Sunday, August 08, 2004

Bridging the Abortion Gap

John Stossel spoke at a YAF conference Tuesday. I caught the last bit of it on CSPAN, enough time to watch to young conservatives ask excellent questions. A young woman from a right to life organization asked John about the libertarian stance on abortion, the subject of which libertarians are about as divided as the country in general. John was similarly on the fence, though at the time he said that abortions should be illegal after five months of pregnancy.

What concerned me is the woman’s use of popular spin tricks to support her anti-abortion position. Most notably, she said there’s a “huge body of scientific evidence” that illustrates life begins at conception. Citing vauge scientific support is a common tool to rally people to your cuase while avoiding the pesky need for hard facts. These tactics are rare at libertarian-leaning conferences because they are rarely covered by the media (thus not as subject to politics) and participants are genuinely interested in honest debate, not pushing an ideology. Why was abortion an exception? Abortion is what political scientists call a “wedge issue,” meaning it will drive a wedge between people almost all the time. Individuals will side with a candidate or policy based solely on their position one abortion (irresponsible logic in itself). There’s even a Seinfeld episode where Elaine stops dating an excellent guy simply because he’s anti-abortion. Even more amazing is that’s perfectly believable.

When it comes to abortion, I prefer to leave it in the hands of philosophers and families rather than politicians and bureaucrats; it’s ultimately a question of the origin of consciousness. But I’m not sure about my stance. I have no idea when sentient life begins…no one does. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a liar or God, and God’s probably too busy to talk to you. What’s needed is an open and honest discussion about abortion, one that spans every corner of the country involving family, friends and neighbors, not political elites who are too afraid to concede even the most obvious point. That way, we might actually make some progress.

So how do we get this great debate? Remember when I said that abortion is a “wedge issue?” If the same wedge issue comes up enough, a gap forms between people. They don’t associate with one another, they demonize the “other side,” and they certainly don’t have open, honest and decentralized debates. The first step is bridging that gap so people will be willing to talk to each other and that requires changing the language behind the debate. As it stands, you are either pro-choice or pro-life, implicitly saying that people who disagree with you are either anti-choice or anti-life. What an awful thing to imply. One suggests that someone is a tyrant while the other says someone is a murderer (language that’s very close to the actual attack words used by either side). If we are to have an open, honest and decentralized discussion about abortion we need to stop calling each other names. It’s not that hard. Notice in this post I use the terms anti-abortion and pro-abortion. The only way to bridge the gap between these people is to stop name calling, spinning and posturing and start listening.

3 comments:

Chris said...

Ohhhh, such a lovely ending David. Now I really feel like building a bridge to the 21st century. ;) Well, in all seriousness I must say that in certain aspects you are right. However, when you mentioned that the whole issue comes down to a matter of when consciousness begins, I must disagree. If we were to follow this line of reasoning and hypothetically someday we are able to "determine" that humans develop full consciousness at the age of 6 weeks or 6 months after birth then this would open the doors to infanticide which would be disgusting since it would terminate biological, post-birth life. However, IMO, abortion issues revolve around the fact that the women has every right to her body that anyone else does and if she chooses to abort a fetus than by every means she should. Just as anyone who has an unwanted guest in their house has a right to toss them out (though there is also the counter arguement that this does not need to be done through violent means.) But, your point is well taken David that this is certainly a "wedge issue" that needs a GREAT deal more rationally added to bring the debate to reasonability.

P.S. - On a wholly unrelated topic now, you mentioned that the abortion debate has become a "wedge issue." Well, this would certainly be a "post-birthist" perspective of the issue; a "pre-birthist" would argue that this is in fact the "only issue." :) BTW, I'm not sure if you were privy to Mr. Perkin's and my conversations concerning the philosophies of "pre-birthism" and "post-birthism", but this topic rekindled my memory of it. Ahh, such silliness, I miss it at times.

Erin said...

