Michigan head football coach and noted boob Jim Harbaugh was a keynote speaker Sunday at something called the Plymouth Right to Life Benefit Dinner, held in Plymouth, Michigan, about 10 miles outside of Detroit. Harbaugh, a practicing Catholic, believes that abortion at any point after conception is immoral, on the grounds that embryos—crude cell clusters which are very often discarded pre-term via the perfectly common biological process of natural pregnancy loss—are in fact “amazing gifts from God to make this world a better place,” and which in his view are “filled with potential, talent, dreams and love,” a description which comes alarmingly close to just using the word “homunculus.”
But, as Harbaugh explained Sunday to a crowd of anti-abortion donors, an individual’s beliefs—even deeply held beliefs; beliefs about issues of morality—should not necessarily guide the establishment of a society’s laws. “I have faith in the American people to ultimately develop the right policies and laws for all lives involved. I recognize one’s personal thinking regarding morality of a particular action may differ from their thinking on whether government should make that action illegal,” said Harbaugh, per the Detroit Catholic, coming so achingly close to landing on the correct side of this issue that I almost want to end this blog right at the conclusion of this paragraph. “There are many things one may hold to be immoral, but the government appropriately allows because of some greater good or personal or constitutional right.” Yes, coach, that is exactly it.
Hard as it may be to believe, this was once an understanding that brought at least some nuance to the way the Christian right talked about abortion rights. Jia Tolentino wrote a very excellent blog last week for The New Yorker, unpacking the shifting and hardening of Christian objections to the availability of safe and legal abortions, and exploring the moral perils not of abortion but of bringing a new life into our deeply beshitted world. Tolentino explains how as recently as the 1960s some very serious Christian thinkers and voices used an influential platform to affirm abortion as a practical necessity, even while some of them considered abortion to be a sinful act:
In 1967, Colorado became the first state to allow abortion for reasons other than rape, incest, or medical emergency. A group of Protestant ministers and Jewish rabbis began operating an abortion-referral service led by the pastor of Judson Memorial Church, in Manhattan; the resulting network of pro-choice clerics eventually spanned the country, and referred an estimated four hundred and fifty thousand women to safe abortions. The evangelical magazine Christianity Today held a symposium of prominent theologians, in 1968, which resulted in a striking statement: “Whether or not the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed, but about the necessity and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”The New Yorker
Is this football fella harkening back to a time when Christians, both at the individual level and also grouped together into communities and constituencies, could think with nuance about abortion as a legal right? Let’s return to that Plymouth dinner and auction and see how Harbaugh eventually finished his thought, which began with such promise:
“Ultimately, I don’t believe that is the case with abortion,” Harbaugh continued. “Yes, there are conflicts between the legitimate rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child. One resolution might involve incredible hardship for the mother, family and society. Another results in the death of an unborn person.”
Neither outcome is good, Harbaugh said, but between the two, the life of the unborn person must win out.Detroit Catholic
The Plymouth event where Harbaugh articulated and then immediately spiked a plea for Christians to mind their own fucking business raised an estimated $144,000 for anti-abortion initiatives and Plymouth Right to Life’s anti-abortion work, including $2,300 from a donor for the privilege of catching a pass from Harbaugh, described as a “cross-ballroom spiral.”