Letter to a Pro-Lifer
Guest Post by "Adam"
Adam, a student of philosophy and neuroscience, is regular commenter on AmbivaBlog, where he wrote the following in an exchange with another regular commenter, Karen, who is Catholic and pro-life but open to dialogue.
[W]hat I really think you need to do is to distinguish between your goal and your means. Your goal is to limit abortions as much as possible, right? From what I understand, abortion rates are actually a lot higher in some foreign countries where abortion is ILLEGAL. Seriously, what if banning abortion is like prohibition? Would you approve a ban on abortion if it would actually increase the abortion rate? Or if it would only reduce the number of abortions by a very small amount? Would creating a black market and forcing women to bear children against their will, not to mention the huge cost of law enforcement be worth a neglible decrease in the abortion rate?
I know, to you, a life is a life is a life, and murder is murder is murder. But, to speak frankly, this kind of "principled," dogmatic attitude that completely ignores real-world consequences really, excuse my French, fucks up this country and the world big-time.
Why? Because this firm insistence on principle obstructs the very gains you desire. Once on C-SPAN, I saw this fairly conservative bioethicist, appointed by Bush, lament how the intransigence of the pro-life movement prevented anything from being done to legislate cloning. Certain pro-life groups and representatives were obstructing the passage of a bill that would regulate cloning because it was not stringent enough. However, the Democrats and moderate Republicans would not sign such a stringent bill. Therefore, do you know what happened? Nothing passed at all, even though everyone agreed that we should have at least moderate restriction because the hard pro-life side refused to sign onto anything that was not EXACTLY as they wanted it.
I think it would do well for you to study the case of Ireland. As I understand it, for quite some time, they were living under a Pope-acracy, under strict Catholic law. No condoms, no birth control, etc. However, relativly recently, the whole thing collapsed and just legions and legions of young people left the Catholic Church because it was too strict.
(Some conservatives favor a smaller, purer Church, but is this really Christian? Is this spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth? I have no problem if the Church says, ideally, people should not use condoms, etc. But if they turn people out of the church for these and similar matters, how are you fostering the purpose of Jesus? I think it's fine to say "this is better" and "this is best," but I have a problem with "must.")
And look at Iran. From what I understand, a lot of the kids there party and drink (Muslim kids drinking!) and are atheists--and all this in a THEOCRACY.
Bottom line: you can't force people to be moral. It will likely backfire as it did in Prohibition, Ireland, and Iran.
In many ways, I feel that the staunch inflexible pro-life side is in cahoots with NARAL to PREVENT stricter abortion laws. Meaning, you guys shoot yourself in the foot to some extent. By insisting on everything, you get nothing.
Most people, Democrat and Republican want to reduce the abortion rate. Most everyone who is pro-choice knows of the fetus pictures and the grotesque details and has heard a life is a life is a life, but they STILL are pro-choice--for practical reasons. I don't believe people should drink, but I don't support prohibition. Likewise, I don't favor abortions, but I don't support a blanket ban.
Point being, your arguments have convinced all the people that they're going to convince and you're very unlikely to get many more staunch pro-lifers. Think about it. 2/3's! of the population support abortion in the first trimester! However, almost everyone would like to drop the abortion rate.
Second and final bottom line: if pro-life people focused their efforts on people VOLUNTARILY not having abortions and limited their LEGAL efforts to only the extreme cases--third trimester for instance--you would be much more successful. People vote for pro-choice politicians not because they like abortion, but because they're afraid that the pro-life politicians secretly desire, or overtly desire, to ban all abortions at all times--and to hell with the black market, to hell with the costs of law enforcement, and to hell with what women want. The take-home message is that when you insist on everything, you may walk home with nothing.