Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Outrage or Understanding

Kyle of Postmodern Papist has a post up about the dialog (or invective, as the case may be) which is often found in the debate over abortion. His jumping off point is a post by Mark Shea, in which Mark refers to "Obama's zeal, not only for sticking scissors in a baby's brain, but even for leaving newborn infants to gasp out their last death rattle on a table cut off from all ties of human love and elementary compassion".

Kyle says:
I have heard members of the abortion rights movement described as assassins, death-peddlers, predators, and abortion enthusiasts who fight for the right to kill babies in death camps. Oy.

Much of the rhetoric used by pro-lifers to define those who defend abortion demonizes and alienates. Yet a staple of the pro-life cause—legal protections for the unborn—requires that the majority of Americans be persuaded to embrace an anti-abortion position and ultimately a pro-life philosophy. As long as there is a pro-choice movement in America, any and all political victories by the pro-life movement will be fleeting. It's high time to abandon the "culture war" metaphor, which leads us to think that ending abortion will result from defeating our opponents on the political battlefield. Defeating the pro-choice movement will maintain the war; persuading (and being persuaded by) its members will bring about the desired peace and respect for the unborn.

Pro-lifers have no choice but to engage pro-choice people in honest, open, and hospitable discussion. Hospitable language and open ears are absolute prerequisites for ending abortion. We may even discover that we have something to learn from those we are inclined to label enemies.
Now, there are a couple of topics I think are worth discussing here, but the first one that strikes me is that Mark Shea's comments on anything even vaguely political are probably not a good place to begin any discussion of temperate and reasoned discourse. The difficulty with Mark Shea's commentary on political matters was, I think, best summed up once upon a time by Jay Anderson:
"You mean to tell me that Mark's political writing is full of hyperbolic asshattery, buffoonish oversimplification, and excessive demonization? Not to mention a basic assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is engaging in dissembling excuse making and political hackery?

"No. Say it ain't so."
So yes, I'm prepared to agree with Kyle that Mark's comments in this instance, as in many others, are written with the intent to stir up either outrage or cheers from the choir, and very little in between. However, I'm a little unclear on what, other than avoiding obviously distancing rudeness or hyperbole, Kyle's ethic of hospitality would involve.

Let's think for a moment about the nature of the pro-choice/pro-life debate.

At the root, there are two moral positions -- on of which holds that it is morally wrong to intentionally kill a human embryo or fetus, and one of which holds that it is an act of no particular (or no great) moral gravity -- though one which may still be emotionally wrenching because it involves the loss of hopes, dreams or potential. Following upon that divide, there are those who hold that abortion may indeed be morally wrong (the first position of the above two) and yet argue that it is not proper for us to tell other people whether they should share our views in the matter.

Thus, the root of the political and cultural conflict is a disagreement as to whether a particular act is wicked and despicable -- and, if it is, whether we should seek to prevent people from performing it.

Now, as Kyle says, the goal of those who are pro-life should be to convince those who are not both that the human embryo or fetus is a human life, and also that such a human life ought to be protected by our laws. To the extent that persuasion is generally achieved through means which do not seek to insult or assault the object of conversion, a polite and empathetic approach is certainly the best. In this sense, being abrasive is generally not helpful. The shock value of demonstrators shouting "Baby killer!" or signs showing dismembered babies will generally not achieve any progress towards this goal. Depending on the context, Mark's comments about bloodlust and jamming scissors into skulls fall in the same category.

However, while it's important not to be needlessly abrasive, it's also important to remember what this dispute is about -- whether abortion is the killing and dismemberment of an innocent human person. The whole point of the pro-life position is that abortion is something which is morally abhorrent. And so while it's important, when talking one-on-one with someone who is pro-choice or undecided to speak in a rational, fair and empathetic manner, it's also important not to skip over that fact that our position is based on the understanding that abortion is just that: morally abhorrent.

One of the major problems that we have in modern political discourse is that people far too often take any criticism of their positions to be an attack upon their persons. Senator Obama is something of an expert at this, since although he claims to respect the beliefs of those who disagree with him, he labels any actually statement of disagreeing beliefs (especially if it involves a suggestion of not voting for him) as being "divisive" and "negative".

According to this usage of the terms, our discussion of abortion cannot help being divisive, for the simple reason that we are divided over abortion. Yes, Mark Shea has a penchant for putting things in an abrasive fashion, but at root, he's right. Senator Obama, whom he is criticizing in that post, holds that it should be legal to leave the victim of a botched abortion to die, and that it should be legal to kill an unborn child by jamming scissors into his skull and sucking out his brains. Those certainly aren't nice things to say, but they do need to be said on occasion, because that's our whole reason for objecting to Obama's positions on these issues.

