Mumbley Peg was a very popular game in 19th-century America, equal to marbles and jacks. In Mark Twain’s 1896 novel Tom Sawyer, Detective, mumbley peg, or “mumblety-peg,” was described as a favorite game of young boys. In it two opponents stand opposite each other with their feet shoulder-width apart, then the first player takes his pocket knife and throws it at the ground, sticking it as close as possible to his own foot. The second player does the same with his own knife. The player who sticks his knife closest to his foot wins. The winner then drives a wooden peg into the ground and the loser must pull it out with his teeth while mumbling curses at the winner, hence “mumbley peg.” But there’s another version, presumably for adults (and very bored adults at that), where one can score an automatic win by purposely sticking the knife into your own foot! Throwing the knife as close to your own foot without actually hitting it takes skill and nerve, but an intentionally self-inflicted wound as a fast track to success? Two things immediately spring to mind: How much moonshine was consumed before the concept and ground rules for this sport were thunk up, and um, what’s the point? But as I was chortling to myself over the rank stupidity of this pastime, my head snapped back with the sudden realization that it bears a close resemblance to modern rhetoric about abortion “rights.”
To be sure, the only thing modern about abortion is today’s rhetoric. The practice goes back thousands of years and was most often done with herbal mixtures. Abortion wasn’t discouraged in ancient Greece and Rome, although, according to Wikipedia, a fragment of a poem attributed to Lysias suggests it could have been a crime for a pregnant woman to abort if her husband died before she gave birth, depriving the unborn child of his inheritance. In terms of attitudes, the Stoics, for instance, who believed in practicing virtue and living in accordance with nature, found abortion morally acceptable because they believed the fetus to be plantlike and didn’t assume an animal nature until birth. Elective abortion in the Middle Ages was mostly the province of mid-wives and primarily for women facing “misfortune,” but there were also “partial-birth abortions” using surgical means to save the life of the mother.
Generally, people from ancient times and on through the Middle Ages were accepting of barbarity, be it cheering as Christians were eaten alive by wild animals in the arena or penalties like burning at the stake and drawing and quartering. But needless to say, abortion wasn’t a multi-million-dollar industry as it is today, lauded as being a path to supposed “feminist” empowerment. Nor could the people who lived back then watch a sonogram of a 13-week-old fetus backing away from a needle before getting sucked into a vat. We can. So, who are the barbarians?
Recently, following five hours of at times melodramatic testimony from the pro-abortion public, a Florida State Senate committee advanced a bill to ban abortions at six weeks and give $25 million to pregnancy help centers. (The bill was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on April 13.) An anesthesiologist, Dr. Nancy Staats, using an unintentionally comical visual aid, waved a Tic Tac around in front of the state senators to demonstrate the size of what she said the committee would “privilege over breathing patients”—the “patients” being healthy women choosing elective abortion. She went on: “At six weeks, a human fetus is about half the size of this Tic Tac, four millimeters high. It does not have a face . . . There is no heart, there is [sic] no lungs, there is no brain. It doesn’t have toes. It looks more like a tadpole.” As rhetorical exercise goes, this is throwing a knife into your own foot and claiming victory. If their issue is at what stage of development life in the womb is at when it may be destroyed, then they would embrace a ban at 13 weeks, when the fetus not only has a face, fingers and toes but the instinct to recoil from a suction needle; at 15 weeks, when it’s about to start kicking; at 20 weeks, when it’s two weeks or less away from being able to survive with NICU intervention. So, who’s kidding who? Who’s been hitting the moonshine?
All the talk about abortion being necessary for women to advance in society through career achievement and earning power, or exploiting the emotionally volatile subject of rape, is just rhetoric the politicians can run with when supporting popular pro-abortion legislation, or thwarting unpopular pro-life measures. There are better ways of furthering women’s interests once the resolve is there. Let’s face it, admitting outright that the real need for abortion is so people can hook up without consequence doesn’t have a great ring to it. And any woman who believes the men throwing chairs at pro-life gatherings are doing it to support equal rights for women is a fool.
Another popular justification for abortion is that it’s an answer to overpopulation. Population growth is a legitimate social concern. There were times in history when every birth was championed because so many offspring died in childhood, and disease and war took so many adults. For decades, however, some have worried that the planet will get so crowded it won’t be able to sustain population growth. Mass starvation was the theme in the late ’60s but it didn’t happen because of huge advances in agricultural science and standard-of-living improvements. Now the focus is on depleting natural resources, but the same human ingenuity that averted famine can be brought to bear here. What’s depressing is the headlong rush to resolve these issues by, essentially, culling the herd. To meekly consent to the idea that animal husbandry methods are appropriate for human beings. The so-called abortion right is a self-inflicted wound posing as a fast track to success. It’s bad mumbley peg.