical point; if he is uncertain that a divine being exists, then disclaiming the certainty of the sacredness of the temple leads ineluctably to an uncertainty that the unborn child is a creation of the divine.  Unfortunately, for Cecil, he does not grant the unborn child the benefit of the doubt, but concludes that his or her rights are subject to those of his or her mother.  How appropriate, then, that his response to Lewis’ being offended by the presence of the anti-life button is acerbic, a typical personality trait of those who do not appreciate the value of human life.

C.  Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

          The abortion episode in Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March (1953) follows fictional situations of other, non-Jewish contemporaries—so much so that it is almost impossible to claim that Bellow’s characters demonstrate a Jewish perspective on the issue.  Just as major writers like Dreiser, Hemingway, and Dos Passos approached abortion from a secularist perspective and rarely addressed the common ethical aspects enumerated above, Bellow’s characters are concerned not with an untimely pregnancy vis-à-vis Jewish religious directives, but with how to remedy what they call a “problem” of an unwanted child.

          Augie March is not callous emotionally; he is sensitive to those less fortunate.  The son of an absent, “traveling salesman” father, Augie and his family are accustomed to poverty and the vicissitudes of their economic situation.  Matching the family’s financial poverty is the paucity of their religious life; they are nominally Jewish, and Augie receives no formal religious instruction throughout his life.  Before the pivotal abortion sequence, Augie’s childhood and adolescent ethical education consists of admonitions not to get a whore in “trouble” (536) and an episode with a pederast (575-6).

          The abortion episode involves Mimi, Augie’s fellow boarder, who describes her condition in the uncouth language of “Frazer knocked me up” (673).  When Augie suggests that she could marry Frazer, her refusal to entertain such an option includes the standard metonymic reduction of the unborn child: “If I wouldn’t marry him before, why should I now because of an accident?” (673).  A page later, Augie does not reference Talmudic concerns or the ethical principles, but summarizes a catalog of technological innovations on ways to abort:

But what she wanted to discuss over coffee was a new method of abortion she had heard about.  She had already tried drugs like ergoapiol, with walking, climbing stairs, and hot baths, and now one of the waitresses at the co-op told her of a doctor near Logan Square who brought on miscarriages by injection.  (674)

[slide fourteen]  Mimi’s subsequent response is essentially a brief dialogue that compacts virtually all of the ethical aspects:

“But even if I could be sure I’d have a son like you […] why should I get into this routine?  So the souls of these things shouldn’t get after me when I die and accuse me of not letting them be born?  I’d tell them, ‘Listen, stop haunting me.  What do you think you ever were?  Why, a kind of little scallop, that’s all.  You don’t know how lucky you are.  What makes you think you would have liked it?  Take it from me, you’re indignant because you don’t know.’”  (674)

In one respect the lex talionis is enacted with the three necessary characters (the mother, Mimi; the father of the unborn child; and the other man against whom a claim of restitution is made, Augie).  Interestingly, though, it is not the father who makes the claim, but the mother herself (the claim being that her welfare is being disturbed by the pregnancy, not the property rights of the father).  Mimi addresses the health and life of the mother principle obliquely, where she deems the unborn child as a pursuer, not against her physical life, but her emotional health.  She admonishes the “souls” to “stop haunting” her, evidence that she suffers or would suffer mentally from the aborted children pursuing her.  Even the question “What do you think you ever were?” and the ending dependent clause “because you don’t know” imply that Mimi is aware of the strictly potential nature of the being she is addressing.  Formation is evident when she depersonalizes the unborn child as a non-human entity (although the adjective “little” lessens the impact of the dehumanizing “scallop”).  Finally, as rare to find in the fictional literature as it is in the responsa is Mimi’s recognition of the ensoulment issue; she even uses the word “souls” not in any humanizing way, but as evidence that she fears retribution from the aborted.  (Why the term is plural when she is contemplating aborting the current pregnancy may suggest that she has had previous abortions.)