It's true that our national discourse is in great need of improvement, but one of the ways that we need to be able to do that is to reach a point when we can honestly discuss why it is that we hold radically diverging beliefs on moral issues, whether it's abortion, cloning, euthanasia, gay marriage, capital punishment, torture or war. People need to be able to discuss these issues politely while not hiding in the least that these are major moral issues which involve major disagreements.

What we can not do is achieve any improvement or change on these issues without acknowledging and discussing the fact that we believe each other to be wrong, and why. The problem is not that pro-lifers need to stop saying that pro-choicers want to make it legal to kill unborn children in grisly ways, but rather that such a statement is seen as a conversation ender.

19 comments:

Donald R. McClarey said...

A good model in this area is Lincoln. His tone towards slave holders was usually moderate and conciliatory. However he never sugar-coated the evil of slavery and he was always insistant that it was evil. In his memorable phrase, "If slavery isn't evil, then nothing is evil." Converts can be made among the pro-aborts, I have made a few myself, but while being civil we must beware of the temptation to call a spade an "instrument of excavation".

CMinor said...

Daughter #1 brought home Peter Kreeft's Arguments Against Abortion, so I had the chance to read it. I think he addresses the problems of dialogue well as well as explaining the pro-life position(though Daughter thinks he talks down a bit.) I think it might be of interest to you should you come across it.

Bob the Ape said...

However, Lincoln did not abolish slavery by converting the slaveholders, but by kicking their butts from one side of the country to the other after they showed that they were utterly unwilling to be conciliated; so the analogy is perhaps not wholly apt.

Converting pro-aborts is a good and noble activity. But what we're after, really, is getting 50% of the country plus 1 on our side. So, while it's necessary to engage them, since they're the ones promoting the pro-abort position, they are not the audience. The audience is the people in the middle, who have not set their feet in concrete.

I don't know whether civil or abrasive debate is better; I suppose that it depends on the circumstances of each encounter, and who's listening.

Fortunately, for those of us unsuited to debating, there's still prayer.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"However, Lincoln did not abolish slavery by converting the slaveholders, but by kicking their butts from one side of the country to the other after they showed that they were utterly unwilling to be conciliated; so the analogy is perhaps not wholly apt."

A good point. However Lincoln did keep the border slave-holding states in the Union, mostly through military power, but also partially because Lincoln was able to convince a substantial portion of the population of those states that he was not the devil incarnate that he was portrayed in the Confedacy, and this fact is attested to by the number of white regiments raised in Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware to fight for the Union. Additionally Lincoln was elected President in 1860, something that a fire-breathing abolitionist of the William Lloyd Garrison stamp could not have accomplished.

Your point about people in the middle being the audience is well-taken and I completely agree.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Thank you for your well-reasoned post, Darwin. I agree completely that we shouldn’t hide the fact that abortion is morally abhorrent. That, of course, is a truth we want to persuade pro-choice people to accept.

What I mean by an ethic of hospitality is something I’m still working to figure out, but a fundamental characteristic is the willingness to listen to another while recognizing that the other’s position could be more than I understand it to be. Often in debates over heated matters such as abortion, it is assumed by the opposing sides that the other is “nothing but” this or that. For instance, we hear from some abortion rights advocates how pro-lifers are really just oppressors of women who want to control women’s choices pertaining to her own body. We mistake our idea of the other for who that person really is and what he is really saying. We close ourselves off to discussion and therefore to any hope of persuasion.

I think both sides of the abortion debate would do well to listen to one another. Pro-choice people may learn that we pro-lifers really are concerned with the life of the unborn and not with using the law to oppress women. We pro-life people may learn that pro-choice people defend “the right to choose” because they have legitimate concerns about the rights of women. The blogger Pentimento writes:

“Having been on the other side, I can tell you that for pro-choice women, the idea of access to abortion being withheld is panic-inducing. Most of these women would never have abortions themselves, but they believe (mistakenly, to be sure) that other women need to have access to abortion in case of emergency.”

What are the reasons for this panic? Why do many some women believe access to abortion must exist? These are questions pro-lifers may get insightful answers to from listening to pro-choice advocates. There is more going on in this debate than a disagreement as to whether a particular act is wicked and despicable -- and, if it is, whether we should seek to prevent people from performing it.

In short, if we want the abortion rights advocates to listen to us, then we have to be willing to listen to them.

Darwin said...

