Sunday, February 12, 2006

Any man who says "It's none of my business" has already committed abortion in his heart

I'm not in a position to say how crucial it may be, but one thing more pro-lifers need to do is stop assuming that the pro-choice position is the correct one.

Morally, no, we don't think that way, but to hear people talk, I am not surprised when I get the impression that in conceding the fact of the legal right to abortion, pro-life people unwittingly concede a moral right to it before their opponents, as well.

What we say doesn't contradict our stance, but how we speak does compromise it.

I'm not saying we should start calling the pro-choice movement pro-death or anti-life as a matter of course, although it may be worth risking the offense of a few people to make some rhetorical points now and then. I'm saying we need, in part, to stop lying down whenever someone refers to us simply as anti-choice.

Actually, I didn't have that example in mind when I first sat down to write, but it encapsulates what I'm trying to say. Usually we're all polite enough to refer to each other by the labels we've chosen for ourselves. Although I'm confident it's happened, I can't remember any time when a pro-life person or publication casually referred to the pro-choice side as pro-death or what have you. One or two particular uses of the epithet to make a point, I've seen, but the response was always outrage at the mischaracterization (which I'll get to in a minute). However, I've almost never seen anyone speak up when someone, say in the MSM, refers to us generally as anti-choice.

Calling us anti-choice is at least as mischaracterizing as the pro-death label. Notice I made a distinction between particular use to make a point--certain individuals might actually be interested in all sorts of infanticide for population control or what have you, and other individuals may want to legally recategorize women as chattel, both of which are separate issues from abortion--and broad use, to generalize or stereotype. The former would have to be treated on a case by case basis: it might be true, and it might be slander. The latter is something I don't think we've done a good job of protecting ourselves from.

We start out by calling ourselves pro-life, to make evident the fact that our goal is orthogonal to the question of women's rights specifically, not opposed to it. However, I'm not sure we go far enough.

With the Alito confirmation hearings, Roe v. Wade had come up a lot, naturally, and where the Democrats had been unable to penetrate Alito's (and even Roberts', before) armor with direct attacks, they still succeeded in setting the tone of the debate (although not always in their favor, it turned out). Making it a question about simply women's rights at this level, in this stage of the game, would be too sophomoric to be taken seriously, I suspect, but making it sound more fundamental, like reproductive rights, or more personal (i.e. less the concern of the public), like abortion rights, still gets through most everyone's filters.

In fact, I'd say it informs everyone's filters. I can't tell you how many headlines I saw last month that used verbiage to the effect of supporting or not supporting abortion rights. Do you see what they've done? The baseline, the common denominator, is Abortion Rights, and whether or not someone supports them. Everything except a few undercirculated pro-life handbills and newsletters is framed in terms of abortion rights, as if they are an objective and proper thing in themselves, the default and natural result of a civilized society. The pro-lifer is not only fighting uphill (since, from what I can remember--I don't have any statistics handy but I'll be happy to check any reference you'd care to suggest--far more people support abortion in some form now than they did in 1973), but fighting on enemy territory. Pro-choicers generally get to set the tone and standards for the debate, so they get the home court advantage. We have to demonstrate that abortion is morally wrong and that it should be illegal; all they have to do is demonstrate that it's none of our business.

Naturally, they'll assume it's because they're right, and naturally we assume the contrary. If I may digress for a moment to comment on the sad state of modern journalism in general, I'd like to quote G. K. Chesterton: "Bigotry is the incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition." Sometimes I think half of what gets me upset about "abortion rights" is the tendency of some people who get in the fray to simply state and restate their position, rephrasing it to make it sound like they're addressing the challenges put to them by their opponents, but not really talking to them and explaining things at all; they're just talking, parroting themselves, as if incessant repetition will make us put down our foolish and arbitrary opinions. I wonder if they also raise their voices when talking to blind people.

One recent example I read--I know I'll sound biased to some, but it's the only recent one I happen to remember offhand--was a person saying he would not want his daughter to kill his grandchild, and another person responding with "That's why women's right to choose, to control her own body, to privacy, needs to be protected." No matter what the argument, no matter how tenuous the connection or ironic the parallel, it's always evidence that women's rights for whatever justifies an abortion are in danger, as if Roe protects both the right to choose an abortion and the right to choose life, which tends to be less than true in practice. This person earlier had been making all her points with the assumption that her opponents, the pro-life people, were only men (since, apparently, no lucid woman would be pro-life), which sort of brings me back to the point of my digression, which I'd gotten off of: no matter how certain you are that you're right, no matter how obvious you think the truth is to the people who disagree with you, remember that they're disagreeing with you for a reason, and it's probably not spite, and as a courtesy you should assume it's also not stupidity. If you don't assume everybody else is stupid, it will be easier for you to learn from them, even if they happen to be wrong.

In short, never assume your truths to be self-evident; repeating and rehashing them to sound vaguely like they apply to various and sundry thoughtful points. It doesn't further the discussion, and just makes you look like you're lazy and not paying attention. It's bad enough in a debater; I had to stop reading a certain mainstream media outlet because it's even worse in journalists, whose half-baked editorializing seems to pass for background and analysis on otherwise factual stories these days.

All right, now with my rant over....