          Augie’s conversation with the reader does acknowledge the primacy of abortion being the mother’s decision.  “She let you know, but quick, that you, a man, could talk, but she was the one for whom it was the flesh and blood trouble” is followed by a more emphatic acknowledgement of the mother’s primacy: “The decision was really up to her,” he says, “whether to have a child by Frazer who wasn’t free to marry her now, even if she wanted to marry him” (676).  Augie accompanies her to the abortionist. Instead of saying that the abortionist thought that he was the father of the unborn child, Augie says of him that “Naturally he took me for the lover” (679).  This vocabulary confirms the abortionist’s perception that simultaneously removes not only the personhood of the unborn child (note that no mention of the unborn child is possible in such syntax and vocabulary, which focuses on Augie himself), but also the relationship that should be denoted by the word “father.”  Thus, the fatherhood of the child is distanced as much as the unborn child’s humanity.  This distance is repeated a few pages later, as though Bellow intended the discrepancy by reiterating it; when Augie escorts Mimi “to be led to the needle,” he reflects that they “held together like what we were not, a pair of lovers” (679).

          When the injection does not work, Mimi considers having herself declared insane or that the pregnancy is a tubal one so that she can abort.  When her plan to fool the hospital staff into thinking she has a tubal pregnancy fails (the staff learn that the child is safe in the womb), Augie helps her to obtain the hundred dollars for a surgical abortion with assistance from a childhood friend who feels trapped with a wife and child and whose view of marriage is more carnal than sacramental.  Mimi’s abortion episode occupies fourteen more pages of text, which tediously recount Mimi’s infection after the abortion, changes in Augie’s partying schedule, and Mimi’s eventual hospitalization.  Ethical considerations of the abortion are not mentioned.

          Curiously, the chapter ends with several “happy” experiences, as though the abortion episode is one which should not constitute the final note in the “adventures” (a positive connotation) of the novel’s hero.  Augie’s mentally-challenged brother George, sequestered in an asylum since no family could take care of him at home, is happy to see him.  Augie then visits his mother in her old-age home, a necessary episode since moving her from her apartment to the facility created intense conflict and anxiety between Augie and another brother, the more worldly Simon.  Augie wants a place of his own and, after a wild youth, concludes that he wants to have children.  Augie’s brother Simon impregnates his girlfriend, but there is a different approach now to the unborn child; Augie speaks almost affectionately if not lovingly of the “kid” (917).

IV.  Trajectory of Jewish Fiction on Abortion

          [slide fifteen]  Before the future trajectory of Jewish abortion fiction can be suggested, some speculation is necessary here.  Perhaps Jewish fiction has not yet substantially addressed the life issues because doing so is much too close to the agonizing experience of the Holocaust, a proximity which, if engaged, would highlight more comparisons with than contrasts against the Nazi intellectual bases for the killing of millions.  Life-affirming academics know the parallels well, emanating from a simple syllogism: once a human being has been deemed as less than human, no rights attach to that entity, and the entity can then be disposed of at will.  Perhaps Jewish writers are unaware of such a parallel between those ancestors who lost their lives—first their legal personhood, and then their actual lives—in the Nazi era and the lives of the unborn who are exterminated either in an equally barbarous manner or with the most “enlightened” technology.

          Perhaps Jewish writers are aware, but the intellectual vigor needed to draw the comparisons would create cognitive dissonance between the value for human life esteemed within Judaism for millennia (L’Hayyim is not an empty phrase) and their own activism on behalf of abortion organizations.  Of course, rational thought about the cognitive dissonance is trumped by the psychological effect; before one realizes that he or she is a victim of such irrational thinking, one must be open emotionally to consider the possibility.  Perhaps Jewish writers on abortion have not realized the cognitive dissonance of their anti-life positions because the emotional burden must first be overcome, and this they cannot do.  Why the emotional burden cannot be divested may be easy to discover.  The large number of Jewish activists in liberal and leftist causes is an item of common knowledge, and their activism in the anti-life movement has a long history, as Bernard Nathanson demonstrated in the course of several books documenting the founding of a premiere anti-life organization in the United States.  Thus, the emotional bonding that has accrued over the past nearly fifty years is a burdensome load of two generations’ worth of emotional baggage to discard.

