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Tirade of the Week


10.11.99

Stoops to Conquer


Abortion, the Catholic Church, and money. Oh my.

Have you heard about the pregnant 12-year-old girl in Britain whose unemployed parents got in touch with the Church in Scotland asking for financial help? The Church is willing to offer that assistance if the kid decides to have the baby -- against the advice of social workers, who feel that the girl is simply too young to have a child. I can see it now: thousands of unemployed parents encouraging their daughters to get themselves knocked up so they can get a Catholic check. Hey, the Vatican can swing that, they're rich enough. Pro-choicers, naturally, are pissed because they feel the Church is essentially bribing people not to have abortions.

This story would make a great movie. In fact, this basic story has already made a great movie. This case immediately reminded me of Laura Dern, pregnant and huffing paint fumes, going along with whatever side -- pro-life or pro-choice -- had the most to offer her. I refer, of course, to CITIZEN RUTH, the wicked 1996 satire by Alexander Payne (ELECTION). In the movie, the wretched, addicted Ruth Stoops, pregnant for the fifth time, is ordered by a judge to have an abortion or face jail, since her behavior is reckless endangerment of a fetus. (So is abortion, but that's one of the movie's many ironies.) Her case becomes a cause celebré among pro-choicers, who want her to have the abortion, and pro-lifers, who want her to have the baby. Neither camp is really interested in her freedom of choice. They want her to do whatever fits their agenda. Eventually the pro-lifers come up with the perfect ploy to sway Ruth to their side: they offer her $15,000 if she will have the baby.

Now, I'm not Catholic, and I have mixed feelings on the whole abortion issue. Do I believe that nobody has a right to tell a woman she has to have a baby? Yes. (I like that old bumper sticker, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be sacred.") Do I believe that a lot of unwanted pregnancies are the result of ignorant, thoughtless behavior on the part of the man and the woman? Yes. I lean toward the pro-choicers if only because the pro-lifers you see in the news are obnoxious, waving big photos of bloody dead fetuses in your face; they're the same kind of zealots that stand outside the funerals of gay-bashing victims with signs reading "God Kills Fags." At the same time, pro-choicers can be awfully smug and self-satisfied in their conviction that they are absolutely correct. Neither side is going to give an inch on this issue because it's either their way or the highway. You're either with them or you're the enemy.

CITIZEN RUTH nailed all of this, skewering the self-righteousness on both sides. And now life imitates art and a 12-year-old Ruth -- though probably not addicted to huffing -- is the focus of a war over her womb. Nowhere in the news stories about this have I read about what the girl wants. Both sides, those who support the Church's offer and those who condemn it as bribery, argue that the girl is only 12 and not mature enough to make a decision like this on her own. True enough, but both sides also seem to argue this about a woman of any age facing this decision. Certainly the movie's Ruth is treated condescendingly by both sides as if she were 12, or younger.

Really, both sides are both pro-life and pro-choice. Those who see abortion as immoral support the life of the unborn child and the choice to carry it to term. Those who see abortion as a necessary right support the life of the woman and the choice to carry the fetus to term -- or not. You have assholes on both sides and you also have legitimately concerned people working to do what they feel is right. For example, I bet there are some pro-lifers who are embarrassed by militant pro-lifers who do the picketing-clinics, waving-bloody-fetuses shtick. They feel abortion is wrong, but they don't get in your face about it. Me, I'm on the sidelines munching popcorn and watching the fireworks; sometimes these people are more entertaining than WWF.

This particular case is a little muddier. What kind of financial support are we talking about here? Is the Church going to foot the bill for Little Ruth's child until the kid turns 18? Pay for the kid's college? Cover the kid's medical bills? It's nice to see the Church putting its money where its mouth is, but to what extent is this just bribery? The girl's unemployed parents went to the Church in Scotland for help. Unemployed parents. How much of that money is the girl going to see? Is the Church really just making the offer as a PR move?

It sets an interesting precedent. Will the Church offer a big payday to gay people if they promise to get married, have Catholic kids, and never rub body parts with a same-sex partner again? How about all those troublesome Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, or Muslims? Hey, join up with the Church, genuflect, say a few Hail Marys, and pocket a sweet check. (Hell, I'll go to Saturday mass and hear all the lame folk songs you want, if the price is right.) Is the Church trying to be the Microsoft of religions or something? Throw enough money at a problem and it'll go away, is that it? Resistance is futile. Hey, the Pope as Borg Queen: I like that.

Shit, maybe the Church is onto something. If you want to influence people to bend to your will, break out the checkbook. Maybe anti-porn zealots can conduct a porn-for-cash exchange, like they do in the cities with guns: Bring in your stained HUSTLERs and your old video of "Big-Titted Whores, Volume 6," and you get $25. Hey, could work. The Church has finally figured out how to win hearts and minds: Show them the money. If Ruth Stoops got wind of this, she'd be lighting candles and fondling rosaries in no time flat.

I just have one question for the Catholic Church in Scotland: If I knock up a 12-year-old girl, can I get paid too?