[Today's post is written by guest blogger KB.]
Let’s set the record straight.
Pro-Choicers: When talking about abortion, the vast majority of pro-lifers do not hate women. They do not think women should be subservient to men, should have no life outside of childrearing and most don’t even believe the government should stand in the way of women controlling their own bodies. That isn’t the focus of the pro-life belief system at all.
Pro-lifers: When talking about abortion, the vast majority of pro-choicers do not simply want to kill babies. They do not think it is okay for people to run around screwing everyone and avoiding consequences, and many recognize abortion as a hard, painful, and potentially terrible decision to make. Murder isn’t the focus of the pro-choice belief system at all.
This national conversation we are having on the rights of a fetus versus the legalization of abortion is getting us nowhere. Sure, some minor laws have been passed, some good, some bad, but nobody is convincing anybody to switch teams. People have selected their sides and cling more tightly to their opinions than their religion. The result is a huge language disconnect that makes it difficult to have a rational conversation about the topic and actually make progress on what really matters for all parties: a system that gives respect to individual life and liberty.
The problem is not that pro-lifers and pro-choicers don’t believe in the sanctity of life and liberty, it is that they morally define these concepts differently. We pro-lifers believe that “life” begins at conception, and the “liberty” to experience the opportunities of life should be well guarded for all people.
Pro-choicers love life and liberty too. However, most genuinely do not believe that life begins at conception. To them, the liberty to live one’s life and all of its opportunities is something that should be protected for those they consider alive. In that case, it is the mother, and only the mother. People vary in their view as to when life begins, but ask any pro-choicer and they will tell you they cannot fathom how a 3-week-old embryo would be considered a human being. It is outside of their classification system, but it doesn’t make them bad or unapproachable people.
Much like the word “god”, the definition of “the start of life” is ambiguous, and every human has their own version. The lack of a standardized, provable definition is problematic; there is no rational way to convince someone who has already made their mind up on one definition or another. Barring any 100% solid proof of god the way I define god, I don’t care what you say, I am not going to believe in god. Similarly, I am not going to believe that a unique human DNA combination, never before seen in the world and never again to be seen, is not a brand new life. The premise of unique DNA as life is a good one in my opinion, but I will admit it is one qualification out of many that people use to define life. Others will say a soul, a beating heart, the ability to live independently. (In the world of unclear and contested definitions, I’d make the argument that it is better to be safe, and save a non-life, than sorry, and destroy a life, but this is rarely a good sell. They’d argue it is better to be safe and protect a woman’s freedom than sorry and condemn her to servitude.)
So where does that lead us? How do we bridge that language barrier? Well, this gives us a few major DON’Ts when talking to a pro-choicer. Don’t call them a baby-killer; it is a conversation stopper. Don’t oversimplify their argument to “the rights/life of a mother outweigh the rights/life of a baby”. Many do not and cannot see a fetus as a baby, so they do not see this dichotomy. Telling them a fetus has developed organs, that it appears to be able to feel pain, is likely not going to convince them.
And on the other hand, if someone starts yelling at you, saying your motivations are secretly founded by right wing evangelical Christians who want to keep women forever pregnant (even as you say the only life we have is now, thus it must be protected), stop talking to that person. At best you’ll walk away frustrated. At worst you’ll end up becoming emotional and they’ll trot back to their friends, detailing how ignorant and angry pro-lifers are.
Don’t assume you know that in every situation the abortive-minded woman sees the issue as black and white. In the world of the hypothetical, it is easy to say, “you protect or you kill life – there is no grey area.” That is true of the result. That is not true of the rationale. Parents-to-be may be flooded with far more than rational thoughts when going through an unexpected pregnancy, “Are we doing the right thing? Can we even afford this? What will our friends, family, bosses, boyfriend think? Would we be dooming the child to a horrible life? Am I even healthy enough to have a child?” Without understanding that background music, you may come off as callous, naïve and unrealistic.
Watch out for treating pro-life as a religion. Not everything that goes on in the pro-life world is gold and we need to be prepared to call foul on people with whom we normally agree. For example, when I discuss abortion with my pro-choice friends, I make clear to them that I support non-abortive PP activities; I am not simply part of a club. This helps demonstrate that I come to my various conclusions independently and we avoid a “my side/ your side” argument.
In the meantime, we need to develop a culture of life – one that takes great pains to help women never have to make that choice, even if it is legal. One that, if a woman is in a position where she might consider that choice, she gets all the treatment, information and non-judgmental counseling she may need to lift she and her partner out of any emotional fog they may be experiencing. Instead of protesting a clini (which will do nothing except maybe make staunch pro-choicers hate you more, and women who really feel unsure of what to do have more cause to avoid your perspective), work in your community to make adoption, or becoming a parent, more of a possibility, on both a financial and technical level, as well as a social level. The stigma of out-of-wedlock children is not as strong as it once was, but it is still there.
Promote contraceptives to those who will listen, even if you personally do not believe contraceptives are a good thing in your moral code. It is far better for others to to use them than abortion. If even one abortion is prevented because a woman and her partner used contraception, I’d say it was worth it, wouldn’t you?
This may seem like a weak approach to the topic of abortion, but it is not. It is the only way to effect real change in the long term and encourage a civil cultural shift, as opposed to more heated, useless arguments. I don’t think abortion will be something this country truly and finally decides on in my lifetime, so in the meantime, let’s try to do what we can to reduce abortion and make child bearing easier for women who understand that they carry a life.