Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pro-Choice Friends: Can We Talk About This Defunding Planned Parenthood Thing? (Part 1)

If you've been reading my posts lately, you'll know that I've begun to take seriously my civic duty to become informed and engaged in the political process, despite my dislike of politics. Our country is facing numerous problems, but the increasingly nasty partisan divide is preventing us from dealing effectively with these problems. I believe that to solve this divide we must start talking with each other about areas of disagreement, respecting each other's differing worldviews, and finding solutions that are acceptable to both sides.

It sounds good in theory, but can it be done? There's only one way to find out...give it a try! I thought I'd start out with something pretty simple, where there isn't a lot of disagreement; an issue where there aren't many emotions involved. Baby steps, right?

So let's talk about defunding Planned Parenthood. 

(Waiting for the dust to settle after the inevitable explosion of outrage and indignation from both sides caused by the mere mention of this issue.)

Ok, yes, I was being sarcastic. There is nothing simple about this extremely emotional issue. Let's face it: abortion is one of the most emotional topics dividing us, and it does truly divide us, almost exactly down the middle. Gallup's recent poll shows that right now 51% of Americans call themselves pro-choice, while 44% call themselves pro-life, but the numbers have been fluctuating within 10 percentage points since the mid-90's. Sometimes more identify as pro-life, sometimes more identify as pro-choice, but either way the country is divided roughly in half about an incredibly sensitive topic.

Which is why it'd be way easier to continue ignoring it until we are all trampled to death by this giant elephant in the room. I'd much rather write about something uncontroversial like crockpot recipes or home decorating techniques.

But I'm more concerned right now about avoiding national death by trampling so instead I'm going to attempt to talk about this in a logical, respectful and reasonable way. I'm not sure this is possible, because if it were, you'd think it would've been done by now, yet in all the reading I've done on this issue over the last few weeks, I have only ever read things that are written:
  1. From a pro-life perspective to a pro-life audience
  2. From a pro-choice perspective to a pro-choice audience
  3. From a supposedly unbiased perspective to a supposedly unbiased audience that sounds suspiciously like the things being said by #2

So here's something new: I am going to try writing from an unabashedly pro-life perspective to a pro-choice audience in an attempt to get a dialogue started. 

Note that I said dialogue. Meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, "a discussion or series of discussions that two groups or countries have in order to end a disagreement" or "a conversation between two or more people".  Not an argument, which could mean "a discussion in which people express different opinions about something" but more often (when politics are involved) means "an angry disagreement."

I don't want that. There is plenty of stress in my life without adding people yelling at me or each other over their different perspectives on this or any other issue. So if that's where you're planning to go with this, please take your comments elsewhere. I will just delete them. There are plenty of other places on the Internet where you can vent your frustration. 

But here I plan to keep the discussion ("a speech or piece of writing that gives information, ideas, opinions, etc., about something") logical, reasonable, and respectful. I promise I will not resort to sarcasm again, which is saying a lot because I can be pretty snarky. But I've come to realize that sarcasm usually only succeeds in entertaining one side at the expense of shutting down honest dialogue with the other side. So it might be great for late night TV, or radio talk show hosts, but it will not serve my purposes here.

And since I've already taken up half of this post with explaining what I intend to talk about, why, and how, I'm going to have to break it up into two parts. This post will discuss the worldview clash at the heart of the national divide over defunding Planned Parenthood, and in my next post I'll talk more about the specifics of that issue and explore ideas for moving forward while respecting the worldviews of both sides.

That's it for my introduction. Did I built enough fences to avoid angry mobs of Internet trolls?

Yeah, right. 

(Ok, no more sarcasm, I promise!!)

Defining Terms

First, I have a small request to make. Pro-choice friends, can you please use the term pro-life instead of anti-abortion in this discussion? I realize that most people who aren't pro-life, and the media, usually use the term anti-abortion to describe us. But that is not the label we have chosen for ourselves. You might have noticed that I am using the term pro-choice to describe your position, rather than pro-abortion as is often used by pro-lifers. I am respecting your chosen label for yourselves, and ask that you respect our chosen label for ourselves.

This might seem like a small thing, quibbling about words, but words are very important, and labels can set the tone for the discussion. Using negative terms for one side and positive terms for the other side can put one side at a disadvantage before the talking even begins.

Also, while "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion" might be good descriptors for everyone's position on the issue we disagree about, they do not address the reason we disagree about this issue, and that is what I really want to talk about today.

