Children cramp our style


The abortion debate is back. The indomitable Ms. Choice is being hectored and picketed by Ms. Right-To-Life.

Each side follows a Greek model: it’s Hippocrates (do no harm) versus Taigetos (the name of the mountain from which Spartans threw off their unwanted children). The difference between Spartan society and ours is that for Spartans “unwanted” meant “substandard,” whereas for us it means “inconvenient.” We don’t want standard or even superstandard children if they cramp our style.

Style is important to us. We’re all set to march to our extinction in style. We’ve become the only species that diminishes with success: the first in natural history to experience population decline whenever we do well. The wealthier and more secure our post-Darwinian societies become, the more we fail to reproduce.

Living in an epoch that is selfish as well as matriarchal, of all the styles that we shield from being cramped, we put women’s style first. We invent euphemisms, such as “choice” for killing, and sophomoric dilemmas, such as pretending not to know when life begins, to ensure that nothing hinders Virginia’s quest for Santa Claus. No obstacle must interfere with her goal of self-fulfillment — least of all an issue (as it were) of her healthy sexual appetite. There’s plenty of babies where this one came from, eh, Ginny? And if not, we can always import some from Somalia.

As I’ve written before, I’m not necessarily opposed to abortion, but then I’m not necessarily opposed to killing. Doing away with children can be a salutary act under a variety of circumstances, as anyone who has had experience with children can attest.

I could even be persuaded that we should let the mother be the arbiter of when to kill a child. King Solomon thought so; in fact, his reputation for wisdom rests upon this belief. True, Solomon also thought that no mother would lightly kill her child. He had the fixed idea that an authentic mother would rather give up her child than kill it, in which the good king might have been a trifle too optimistic.

Giving parents full discretion in the matter rests on venerable historical precedents: see Taigetos, above. Despite the sport offered by tossing babies off a cliff, it’s likely that progressive parents would have preferred pre-natal vacuum suction, had the technology been available in Sparta at the time.

I’m not pushing it myself, but then I push nothing except an abstinence from fuzzy thinking.

Spartan authorities saw no reason to question a parent’s own definition of “substandard.” It probably meant physically deformed to most Spartans, but it may not be a huge leap to extend it to a fetus that’s simply inconvenient. After all, a deformed child is a great inconvenience, so an inconvenient child might as well be deemed deformed.

The Spartan model has had a mixed press. Some people have used the word “brutal” to describe it. I’m not pushing it myself, but then I push nothing except an abstinence from fuzzy thinking. I don’t particularly mind abortion on demand; I mind only the arguments used to support it.

My quarrel is with those who would oppose abortion if they thought it amounted to killing. I’ve no problem with abortion, but they do. They’ve a whacking big problem. First (as I pointed out nearly 20 years ago) they must pretend not to know when life begins. They must pretend not to realize that life is an autonomous process, a continuum from zygote to old-age pension, a self-elaborating force that begins when it begins and keeps growing unless it’s vacuumed out first. They must pretend not to recognize something that a cat recognizes: the difference between things alive and dead, animate and inanimate. They must pretend not to see that if a fetus were not alive, it wouldn’t have to be killed.

They must cling to the illusion that a court can actually choose for life to “begin” at some arbitrary point: first trimester, second trimester, whatever. I think legal fiction should adopt the notion that life begins at 40 for the comfort of those who cherish their convenience but have no stomach for killing.

Some put the question in terms of a woman’s right to control her own body. That would be valid enough in the realm of smoking, diet, liposuction, or sex — but abortion? Abortion means controlling someone else’s body. (As a man, I have no authority to speak on the matter, I know, but I’m not speaking as a man. I’m speaking as an ex-fetus.)

Finally, there are those who rely on the fetus’s dependence on its mother to deny it the status of life, oblivious to the fact that if self-sufficiency were the test, only a tadpole could pass it. Lack of selfsufficiency is common to many life forms, including passengers on a jet plane. Next we’ll see a captain abandon ship in mid-flight: “Too bad, dear geese, but you can’t really fly on your own, can you? You’ve no right to life. You’re dependent on me, and I’m entitled to control my own body.”

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Ms. Choice on appeal from King Solomon’s judgment. Rather than let some other woman have her baby, she pleads to have it cut in half. The ball is in our honourable court.




George Jonas. "Children cramp our style." National Post, (Canada) May 20, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


George Jonas is a Canadian journalist, who has also written novels, plays, and poetry. Critics have called him " of the very best writers of English in the country" (I. M. Owen in Books in Canada). George Jonas frequently writes about topics related to the Middle East, counter-terrorism, law, and aviation safety. He is the author of Reflections on Islam, Beethoven's Mask: Notes On My Life and Times, Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team, and others. His website is here.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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