          Moreover, the Holocaust as a rhetorical trope in Jewish writing may be running its course—a natural consequence, since even the most horrendous historical events fade with the passage of time and people.  Contemporary Americans can testify to the emotional blurring within the space of a decade of the September 11 attacks.  While the images, often repeated on television and the web, especially around the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, still convey their emotional force (all can recall where they were exactly when the planes hit the towers), the political force of the attacks has lessened.  Thus, Bush’s policies on the War on Terror gave way to Obama’s police action against terrorist criminals; rappers are not the only ones now who question the previous administration’s agenda, and the 2012 United States presidential elections will focus on economic concerns and the disastrous impact of Obamacare on the nation’s resources much more than threatened terrorist activity.

          Similarly, those who recall the Holocaust as an immediate and crucial event in their lives are dying; a second and third generation of writers reflect not so much on the events of the Holocaust, but on its implications for their own lives, most of whom are living safe and secure in the United States.  One novel by Thane Rosenbaum is evidence that the emotional power of the Holocaust is passing for contemporary Jewish writers, and the title suggests the near triviality by which the Holocaust is being referenced.  The novel concerns the main character’s response to his being an unwanted child, but it is peppered with references to the Second World War, the Nazis, and the Holocaust.  However, would Rosenbaum have been able to give his 1999 novel the shocking title Second Hand Smoke if the power of the Holocaust was not waning?

          Contemporary Jewish writers should consider new material and topics, if not to replace the emphasis on the Holocaust in the Jewish psyche, then at least to be concurrent with it.  There are signs that such changes in subject matter may be occurring.  Although Naomi Ragen’s 1994 novel The Sacrifice of Tamar mentions abortion frequently as a solution to a rape pregnancy, since the main character does not abort, the novel is more life-affirming than denying.  For example, passages which explicitly mention but then discard the idea of the unborn child as a rodef run counter to literature discussed here which automatically presume that the unborn child is an aggressive entity against his or her mother and must be destroyed.  Erica Jong’s Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters (1997) initially concerns an infanticide during World War II, but becomes a feminist celebration of American women, a recorded testament from one woman to another.  Eva Mekler’s The Polish Woman (2007), in which abortion is only casually mentioned, concerns an inheritance claim on the part of a woman remotely connected with a Jewish family and reads more as a detective novel than a statement about the impact of the Holocaust on contemporary Jews.

          Of course, the magnum opus for a Jewish-American writer could illustrate the connection between the holocausts that occurred in Europe and are occurring in North America.  Others have logically drawn the parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and the American abortion movement in non-fiction works.  While a more thorough analysis of the principles mentioned here needs to be conducted in a non-fiction work, a novel which openly incorporates the life-affirming principles and which compares the Holocaust during World War II with the American abortion holocaust of the past thirty-eight years would be a major accomplishment for a Jewish writer.  One can only imagine how tortured, cathartic, and masterly such a literary work would be.

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[1]           There is a sixth ethical aspect, ensoulment, the point at which the soul enters the body.  Although the theory of ensoulment developed over thousands of years, the main lines of discussion of this aspect can be generally traced to pagan sources.  Moreover, while Christianity contributed much to the discussion of ensoulment, Judaism has little to say about this ethical aspect.

[2]           Please consult relevant chapters in my An Ethical Analysis of the Portrayal of Abortion in American Fiction: Dreiser, Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Brautigan, and Irving (Edwin Mellen P, 2005).

[3]           Zemer further cautions that, instead of “the unholy alliance of religion and politics,” Jews “need moral spiritual guidance—not fraudulent political slogans like ‘murder of fetuses’” (338).

