In today’s often polarized abortion debates, one common middle position is the stance that says “I’m not in favor of abortion, but I think people should have the right to choose.” At first, this sounds like admirably enlightened and judicious. It sounds like it finds a reasonable middle ground.
But it’s really just a cop out.
For one thing, it assumes that pro-choice advocates are, in general, in favor of abortion as a positive good. But with the possible exception of countries like China where abortion may be encouraged for the sake of population control, few would be positively in favor of abortion for its own sake. Indeed, China’s policies have frequently been denounced as “barbaric.”
In short, no woman deliberately gets pregnant to experience the joy of abortion.
The real debate, then, is over the legal and moral status of abortion. And here is where the tough ethical calls have to be made. If you believe that abortion is an immoral killing of a human being then you must, as a moral person (perhaps with a few exceptions) conclude that abortions should be illegal.
To claim that you oppose abortion but think others should have the choice is as ludicrous as saying that you personally oppose rape, but think that men should be able to rape women if they choose to do it. That’s obviously wrong. If you think people should have the right to choose to do something then you are, in effect, in favor of it. That you yourself might not choose it, is not the same as being against it.
Consider a more realistic parallel: the legalization of marijuana. I don’t smoke pot. I never have, and I have no intention of doing so. But I do think people should have the choice. So, yes, I am pro-pot as far as the legal and ethical debate is concerned. We should all be equally forthright on the question of abortion.
The anti-abortion-but-pro-choice position is tempting, but it must be resisted because it allows people to avoid the essential questions. It allows for a pro-choice position that doesn’t have to answer the hardest questions: Why isn’t a fetus a distinct human life? And if it is a distinct human life, why doesn’t it deserve legal protections? If you can answer these questions, we can have a debate. If not, you’ll have to change your position. Either way, the issue is too important for people to hide behind an easy rhetorical trick.