Saturday, October 22, 2005

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.


At 6:51 PM, Blogger Lily said...

I think the best paragraph came at the end, where he makes an important point. its true this is a difficult and emotional issue, but it helps to focus on facts where possible and acknowledge that certain strategies do not make sense.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Meg said...

I believe no life should be willfully taken, no matter how small. Killing is indeed killing is indeed killing. (Of course, most "pro-lifers" don't believe this. They'll fight almost as hard for the rightness of killing Iraqis and prison inmates as for not killing preborn children. But that's another argument.)

But I agree that many preborn children have been sacrificed on the altar of abortion opponents' 100% solution.

The trouble is this: The pro-life movement drills it into people's head that any exception to a full ban would reduce the ban to nothing. Make an exception for the health of the mother, and a woman will be able to get an abortion because she had herself a good cry one morning. Allow the morning-after pill, and you're denying the value of the preborn child of a rapist.

I do believe the preborn child of a rapist has as much value as any other child and should be protected. That is my principled position.

But if I insist that no policy go forward unless it accommodates this principles position, then in practical terms the preborn child of a rapist will be joined in death by many thousands of other children whose deaths would have been prevented if we had a less-than-total ban instead of having no ban while we wait for a total ban.

So here's the thing. People like me who believe that the life of every preborn child is just as sacred as any other life will never be convinced otherwise. But the pro-preborn-life movement has added a deadly "therefore": Therefore you must never ever support any form of exception to an abortion ban or you'll be a murderer too.

I think we need a new "therefore" that saves lives: Therefore we should support passable legislation to protect the unborn children whom a broad enough cross-section of this democratic public agree we should protect, and we should surround and support women for whom abortion would still be legal, making it monetarily and emotionally possible for her to carry her child to term if she chooses to.

It seems to me that that "therefore" would save the most preborn lives.

And people who share my principled position need to realize that they don't have to abandon their principles to get there.


At 8:27 PM, Blogger Jdeer165 said...

Well said Meg. I would add that the pro-life movement would be much better served if instead of creating paralysis in trying to get abortion under any circumstances banned they should compromise. They don't have to compromise their principles. But work to get legislation that bans 3rd trimester abortions with an exception for when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Then take all that money they use to lobby for absolute ban on abortion and instead create and lobby for adoption of children, counseling for pregnant women contemplating abortion, and educating women on how to prevent these unwanted pregnancies to begin with. If this had been their focus for the past 20 years how many thousands of abortions could have been avoided?

At 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very pro-choice viewpoint:

If I did happen to get pregnant I would terminate the pregnancy. I think an unwanted pregnancy would be the equivalent of an expensive involuntary confinement ending with an incredibly painful manner. Should I have to share my liver with a stranger for nine months because she would die if I did not do so? What if it were my mother? I do not think it should be anyone's decision but mine whether or not I am going to do such a thing. Do I assume the risk of pregnancy because I am a woman who has sex? I assume the risk of getting an STD, but should a cure be withheld from me simply because I have behaved in an "immoral" fashion? While I would have no compunctions about sharing my liver with my mother if it would keep her alive, I refuse to let an unwanted stranger (or zygote) live in me.

If abortion were illegal in the US I would simply go to another country to have it done. I am old enough and can afford to do it. Of course, I imagine I would not be the only young professional woman doing so, but what about the women who can't afford to do so? They would be stuck with it.

I agree that the money spent on trying to get abortion banned would be much better spent on educating people how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and avoiding the situation in the first place, researching contraceptive alternatives, and providing funding for foster care and adoption services. It just makes sense. And it just goes to show that pro-choice and pro-life can actually find some middle ground.

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I think you just compared being pregnant as similar to having a disease. And you compared your own child to a stranger.

There is indeed a middle ground to be found in this issue--but part of that HAS to be a cultural shift--there is a need to convince people that a pregnancy is not a burden to be overcome. That a pregnancy is not cause to dispair.

We simply can't end a life because it is inconvenient. The standard must be higher. I'm not saying we have to make this cultural shift by banning abortiong--but we must make it somehow.

At 2:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous, whether you like it or not, to some women in some situations, pregnancy is indeed a burden, a very serious one, and really IS cause for despair. Simply telling them they're wrong to feel that way is unproductive. As others are trying to point out to you, lightening that burden or offering alternatives to despair IS productive.

But it does no good to tell a pregnant college student that carrying a pregnancy to term and then giving away the baby (or worse, having to raise the baby) isn't a "burden" to her education, finances and future ability to be self-supporting is just plain silly. Of course it is.


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