Although he is considered a pro-life icon today, President Ronald Reagan did not always respect the lives of children in the womb. In his role as Governor of California, he signed a bill expanding legal abortion. He later reversed his position, in part thanks to the positive influence of Mildred Jefferson. (Jefferson was the first Black woman to graduate Harvard Medical School, later led the National Right to Life Committee, and where is my Mildred Jefferson biopic already?!)
Last week, LifeNews reported that, according to recently unearthed correspondence between Reagan and Charles Schultz, a Peanuts cartoon also played a role in Reagan's conversion to the pro-life cause. Here is the cartoon (click to enlarge):
In case you can't see it, the strip is a dialogue between Linus and Lucy:
Linus: I have a question
Linus: What would happen if there were a beautiful and highly intelligent child up in heaven waiting to be born, and his or her parents decided that the two children they already had were enough?
Lucy: Your ignorance of theology and medicine is appalling!
Linus: I still think it's a good question...
Deep breaths, Kelsey, deep breaths...
To be clear, I do not fault LifeNews at all for covering this story, because an influence on a president's policy views is certainly newsworthy. I also do not fault Charles Schultz, whose goal was presumably to draw an entertaining comic strip, rather than make a pro-life case in the funny pages.
But now I see this comic circulating in pro-life social media like it's a powerful argument against abortion, and it absolutely is not.
I'll start by appealing to the social conservatives in our audience: if there were babies in heaven pining away for willing wombs, wouldn't that be an argument against premarital abstinence? Speaking as an unmarried woman, What if not-yet-conceived but spiritually alive babies are patiently waiting for me? I'd better go have all the unprotected sex I can! Um, no. Any argument that applies equally well to abstinence and abortion is a poor argument indeed.
This focus on heavenly hypotheticals also invites religious justifications for abortion. In alternative views of the spiritual realm, aborted babies are conveniently reincarnated — no harm, no foul — or become guardian angels. What use is it to argue between these different visions of the afterlife, or the beforelife? Science tells us when human life begins: at egg-sperm fusion. It is this science which should inform abortion policy, not spiritual speculation.
Furthermore, I am deeply troubled by Linus's statement that the heavenly child in question is both "beautiful" and "highly intelligent." This unintentionally plays into pro-abortion rhetoric that only so-called "perfect" children matter. Too many babies are killed in abortions because they are prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome or other conditions that diverge from ableist mainstream standards of beauty and worth. The pro-life movement must stand for the principle that every baby deserves to be free from the violence of abortion. Life is a fundamental right, not something that you earn by being smart or attractive.
In short, Lucy is right: Linus's ignorance is appalling. There are many good arguments against abortion, so don't use this terrible one!