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Angelo Matera | 09.11.08


Pro-Life vs. Family Values? Is Newsweek’s Jacob Weisberg promoting eugenics?

Photo by Emily/er3465 Creative Commons License

The culture war is back, stronger than ever, with the liberal media completely flummoxed over how to handle Sarah Palin. But what’s really thrown them is Bristol Palin’s unwed teen pregnancy, and the Republican Party’s surprisingly warm-hearted, non-judgemental response to it. How else to explain Jacob Weisberg’s bizarre column, “Whatever Happened to Family Values” in the latest Newsweek (a slightly different version is on Slate.com). In the column Weisberg accuses conservative Christians of hypocrisy because—get this—if they were really interested in promoting family values they would allow unwed teen mothers to have abortions.

“Sarah Palin’s pro-life extremism,” he charged, “is as ethically flawed as it is politically damaging to the GOP. By vaunting their pro-life agenda over everything else, conservatives are abandoning one of their most valuable insights: that intact, two-parent families are best for children and for the foundation of a healthy society.” (Note: Weisberg discounts the fact that the father of Bristol’s child will marry her because teen marriages often end in divorce.)

My initial reaction to this reasoning was sadness that someone like Weisberg, the editor of Slate.com, and a Rhodes Scholar, could make such an absurd argument, and have such little understanding of traditional Christian morality. Is it really that hard to understand that there is such a thing as a “hierarchy of values,” or that the commandment not to kill supersedes but doesn’t void the prohibition against sex outside marriage?

What his column also did was confirm the mainstream media’s continuing obliviousness to the “crisis pregnancy” phenomenon: the growth over the last few decades of thousands of Catholic and Christian-inspired support centers that give aid—without judgment or questions asked—to pregnant women in trouble, so they can have their babies. (This phenomenon explains why Christians have embraced the movies Bella and Juno, but more on this in another blog)

But on further reflection I realized there was something more at stake in this argument. Not only was Weisberg taking a harsh stance against single mothers—one usually associated with moralizing conservatives (remember the fuss over Dan Quayle’s so-called denunciation of Murphy Brown’s single parenthood?)—but he was clearly advocating a form of eugenics, or selective breeding through abortion. These are his words:

“By every measure social scientists have devised, those raised by two parents grow up healthier (physically and psychologically), wealthier, and wiser, on average, than those raised by a single parent, divorced parents, or even a parent and a stepparent.”

“Healthier.” “Wealthier.” “Wiser.” In other words, better.

Since Christians are so often slandered by the media over statements taken out of context, I’ll give Weisberg the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn’t actually favor a policy of eugenics under the guise of “family values.” I’ll assume he wants what Christians want—the best possible family environment for children (on this point, Weisberg parts with those liberals who don’t accept that two parent households are essential to a child’s well-being). But when you encourage the elimination of persons who are born into difficult circumstances, then you’re talking about something else entirely. With abortion (or mercy killing) the killer doesn’t have the well-being of the person in mind, because the person who is killed will no longer exist. You really are talking about a kinder, gentler form of eugenics—the weeding out of the unfortunate, who are declared “unfit,” not out of hatred, but from false compassion.

The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor described this sentiment and its implications in her introduction to “A Memoir of Mary Ann.” She wrote that: “In the absence of… faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”

Blogger Ross Douthat at The Atlantic has taken the lead in rebutting Weisberg, which elicited a pained response from the writer countering Douthat’s “vile” claim that Weisberg believes Bristol Palin should have aborted her child. In his defense, Weisberg says, “I believe that members of the Palin family, like the rest of us, should be able to decide what to do with their bodies themselves.” But what decisions are you favoring when you keep repeating that “teenagers who carry their pregnancies to term drastically diminish their chances of living out the conservative, or the American, dream”; and “the Bristol Palin option doesn’t promote family happiness, stability, or traditional structure.” It’s a cop out to make these loaded statements when you’re discussing the example of Sarah Palin and then step back, with a wink, wink, nod, nod, and say you’re morally neutral.

Weisberg ends his defense by saying, “I don’t advocate abortion for anyone - safe, legal and rare describes my position. I simply recognize that there are moral trade-offs here, and wish intellectually honest conservatives ... would face them more squarely.”

There are sincere pro-choicers who view abortion as a tragic evil that will be driven underground if made illegal. But there are others who are callously motivated by a soft form of Social Darwinism. Jacob Weisberg may not fall into this category, but we can thank him for baring its twisted logic.

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By Dave AT 09.11.08 05:27PM Not Rated


After reading his article it seems that he’s disappointed that the girl didn’t have an abortion.

By Hugh Vincent Dyer O.P. AT 09.11.08 06:20PM Not Rated

Hugh Vincent Dyer O.P.

