Johnston: Continuing to fight

“Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing. Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” There were nearly 4 million slaves in America when Abraham Lincoln addressed these words to the Cooper Union in 1860.

When Choose Life At Yale was founded in 2003, there had been more than 40 million abortions in America since Roe v. Wade. Today, there have been more than 50 million. In that time, CLAY has written a few dozen articles, hosted a handful of speakers, kept an annual candlelight vigil to remember the victims of abortion, held a few fundraisers for crisis pregnancy centers, been twice rejected as a residence group of the Women’s Center and never induced RALY to engage in a public debate on the merits of abortion.

In judging the impact of its activities, it is a fair interpretation to say that CLAY has been a failure. What do the members of CLAY see in such an ineffective organization?

From the beginning, CLAY has been a secular organization, advancing a pro-life position based in science. Because the life of the human organism begins at conception (a fact of biology), each fetus is a human being entitled to protection by law. But while CLAY has always been secular, it has also attracted a majority of its membership from religious circles. Perhaps, this is because religious Yalies are irrational and like to oppress women. But it seems more plausible that those who are attracted both to religion and to CLAY, are attracted because they have a zen for lost causes.

The primary virtue of the lost cause is that its advocates need not worry themselves with winning. They deal in principles instead of politics; morals instead of majorities; ideals instead of influence. The lost cause has no power with which to enact its aims. The primary vice of the lost cause is that its advocates are prone to rest content in the knowledge that they have done their duty and can do nothing more. But they ought not cut short their efforts, for if the lost cause lacks power, it is not without hope.

Then contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Lincoln concluded his address to the Cooper Union with these words (his capitalization): “LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.” To the world-weary mind, Lincoln was wrong. He was only able to free the slaves because he had the support of an army of Yankees with cannon.

But if right does not make might, right does sometimes make beauty, and it is the unique character of beauty that the world may heed its transformational call without the threat of a single sword. It is for the sake of beauty, then, that CLAY applies to the Women’s Center. CLAY acknowledges that the fate of every pregnancy will be determined by the choice of the mother, but it brings that mother a message of good news: Though her baby may feel like a burden, she will know him to be blessing.

The application is not a crass political stunt. Historically, abortion rights have been defended as a necessary condition of the emancipation of women into the workplace. But women want more than mere work — they want to mother too. CLAY’s application is an invitation to the Women’s Center to reclaim the mantle of a feminism that fights for both desires, against a world in which women must give up mothering in order to pursue a career.

CLAY will continue to submit more applications. There is still hope for an awakening at the Women’s Center and organizations like it across the country. In the meantime, the President of CLAY will continue to conclude each weekly meeting by saying, “If you or anyone you know is pregnant, talk to us; we’d like to help.” No one has responded yet.

But perhaps someday, some 50 years, or 50 million more abortions down the line, a woman of Yale will find that she is pregnant, and realize, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, contrary to the shame heaped upon her by her friends and family, contrary to the ideology of choice enshrined at the Women’s Center, that every life is worthy to be loved, even the one she carries inside.

When she asks, CLAY will be there to help.

Peter Johnston is a 2009 graduate of Saybrook College, the former president of CLAY and a former staff columnist for the News.


  • yalie

    There’s another angle to all of this that I don’t think has been looked at yet?

    There is talk that next year the women’s center will be granted Peer Liaisons by the Yale Dean’s Office, such as what exists this year with the cultural houses. The idea of the university legitimizing in this way an organization that doesn’t reflect/respect women’s views on both sides of the political spectrum doesn’t sit well with me. (Yes, there is the argument that pro-choice honors both decisions, but I’ve never found the Women’s Center to actually respect those that believe the fetus is a human life — I’ve been made to feel stupid for holding such a belief.) If the women’s center independently rejects CLAY’s membership apart from the Yale administration, that is their prerogative, I think? But I myself would be very intimidated by Peer Liaison’s from the Women’s Center coming up to me as an incoming freshman in their roles as mentors and confronting my philosophical convictions about life. Why is it okay to marginalize me as a conservative, but not anyone else?

