Lately the “culture of death” rhetoric has been heating up among many conservative commentators in reference to the issue of Obama’s lifting the ban on stem cell research. This has become yet another occasion for many to rail against abortion as the great moral evil of our time. Now, I don’t really actually disagree with this, and I’ll have some more words on this shortly, but I think Eugene McCarraher makes the ultimately important point about this sort of reflexive rhetoric of opposition to abortion in an interview from a couple years back in the Other Journal:
As for abortion, I think we have to stop seeing it as the primary culprit in a culture of death. Abortion becomes conceivable as a moral practice once we take individual autonomy as the beau ideal of the self; but to recognize that is, if we’re logical, to indict not only abortion but also our cherished idyll of choice or freedom. But that, then, is to indict capitalism, which employs a similar language of sovereignty both to legitimate itself and to obscure the remarkable lack of creative freedom at work. I know that I’ll catch a lot of hell for saying this, but I think that a lot of opposition to abortion is sheer moral sentimentality which turns the fetus into a fetish. (You’ll notice that I think fetishism of some sort or other is a pretty salient feature of the contemporary American moral imagination.) Many of the same people who oppose abortion are champions of laissez-faire capitalism, and they either don’t see or don’t care to see the linguistic and cultural affinities between themselves and the pro-choice advocates they fight. They’ll retort that capitalism doesn’t kill anyone in its normal operations, but first, that’s just not true—capitalism has never been instituted or maintained anywhere, not even in the North Atlantic, without considerable coercion and violence—and second, it doesn’t matter, because the exercise of market autonomy has devastating effects on individuals and communities regardless of whether or not they wind up dead. (“Yeah, the company cut your medical benefits or cut your job or left your town a mess, but hey, you’re still alive!”) When I say this, a lot of people retort that I’m changing the subject. In one way, yes, I am, but for a reason—because I want them to see that it is the same subject in a different guise. Talking about abortion is a way of not talking about the autonomous individual, the latest ideological guise of libido dominandi, discussion of which would topple quite a few idols and not just reproductive choice.
Long story short, you can’t rail about abortion and in the same breath deploy your theology to legitimate capitalism.