With the tired call for “compassionate conservatism” still leaking out of the right, perhaps some liberals are attempting to separate themselves from the progressive ethos they once espoused. Perhaps empathy and compassion no longer hold the value they once did on the left. This seems to be the case with a Nation cover story earlier this year, in which Sarah Blustain examined Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS)—the mental anguish and suffering that can follow an abortion—in men. Not only does Blustain point out that the antichoice movement has begun using these men as poster boys for its agenda—which should come as no surprise, given the nature of politics—she questions the validity of the condition itself, while implicitly accusing the men of wanting to be used.
The conclusion drawn is that “PAS is a political strategy masquerading as a psychological crisis.” PAS is not a valid condition, Blustain argues, because a) there is little clinical evidence it exists, and b) it is being used as a political tool by the prolife movement. This sounds frighteningly similar to the reasoning behind the dismissal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in soldiers coming back from the Vietnam War. The government perceived that acknowledging the disorder would be politically damaging, and it mysteriously went undiagnosed. This famous case of political-medical denial, of course, does not prove the existence of PAS. Yet it does show that just because science hasn’t rubber-stamped a condition, doesn’t mean people aren’t truly suffering. Nor does the political perversion of an issue invalidate the issue itself. All claims, whether they suit one’s political inclinations or not, should be taken with a healthy helping of skepticism.
Which leaves the men themselves. The thought, unspoken but still present, in Blustain’s article is that their suffering and its use by the prolife movement is deserved, or at least self-inflicted. It’s ironic that Blustain holds these men responsible for their predicament and its usurpation by the right, when the other half of the prolife movement—the non-God half—bases their anti-abortion stance on a similar call for personal responsibility: Those attempting to overturn standing abortion laws often proclaim that adult women who willingly engage in sex that results in an unwanted pregnancy should be held accountable for their actions. Blustain applies a similar brand of reasoning in a novel way: She points out that many of these men wanted their partners to have abortions, and all of them willingly engaged in the sex that resulted in the pregnancy. Hence, it’s their fault and they should learn to deal with the emotional fallout.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that, under all the political garbage piled on by interested parties, there is a human element to every issue. And it is possible to acknowledge this element while dismissing its manipulation by those with a vested interest in its political interpretation. The heart of liberalism is empathy, and the core of empathy is a sensitivity for feelings one has never felt. It would be a shame if those of us who call ourselves liberals began dictating who may and may not suffer, thereby allowing our most noble trait to be appropriated for political gain.