  • YC ’11

    Alright, this is just too much.
    Isabel Marin’s column was reasonable, subtle and well-crafted; Achs’ reply called it out in just the right ways.
    But the next piece in the ‘debate’ was just angry, and this – this is slimy and riddled with fallacy.

    For instance, is Johnston actually suggesting that just anti-abortionists (and religious folks) here are in the minority and are the underdogs, that gives them the moral high ground? Well guess what – advocates of slavery and segregation, to use his own example, are in a minority too. Nobody would deny that the pro-slavery position is a lost cause. Does that mean pro-slavery people and segregationists “deal in principles instead of politics; morals instead of majorities; ideals instead of influence”?

    False, and disgusting. Enough already. CLAY claims to be against killing, but they’re killing their own case quite mercilessly.

  • please

    I kept hoping this was a satire. I thought you couldn’t possibly be so naive as to believe that all women have within them, at the least, latent maternal tendencies. And more, that you couldn’t possibly be so patronizing and oppressive as to assume that we all want to be mothers, any more than we all want to be some 1980s version of career women. You don’t see the irony in arguing that women should be recognized as whole, only to define for them two poles and placing them on a silly continuum? I understand that you and others who share your ideology are tireless crusaders for the fetus. But when you make noises about being concerned about the desires of women, your insincerity embarrases me.

  • Yale ’09

    Disappointed by this article of Peter Johnston’s, because I’ve long found him to be fascinating and intelligent, and this article strains my faith. Why, when Johnston is clearly a savvy thinker and writer, does he choose to ventriloquize through some straw-woman? Johnston is no Pygmalion, and his fabricated Eternal Mother Figure is crushed under the generalizations that he heaps upon her and attributes to all of womankind. “Women want more than mere work. They want to mother, too.” Can this bit of patronizing pseudo-psychology be any harder to dismiss than any other bogus claim made about any single group? Johnston uses Lincoln and slavery as his inexplicable parallel to the abortion debate; presumably, he doesn’t realize that his profession of “what women want” plays the same game as similar fabricated arguments made about blacks’ implicit desire to be enslaved (and later colonized people’s desire to be colonized); in both cases, these claims have been made by society’s power-holders and then projected as expressions of will from those whom they have traditionally dominated. We had the exquisite art of phrenology to support the White Man’s Burden then; Peter, which women’s skulls have you measured lately? I hope you’ll follow up this column with another sharing your data. I’m sure Yale’s readership would be happy to accept your qualitative observations of the women you’ve known, as few among us could be so unfeeling as to ask for quantitative evidence after you’ve filled your QRs.

    More to the point: Johnston is smart enough to know that “choice” does not equal “pro-abortion under all conditions, in every circumstance, for everyone, all the time.” Why, then, does he leave his argument open to this obvious attack by equating those two positions in the last paragraph, as if all pregnant woman at Yale will be forced to abort based upon the tyranny of the school’s pro-choice community?

    Peter, argue that life begins at conception and deserves to be protected as such. I, a pro-choicer, fondly remember your column comparing pro-choice partisans’ idea of the fetus to a car in a mechanic’s shop, existent only when completely assembled, and anti-choice partisans’ idea of the fetus to a polaroid whose complete image exists at the moment the photo is snapped though it only becomes obvious later after the photo has developed. Those metaphors were flippant and facile, but after this latest attempt, I find myself yearning for them again.

  • Jack

    A moving article. I have never been a supporter of abortion although I recognize and do support the need for such a procedure when certain serious mitigating facts apply. Still I am torn between the need to protect the sanctity of life and the realization that almost all of the problems we face today and will increasingly face in the future are population associated. A Yale graduate in 1965 entered a workforce in a US with a 190 million population. You will enter a workforce in a US which has more than 320 million plus the cream of the crop from several other nations who have come to the US to work/live. Scientists tell us the world’s population will self-regulate at circa 12 billion but they often fail to tell us that the methods of self-regulation will be famine, pestilence and war over diminishing natural resources.

    Already we have reached the saturation point where they are insufficient jobs in the US to support the population. Where do we go in the future? As you can appreciate more people means more people and more people means a continuing decline in standards of living.

    What is CLAY’s solution?

