Hillary Clinton was asked on “The View” a few weeks ago whether she thought it was possible to be pro-life and to be a feminist. Her response? “Absolutely.” It was a surprising moment for the staunchly pro-choice presidential candidate, and we appreciate her open-mindedness. It was refreshing and indicative that feminism may be having an exciting moment, one that is seeing more women take up the pro-life cause.
However, Hillary went on to explain that statement in a strange fashion.
“I respect the opinions and beliefs of every woman. The reason why being pro-choice is the right way to go is because it is a choice, and hopefully a choice that is rooted in the thoughtfulness and the care that women bring to this decision. So of course you can be a feminist and be pro-life.”
While we agree that of course it is possible to be feminist and pro-life – we have to challenge what she means by that. Her reasoning (as well as I can follow it) goes something like this. The question of abortion is a personal choice. Some women choose that abortion is wrong for them. Therefore a person can be a good feminist (in her definition, pro-choice) and pro-life.
You can begin to see how convoluted this gets. But rather than elaborate on why this reasoning is flawed or presumptive or how it short-changes feminists everywhere, I want to focus on the philosophy behind the message – the cultural elephant in the room: toleration.
Our culture has adopted the gospel of toleration, which says that every belief or viewpoint that an individual holds is permissible insofar as it doesn’t make any claims on other individuals. So it’s ok to believe Jesus rose from the dead or that there is no God so long as you don’t insist that others believe that. It’s ok to be homosexual or heterosexual so long as you don’t insist that your way is the only way. It’s ok to be pro-life yourself so long as you don’t insist that others be pro-life.
What I’m afraid Hillary is really saying is that it’s ok to believe abortion is wrong for yourself so long as you don’t tell other women they can’t get abortions.
And this is where the “choice” language reveals itself. When Hillary talks about being pro-choice in this way, she’s articulating not simply a stance on abortion, but an entire ethical philosophy that’s based on individual preferences. What’s right for you is right for you and what’s right for me is right for me – and as long as we can agree on that all will be fine and dandy.
It’s a very tempting and attractive philosophy. If we can all tolerate each other’s beliefs, if we can all just live and let live, there is no need for things to ever get ugly. There is no need for war. There is nothing to fight for, nothing to die for. (And nothing to live for.) If there are no lines in the sand we never need fear the consequences of crossing them.
This philosophy will only lead to despair. Beyond that, to accept such a view is to stick our fingers in our ears to reason and reality. Either abortion is the killing of a human being or it is not. And if it is, we are morally culpable. There is no both/and.
So Hillary, yes, it is possible to be feminist and pro-life. But it is not possible to be pro-life ourselves and leave the rest of the world alone. As William Wilberforce so famously said of the slave trade, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” We are responsible for what we know. And we should desire a world like that – one in which individuals that see evil speak up about it, instead of allowing their fellow man to commit violence he doesn’t understand. That is the most honorable and loving thing we can do for one another.