If Wishes Were Zygotes

Amanda Marcotte

After nine months of praying daily for the life of a fetus, you, too, will be ready to dehumanize women and ready to fight against their rights.

If you wanted to point to a practice that's emblematic of the anti-choice movement's complete break with reality, you could do worse than look at the practice of "spiritual adoption." I can find no better description than at the official website, which describes it as follows:

To help stop the anti-life push around the world, the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen encouraged the spiritual adoption of an unborn child. This is done by praying that the one particular but unknown child's life be spared abortion and be allowed to continue to live.

To help accomplish this, it was recommended an individual say the following daily prayer for a period of nine months.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of [baby's name] the unborn baby that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion."

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Even if we assume for a moment that it's possible that the spirit world matches you by lottery to some newly conceived embryo, this practice still doesn't pass the reality-based sniff test. After all, by about 12 weeks into the prayer ritual, your spirit-assigned embryo is either aborted already or going to be born, and doesn't need you praying to save it. The idea that women can waltz into abortion clinics the day before they give birth and get abortions on demand–or that women would if they could–is a fantasy concocted by people needing an excuse for their misogyny.

But seriously, on about 15 different levels, this shows how the anti-choice movement flees any hint of reality or the real world, and always insisting that fantasy is better, no matter how treacly and distasteful the fantasy is. Instead of sitting around ineffectually praying for embryos, anti-choicers could, oh, I don't know, actually do some volunteer work to help actual people. It's like doing cartwheels to end poverty. But apparently, many would prefer to spend their time offering imaginary help to imaginary people.

The allergy to reality explains a lot, actually. It explains why they're hostile to real-world attempts to reduce abortion by reducing the major cause of it, unplanned pregnancy. Instead, they hate contraception, too, with all its earthy relationship to the dreaded sex. And of course, they prefer not to dirty their beautiful minds with discussions about how a ban on abortion, much less contraception, would actually work.

But let's not assume that because the appeal of "spiritual adoption" is in the fantasy of it that it has no real world value. To the leaders of the anti-choice movement, exercises like these have real value. If nothing else, praying non-stop about something functions as a cognitive exercise to train your brain to believe in it, no matter how outlandish whatever you're praying about is. You know the saying about how you repeat a lie enough, it becomes the truth? Well, there are three outlandish lies that you have to buy in order to become a solider for misogyny, i.e. an anti-choice nut.

1) That an embryo is a full human being, with a consciousness, a body that has some sensory engagement with the world, and a personality, preferably with an impish sense of joy.

2) That women are not full human beings, and therefore their rights, their lives, and often their entire existence can be safely ignored.

3) That abortion doctors are not medical professionals working to help people, but serial killers that have somehow been given the blessing of the federal government.

The third is sadly the easiest lie to believe through repetition, because most people don't spend much time with doctors who provide abortion, and therefore don't have access to the reality (that the vast majority are hard-working professionals who do this difficult work for deeply moral reasons, often at great personal cost) contradicting the lie. Believing that there's a complete human being up in there just moments after intercourse requires more work. You have to ignore all the scientific evidence that embryos aren't just tiny babies running around and playing, and you have to ignore the millions of miscarriages a year that aren't treated like actual deaths of actual children, and you have to ignore a lot of flat bellies. But lying to yourself can be done with some effort, because after all, it's not like pregnant women have windows on them. You can imagine whatever you want is in there with enough work.

But ignoring that women are full human beings, with the consciousness, bodies, and personalities–you know, the lives–that anti-choicers seem to ascribe mainly to embryos? That takes serious work. I mean, step outside and look around. There are women everywhere, doing people stuff like walking dogs, getting coffee, reading books, going to work, corralling children. They are normal human beings with real human motivations, not the subhuman monsters that are either too stupid or too malicious to avoid running around killing babies for no good reason, as they are portrayed by anti-choicers. Hell, you (assume for a moment "you" are someone committed to becoming an anti-choice nut) may be a woman yourself. Dehumanizing women to the point where you think they should be forced to give birth against their will takes some serious work, lots and lots of repeating lies to yourself.

Which is what I think this spiritual adoption program is really about: getting people to repeat a prayer each day, every day that evokes a certain image of women. An image of a woman who is likely to just stroll into an abortion clinic one day and thoughtlessly get an abortion, like one might kind of thoughtlessly grab a cookie off a platter even though you're on a diet. Apparently, the bishop who thought of this figures it takes 9 months of lying to yourself daily to believe that women are, as a group, so unlike human beings that they'd behave like this. And after 9 months of work, you've dehumanized them enough to be ready to fight against their rights without a moment's worry about what you're doing.

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