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Pro-lifers have won the intellectual battle over abortion

by | Feb 20, 2017

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. In the last few days, two very different people passed away. Norma McCorvey–the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade–died last Saturday. We have several posts abut Norma today.

The day before, theological, author, public philosopher Michael Novak died. He was instantly eulogized at great length and the phrase “a towering figure in 20th century Catholic social thought” (or variations thereof) were the coin of the realm. We will talk about the two together in a separate post.

The following ran in January 2015. The post was both an analysis of a typically keen insight and a tribute to Mr. Novak, a strong pro-lifer.


Michael Novak

Michael Novak

Earlier today I had meant to take some time to whack away at the latest nonsense from David Grimes, an old pro-abortion warhorse who insists with tedious regularity that anyone who dissents from his orthodoxy is [fill in the blank]. Most recently pro-lifers are (repeat after me) anti-science.


But sometimes the race goes not to the quick but to those whose daily demands put them behind schedule—in this case, me. I mean by that I just ran across a terrific piece that appeared on the website written by Michael Novak.

I first met Mr. Novak when he gave a lecture when I was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s. He was pro-life and brilliant then; he is just as pro-life and even sharper now. What I remember first and foremost was he had nearly lost his voice and the aplomb and respect with which he dealt with a hostile questioner.

His piece is titled “Abortion: The Intellectual Battle Has Been Won.”  He begins with a very clever parallel.

Just as “Communism died as an idea fifteen years before the Berlin Wall was pushed over,” Novak argues something similar is happening in the abortion debate. While “This great fact may take a decade or more to become evident to all,” he writes, “the intellectual underpinnings of the abortion regime have washed away. Four forces washed them away: science, technology, dishonesty, hypocrisy.”

I don’t want to spoil how he unspools his insights, so please read his post in its entirety. Instead I will just talk about Novak’s use of the argument of pro-abortion feminist Naomi Wolf.

I’ve written several times [for example, here and here] about Wolf’s 1995 essay most recently in 2013. Wolf went to great lengths to show that because most people are acutely uncomfortable with abortion, “amoral rhetoric” is hugely counterproductive.

Such insensitivity conveys the impression that women are destroying their babies for “self-absorbed reasons.” To Wolf, this cedes discussion about right and wrong to pro-lifers. “Pro-choicers,” she maintained, need to frankly talk about “good and evil.” This signals that they are not making up their morality on the run, but are, in some sense, accountable.

Novak put it more succinctly and more eloquently than I did. He observed

Naomi Wolfe’s point was that in the long run, it would be better at least to speak honestly, even if that seemed more shocking. Otherwise, those in favor of abortion would sound less trustworthy, speaking in roundabout euphemisms. They would sound like they were covering up what they are really advocating. They would be caught up in a tangle of evasions – and even self-deceptions.

Novak concludes with these wonderfully encouraging words:

The intellectual battle has been won. Patient political efforts in persuasion are now the best way … to make the abortion regime fade into oblivion, to be remembered in the future as a dark period in American history.

Categories: Pro-Lifers