September 2009

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by Peter Bearse

I recently received a negative e-mail from a fellow Pro-Life supporter after returning NHRL’s candidate questionnaire. The only questions to which I answered “yes” as to whether abortion is permissible were those regarding incest and rape. The key sentence in the e-mail follows:

Unfortunately, the pro-life movement has been riddled by compromise. NHRTL, however, defends life at all stages regardless of how one is conceived, whether it be under pleasant or unpleasant circumstances.”

The key words in this response are “compromise” and “unpleasant.” Compromise looks bad. “Unpleasant” is not nearly bad enough. Rape is an ugly crime, uglier than an “unpleasant circumstance”, more than a violation of a woman’s body and far more than contrary to her right to choose a sexual partner. “How one is conceived” is the common denominator of rape and incest. Both evoke deep values and ancient taboos that have promoted human life, not murdered it. Sexual selection joins natural selection as a driver of the evolution of species. The taboo against incest is older than recorded history and has been maintained for millenia, for good and similar reason as sexual selection.

I am a conservative right-to-lifer, and no single bit of negativity from an NHRL member can take this ID away from me. Fellow conservatives who deny evolution may well justify checking “No” to the question: “Is abortion permissible in cases of rape or incest.” Since such conservatives are wrong on evolution, however, how can one trust their responses to questions on human life? For human life is a matter of nurture as well as nature. Simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions of abortion seem to assume that only animal nature should rule. As the great scientist/humanist Jacob Bronowski taught us in his Ascent of Man, human sexuality and child-raising differs in fundamental ways from those practices exhibited by the lower animal species.

Compromise is often necessary in the resolution of conflicts. It is not necessarily “bad.” Ironically, however, even the possibility of a good compromise is ruled out by the simple-minded design of political questionnaires. They typically ask that questions on complex issues be answered simply ’yes’ or ’no.’ Consider the question regarding rape. I labored over it. I had written in my campaign brochures that “Human life is sacred” I mean every word of it.

Yet, consider the following scenario. A woman is raped; yet, through counseling and/or otherwise, she decides to carry the fetus within her to term if a good, loving couple can be found to adopt her misbegotten child. Given this possibility -- a choice the scope of which pro-lifers have fought to make real -- I could well have checked “No” on the NHRL questionnaire and so received a higher candidate rating from NHRL. My “Yes” was incomplete, but it is not necessarily the wrong answer. For the entire questionnaire begs a more fundamental question: “What is (human) life”. More than nature is involved. Nurture is far more important to we humans than to other species.

Let us recognize, however, that the Pro-Life movements uncompromising focus on “nature” has saved many millions of human lives that otherwise would have been destroyed through abortion. Nevertheless, on the matter of incest, I can see no contrary compromise, any more than I can see any compromise against human cloning. The taboo is far more ancient than the law against rape.

So, I am only 95% pure on the NHRL scale, less pure than Ivory Soap. Unfortunate, but abortion is one area where purity cannot be achieved. The perfect is the enemy of the good in a world of tragic choices. My impure position at least has the integrity of being grounded, on old values and lessons drawn from science and history. Plus, it doesn’t suffer from the disease exhibited by our liberal friends, which I call the “politics of good intentions.” These are the politics that say: “My intentions are so good, pure and beyond argument that others should be willing to pay for them.” Say that to the woman who has been brutally raped and who could not bear to bear a child not conceived in love. Say it to the child who has been born mentally retarded because of incest, and to those who must bear the costs of a lifetime of child care. Then tell me what portion of the costs you are willing to share. Perhaps then, you can come back to me with integrity and tell me to my face that I am wrong.

PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., Candidate for Congress in NH CD 1, who unsuccessfully sought the endorsement of NHRL, on August 22, 2009. Comments would be welcome via letters to the editor or directly to


P.S. Legally, one could challenge the NHRL questionnaire as (implicitly) denying choices by women that are allowed under “Roe v. Wade.” I did not go into this possibility because I consider Roe v. Wade to be unconstitutional. Abortion should not properly be considered a federal matter under our Constitution. Rather, it is a matter to be decided at state and local levels.