  • yalemom

    Thank you for this article.

    I believe in the right to life for all….including a fetus! I believe as long as something is growing, it is living. If it is a human life, then it has a heartbeat (at 4 weeks heartbeat begins).

    As a young woman, if you believe your pregnancy is a mistake…the alternative does not/should not be abortion. ADOPTION is the “A” word to be discussed.

    Like all mistakes in life, we work through them. I do not consider a life to be a mistake….but if you do, then consider ADOPTION!!!!

    Maybe CLAY can become more of an advocacy group for ADOPTION.

  • what?

    i’m still stuck on the fact that you compared abortion to slavery.

    stop. it.

  • Zen

    Zen = yen?

    While I did not necessarily love the article, I did like some of the not-highlighted parallels.

    Slaves are chattel, property, “stuff” (hence, inanimate, sort of).

    “Foetuses” are treated the same. “A collection of cells.” Stuff. For the owner to dispose of as she sees fit.

    It’s the same argument, really. Can a human “being” (in the broad sense) belong, as property, to another?

    I dunno.

    While the womb is hers, is the human being inside her hers?

    BTW: funny how we say “with child” instead of “with foetus.” I mean, we all know it’s a child. We’re really just talking about the acceptable parameters of killing. I’m not against that per se. we do it all the time (in Iraq, or the death penalty).

    I am glad, though, that my mother didn’t abort me (my grandmother, not so much. She’s in favor of abortion–and slavery, at least in its Roman incarnation. Oh, and she likes to point out that Roman children were not children until age two. That is, the father could kill his children without repercussion until that age. Same thing now. With abortion. no big deal).

  • Zen

    You know, Switzerland recently passed a law protecting “the dignity of vegetation, (banning “the humiliation of plants”).

    The treatise “The moral consideration of plants for their own sake” established that “vegetation has innate value and that it is morally wrong to partake in activities such as the decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason.”

    And ya’ll are fighting over whether a fully human potentiality has worth.

    Ha! You guys are so funny.

  • Jack

    @By what?:
    That you can’t see the moral absolutes asserted by both issues suggests a myopia on your part. Suffice it to say that the easiest comparison and one with which you must agree is simply to point out that in both instances an individual holds the life of another individual in their hands. It isn’t right in slavery and Peter’s argument is it isn’t right in abortion either. Law protects against slavery and Peter et al would have law protect against abortion.

  • Yale 08

    Jack #5,

    Your population hysteria has been proven wrong again and again.

    The entire population of the United States could fit inside the borders of New Hampshire (with the density of Brooklyn).

    Life is a precious gift. More precious than wealth or power or convenience.

  • @7

    Your right! Abortion should never be compared to slavery…..because abortion is sooooooooooo much worse!!!!!!

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  • @#6

    yalemom: can you just IMAGINE the long long LONG line of caring families that would BEG for a healthy Yale baby?

    The mind boggles…

    Also: if young women cannot imagine giving up the baby for adoption, how on earth can they imagine termination?

  • sy09

    Not everything that grows, or has a heartbeat, is alive in any meaningful sense.

    For example, you could probably remove a person’s brain, leaving the stem, and have a human body with a beating heart. This person would not be alive in any meaningful sense: they would exist in an unconscious state, incapable of voluntary action.

    Similarly, that person’s hair and nails would continue to grow; their skin would renew itself and slough off the old; their cells would continue to perform their basic operations. But again, they would not be meaningfully alive.

    In a similar sense, a fetus is not alive: it cannot experience sensation or perform any voluntary action. If you want to know more, read the abstract at the bottom. In brief, a fetus cannot feel pain — or anything at all.

    All of this changes after birth, when the newborn begins to breathe for the first time, the consciousness-inhibiting chemicals in the womb are flushed out, and the newborn, for the first time, can experience sensation and thought.

    So no, a fetus is not a life. Human life requires consciousness.


  • Yale 08

    Stuck on what?

    Did he inflame your liberal sensibilities?

    Abortion is WORSE than slavery. A culture that fails to see that will end in disaster.

    What damage has been wrought by the death of 50 million of our fellow men and women? 50 million friends, spouses, teachers, doctors… All gone.