The disagreement comes down to a clash of worldviews. We each have a worldview, a set of pre-existing beliefs that affects our perception of any situation or issue. These beliefs are not emperically testable--we can each give reasons for our beliefs, but not proof that they are right--so arguing about them is problematic, but understanding them is vital if we are going to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.

The Real Question: Who is a Person?

While there is a vast range in the worldviews of us pro-lifers, and I assume the same to be true for pro-choicers, the common denominator as I understand it is a difference in belief regarding the definition of personhood. (I can't presume to speak for all pro-lifers, and certainly wouldn't presume to do so for pro-choicers; this is just what I have gleaned from reading many different opinions and having conversations with friends on both sides.)

I think we all agree that killing an innocent human being is morally wrong--murder ("the crime of deliberately killing a person"). The question is whether a fetus is an innocent human being.

There is no doubt scientifically that a fetus is a living human. Life, or "the ability to grow, change, etc., that separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks" is indisputably present at the moment of conception. A fertilized human egg is a genetically complete and unique living human being, differing from an adult human only in size, level of development, and degree of dependency--just as an infant or toddler differs from an adult human (but we all agree that toddlers are human beings with a right to life).

What pro-lifers and pro-choicers are really disagreeing about is when a human life can be considered a person, or "one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties."

A pro-lifer sees no distinction between humanity and personhood; every human being is a person in our eyes.

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, view personhood as something which some humans have that others do not. There seems to be a wide variety of opinion among pro-choicers as to when personhood begins; I've read pro-choicers argue that it begins at birth, or when a fetus is viable, or gradually as the fetus develops in the womb. In recent years philosophers have even argued for "after-birth abortion" on the grounds that babies aren't people any more than fetuses are people. 

Pro-lifers view the division of personhood and humanity as a false distinction that is quite dangerous, given the examples from history of the times when personhood was legally denied to certain classes of humans--slaves, Native Americans, women, and Jews being notable examples. We view all humans as persons deserving of equal human rights; even the tiniest of us whose bodies consist of just one cell. 

And that is why we logically and inevitably conclude that anything that is done to deprive that person of life (whether surgical abortion, pharmaceutical abortion, or contraceptives that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus), is murder.

Since pro-choicers do not believe that fetuses are people, they reach the opposite conclusion: that preventing implantation or ending pregnancy does not constitute murder. Abortion is therefore viewed as an acceptable method of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choicers say they do not like abortion (which is why they object to being called pro-abortion) but view it as a necessary evil since women should have the right to determine what happens to their bodies. (Sidenote: I have always wondered what pro-choicers find objectionable about abortion if they do not believe it constitutes ending a person's life. I would appreciate it if anyone can explain this to me. Seriously, I'm not being snarky. I really want to understand.)

So who's right?

I know I believe I'm right, and I have no doubt that you also sincerely believe you are right. But we can't both be right since our beliefs are mutually exclusive.

We can't settle this empirically since there is no scientific definition of or test for personhood. This is a philosophical question beyond the realm of science. What evidence could possibly be offered that a fertilized egg or a viable fetus or even a 40 week old fetus about to be born is a person? For that matter, what evidence could a one-minute-old or a one-year-old baby offer that they are a person? They can't talk and utter philosophical profundities such as "I think therefore I am."

If I and all the other pro-lifers are wrong, then we have advocated allowing some women to be unnecessarily inconvenienced by unwanted pregnancies. That is regrettable, but what if it is the pro-choicers who are wrong about this? Then our country has legally sanctioned the murder of well over 50 million people for no greater crime than being an inconvenience. 

The way I see it, the moral stakes are far greater if pro-choicers are wrong. I personally prefer to err on the side of caution when the life of a person is possibly at stake.

The False Question: Who Cares More?

Does this mean pro-lifers care more about unborn babies than they do about the babies' mothers, or the babies after they are born? I hear both of these arguments frequently, and quite frankly, I am usually shocked into silence by the preposterousness of such accusations. I'm not really sure where this is coming from. Maybe the people saying these things are progressives who assume that pro-lifers are economic conservatives with different ideas about how best to help the underprivileged, since many unwanted babies come from underprivileged families?

That's a lot of assumptions, and even if they were all true, that doesn't mean we don't care.

My heart goes out to women who are desperate and scared because of an unwanted pregnancy--and to those who deeply regret having had abortions because society convinced them it was ok while their heart told them it was not. And my heart goes out to kids who aren't wanted because of physical problems or their parents' economic plight. But that doesn't mean the only solution is to kill the children. Why do we look at it in this stark either/or way? Women have options! We as a society have options!

