Simply mentioning the word ‘abortion’ is guaranteed to close minds, especially in the United States, not least because almost no one pays attention to what Roe v. Wade actually says…and more of that is a-comin’ soon with a Supreme Court nomination fight underway.
When I taught Composition, I started the semester asking students to write an opinion paper providing their opinion (duh) on the subject. Were they ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ (this was almost thirty years ago…so you can already see that some things never change….)? But as a teacher of writing and critical thinking, you should know there’s something coming…. The catch? For their final exam, they were given the same topic, but had to argue the opposing point of view.
I think that’s important–in any discussion, for there to be real progress, you have to understand the other side and where they are coming from and how they reached their points of view. Unfortunately, the willingness to discuss is receding from American civil society–that’s the fault of fundamentalism and absolutism.
So, to show the folly of taking a complete black/white view of ANY issue, especially one like abortion, consider the following two situations. You have an either/or choice. There are no ‘Yeah, but…’ permitted, no exceptions–we are dealing with absolutes here.
As context, please understand that the fundamentalist position on abortion is that a fetus has equal value as a human and that life begins at conception.
Situation 1: Your wife is in her third trimester of pregnancy–or perhaps she has started labor (this doesn’t matter for the scenario). The doctor tells you it is serious–she can save your wife or save the fetus. Who do you choose?
Are you really choosing the fetus? If all life has equal value, what did you just declare about your wife’s value? …or should she have the final say–since it is her life on the line?
–the problem is, that if we accept that she should have the final say because her life is in jeopardy, we’ve established the logic that a woman has the right to determine events within her own body (which is a pro-choice argument).
Situation 2: You are in a burning clinic. A woman has left her baby while going to the bathroom and can’t get back to the room. In the same room, there’s a container of 50 fertilized eggs/test-tube babies, all ready to grow. The fire is spreading and you only have the time to grab the baby *OR* the test-tube container. Which do you grab?
Again–does anyone leave the baby? Do you even think more than 0.5 seconds about it? No, not if you’re honest with yourself. Heck–put it out to sea…save a drowning baby or retrieve a container–no one goes after a container, but we all know adults who would risk their own lives to save a drowning baby.
–the problem is, if we accept that life begins at conception and you save the baby rather than the fertilized eggs, you’ve effectively murdered 50/100/1000 human beings.
Thus, the reality is that banning abortion is not the right choice and arguing for such a ban, claiming to be ‘pro-life’ is an attempt to pull on heart-strings (who is NOT pro-life because life is good, so opposing life must make you evil….) and not something that should ever be done. Emotional appeals are the resort of arguers who can’t sustain a position with facts.
To be clear-–I’m not arguing for abortion on demand or interested in valid arguments pro/anti abortion. I know the arguments on both sides, I do my research. What I’m arguing against is absolutism, fundamentalism, the idea that there is no middle ground, that abortion must be a 100% evil or else a 100%-available procedure regardless of circumstance.
There IS middle ground, there is room for valid debate–but to return to that point in our culture, we must first fight the addictive hate of seeing everything as us vs. them or that anyone opposed to us is automatically evil.
If we go back only to the 1980s (before the Gingrich-led radicalization/polarization of Congress), you can see how this works. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, et al. had differing views from their Democratic counterparts like Tip O’Neil or Daniel Moynihan and yet government functioned. They realized the folly of absolute positions, that effective policy comes from discussion and compromise, that, in the words of Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”.”
Work to help find that middle ground again–the area John McCain searched for in working across the aisle before his death. And if you’re one of those all-or-nothing fundamentalists (far left or right)? Well, you’re an enemy of the Republic.