What are the reasons for this panic? Why do many some women believe access to abortion must exist? These are questions pro-lifers may get insightful answers to from listening to pro-choice advocates. There is more going on in this debate than a disagreement as to whether a particular act is wicked and despicable -- and, if it is, whether we should seek to prevent people from performing it.

In short, if we want the abortion rights advocates to listen to us, then we have to be willing to listen to them.


I do agree with you that in conversation either directly with someone undecided or opposing on abortion, on in writing which is intended for a general audience, it's important to be open to listening and to make one's case in a non-abrasive fashion. Certainly, that's been my experience in life so far.

However, I think there are also serious times when we need to talk in no uncertain terms about how reprehensible the practice is -- and one of those (pace Mark Shea) is when talking to fellow Catholics who share our pro-life convictions yet somehow believe that Obama would be a good president specifically in relation to pro-life issues. (If, on the other hand, they are disgusted by his position on abortion yet think that other concerns out weigh that, they have a potentially respectable position which needs to be discussed on other terms.)

In passing -- the thing that I find disgusting about Obama's position (and that of other recent Democratic presidential candidates) is that he is unwilling to clearly articulate a position that can even be discussed. He says he hasn't even been able to think through what he thinks the biological or moral status of the unborn human is -- yet at the same time insists on an absolute protection of the "right" to abortion. This is a position which is not only unthoughtful and immoral, but irresponsible and anti-intellectual. If he would come right out and say that he believes the unborn human to have no more moral status than a toenail, that it is simply a "blob of tissue" and that getting rid of it is no big deal, I would disagree with him, but he would have an intellectually respectable position. If he held that abortion was evil (and was willing to say so) but that it was unregulateable, I would disagree with him even more strongly, but at least he would have stated a position.

Finally, I would rather question whether the panic you reference is actually a separate topic from the moral one at all. The reason why we do not panic at the idea of having children under 10 humanely "put down" if they turn out to have highly difficult disabilities is for the simply reason that we have, so far, a social consensus that such an action would be gravely wrong. The panic at the idea of abortion not being available to get out of an inconvenient pregnancy is simply a side effect of a view in which abortion is not that bad, and financial/familial/career hardship or rearing a child with disabilities, is.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

“The panic at the idea of abortion not being available to get out of an inconvenient pregnancy is simply a side effect of a view in which abortion is not that bad, and financial/familial/career hardship or rearing a child with disabilities, is.”

Really? I’ve heard that many women who procure and abortion do so believing (ironically) that they have no choice. Some, I’m sure, look at a child as an inconvenience or as a hardship. Others, though, perceive having and raising a child as impossible, something they simply cannot do. I’m not saying this perception is correct, but the perception is there, and we have to address it. For women with such a perception, the moral question of the baby’s right to life may or may not be there; that probably varies.

Aside: In addition to education and political action, I’m hugely in favor of the development of prenatal and post-birth care centers that help give women alternatives to abortion. In other words, a choice. Let’s give Planned Parenthood some good ol’ competition, eh?

Donald R. McClarey said...

"In addition to education and political action, I’m hugely in favor of the development of prenatal and post-birth care centers that help give women alternatives to abortion."

They exist already in many communities Kyle. For example the crisis pregnancy center in my county, of which I have the honor of being the President of the Board of Directors, just celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a banquet that hundreds of supporters attended. What you are suggesting has been a major part of the pro-life cause from the beginning. I was a volunteer, for example, with Birth right when I was attending college back in the Seventies.

Darwin said...

Really? I’ve heard that many women who procure and abortion do so believing (ironically) that they have no choice. Some, I’m sure, look at a child as an inconvenience or as a hardship. Others, though, perceive having and raising a child as impossible, something they simply cannot do. I’m not saying this perception is correct, but the perception is there, and we have to address it. For women with such a perception, the moral question of the baby’s right to life may or may not be there; that probably varies.

Here's the thing, though: Impossibility is a name we give to a burden we don't want to bear.

If euthenizing dependents (whether under 10 or over 80) was legal and culturally accepted, the you may be assured that many people who did it would insist that they had no choice, that it was impossible to care for the dependent any more. When someone says something is "impossible", he is making a statement based on a host of preconceived notions. One of those notions in our current society is that abortion is legal and that few people will consider you a monster for having one. On the other hand, if you drown your autistic six year old (whom it really is impossible for you to care for any more) you will be scorned and prosecuted as a murderer.

