To say that we live in a divided nation at the moment would be a vast understatement. There’s a gulf between two groups in this country, a gulf which many people are helping to strengthen by playing a game of “let’s you and him fight,” pitting “red staters” against “blue staters” and baiting them until they battle. I’ve fallen victim to this mindset and I’m looking for a way out of it. I think that this division is going to continue to be a problem until something can be done about the matter of abortion.
There are many issues that polarize this country, but few are as incendiary, pervasive, and entrenched as the abortion debate. For many people on both sides, this is the single issue around which everything else revolves. For the people on one side, abortion represents an absolute rejection of the sanctity of life itself, an inhuman acceptance of murder in exchange for convenience, and anyone able to condone it cannot be entrusted with anything of value, since they clearly have no values themselves. On the other side, it is seen as a claim of property on a person’s body and privacy, a desire to subjugate women and reduce them simply to incubators. Obviously both of these views are extreme, but even when reduced in intensity there remains a conflict that seems unavoidable.
The abortion issue concerns me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I don’t like any issue that overwhelms everything else, whether it’s this one, gun rights, drug legalization, or whatever. There are too many important issues to let one trump all others, and I think that this behavior has led many people to vote against their own best interests and those of society in general simply to express their views on this one topic. This bothers me, but what also bothers me is the feeling that my side, or at least the views of the majority of people on my side, might just be wrong about this whole thing. They’re certainly wrong about how they’re approaching it. And I think that unless they wise up and realize what’s wrong, they’ll continue to lose elections, lose moral high ground, and lose integrity.
First thing, let’s define this debate properly. The two sides are Pro Abortion Rights (PAR) and Anti Abortion Rights (AAR). That’s it. For reasons I plan to go into, we need to lose polarizing, vague, and useless code words like “choice” and “life”. This is not about choice or life, the debate is this: should Americans have the right to legal abortions? Regardless of what orbits this controversy, that’s what’s at the center, and pretending otherwise does no one any good.
The PARs will gladly tell you what other issues — economics, gender roles, religious, and corporate — radiate outward from the core issues, but for all their pontificating on the subject, they have missed a single and critical point that renders all their other arguments moot. If someone believes an act results in the murder of an innocent person, there is nothing you can say that’s going to make that okay. Because so many PARs reject the reasoning behind the moral belief, they assume the belief has no reality. This is an irrecoverable error. When is rape okay? In your opinion, under what circumstances would it be permissible to bludgeon a person chosen at random? This is how AAR people see abortion. The refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of their belief not only prevents any kind of resolution, it only intensifies their rejection of both your point of view and the people who hold it.
PARs are constantly demonstrating this lack of understanding. They oppose any kind of abortion restrictions unless there are exceptions for rape or incest, believing that this proves their compassion in this matter. After all, what kind of person would ask an innocent girl to bring her stepfather’s child to term and deliver that child, a nine-month and life-long reminder of the crime visited upon her? They fail to see that in the eyes of an AAR, what they are doing by allowing an abortion in such a case, is executing an innocent person for the crimes of another. For them, it’s the exact same argument, only with a different victim, one even further removed from the actual crime.
They fail to understand that such loopholes and “compromises” such as allowing abortion until a certain point in the gestation period are meaningless to AARs, as meaningless as asking someone to allow mass murder as long as only males over 30 are the victims, or as long as the numbers don’t get about 1/4 of the population. It’s still murder, and it’s still wrong, and there’s no line or quota you can draw to make it acceptable. AARs treat abortion as an all-or-nothing issue because for them it is. PARs seemingly refuse to understand this, and again, this only inflames and encourages the passions of their opposition.
Those who support abortion rights are going to have to come to terms with this before they can make any headway. They are going to have to come up with some kind of plan or argument that takes these beliefs into account rather than simply dismissing them. The majority of PARs are Democrats, who already have a reputation for being condescending to their opponents, and unless they don’t have a problem with this, they need to figure out how to frame their position in a way that doesn’t reject the beliefs of the other side. If they can’t do this, if their position is simply incompatible with this belief, then they need to figure out what that means.
This doesn’t let the AARs off the hook, however. While I agree that it is unrealistic to expect them to suddenly not believe that life is sacred, there are several things they do need to do to shore up their own position.