[4]           Daniel B. Sinclair examines the pursuer principle in greater detail, arguing that it is not a license to destroy, but a source of protection for the unborn child:

This formulation is problematic in that the pursuer principle ought to apply to a baby after birth and not only prior to the emergence of the head.  It ought to be permissible to kill a baby whose head has already emerged, if by so doing, the mother’s life will be saved.  Nevertheless, Maimonides restricts therapeutic abortion to the period prior to the head emerging from the woman’s body.  Moreover, the application of the pursuer principle to therapeutic abortion during childbirth would appear to be specifically rejected in the Babylonian Talmud.  In addition to these internal inconsistencies, the very analogy between a fetus and a pursuer is open to question.  Surely, an important element in the pursuer principle is that the pursuer intends killing the individual being pursued!  Is this the case in relation to a fetus?  Does not Maimonides himself admit that the threat to maternal life is the result of “the natural course of the world”?  These difficulties have exercised many scholars, and the general consensus would appear to be that Maimonides adopted a strictness in relation to feticide which requires a stronger justification for therapeutic abortion than the claim that the fetus is not a person.  The pursuer principle serves, therefore, as a reminder that fetal life is not to be taken lightly, even in a therapeutic context.  Maimonides uses the pursuer analogy in order to shift the starting position from the nonpersonhood of the fetus to the proposition that the decision to kill a fetus is similar to the one made to kill a formed, viable pursuer.  In the same way that great care is taken before the latter decision is operated on, so the former one ought only to be put into operation when all other options have failed.  In this manner, Maimonides builds the natural-law/Noahide principle of protection of life into the very source of the permission to perform therapeutic abortions in Jewish law. (203-4)

[5]           Raymond Adamek’s studies of abortion activists show that “Catholics were overrepresented by 2 to 3 times among prolifers, while Jews were 3 to 14 times overrepresented among prochoicers” (2-3).  Since this research was conducted in 1985, demographic analysis of abortion activists is an area needing current research.

[6]           He had earlier written that

it is passing strange that fiction writers—and this is true of novelists as well as story writers—have steered clear of the fascinating roles and conflicts that Jews play out in contemporary society.  One can, of course, view this dearth as part of the general withdrawal of interest from political, economic, social, and intellectual concerns in recent American writing, and though the point has been made many times before, it still seems worth addressing to American-Jewish writers whose European forebears in this century so frequently transported the Jewish interest in politics and society into literature.  (xxvi)

[7]           Burstein’s reticence about mentioning abortion, a significant element of feminist liberation from the 1960s and 1970s, which should appear in the works discussed, is troubling.  Perhaps Simone de Beauvoir’s views about maternity being a burden to women and the intellectual consequence of such a claim vis-à-vis abortion could not have been mentioned in the critical analysis of some Jewish fiction.  The omission of abortion as a significant action by the main character in Violet Weingarten’s 1967 novel Mrs. Beneker, however, is inexcusable, especially since the “protagonist manifests a curious, troubling combination of devaluing influences left over from the fifties and spiritual longing that would not find political expression among Jewish women until the seventies” (94-5) or that “The novel thus demonstrates that what Horney called the ‘quest for affection’ is as ineffective against devaluation as the ‘quest for control’” (97).  Mr. Beneker paid for the abortion of her son’s girlfriend, an important subplot in Beneker’s own self-discovery.

[8]           To the anthology’s credit, the abortion episode in Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March is mentioned.

[9]           Some references to abortion or infanticide are relatively minor.  For example, Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s short story “I Don’t Like to Write About My Father” (contained in a 1996 anthology) contains the briefest annotation that the main character’s abortion “costs [her] father $350 but I pay him back. / It takes me five years, but I pay him every penny” (276).  Similarly, Erica Jong’s Inventing Memory: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters (1997) concerns infanticide more than abortion.  Sarah had killed her baby to prevent her death during a pogrom (3); another instance of infanticide is mentioned early in the beginning of the novel (40).  However, another passage is a celebration of life (125), followed by a proclamation that the characters will not let death win (126).  Because of this assertion, it is easy to see how, although she vows never to have another child (183), she becomes pregnant but quickly rules out abortion (185).  The leftist political commentary in the novel, however, is inescapable.  “Hitler?  Ronald Reagan?” (141) and a bias against the Christian Coalition (292) do not comport with the high ethical position of celebrating life and affirming that she “will not let death win” (126).  Finally, the main character in Eva Mekler’s The Polish Woman (2007), Karolina, had aborted (57), but it is discovered over thirty pages later (90).  Moreover, the plot of the novel concerns a claim on an inheritance more than any of the life issues.