At the risk of irony, while we keep hearing that abortion/choice is natural and moral, I'm not sure we make it clear enough why we're so up in people's grills about prenatal life issues. As a casual observer, most of the debates I see go along the lines of "We get upset because we see over a hundred thousand children killed, worldwide, every day" and "You're being ridiculous and sentimental; they're not people." Period. The inherent dignity of children is recognized as something we believe due to some personal flaw, but not as a potentially legitimate position by itself. While I don't expect to convert anyone by fiat, I would appreciate it if some respect came with the disagreement. After all, I can sympathize with a woman who doesn't want to have the child of, say, her own father; is the person who simply is a little more generous with his definition of personhood not even worthy of charitable pity? No, because we're religious nuts who blow up buildings (Do I need to specify abortion clinics?), right? Yet you still can't relate your carnage to ours for the sake of argument?

Private individuals, I suppose, could do so, but the demagogues can't afford to. I think they recognize the slippery slope before them. I am still a little shocked, though, by the folks who can look people in the eye, concede that we've got no objective reason to say personhood definitively starts no sooner than viability or birth, so it's both a person and a human from the moment of conception, and still say it's okay to kill him or her in certain situations, as if it were no different from war or the death penalty...which may not be the best examples. I guess some bizarre and revolting parallel can be stretched between a problematic pregnancy and a violent criminal at large, in some very narrow way, but it's a chilling proposition.

There it is again, though: to circumvent the moral question of killing a baby, whom many seem to agree for now is a human person, "human" and "person" are split into separate, independent categories when it comes to a baby who's unborn. Sometimes it's just presented as a "living organism" instead of an integrated and discrete human when the blob of cells perspective is shown to be rather weak. If I were more optimistic about people's ability to recognize the desperation of pro-choice pundits when they resort to taxonomies that have no place outside of a philosphy classroom, I'd be relieved, but I'm actually rather disturbed that they can come so close to acknowledging the real humanity of the unborn and still find a way to dismiss it. Maybe I shouldn't be, maybe it's harder for them than I realize. Quoth Kate Riordan recently of the Georgetown Independent, "Some would argue that the Morning After Pill is also destroying a life, and yet I have never seen someone march for zygotes." I submit Ms. Riordan is not trying very hard to find actual evidence to refute.

In our brave new world, or at least in the Netherlands, such attitudes might become acceptable, but for now I'm still a little relieved to see pro-choice demagogues at least changing the question, since the old arguments are proving to be about as logical as that which is behind Roe itself, which even pro-choice legal scholars acknowledge is not exactly normal jurisprudence. I think they realize that they can't take the moral high road on any but the most superficial and ephemeral grounds. That door was closed when it was admitted that abortion should be not only safe and legal, but rare. If it were a natural good, there would be no reason to discourage people from it, even medical complications, since serious complications are also relatively uncommon and with medical advances will decrease even further. If it were better for us to work to eliminate the demand in society for abortion, then at best abortion is a "necessary evil," a gravely disordered act, and if we're working to actually eliminate other disordered societal things like the death penalty and war and crime, whether we can eliminate some of these things completely or not, should we not work to eliminate this practice, as well?

Well, yes, but if we reach that conclusion, the pro-choice movement hardly has a leg to stand on; all they'd have is numbered days, trying to keep things safe and legal while the other social problems make it unimportant at the same rate at which it is made rare. Abortion is bad enough to discourage until you really want one, and not bad enough that it should be outlawed, or maybe no one is going to see the sense in that kind of proposition, so how can they defend themselves?

Well, perhaps they might have a few rusty tools left in the shed. To hear some of the pro-life rhetoric, one might think we believe every woman who goes in for an abortion does so with all the gravity of getting a flu shot or a new hairdo. I'm sure most of them weigh the issues carefully. What I'm not sure is if they're weighing the right issues. A significant fraction of abortions don't go to women who can't afford another mouth to feed; they go to women who already have relatively comfortable lives who can't bring themselves to make the sacrifices necessary for feeding another mouth. Sacrifices like not sending whatever children they may have to the best and most expensive school, having to drive a minivan for 100,000 miles instead of trading in a coupe or sedan every 2-5 years; in other words, sacrificing quality of life for life itself. Of course, it is just a fraction; expectant mothers who are really down on their luck are not few in number, but rest assured that they only choice they think is viable is the one promoted by the ones who have a vested interest in maintaining their lifestyle.

I recently read the following response--edited slightly to guarantee anonymity--to an assertion that if abortion is wrong, we (i.e., society at large, the government, as used below) shouldn't allow it, and if we're really killing babies, then abortion is wrong:

Please do not ask the question that way.

Very few abortions take place after viability, and those abortions are for health reasons. There is a difference between believing that abortions are "okay" and believing that a woman and her doctor, rather than state legislators, should make the decision.

Our concern should not be whether abortion is "okay" with us. It should be with who should make the decision.

This demagogue displays the cunning tactic, favored by forensic losers everywhere, of changing horses midstream. Note that this demagogue isn't even claiming anymore that controlling who lives and who dies is an objective good that is the bailiwick solely of women. It doesn't exactly look like the abortion shill thinks she's managed to prove it. She's now saying we shouldn't even be looking at the moral dimension at all; there is only the ethical concern of who gets to make a choice about a private matter.

Well, ya put that way...who would want the government breathin' down our necks like Dolomite?

I feel bad for people whose opinion of humanity is so negative and skewed that killing a child, actual or potential, is actually considered a humane solution to a problem that can only and will always result from the imperfect civilization we will always live in. Oh, I don't expect perfection this side of eternity, either, but I know we can do better. Real problems, including the mass execution of the unborn, are a tragedy. The promotion of Self, putting Self's right to choose an abortion above and beyond, unrelated to, our problems, is just sad.

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