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.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:
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.
"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?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.
"No. Say it ain't so."
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.