The Uncomfortable Truth at the Heart of Louis CK’s Abortion Comments

My latest post is now up on Relevant:

Louis CK

Did he really just say that?

That’s the question everyone seems to be asking about stand-up comedian Louis C.K.’s latest Netflix special, 2017. But not for the reasons you might suspect.

Louis C.K. is well known for his trademark sardonic humor and jaded outlook on everything from romance to parenthood. So, it wasn’t really a surprise that he was willing to hit on a landmine issue like abortion.

The surprise, however, is that C.K’s comments seem to leave viewers wondering if he is hinting at a pro-life message. Be warned before watching, the routine is crude and meant to offend.

To paraphrase in friendlier terms, C.K. concludes that abortion is either no big deal at all, or it is a really big deal, which means it’s murder. In his view, these are the only two choices we have. Beneath a grin of a man who knows he is stirring the pot and enjoys it, C.K. comments,

I just think it has to be one or the another, you know? Like when people say abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Why rare if it should be legal?…If it’s rare, it’s murdering babies. But again, women should be allowed.”

The response from mainstream media (some praising, some denouncing, and many questioning his comments) has made it clear that C.K. struck a nerve, and that this conversation really isn’t about the comedian or his specific jokes at all.

Abortion is a painful topic for many, and an uncomfortable one for one for most. It’s a sensitive spot that we typically approach delicately, or that we just don’t address at all. And as a rule of thumb, it’s common that we like to play it safe when it comes to the issue.

Many of us would never say that we’re okay with the prospect of ending a child’s life, but we also don’t want to marginalize women. We’ve often been told that abortion is a women’s rights issue, and that it is needed to keep women safe and healthy. And, so we look for a common ground where we can stand somewhere in the grey middle.

Society has pitted the life of a child against the well-being and future of its mother, and asked us to choose one or the other, but not both.

For Christians, this is an impossible position because of our understanding of the Imago Dei – the image of God which has been uniquely gifted to human life. This means that all human life is equally valuable, both the unborn child and the expectant mother carry equal weight. Both have inherent dignity, and both are worth fighting for.

The abortion debate often feels like being between a rock and a hard place, so political statements like “abortion should be safe, legal, and rare,” offer us the slight comfort of a perceived middle ground.

Louis C.K.’s routine, however, takes a sledgehammer to this reasoning and essentially dares us to take a clear side. He uses comedy as an avenue to shatter our perceptions of a moral middle ground, by reminding us there is no truly moral middle ground.

If we don’t have a good feeling about abortion, then in his words, it’s because we know it’s “murdering babies”. But, he reminds us that we also have the option of being transparent and taking the alternative stance, which he purports to take himself. We can admit that we’re okay with women having the right to murder babies.

His winds up the bit by concluding (in comic style) that it’s abortion is okay, because life “really isn’t all that important.”

To this point, you’re left to decide if you agree or disagree. But, you’re also left with a prickling sense of just having had your assumptions challenged. We’ve been jokingly called out for attempting to take a moderate stance on an issue that demands a clear-cut response.

For believers, the calling is clear to opt for a countercultural degree of compassion and care for both women and the unborn. And this will require more of our time, our resource, our energy, and our attention as we seek to build safe spaces and genuine relationships to meet the needs surrounding the issue of unplanned pregnancy and abortion. And that’s a blog for another time.

But to take a moderate stance, is to take no stance at all. Maybe it takes a comedian to point out that such a lukewarm response makes jokes of us all.

One thought on “The Uncomfortable Truth at the Heart of Louis CK’s Abortion Comments

  1. Had not hear much about C.K’s routine, just a some comedian trying to say something outrageous and so I didn’t pay much attention. But by Jove, he has indeed hit the nail square on the head.You wrote: “Society has pitted the life of a child against the well-being and future of its mother, and asked us to choose one or the other, but not both.” And yet, anyone who dares suggest (as Louis C.K. has done) that the life of the child might more important than the mothers well-being is considered the worst possible terms.” Louis C.K.has stated the essential case when he says, “It’s either no big deal or it’s murder.” Anything in between is irrational.

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