While in college I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center where we provided help to mothers throughout and after their pregnancies. There are thousands of these centers across the U.S., maintained not through government funding but through the donations of pro-lifers who are putting their money where their heart is. And there are many pro-lifers like my own sister who are trying to adopt unwanted babies. I love the story behind the film The Drop Box, about a Korean pastor who takes in unwanted babies, often with physical limitations. He is a pro-lifer who cares.

So yes we have a different worldview than you do but please do not assume that it means we do not care. 

I am not unsympathetic to pro-choice arguments. I get the pro-choice argument that a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her body. Having experienced four pregnancies (two that produced wonderful but undeniably life-altering little boys, one miscarriage, and one currently in progress), I definitely understand that pregnancy does crazy things to one's body. It's bad enough when the pregnancy is planned and wanted, but I can imagine it's even more frustrating if the pregnancy was not planned or wanted. I also understand that unwanted pregnancies can wreak havoc with a woman's or couple's plans for school, career, etc. 

But I cannot get over the fact that I believe those unwanted "products of conception" are still living human beings deserving the same respect and legal protection as the woman whose body is unwillingly providing a safe harbor for their development.

I hear the pro-choice argument that our society is better off economically without the drain in resources caused by having to care for the additional million or so babies that would be born every year if they weren't aborted. Though I don't necessarily agree with it, I recognize the sincerity of those making this argument.

But that doesn't change the fact that I believe those aborted fetuses are actually people who deserved a chance to live, regardless of their impact on society.

I totally understand the pro-choice argument that, if born, unwanted children might suffer abuse or neglect or poverty. My heart bleeds for abused and underprivileged children!

But again, my stubborn belief that all humans are persons gets in the way of accepting this argument. What gives me the right to determine that someone else's life isn't worth living; that they would be better off dead than alive?

Which Comes First, the Inconvenience or the Belief?

Perhaps a couple of illustrations can help you understand the way pro-lifers see these objections.

Right now the world is trying to figure out the best way to handle the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria. While some countries are being more welcoming than others, all are weighing the cost of accepting refugees, both economically and culturally. But I haven't heard anyone advocate just killing the refugees because they are unwanted or inconvenient. 

Pro-lifers feel the same way about unwanted pregnancies. We really believe they're really people. 

(By the way, I'm not saying that pro-choicers advocate killing Syrian refugees. It's a good thing I'm not a politician or a public figure or that would totally be the headline tomorrow! All I'm saying is that, just as a pro-choicer would of course not advocate killing Syrian refugees, so also pro-lifers cannot advocate killing unwanted babies.)

Another illustration that hits closer to home for me is the recent case of an Arizona mom who drowned her twin 2-year-old boys because, she said, "nobody loved them." I'm not saying she was pro-choice (apparently she was mentally ill), or that pro-choicers would support what she did. I'm sure  everyone felt the same shiver of horror when hearing this news. Please remember that feeling, because that is the way pro-lifers feel when we hear that same logic used to justify the killing of unborn children. In our minds, it is the same thing.

Because we really believe they're really people.

If it seems like I'm beating a dead horse here, it's because I don't think pro-choicers get this. If they did, they wouldn't tell pro-lifers to consider economics or convenience as a viable excuse for abortion. That is morally repugnant to us. Not to you, I get that. But it is to us. And it makes me think you don't really think we really believe what we say we believe.

But we do.

As a pragmatist, I might wish I could "just get over" this inconvenient belief, but I don't believe it because it's convenient, I believe it because I really think it's true. 

What Next?

I say all of this not to try to prove you wrong, but to explain why I think I'm right; to help you understand where we pro-lifers are coming from, and why we are so resistant to legislation that violates our sincerely held beliefs. I'm not trying to get you to agree with me, but am asking you to respect that I have a different viewpoint, and it's not going to change.

While we can discuss our different beliefs, we cannot conclusively prove them one way or the other, and it is highly unlikely that everyone in our country will reach an agreement about the answers to these questions. The question is, can we move forward and work together toward common goals despite these differences? Must our government be perpetually paralyzed, or can we come up with solutions to problems that do not involve trampling on the beliefs of half of the country? 

Those are questions I plan to tackle in my next post.

In the meantime, here's a short and unemotional video that does a great job of summing up what I've talked about today. Maybe I should've just linked to it instead of spending hours writing this post. :-)

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