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“The whole modern world has divided itself into conservatives and progressives. The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, March 14, 2011

Courting Controversy


There.  I said it.  

The terminology surrounding abortion debates has been bothering me.  Anti-abortion, pro-abortion, pro-choice, pro-life, anti-life, anti-choice.  I mean, come on.  It's at the stage where the labels are meaningless.

I wonder how it started?  I imagine it began with the pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion duo.  Then the pro-abortion side figured it sounds a lot more marketable to be pro-choice (perhaps after the anti-abortion side began casting disparaging comments about those happy-baby-murderers on the other side.)  Then the anti-abortion side said, ok, you're pro-choice?  Well, we can one-up you because we are pro-life!  How's that for marketable?!  Then each side fully adopts their different paradigm, casting aspersions on the other as anti-choice or anti-life.  This seems like a feasible order of events, but I don't really know what transpired.  What I do know is the current rhetorical situation is useless.

I've heard those who support the legal availability of abortion object to the description of their position as "pro-abortion."  The objection is that they are not enthusiastic about abortion, not advocating some kind of wild baby-killing spree at all and so are not really "pro" abortion.  Just pro-choice.  But they're not.  Not really.  Are they pro-choice-in-general?  All choice is good, even if someone chooses evil?  Are they ok with their children choosing to do crack?  (As in, they may disapprove of their child's actions, but would defend to the death their child's right to legally choose to do it?)  Are they ok with legislative approval for any choice whatsoever as long as the person really thought deeply about it first?  Not usually, no.  They are not pro-choice-in-all-circumstances.

Nor does it make sense to call their opponents anti-choice.  I've never yet met a person who is ideologically opposed to the concept of choice.  Nor have I met anyone who is against all availability of choice in all circumstances.  Continuing in this vein, I have not met anyone who is anti-life in general, although I have encountered a few who fervently believe that the world would be better if humans died out.   Those who support abortion may have a warm and fuzzy approach to all life, plant, animal and human, outside this case of human life in the womb.  They might donate to charities, feed the poor, care for the sick and elderly, campaign to rescue those threatened with death for political reasons or in situations of armed conflict.  A pro-life person in the abortion debates may not be pro-life absolutely.  They may not be vegetarian (in which case a more accurate descriptor may be pro-human-life.)  They may support the death penalty in certain circumstances.  They may concede the necessity for war at times.

Each side is trying to claim a larger slice of the values pie.  It is ridiculous and it ought to stop.

Let us be very clear with our terminology.  What is happening now simply fogs the debate and many on either side descend into hysterical name calling.  Yes, the issue of abortion touches on other, wider issues, but dialogue is hindered by the way those issues stand in for detailed and precise communication.

We do not need to determine whether one side is made up of gleeful baby-killers and the other of dour woman-haters.  What needs to be determined is whether abortion should be legally available.  Making something legal provides it a governmental, and therefore societal, stamp of (moral) approval.  Thus, the moral status of the unborn human (a.k.a. the fetus) must be addressed and weighed, in addition to questions regarding women's bodily integrity.

When it comes to this, the only two standpoints are pro-abortion and anti-abortion.  These two labels encompass the spectrum of views in a concise and precise manner.  This is a political discussion with specific applications.  Think of it with the missing words:
PRO-the-legal-availability-of-ABORTION, and ANTI-the-legal-availability-of-ABORTION.  Thus, the pro-abortion side includes those who support the legal availability of abortion in limited circumstances (for example, in cases of incest or before 13 weeks gestation.)  We do not need to know how much or to what extent a person in their camp loves all life or accepts all choice.  It is inconsequential.  So let's stop it with the great meta-labels.

 So, whatever side you're on... take a stand for clarity.  Take a stand for the precision with language that will actually enable discussion and decision.  

And, for the love of all that is holy, please do not use scientific terms if you don't understand what they mean.  (I'm talking to you, pro-abortion people who use the term "zygote" willy-nilly.) 

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