The way we generally hear abortion debated, there seems to be an implied assumption that highly-intelligent, deeply-caring, profoundly beautiful people can’t exist on both sides of the argument.
This is simply not true.
Arriving at a position on this highly complex, nuanced, emotional issue shouldn’t be easy. If it is, then you haven’t thought about it enough. Once you dig in deep, once you pick your side—if you can’t spot any moral hypocrisy in your thinking (no matter which side you wind up on), you haven’t thought about it enough.
Because both sides are irrefutably right about some very critical things. And if you see no merit in the argument of your opponent? That’s right: you haven’t thought about it enough.
I am not a fan of the descriptors. “Pro Life” and “Pro Choice” are both misnomers, they both attempt to claim morally superior territory while, in fact, revealing their hypocrisies upon closer examination. But we’re sort of stuck with these terms, aren’t we? After all, we must respect how people “self-identify,” mustn’t we?
If we were to take the most radical Lifer stance, and ask the government to force every pregnant woman, girl, and child to give birth … it would be a moral catastrophe of epic proportion. That’s simply a fact. According to the World Health Organization, there are 56 million abortions a year, worldwide. Imagine all the children who would be born into extreme poverty; or into dangerous, drug-addicted or abusive households; or simply born to people who don’t want them, can’t afford to or don’t want to care for them. That’s a whole lot of babies suffering—does forcing them into the world really make you an advocate for children?
Let’s admit, also, that it’s an unfair gender equation. Women bear children. Men/boys may populate a small island with their seed then run off and do as they please. The sufferers in a world of forced births would be girls and women and their babies, the more disadvantaged they are, the more they suffer. As always, the wealthy fair better under duress. Additionally, the men too often will not be held accountable for their actions.
All of that is irrefutably true. And those truths are why I am forced to be a Choicer. But, trust me, I see my moral hypocrisy all too clearly. Because there’s something else that is irrefutably true.
There are no geneticists debating whether a fetus is a living human being. We call it “human reproduction” because that’s what we’re doing. We’re reproducing humans. Not gizzards or asparagus. Humans. We know this. The zygote is a living human being at its earliest stage of development. This is not a religious argument. It’s science. To say otherwise is to construct a fantasy in order to soften a harsh reality we’d prefer not to face. I say this, remember, as someone who is Pro Choice. I’m just not going to lie to myself about the science to make me feel better. (By the way, there are Pro Life Atheists, some of them famous, in case you were wondering.)
What we’re debating is not the humanity of a fetus, we’re debating whether the right of women to “have free agency” over their bodies and their futures supersedes the right of conceived children to be born. As a culture, we’ve decided (by law) that it does.
So, when I say I’m Pro Choice (which, again, I AM saying), I’m saying that I accept that a human life is being taken (because that’s science, not some emotion-driven flight-of-fancy). I’m also saying that this evil is less than the evil of 56 million unwanted babies being born to 56 million women/girls/children who aren’t ready to be mothers. Here, then, is my moral hypocrisy: as a good liberal, who claims to be a voice for the voiceless, I am saying that it is morally acceptable to take the life of the most vulnerable humans on Earth … because the alternative creates an even greater evil, an even higher level of human suffering. In other words, the only thing worse than having legal abortions available as a choice would be NOT having legal abortions available as a choice. This is hard for me to swallow, but I don’t see us changing human nature any time soon, so it is a conclusion I can’t escape, and it makes me Pro Choice at the end of the day, whether I like it or not. Being Pro Choice also, for me, addresses the fact that a significant percentage of pregnancies involve rape, incest, severe pre-natal deformity, danger to the mother’s life, or other extraordinary mitigating circumstances.
I understand the indignation and revulsion Choicers feel when they see angry people holding signs with graphic photos of bloody fetuses. The easiest thing to assume is that they are a bunch of ignorant, holier-than-thou, finger-pointing, religious hypocrites who want to shove their morality down the throats of everyone else. We see them as people who claim to prize “all the little children of the world,” while doing nothing whatsoever to help the suffering children already-born. We see them as self-righteous a**holes. And some of them are just that.
But I would propose that many, many Lifers are simply men and women who have concluded that abortion takes a human life, and their consciences won’t allow them to be okay with that. I don’t find that incomprehensible at all. I don’t find it offensive. I don’t feel this negates their intelligence or compassion or decency. I do think that people that reach this conclusion need to genuinely grapple with all the moral issues related to unwanted pregnancies. They need to ask themselves what they intend to do to help the (theoretical) 56 million and, more importantly, the children and single mothers who are here, now, suffering all over the world. If they’re doing nothing, their claim to care about babies rings rather hollow, doesn’t it?
By the same token, Choicers ought to genuinely grapple with the fact of what it is we are doing as a civilization, what the ethical bargain is here. What the unpleasant, haunting truth is. It should never be glossed over. If we see no reason to grieve … we haven’t thought about it enough.
There is something both Choicers and Lifers would celebrate: a world where unwanted pregnancies were a rarity. (56 million—that’s not rare. It’s incredibly sad and revealing.) Reasonable, compassionate people from both sides could unite over this common ground and focus on the one thing they agree on, focus on how to make it a reality to the extent that resources and human nature allow.
But they probably won’t. Because they’ll be too busy not hearing each other.