Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hitchens was not anti-choice

A common claim is that the late Christopher Hitchens was "pro-life."

To be clear, Hitchens being against abortion would not matter. I do not follow Hitchens. I can disagree with him, and did, on a lot of things. But people are misrepresenting his position.

Let's define some terms:

Pro-life: I don't accept this term at all, I don't think it means anything

Pro-choice: A person who accepts that abortion should be generally legal (we can get into specifics here later)

Anti-choice: A person who believes that at-least elective (non medical, non-rape) abortion should be illegal

Here's one of the "evidences" of him being anti-choice from 1989:

"I have always been convinced that the term 'unborn child' is a genuine description of material reality. Obviously, the fetus is alive, so that disputation about whether or not it counts as 'a life' is casuistry. The same applies, from a materialist point of view, to the question of whether or not this 'life' is 'human.' What other kind could it be? As for 'dependent,' this has never struck me as a very radical criticism of any agglomeration of human cells in whatever state. Children are 'dependent' too. […] Anyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows that the emotions are not a deciding factor. In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain, and, whatever the method, break some bones and rupture some organs."

Oddly enough, I agree. Fetuses are alive, fetuses are human, abortion is killing. It may not be the killing of a "person" (whatever that is), but it's killing. He's wrong that most abortions break bones or organs, but they do still heartbeats and brain development.

He is also supposed to have offered some sort of compromise to anti-choicers in a The Nation article in April 1989, but I could not find that article at all.

In 1990, this quote:

 "I can't think of a single circumstance in which I'd favor emptying a woman's uterus."
Ok...that would be the "personally pro-life" position.

The smoking gun, however, is this quote from 1991:

"There is, in my opinion, no choice but choice. There is no way of avoiding the choice position. What I said was that conditions could be created by politics, by actual state intervention, if you will, where people might wish to exercise that choice less, and that would be a good thing. That there should be, therefore, a presumption in favor of the unborn. But if that fails, obviously you can't push it to the point of saying, 'We will force you to carry a child to term.' Everything in one revolts against that."

That is not anti-choice. He did not support the overturning or Roe v. Wade or the criminalization of abortion unless quotes can be found to show that he changed his mind.

And in fact, a 2003 essay does not show anything contrary to the 1991 position. He talks about taking a partner for an abortion:

"at least once I found myself in a clinic while “products of conception” were efficiently vacuumed away. I can distinctly remember thinking, on the last such occasion, that under no persuasion of any kind would I ever allow myself to be present at such a moment again....The decision I took was mine and taken for myself alone. If it doesn’t have a moral basis, it does at least have a very strong instinctual one. But can I or should I be able to make it for anyone else?"

Besides the annoying implications that he is making the choice, he at least questions the idea of making it for another.

He also gets annoyed with anti-choicer antics and appropriation of him:

Having once written a mildly “pro-life” essay, I now find that “christopherhitchens.com” links you instantly to a Web site called abortionismurder.org, emblazoned with a ghastly photograph of a dead 21-week-old baby. I resent this crude, uninvited annexation.)"

In the essay, he reiterates that embryos are human and alive, but dismisses any huge importance to them by saying that you can clone any cell and that nature wastes them all the time:

For the theologically minded, this provides what they never much desired before: a scientific confirmation of “life from conception” morality. But then, in theory, any of our cells could be used for cloning. The merest drop of blood or piece of skin is also pregnant with the great secret of life. And, as I hinted when discussing Wodehouse’s codfish factor, this life is incredibly profuse. Men produce much more generative fluid than anyone can possibly require,...either god or nature aborts an enormous quantity of unborn children at an early stage, either because of some early warning of unviability or—given the high number of birth defects that make it to full term—not. Miscarriage and stillbirth have made mourners of as many women as abortion has. If there truly is a divine or natural design, it is a ruthless and selective one."

He also seems to praise or at least be neutral on RU-486

And, just as refinements in medicine have made it apparent that a fetus acquires human characteristics earlier than we used to think, so competing refinements have blurred the distinction between abortion and birth control. The RU-486 abortion pill, initially developed in France, and more advanced emergency contraception induce an experience more akin to a heavy period than an abortion, and do not involve a surgical “procedure.” It’s a sure thing that such pharmaceutical solutions will become more advanced, and more available, which in turn will leach much of the pity and terror from the debate. It won’t even be possible to find out how many abortions, as opposed to how many live births, there have been in a given year. Nor will there be so many clinics to blockade, or shoot up. It really will become a “privacy” question."

He says we are better off for having to confront these life-and-death decisions and does not condemn his mother's abortions:

It doesn’t seem to me that we have become any less human by confronting these decisions and finally accepting our responsibility for them. In the same way, I might have been better off as a younger brother than an older one, and I always did wish for a big sister, as opposed to the baby brother I did get, but if my mother had the heart and soul of a double-murderess, you couldn’t prove it by me."

And finally,

By rightly expanding our definition of what is alive and what is human, we have also accepted that there may be a conflict of rights between a potential human and an actual one. The only moral losers in this argument are those who say that there is no conflict, and nothing to argue about. The irresoluble conflict of right with right was Hegel’s definition of tragedy, and tragedy is inseparable from human life, and no advance in science or medicine is ever going to enable us to evade that."

So, what was Hitchens? He was a man with a squeamishness about abortion. He was a man who did not have a good grasp on women's rights and bodily autonomy. He was a man who gave too much credit to the anti-choice side on it being about babies and not sex. He was someone who didn't like abortion. He was "personally pro-life." His position is the so-called moderate position of most Americans.

In other words, Hitchens had PERFECTLY AVERAGE views on abortion, which is pro-choice. He can't reasonably be claimed by anti-choicers.