First of all, they need to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to cherishing life. Life is either sacred or it isn’t. If it’s sacred for the unborn, it needs to be sacred for the born as well. This means you need to seriously think about the death penalty. You need to seriously think about war. And the environment. Life is not just babies. It’s air that doesn’t kill people. It’s a legal system that doesn’t kill people. It’s conflict resolution that doesn’t kill people. You can’t pick and choose which lives are sacred and which are forfeit without severely weakening your argument. If only God can make or take lives, you need to let Him do so and quit deciding for Him. And in addition, you need to make sure these babies have a support system once they are born. That means quality health care, an efficient social system, livable wages for their parents. The PARs have woven a net of related concerns around their stance on this issue; perhaps addressing some of these concerns will be productive to you.
Many AARs, however, are now shaking their heads, saying, “If the parents can’t support the children, they need to not be having sex in the first place, or put them up for adoption.” That’s the second step; many of you need to quit clowning around with the notion of abstinence. The main way to lessen the desire for abortions would be to lessen unwanted pregnancies, and to declare that the only solution to that is to pretend that people won’t have sex if you don’t talk about it is both ridiculous and dangerous. The surest way to prevent a child from drowning is to never let them go into water, but don’t you think it might also be a good idea to teach her to swim or buy her floaties just in case? Whether you like it or not, people are having sex, even when they probably shouldn’t. We can either ignore this, or we can address it. No doubt they should be aware that the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and disease is to not have sex, but we should also make sure they know about the reality of sex. Placing sex as a mysterious amazing thing only available to grownups is not going to make kids forget about it. Sex is a basic biological function and all people should know about it for no other reason than they deserve to know how their own bodies work. You aren’t going to make any progress with the PARs as long as your argument comes with a lot of unrealistic fantasies tacked onto it.
Finally, you need to know the difference between this “moral” debate and other debates you may be involved in. You are absolutely right that in the case of abortion one must consider the innocent life that is at stake. There is no such innocent life at stake when a gay couple wishes to be recognized legally. No one is going to die if they’re taught the scientific principle of evolution. You have every right to your beliefs in these matters but they are not in any way on the same level as the abortion debate. Simply because they are born out of religious belief does not make them equivalent, and you can’t expect any moral capital gained in one of these arguments to be applicable to the others. As long as no lives are at stake, you cannot impose your religion on others, though you are still free to believe as you like.
In conclusion then, both sides need to look at some important truths. The PARs need to quit believing that statistics about fetal viability will convince people that murder isn’t wrong. The AARs need to grow up in other sex-related areas to be taken more seriously. The AARs need to think for a moment about how important life is after the baby is born. And the PARs need to ask themselves if they’re on the right side of this issue. Both sides need to address the concerns that are entwined in this core one, and both sides need to fully understand the other side before any progress can be made. While the PARs need to understand that the AARs can not be expected to budge on the belief at the heart of their argument, the AARs need to be willing to budge on the things they can.
I don’t have any solutions here, I’m afraid. If this problem could be solved in a four-day weekend by a guy who was reading a comic book called “I Hunt Monsters” a few hours ago, it wouldn’t be a problem. But I know that the first step towards a solution is to get both sides looking at the issue honestly and chipping away at it. Obviously the best solution would be to magically have a world in which, for whatever reasons, no one ever needs or wants an abortion. I’m afraid I don’t know how to get there from here, but I know that the road we’re on doesn’t go there.
UPDATE: First off, thanks to the people who complimented me on the essay; I appreciate it. Unfortunately, in my zeal to get it from my head onto the page I omitted two crucial points. Hopefully they’re obvious enough, but just in case, I wanted to get them included here.
First, I know plenty of “pro-choice” people and zero “pro-abortion” people. PARs don’t like abortion. Obviously they feel that it should be a refuge of last resort, or employed only when no other options exist.
Second, the AARs’ opposition to abortion and attempts to outlaw it are not something that can just be waved away under the auspices of “tolerance”. Your right to be left alone to your beliefs ends when those beliefs hurt or are otherwise being imposed unwillingly on someone else. They have every right to attempt to halt what they view as systematic taking of innocent lives.
Thanks again for the kind words.