    Compared to slavery? Please. The numbers speak for themselves.

  • @ yalemom

    Yalemom, your naivety represents my real issue with the pro-life movement. There are already thousands upon thousands of children waiting to be adopted. Do you really think putting up all unwanted fetuses–those with disabilities, those who are not perfect and white–up for adoption is an viable option in any way, shape or form? Or are you just parroting the silly rhetoric repeated to you by the equally shortsighted pro-life movement? (Just curious, how many kids have YOU adopted, since you seem so sure it’s the solution? How many children of color? Kids with Down Syndrome?)

    I can’t even begin to address this article, other than to say I’m embarrassed that a fellow Yalie would even construct such an obvious straw man argument, much less get it published.

  • Bristol

    Awesome message: why not focus on PREVENTION instead of ABORTION?

  • Swiss Miss

    Last try didn’t take. So here it is again.

    Recently, the Swiss passed a new amended law that protects the dignity of vegetation.

    The law takes into account “the moral consideration of plants for their own sake” and establishes that vegetation has innate value and that it is morally wrong to partake in activities such as the “decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason.”

    Compare that with how we are discussing living human potentialities.

  • @#7

    Why not, though? Review Dred Scott.

    Although it is said to be a part of the woman’s body, the fetus is not even esteemed as highly as an eye, a hand, or a finger. It would be considered inhuman to destroy one of those parts for any reason short of necessity. The fetus is given about the same consideration as a tumor or an inflamed appendix. To sterilize a woman as a preventative to pregnancy is considered to be a destruction of her human rights, but to terminate her pregnancy is thought to be neither inhuman nor destructive of the infant’s rights.

    We hear little from abortionists about the “sins” (or “costs”) of fornication. Rather, they contend that freedom of sexual activity is another human right which we dare not discourage. Promiscuity is encouraged by our society (or, at least, popular and collegiate culture) as a whole. With the abandonment of sexual “morality” has come a disregard for the life that results from the lack of sexual restraint.

    Slave owners were “pro-choice,” contending that the choice of whether to own slaves or not was a private and personal matter and that one’s personal values should not be pushed onto others. The “pro-choice” ideology was urged to protect slavery then, and it is designed to facilitate the destruction of life now.

    Dred Scott, I think, remains applicable.

  • Glen Tennis

    I have a real zen for chocolate right now.

  • Yale 08


    Your disgusting error is that you assume life is not worth living.

    Life in a foster home is ALWAYS preferable to death in the womb via abortion.

    Human Life has intrinsic value. It does not depend on “quality”.

  • @#16

    Oh my. No, seriously. Oh my.

    #16, there are WAITING LISTS to adopt! Why do you think Americans adopt abroad? Chinese, Haitian, Russian, ANYTHING: Americans pay BIG dollars, BIG fees, BIG baksheesh to adopt.

    Don’t you know ANYTHING? Don’t you research? There are entire ORGANIZATIONS with waiting lists to adopt baby’s with Down’s Syndrome.

    Here, look: I googled it for you. Top hit headline: “Would you like to adopt a child with Down syndrome? Get in line.”

    With your “perfect and white” meme, you should be ASHAMED of yourself. Lazy or liar, which is it?

    No, I am not yalemom. But in answer to your crass question: I have adopted only ONE child that meets your criteria. The other two, in my foster care, are not available for adoption (which makes a tremendous and ironic difference when paying their college tuitions, but you wouldn’t even know what I am talking about).

    Your ignorance is truly, honestly, and egregiously sickening.

  • @#16

    Article contrasts a more thoughtful, mostly conservative, mostly Christian approach to the “kill ’em all” rantings of a Mother Jones article.

    Put aside your preconceptions and simply try to perceive the impetus, beliefs, and motivations underlying each article (the one I cite and the one cited in that article).

    Try it. Thinking, I mean.

  • @#16

    You must be new to Peter Johnson columns.

  • angry

    Was 4 years not enough for Mr. Johnston to terrorize and intimidate women on the editorial pages of the Yale Daily News? Must he return again to spew his hateful, violent rhetoric in his ceaseless effort to limit women’s rights, just for his own personal, selfish amusement?

