“One in five women in this country has turned to Planned Parenthood for health care. One in five. (Applause.) And for many Planned Parenthood is their primary source of health care—not just for contraceptive care, but for lifesaving preventive care, like cancer screenings and health counseling.”
–President Obama to Planned Parenthood Convention, April 26, 2013
“They (Christians) play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them.”
–Epistle to Diognetus, 2d Century A.D.
The morning after President Obama gave his bemused lecture to an enthusiastic Planned Parenthood Convention in Washington, a friend of mine wrote to me. This man is experienced in political things and a man of good sense. He stated that this address to the Planned Parenthood Convention was the “most evil” speech ever delivered by a sitting American president. At the time, I had not yet heard or read the speech.
But one can hardly not be curious about why a good man would call this speech simply evil. What was his exact point?
One other item has been striking to me in recent years. It is the number of people from various angles of life who have spontaneously wondered about the similarity of the president to the anti-hero in Robert Hugh Benson’s 1913 novel, The Lord of the World.
The similarity is not just in the sudden rise of an obscure American senator to the highest of earthly powers, but in the agenda that he advocated in reaching it. The Benson novel falls into the tradition of Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 with its systematic effort not to name things what they really are so that we are never faced with what we are actually doing.
Be that as it may, I read President Obama’s upbeat urgings that the Planned Parenthood ladies get into the “fight” against those backward, out-of-date types who would work against the “woman’s right to choose.” The latter is a phrase that comes up suspiciously often in the address. It lingers in our minds because we know that it really means something else than what the words specifically indicate.
The president’s speech was full of warmth and affection. The head of Planned Parenthood was addressed by her first name, “Cecile.” Mr. Obama said that the effusive welcome there made him “blush.” Someone in the audience called out, “I love you.” The president responded: “I love you back.”
At the end, President Obama thanked Planned Parenthood, after telling them that the “President is going to be right there with you fighting every step of the way.” He even asked God to “bless” them, presumably for their “good” works. What Planned Parenthood is set up to do is to kill human babies on a massive scale. It is difficult to imagine why such a request of God is not, in fact, blasphemous.
Human life begins at conception. At any pre-natal stage what is at stake is an already begun human life. Most commentators on this address have remarked that the president was scrupulous never to pronounce the word “abortion,” as if that “service” were not an essential part of the Planned Parenthood agenda.
In Planned Parenthood clinics, over 300,000 abortions are performed per year. The vague phrases “reproductive services” along with “right to choose” are preferred over using the word abortion. The reason for this preference is a clue to why the president’s speech might be considered evil.
The “service” provided is the elimination of a child. The president’s address studiously contains no mention of what it is that is in fact eliminated when the “services” are provided, usually with government funding.
If the President has no problem with the rightness of the deed, why would he not want to use the proper word, abortion, to describe that deed?
The further question is this: “Why would a reasonable man consider this friendly Planned Parenthood address to be the ‘most evil’ address ever given by an American president?” The first approach to this consideration is, I think, grammatical. The oft-repeated phrase “right to choose,” which is said to underpin the whole rationale of abortion without mentioning its name, does not, in itself, really tell us anything about what is going on. That is why the phrase is used.
Let us suppose I spoke of a “right to hear” or a “right to eat.” Hearing, eating, and choosing are powers found in certain living beings. The fact that I have a power that enables me to hear, eat, or choose tells me nothing about what I hear, eat, or choose. I did not give myself these powers. They come with the kind of being I am. To say that I have a “right to choose” means only that I have, as part of my being, a free will, a faculty. It says nothing about what I do with this free will.
What I do with my choice or free will is the whole issue here. These capacities belong to what I am. Does my “right to eat” mean that I may eat poison? The capacity of eating may be abused by deliberately eating poison. We usually call it suicide. But the capacity itself enables us to eat what we need for our well-being. The capacity does not mean that we may eat whatever we want, with no restrictions about what it is we eat and its relation to the kind of being we are.
