By Paul Fahey Thursday, November 21
The internet is flooded with article after article, opinion after opinion, harangue after harangue about the legalization and limitation of abortion (or lack thereof) in the United States. So why did I feel the need to write another one? Quite simply because the discussion is far from over, the debate anything but settled, and there needs to be more reasoned, logical discussion from both sides. So that is what I hope to provide you with here: a brief argument against the legalization of abortion that captures and expresses the heart of the ethical debate without getting lost in the morass of personal and hypocritical opinions. This will be done in two parts. This week will focus on what to avoid when discussing abortion in order to have a reasoned conversation, and next week I will propose and outline the heart of the anti-abortion argument.
The first thing to avoid when trying to deter simple polemics and opining is using personal feelings as legitimate arguments. Next to the debate surrounding same-sex “marriage,” the legalization and limitation of abortion is probably the most heated and emotionally driven issue in American politics. I do not wish to discredit sincere human emotions and feelings. However, when it comes to the political and ethical debate surrounding the systematic discrimination against a particular demographic of human beings, I think that the way that someone “feels” about abortion and those involved must take a back seat to a reasoned and logical discussion. Personal feelings definitely have their place when it comes to the advancement or prohibition of abortions rights, but not when it comes to legislation or constitutional interpretation.
Secondly, do not, at any point, demonize the “other side.” This is much easier to do than one may expect simply because of the nature of the debate. One side is convinced that the lives of tens of millions of human beings is at stake and the other resolutely believes that the personal and sexual autonomy of women is at stake – so how dare someone disagree with me! While I’m not denying that there are people with straight-up evil intentions in this debate, in all honesty I have never seen any. Not one anti-abortion activist that I’ve met wants to subjugate women and take away their personal integrity, and I’ve not met one believer in the right to abortion that desires to murder babies en masse or sacrifice children to Moloch.
I know, I know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. However, I’m not saying that good intentions equal moral actions or positive decision making. What I’m saying is that it is very easy to dehumanize “the other” and not ever consider that they are motivated by some of the very same things that you are. To be cliché and quote Ender Wiggin, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” If those who oppose abortion are not able to see their ideological opponents as valuable human beings, then can they honestly call themselves “pro-life”?
The third thing to avoid when discussing abortion is tied to the second, and that is the descent into the semantic “anti-choice” and “pro-abortion” rhetoric. If the only issue on the table is abortion, it may be best to use the labels “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights.” In this particular instance, I would avoid throwing around the typical “pro-life” and “pro-choice” terminology simply because these labels are poorly understood. To be pro-life does not mean to merely oppose abortion. To be pro-life is to profess an anthropology that holds all human beings as valuable simply because they are human. That means, among other things, ascending to a political stance that is opposed to war, capital punishment, slavery, etc. Likewise, to be pro-choice, if the label is to be accurately defined, does not mean to merely oppose legal/social restrictions on abortion. To be pro-choice really means embracing a more Libertarian ideology that opposes, among other things, any legal restrictions on one’s ability to choose what insurance to use, what school to send one’s kids to, what recreational drugs to use, or even when and where one may choose to carry a firearm. Words mean things, so use them intentionally and with prior thought.
Hopefully these ideas will help further civil and rational dialogue on future discussion you may have about abortion. Or, at the very least, I hope they sparked some deeper reflections on this debate from both sides of the aisle. Tune in next Thursday for the central argument surrounding the abortion dispute, one that captures the heart of this pressing ethical issue.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.