  • SY ’10

    Bristol, great idea. Presumably this is why Yale (recognizing that it’s better never to have an unwanted pregnancy at all) makes contraception so readily available for Yale students. Of course, conservatives usually complain about that, too, since as we all know, sex is evil, except in the context of a heterosexual marriage blessed by a Christian church.

  • Hieronymus

    Not off topic, you just have to wait for it:

    I observed a similarly heated “debate” over circumcision once. The anti-circer was asking the pro-circer why he didn’t just wait, allowing his son to make up his own mind at, say, age 12.

    The pro-circer stated “Well, if I left it up to him he’d NEVER get cut.”


    In reference to #21 (who refs #16): were you to wait until you could ask the fetus, I am sure that “he’d NEVER get cut.”

    Or, another tack: *if* you can be so cavalier with another’s life, why not, then, your own? Let’s say that you imposed a terrible burden on your parents (and maybe you do), would you consider aborting yourself?

    Another semi-related tangent. All this talk of “viability” (not here; elsewhere). You think a newborn is autonomous? Is “viable outside the womb?” I assure you, it is not. Leave it alone, it will die. So will the one year old. And many two year olds.

    Just some thoughts to provoke the truly self-reflective among us.

  • yale

    Hate to break it to you, Peter, but you graduated. Time to move on.

  • this is straight up farce

    wasn’t chase olivarius-mcallister’s point that she does not begrudge CLAY its applications to the Women’s Center, whether made for their beauty or for public relations gain, but that she won’t tolerate CLAY whining about its rejection?

    this is just more whining. and columns like this are obviously political stunts.

    also,@#2, YC ’11: I think you can probably call chase by her name. I love that she is like Voldermort to you people.

    then again, if the figurehead of my movement wrote like Johnston, I’d be terrified of her too.

  • Lets finish this issue

    The right to choose does not extend over the existence of another life. Noone with a heart and morals can debate that. Let us establish that, and then vote nationally on where life begins or vote to let scientists decide or have a great national debate and then vote. Anything, but this is a matter that as a society we cannot morally leave to the courts. I cannot stand by and have this occur and I suspect that people who feel differently than me cannot either. Whichever side you fall on, to be happy with the current system is at best lazy, at worst negligent and cowardly. At some point a fetus is alive and becomes a baby. This clearly does not follow a trimester framework perfectly. Therefore, women are being unfairly constrained or babies are being murdered or both. Unacceptable either way.

  • @#26

    “Bristol, great idea. Presumably this is why Yale (recognizing that it’s better never to have an unwanted pregnancy at all) makes contraception so readily available for Yale students. Of course, conservatives usually complain about that, too, since as we all know, sex is evil, except in the context of a heterosexual marriage blessed by a Christian church. ”

    For one, not all conservatives are Christian. Second, Christian do not believe sex is evil. Third, it is the CATHOLIC church… not all Christian churches. And we all know that Baptists all think Catholics will go to hell and vice versa.

    By the way, the pro-life movement is not solely a religious movement. You can be an athiest (like me) and still believe life begins at conception. Geez, imagine that.

  • Please Understand

    Everyone who comments on this article. Please understand both sides. 20 million + abortions is greater than the toll of all US wars. (Right? I’m pretty sure) and so for those who believe in life at conception. Our current state is an abomination. A modern day babylon except with no fancy hanging gardens (which were themselves not as great as the Colossus). If you feel that we are a broken record bent on taking away women’s rights, please understand that we cannot ever give up. To do so would be to say the worst thing that is happening in the world today is ok. Just the sheer toll of innocent human life is staggering. If LA, Dallas, and NYC where to sink into the ocean. Would we just go on? No. We cannot and we will not. This debate will never be over. That’s pretty much a downer, but! I believe in the end, prenatal surgery and scientific advance may deliver us. If, a fetus could be extracted and allowed to live externally or in a surrogate. perhaps millions would choose a different option. A kind of prenatal adoption without all that messy birth and pregnancy stuff. I think that’s a world where we can all live happily. Let’s hope we get there soon, because one side can’t give up and the other side won’t give in. And so we go on…

  • Recent Alum

    Is #25 a parody comment? You would think it goes without saying that it is, but sometimes it is impossible to tell.