We do not know anything about the so-called “right to choose” until we have put an object to the infinitive. To choose what? It is a verb and needs an object. Until that object is stated, we do not know what this “right to choose” means in practice.
The “right to choose” does not give me a “right” to choose to kill someone. All it does is to tell me that I can kill someone if I choose. I have the power to do so, not any “right,” unless, like many moderns, by “right” we only mean “power.” But if I so choose, I am responsible for the act that, because it was a choice, came out of my freedom and power. What we have here, then, is the deliberate use of bad or incomplete grammar to cover up what we are actually promoting.
In the context of the president’s speech, the “right to choose” is cagily used to avoid stating what it is that, in every case, is chosen when this so-called “right” is exercised. The question is: “Why does President Obama not want to say this word?” Evidently, it is not because he has any problem with approving abortion itself or what it actually is. He does not deceive himself about what happens. He just does not want everyone to know what he is doing. Hence words are used that obscure what is happening, at least to those unwilling or unable to catch what is actually meant by these words.
No one can doubt that President Obama knows what is chosen to happen when this “right” is exercised. A child’s life is terminated in her mother’s womb. By the judicious way he avoids calling abortion what it is, the president implies that he does not want to name in public what it is that happens when the “choice” is exercised. What can we conclude from these observations?
Plato often said that the worst thing that can happen to us is to have a lie in our soul about the most important things, to tell ourselves something is good when it is evil. Even though it takes place in millions of instances yearly throughout the world, the fact is that objectively every abortion is the killing of an already begin, innocent human life. In using the phrase “right to choose,” we never simply talk of the “woman’s right” as if it had no object chosen.
The child about to be aborted has a prior claim to be protected and cared for. That is implied in the begetting itself and that to which a woman’s (and man’s) being is directed. We cannot separate the two by stressing only a natural faculty (power of choice) and not the complete act that results in another actual human being.
The direct consequence in every instance of the exercise of the “right to choose” is the killing of a begotten human child. It is clear that the “right to choose” really means “freedom to kill the human child.” No wonder no one wants to speak what it is. But if we won’t admit in public what we do, we must latch on to words that obscure, confuse, or deny what we do and know that we do.
Whenever President Obama spoke in his recent address to Planned Parenthood about the principal activities of their organization, he talked about dealing with “contraceptive services.” Now let it be stated that, if all that the Planned Parenthood organization were doing was searching to cure diseases in women, like cancer, we would all be delighted to join them. Many other organizations exist for the purpose of treating medical issues that do not imply abortion in their work.
When the president includes a good or neutral activity along with the evil (albeit unnamed), he wants us to believe that both were in the same acceptable moral category. Who would want to be against helping women with cancer?
Here, however, we are asked to believe that finding cancer is equivalent to having an abortion. But pregnancy is not a sickness, while cancer is. We are meant, by the president’s rhetoric, to glide over these two different things as if they are the same worthy moral act. This is a deception. It seeks to puts a lie in our souls about what is.
President Obama, in his lecture, ridicules states like Mississippi and North Dakota for their efforts to limit abortion. He implies that these efforts are wrong because they are “out-of-date.” This is his argument: “So the fact is, after decades of progress, there’s [sic] still those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s, than in the 21st century … When you read about some of these laws, you want to check the calendar, you want to make sure you are still living in 2013.” The criterion of truth here seems to be chronology, based on “progress,” which is always what we do now.
The president, to be sure, does not always eschew the language of right and wrong. “Forty-two states have introduced laws that would ban or severely limit access to a woman’s right to choose.” He calls the North Dakota and Mississippi initiatives to restrict abortion (i.e. “woman’s right to choose”) “absurd” and “wrong.”
If it is “wrong” or “absurd’ to seek to limit or ban abortion, then what the president is doing must be right, namely fostering and providing facilities for abortion. God’s “Thou shalt not kill” now means “Thou shalt kill certain designated groups according to the time or year in which they live.” It is evil to say of what is right that it is wrong, and of what is wrong that it is right. The more subtly we do this, the more effective.