Let's see:
1. There is some evidence to suggest when a 'baby' goes from being an inert conglomeration of cells in a woman's body to something that actually responds to outside stimuli. That roughly correspondes with the historical stop-point for abortion quickening. (Forgive me for not being able to quote all the exact arguements and whatall.) Now, I'm not saying that it's a a conscious being at that point, only that it's more than a just parasite.
2. But, it does come down to a woman's right to choose.
3. It's a wedge issue yes. But that also entails an issue that is used (usually) just to get people in an uproar, to take sides, and then have little or nothing done about said issue. (And here we have the rare 'skills' of Pres. Bush. He takes a wedge issue and does something about it. If he weren't constantly trying to re-write the constitution I might applaud him for taking stances on wedge issues and not just using them for shock and support reasons.)
4. Another wedge issue: race. Still! (of historic proportions) It's still an issue that divides this nation and doesn't get people elected if spoken about. Yeah, it's been talked about, kinda.
5. John Stossel is a blow-hard, hack who uses the scare tactics of pop, psudeo-science to back himself and as so many others. He toutes himself as living in Middle America and uses his position to help pit middle against lower when he lives no where near what he's talking about.
6. I posted a response (additions and rebutts) to your response of "Broken Link."

-Ron said...

Some time ago I wrote an editorial test-piece for the campus paper, which I reprint below. It was never published. What strikes me about that is, returning to Mr. Youngberg’s call for dialog, that suppression of dialog is not the most helpful way to encourage dialog. I mention in my article that the debate has been left entirely to the public conscience, but yet the public is often denied the most central mediums available to it for public debate: newspapers, local television, radio, and even the town square all have policies or ordinances that prohibit anykind of 'real' debate. All that is left, then, is special interest rhetoric - which convinces no one, angers everyone, and perpetuates what Mr. Youngberg’s calls the 'demonization' of people. What was it that Glen Whitman said was the first thing about economics…that incentives work. Well, perpetuating a silence certainly provides a powerful disincentive to talk about it. Anyway, my thoughts on this issue are somewhat more decided than David’s are, but that in no way diminishes the essential nature of my message.

Oh, and Chris, for the record I am still holding to the post-bornist point of view, though specifically of the pre-death school.

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TOWER editorial

Civic Responsibility at Bethany: Social Debate Quietly Continues

Walking about the campus this week, I have encountered a number of signs proclaiming one side or the other of the ever-divisive abortion debate. In one location a feminist anti-abortion sign declares that women should refuse to choose. Immediately below that sign another contrarily asserting that choice is a must. Both display thought-provoking graphics, both are simple and effective advertisements. First, I am energized and excited to see participation in civic dialog of any kind by fellow students. That said, however, I cannot help but wonder if both signs do not point to a fundamental misconception about the abortion debate itself.

I call it the abortion debate – not choice – because ultimately, this is what the conversation is about: asking whether a woman should have the right to an abortion, or not. This perspective stands in contrast to the way in which the debate is frequently structured, that of choice. Life itself is first and foremost of all natural law, and therefore informs heavily upon human law. It follows, then, that the reason why this debate continues – despite the decades old Roe v. Wade ruling – is that the essential “life question” has yet to be determined, either legally or socially. When is life life? More specifically, when were you first alive? Was it when you first breathed oxygen (at birth)? Or was it when your heart began beating (6 weeks after conception)? The Supreme Court has wisely avoided answering this more important question, and has allowed the debate to remain solely upon the public conscience. And so we continue to question, to dispute, and to act – publicly and privately – as our conscience moves us. Until the abortion debate is willing to tackle the essential question of human life, about what constitutes it and not, there can be no end to this debate. Everyone believes in the sanctity of human life, there just seems to be some confusion as to what constitutes that life.

Personally, I wish our society could regard abortion as most Founding Fathers regarded slavery – in the course to ultimate extinction. That perhaps personal and social responsibility – or save that, technology - would become sufficiently great among us that it would render the point mute. But alas, I fear that this is merely a utopian dream. So I am writing my check to Feminists for Life, hoping that perhaps one woman somewhere will not have to make such a ghastly choice, and pondering this paradox: just because Patrick Henry believed that we should live free or die, does it necessarily follow that something must die in order for us to live free? And perhaps even more vexing – in this divided debate where everyone seems to have chosen a side, does anyone truly care?