BreakPoint: John Irving’s Abortion Arguments


John Stonestreet

The 1999 movie “The Cider House Rules” won writer John Irving an Oscar, and elevated him as a pro-abortion apologist.

In his acceptance speech, Irving thanked Harvey Weinstein’s movie company Miramax for “having the courage to make this movie.” He then thanked the Academy for honoring a movie about abortion, as well as “everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights League.”

Last week, twenty years later, in a recent New York Times op-ed, Irving once again took up the role of pro-abortion apologist, and in the process, exposed just how incoherent his particular pro-abortion argument really is.

I’m not even talking about the factual problems with the piece, like claiming that “Prior to the 1840s, abortion was widespread,” or that, “Our founding fathers got this right; the choice to have an abortion or a child belonged to the woman.” Sorry, John, our founders put no such right in our founding documents. Rather, Supreme Court justices imagined abortion rights from “penumbras” and “emanations.” They literally used those terms. As Ramesh Ponnuru wrote at National Review, if the founders thought about abortion at all, they certainly didn’t think in terms of a “right to choose.”

And then ignoring the overwhelming evidence for life from science and philosophy, Irving also argued that our First Amendment rights include being “protected from having someone else’s religion practiced on us.” Well then, I look forward to his next novel supporting polygamy, since any prohibition of that would be “having someone’s religion practiced on us.”

Still, where Irving’s piece really goes off the rails is in his self-promoting appeal to his own novel and movie, “The Cider House Rules,” as such a convincing apologetic for abortion. What’s stunning is that still, 20 years later, Irving completely misses the moral chaos that his story justifies.

The protagonist of “The Cider House Rules” is Homer Wells, who grows up in an orphanage in the years prior to World War II. The orphanage’s kind director, Dr. Larch, treats Homer as if he were his son and teaches him everything he knows about medicine, especially obstetrics. By the time Homer leaves the orphanage, he’s as well-trained as any doctor, despite never graduating from high school.

Dr. Larch is also an abortionist, which Irving naturally depicts as an act of kindness towards the women he meets in dire straits. But Homer refuses to perform abortions because, as Irving himself describes it, “He’s an orphan; his mother let him live.”

What changes Homer’s mind was a young girl who was raped and impregnated by her own father. Homer works with her father in a cider house, where mostly illiterate workers stay during harvest season.

Homer sets aside his objections and personal history to perform the abortion. And afterwards, the father asks Homer to read the rules posted on the wall for the cider house. Homer does, and then the father proclaims, “Someone who doesn’t live here made those rules. But they don’t know what it’s like to live here. We have to make up our own rules.”

So do you get the argument? Who are you to say someone shouldn’t have an abortion if you’ve never walked in their shoes? We shouldn’t force our moral values on others. It’s the same argument Irving makes in his op-ed. Of course, that same argument used to justify the abortion in the movie, couldn’t that also be used to justify the incest in the movie? Who are we to say it’s wrong if we don’t live there or walk in their shoes?

By the way, the kindly Dr. Larch was also a forger: He created fake educational and professional credentials for Homer and used those credentials to get him appointed as his successor. But what’s wrong with that if you’ve not walked in their shoes?

For those keeping score at home, John Irving’s apologetic for abortion-on-demand includes consequentialism, moral relativism that justifies abortion and incest, bad history and a mangling of the First Amendment.

But hey, other than that…



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