  • Ferny Reyes

    The reason I can’t take the pro-life movement seriously is because it doesn’t have a viable economic, political, social or cultural solution.

    1. Adoption statistics keep on being dropped her, however, the demographic that would be most affected by abortions being illegal, African-Americans, have a historically much lower adoption rate. There are waiting lines for ‘healthy, white children’, but certainly not for minority children, particularly Af-Am. Furthermore, there are already hundreds of thousands of individuals within the foster system that don’t get adopted. And there are certainly not the 1.2 million extra people waiting in line to adopt that forced pregnancies would demand.

    2. Politically speaking, most in the pro-life movement are also in the Republican party, which has traditionally eschewed tax regimes and governing structures that would allow for a supportive live for a child in the aftermath of birth. Drastic cuts in welfare, public education and other safety net institutions make it likely that these children would grow up in desperate poverty.

    3. The constant refrain from ‘non-Christian’ individuals notwithstanding, the pro-life movement is largely based in religious institutions.

    4. This is probably the most controversial bit: what is up with the really weird martyrdom complex over adopting children with special needs? Why not adopt one of the hundreds of thousands of kids in foster care that are already alive, have been around for several years, and are actively starved for ‘love’? Let’s be honest here: as much as you may want to believe children with massive mental and physical disabilities are God’s special gift, it doesn’t make any particular sense to our economics to want to develop more. ALl circumstances being equal, we should prefer neurotypical kids more often. This does not mean you should ‘hate’ your child or necessarily even abort it for that specific reason, but it seems weird to specifically want to do so. I guess it’s a religious martyrdom thing?

  • Ferny Reyes, con’t

    5. Anyway, let’s talk about sex: I understand the whole ‘sexual immorality’ argument for some Christians turns them hot, but really, does anybody think of the consequences of living in a world where we try to demonize sex, while promoting patriarchy (really, try to justify a society where woman and men are considered social equals when woman can be forced to be pregnant, I dare you), and lashing out against sexual difference?

    I mean, this is my problem with the pro-life movement ultimately: the consequences of your world would be despicable: more children born into poverty, greater social inequality, greater gender inequality, greater means of discrimination and this would be enforced through a weird relationship based on religious morals.

    I really don’t desire to go back to the 19th century…

    P.S. – If anybody on the right tries to give the ‘but charity will support them’ argument, stuff it. This is historically untrue. Charity is good – it does a horrific job of providing mass social support at a level that doesn’t basically leave individuals to the vissectitudes of chance. Victorian England had a MASSIVE charity system and it still was unable to alleviate conditions for the poor in any meaningful way. Though they really did try. Read anything by Frank Prochaska.

  • Hmmm…

    Does CLAY support similar-gender couples adopting fetuses saved from the abortionist’s knives? If so, I’d like to get in line for a Yale undergrad;s career-ending fraternal twins.

  • @36

    “Similar gender”? Really?

  • yalemom


    I am happy to know YOUR mother does not agree with you….YOU are alive…even if somewhat not all there!

    You know nothing about abortion, get educated. I think you read some really great responses.

    By the way, I am currently on the Catholic Charity’s list to adopt/foster children from Haiti’s earthquake disaster.

    God bless.

  • @ yalemom

    I am not entirely convinced that you know that pro-choice political groups are out ensure the legality of abortion. You seem, often, to think that people who are pro-choice frequently become impregnated and willfully abort every fetus within them. My mother had an abortion; she also had me. Abortion is not just human, it is the most womanly of decisions. You make it sound as though the motherhood is simple, as though all women are already prepared for it, or should be. My mother is a yalemom too, in both the sense that she went here, and in the sense that she raised me. I was not alive for many, many centuries. This, I did not mind. I am very glad that my mother waited to have me, that she had that abortion. I can imagine nothing worse than to be born and unwanted, for one’s life, and the sacrifices that every mother makes for your growth, to be anything but understood and joyous. My mother didn’t “get knocked up.” She chose me. This is in a real way the beauty of my life.