Thus, the claim that it is impossible to carry a given pregnancy to term is precipitated on a moral and cultural assumption that abortion can't really be that bad a thing. That doesn't mean that a woman who feels she has "no choice" other than abortion likes the abortion or perceives herself to want it or think it a good thing -- but it is important to understand that the "it's impossible" argument is based on a (perhaps subconscious) judgment about moral and social acceptability.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Congrats on the twentieth anniversary, Donald, and kudos for the vital work you do. I knew they existed; that’s where I got the idea.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

"Thus, the claim that it is impossible to carry a given pregnancy to term is precipitated on a moral and cultural assumption that abortion can't really be that bad a thing. That doesn't mean that a woman who feels she has "no choice" other than abortion likes the abortion or perceives herself to want it or think it a good thing -- but it is important to understand that the "it's impossible" argument is based on a (perhaps subconscious) judgment about moral and social acceptability."

Point taken. And it is also important to understand where these women are coming from so as to best serve them and their unborn children.

CMinor said...

...it is also important to understand where these women are coming from so as to best serve them and their unborn children.

Y'know, I volunteered in a non-counseling capacity for a Birthright some 15 years ago, but went through the same training the counselors did. Though I can't say that it's something every pregnancy aid counselor knows and practices religiously, I can certify that the importance of "meeting the woman where she was" was stressed in training.

Joseph said...

We have the problem that politely calling someone a supporter of murder sounds insincere.

It might make more sense to treat abortion as a special case of unjust war. That means it becomes proper to protest it by sit-ins instead of by extreme rhetoric (or worse, by assasinating abortionists).

Grandma Darwin said...

FYI: Planned Parenthood just purchased a building on the corner of Fergursen and Glenway here in Cincy, just a block down from Western Hills HS. A forum was held at Elder High with a very large turnout of concerned prolifers with much prayerful deliberation on how to combat this evil. We hope to nip this in the bud before PP's projected opening date in August; right before the new school year begins. Please keep us and Cincinnati West Side in prayer.

Katherine said...

Senator Obama, whom he is criticizing in that post, holds that it should be legal to leave the victim of a botched abortion to die, ...

Does he really? The claim is made that in 2003 then State Senator Obama opposed legislation to stop the killing of surviviors of abortion. How gruesome.

Would it be unfair to ask why Senator McCain has never lifted a finger to stop this evil practice? Ahh, his supporters will say without a hint of irony, McCain did vote for just such legislation and it was signed into law by President Bush in 2002.

PUZZLEMENT

If a federal law (covering all 50 states) prohibiting this was already on the books in 2002, then how could Obama vote to allow this practice to continue in 2003?

Senator Obama has regretable views on abortion policy and deserves t be called on it. But overstatements and simply destroy the credibility of the pro-life movement.

Darwin said...

Katherine,

Certainly, I would not want to engage in overstatements, however in this case you appear to have the facts slightly wrong.

The Federal Infants Born Alive Act passed in 2002 states that In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the words ''person'', ''human being'', ''child'', and ''individual'', shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development. However, murder and medical neglect are in normal circumstances not federal crimes, and so this definition does not change much. (Indeed, this is the root of the "the GOP has done nothing to save lives" accusation which is sometimes leveled against Republican-leaning pro-lifers.) All it does is show a path which state governments can then be encouraged to go follow.

So when Obama came out against the Illinois version of the law, he was indeed trying to keep this understanding of the value of human life from being accepted as the law of his particular state.

Katherine said...

Murder most certainly is federal crime and I can go research the citation in the federal criminal code if you would like.

Darwin said...

Yes, murder is a federal crime, but the Feds only have the jurisdiction to prosecute for murder under certain circumstances: crime is committed on federal land, against a federal officer, etc. 95% percent of the time, it is a state crime and is prosecuted by the state. Take a look at just about any murder case and you'll notice it is the state prosecuting.

I'd welcome comment from any of the lawyers reading (I bounced this off Donald McClarey, who is a lawyer in Illinois before responding) but I'm pretty certain you will find that contra the claim of some bloggers, the failure of the Illinois state senate to pass its own "born alive" legislation would indeed mean that no one in Illinois would be prosecuted for this, except in very, very unusual circumstances.

Donald R. McClarey said...

Federal murder statutes are limited to specific cases where federal jurisdiction can be invoked, for example on federal installations, such as military bases, within states. The federal act by its own terms would not be applicable in cases governed purely by state law.

As to Obama, the entry at the blog linked below concisely states his role in opposing BAIPA in Illinois.

http://lauraechevarria.blogspot.com/2008/03/barack-obama-and-born-alive-infants.html


More detail here:


http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2008/01/top-10-reasons.html

Obama is a 100% pro-abort. A bitter pill for Catholics, like Katherine, who support him, but a fact nonetheless.