With regard to whether something is right or wrong because of the time in which it was enacted, we recall Chesterton’s comment about those who say something can be right in one century but wrong in another. “It’s like saying something can be right on Tuesday but wrong on Wednesday.” It is striking that President Obama’s logic would allow him to invoke such a dubious chronological principle to justify what he wants.
Moreover, as Robert Reilly pointed out, if we go back not to the 1950s, but a hundred years ago to the founding of Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger’s influence, the whole impetus of that organization was based on Darwinian eugenics. It was to weed out inferior races by preventing them from breeding. With this background, the president’s own genetic origins would have been the object of Planned Parenthood concern.
Whether a thing is right or wrong does not depend on the time in which it appears but on the truth—on the validity of the argument that establishes it.
What the president evidently calls wrong is anything that disagrees with his own conception of what the law, in the service of his ideology, can do. But by his own chronological logic, if states finally succeed in limiting or forbidding abortion, since that would take place after the time when it was available to everyone, it should be accepted as up-to-date, and the abortion position as outdated.
Mr. Obama is a clever rhetorician but not a careful thinker. Hitler and Stalin were once up-to-date. One needs more than chronology to challenge them. Perhaps this is the reason the Declaration of Independence was not cited during the Planned Parenthood meeting.
The final point that needs to be made concerns the starting point of the so-called “right to choose” rhetoric. What should govern this whole question is not the woman or the man but the child. Neither a woman nor a man by him or herself has any “right” to choose to have or not have a child. What they have is a freedom to marry. If a child is begotten of them in this relationship, it is their duty to bring it to birth and care for it in a home.
A child is always a gift, not a “right,” nor the product of a contract or a scientific process. The primary focus is the child, not the parent. The logic works in exactly the opposite manner from the way we insist on thinking of children. Every child thus has the right to have both a mother and a father (not one mother or one father or two mother s or two fathers) bound together in an exclusive relationship in which the family is formed. We should be speaking not of a “woman’s right to choose” but of a “man and a woman’s duty” to accept and care for what they beget as a gift in their personal relationship. This arrangement is what is best and normative for the child and its parents and the society in which they live. When this principle is violated, everything in the society itself begins to unravel.
Thus, in answer to the initial query, “Why was this the most evil speech of an American president?,” in my opinion, it is because the speech systematically lies to us about what is really happening when the “right to choose” or “contraceptive services” are put into practice.
The words are chosen carefully with full knowledge of what they are intended to convey and full knowledge of what actually happens. C. S. Lewis, following the Socratic tradition, said that evil is to call what is good evil and what is evil good. This is basically what Genesis said of the sin of the First Parents who wanted to place the distinction of good and evil in their own hands, not God’s.
Stripped of all the rhetoric and masked words, this address told the American people, probably too ready to listen, that what was evil was really good, a “right” in fact. Why this speech is particularly heinous is not that it was spoken by some professor or distraught lady, but by a president pursing public policy. He maintained that what was proposed was worthy of God’s blessing. It was right, not wrong. These are not ordinary confusions. They follow, knowingly or not, a logic and force determined to overturn, in the name of progress and being up-to-date, all the proper relations of man, woman, child, family, and society.
The second century Epistle to Diognetus, cited in the beginning, already affirmed that Christians marry like other men, have children, but, it added, do not “expose,” that is, abort, them. This criterion is still what defines a human being and a Christian. We are told that such “teaching” is backward and not current. We are asked not to think about what we are doing but only to ask about our “right to choose.” But we all know what we choose when we exercise this oft-cited “right.” We do not have the courage to call evil what it is.
We must hide our evil in obscure language. This hiding tells us better than anything else that, when we so lie to ourselves, we know that we do so lie. We prefer the power that this lie gives us to the truth of what happens when we exercise this very strange “right,” with no acknowledged object. We are asked officially to deceive ourselves about the most innocent and wondrous act in human reality—the conception and birth of a human child. We are asked to do this so that we will be “up to date,” because our only criterion of truth is what we choose, not the proper question, of whether what we choose is good or evil.