Angelo, thank you for bringing attention to the strangeness of the left on this issue.

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy has revealed the thoughts of many hearts and many of these thoughts are truly bizarre. All of us, liberal and conservative, ought to be celebrating the fact that this young woman is giving birth and that she is surrounded by a generous family and a mother who has many children and a child with special needs.

Instead, we get bizarre responses that seek to keep abortion front and center. The legality of abortion has become the idol of many on the left. Slavery was once an idol of many in our nation’s politics until we noticed the humanity of African Americans. At that time we began to understand the meaning of liberty for all men.

However, we have yet to grant the right without which it is foolish to speak of any subsequent rights, the right to life.

Following the news that Bristol Palin was in fact pregnant, Elizabeth Sherman, Law Professor at George Washington University, in a nationally televised interview, praised Bristol Palin’s decision to have her baby because: “This reaffirms Roe vs. Wade.” What!!

This is a response from an academic. Academia used to have a connection to the logic of the common man. Several days later a caller to CSPAN used the same logic when she asked Gov. Pawlenty how Sarah Palin could be oppossed to Roe vs. Wade given the fact that Bristol Palin was able to choose without government interference. Pawlenty said he could not understand the connection the woman was trying to make.

The logic at work is that a woman is not pregnant with a human life, but with a choice-to-be-made. Human life is present if she confers a status of personhood on the child in the womb by agreeing to have the baby.

The great shame of America is that we only have rights if those in power grant them, in practice nature and God are gagged. I place my bet that God and nature will win the war after our hearts are softened TO REALITY

By chassup AT 09.11.08 06:40PM Not Rated


The Newsweek author says, “And the unfortunate reality is that teenagers who carry their pregnancies to term drastically diminish their chances of living out the conservative, or the American, dream.”

The misguided man has come to an irrational conclusion because he incorrectly defines “The American Dream.”

He defines the dream as positive outcomes; wealth, stable relationships, nuclear families, high graduation rates, good relationships, happiness, self esteem, etc.

The true definition, as I and our founders understand it, is simply “authentic human liberty.”  Millions come here the opportunity freedom allows, not to feel warm and fuzzy.

A poor, single, pregnant, uneducated, afraid 17 year old has as much right to seek the dream as the author.  The American Dream is the answer to her dilemma, because human liberty is the only political answer to the human condition.  The unborn baby carried by the same girl has the exact same right to liberty, and that is something this guy doesn’t get or refuses to accept.

By GTN AT 09.11.08 11:22PM Not Rated


I love what Palin has done to American politics.

By freethinkingtheist AT 09.12.08 05:59PM Not Rated


I find it amusing how so many of these leftists are now playing the moral superiority card and morphing into legalistic pharisees.  Yes, of course it’s ideal that children have both parents present. However, do we trash the unborn who may not be born into a morally legislated environment?  Since when do we argue the semantics of Life? Apparently, yes, some do believe children born into single parent OR divorced families worthy of disposal and that attitude most certainly is promoting a form of eugenics.  We may be hearing this from Mr. Weisberg, but, sadly, I have heard and observed the same line of thinking from those who proudly claim to be Christians.  I love the points you make in this article.  Thanks for bringing this to light!

By Zarchne AT 09.22.08 03:54AM Not Rated


Although I agree that abortion is under no circumstances morally permissible, I think it is unfair or shallow to refer to Weisberg’s argument—that the absolutist pro-life position is “ethically flawed”—as “bizarre”, “strange”, “twisted”, and so forth.  He does make a number of observations that appear to be false, but apart from a clear understanding (which has grown increasingly rare over the last millennium, and reached a tipping point in the last century) of the meaning of Christ’s passion and death—namely, that through the humble, loving acceptance of suffering (on his part, or joined with his) grace and eternal life are merited—utilitarianism is a fairly commonsense philosophy.  When he uses the term “moral trade-offs”, he means (I presume) that decisions have to be made about who is going to be allowed to suffer.  The idea that society (and in particular, the state) has neither the means nor the responsibility to eliminate all suffering is simply not part of the left’s worldview.

I suppose via the Holocaust/Shoah the word “eugenics” received a poor reputation, but eugenics was (and necessarily remains) an integral part of the the modern birth control movement founded by Margaret Sanger.  It is also a basis for IVF and derivative techniques to provide desired births, and is thus among the roots of the embryonic stem cell question.

Also, I imagine it is indeed difficult to understand that there is a hierarchy of values in a society which generally attempts to squash all hierarchies.

By chassup AT 09.22.08 01:36PM Not Rated


ZARCHNE, “a society which generally attempts to squash all hierarchies.” 

A society which uses the word “values” instead of “virtues” is doomed to fail on moral issues anyway.


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