Abortion: Defusing the Bomb

Warning: if you are incapable of maintaining composure and levelheadedness when exposed to viewpoints that differ radically from your own, do not read this blog. I am 100% serious. Go look at pictures of kittens. In fact, even if you plan to read this, may as well open a new tab with kitten pictures just in case. Or, better yet, momongas. Or red panda cubs. Now then…

I missed the deadline to register to vote. I’m not particularly upset about that. As a New Yorker, I already know which candidate my state’s electoral votes are going towards (and as for local elections, I wasn’t well informed enough to responsibly vote anyway). Whoever wins this presidential election will inevitably bring good and bad, and I guess it’s our inability to agree on who will bring what that leads to such divisiveness. For what it’s worth, I think socialism is the greatest danger to economic prosperity and true social justice, and as Obama’s policies tend toward that extreme I fear for the economic impact he will have. I also fear for the rights of religious institutions to freely practice what they feel convicted to practice. Already church-funded institutions are being asked to provide medical care they have moral problems with. How long before church-based charitable organizations have their tax-free status completely revoked on the basis of their unwillingness to compromise on certain doctrinal issues?

Romney is hardly a knight in shining armor either. While his business practices will likely lead to better economic recovery there is sure to be a cost, and I’m honestly not sure what that cost will be. Many have already noted that they’re not voting on the basis of things like guns, homosexuality, or the environment, because jobs and the economy are more important. And while that’s good, if Romney wins many of these people will likely find themselves in an America in which they have a job but have taken a hit on the other fronts about which they care.

There is one issue, however, which I really would like to address, because I have seen far too many rallying cries from my more liberal friends and it has gotten to the point where I honestly cannot remain silent. I am sick of being painted black, and sicker still of the many with whom I agree who have done nothing to address this problem. I speak, as it were, about abortion.

A great many people seem to be under the impression that this is a women’s rights issue. They couch their platform in language that conveys that abortion is about a woman deciding what happens within her own body. On the basis that some women do not have a choice about becoming pregnant — that some are forced to have sex, which is the natural process leading to pregnancy — they argue that for a woman to truly have “choice,” she must be able to terminate a pregnancy regardless of whether the conception was consensually brought to term.

This of course brings up a great many other issues which are also trumpeted as women’s rights: contraceptives and morning after pills are considered critical and necessary healthcare for which advocates of this position want the government to pay (using, of course, the tax dollars of plenty of people whose moral and religious convictions expressly forbid such things). Nevermind the fact that sexual intercourse is (with rare exception) a completely optional part of life, and that any healthcare which addresses its consequences must also be considered optional. While I won’t stoop to the depth of one infamous radio host, I can sympathize with his point: the only women who can honestly say they need these services are those who refuse to stop having sex until they are ready to have a pregnancy.

I’ll allow for the possibility of oversimplification. Contraceptives aren’t my point here, and to be honest I’ve never really given much thought to the ethics of using them. I don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine that has a hard and fast law (of which I’m aware, at any rate) regarding their use, and even if I did I’m neither a woman nor a husband and so am currently indifferent.

What is my point, however, is the sort of thinking that has led many Americans to argue for optional consequence-dampeners as fundamental entitlements to be paid for out of my pockets. It’s the sort of thinking that says that anyone who disagrees with such practices “hates women,” “will take away women’s rights,” “will set us back a hundred years” and all the other ways in which you can say that a man who has a problem with funding contraception is a troglodyte.

Contraception is as much an economic issue as it is a moral one, but it’s been painted as a civil liberties case and thus opponents of its flag bearers are set as enemies to freedom. And so with abortion. Time and again I’m told that my stance against the practice means I am trying to limit the fundamental rights of a free and equal woman. Our dialogue brings that nomenclature to bear: I call myself “pro-life,” but you call me “anti-choice.” I say “the choice was to have sex,” you say “not all women have that choice.” I say “not the point,” you say “Agreed. The point is it’s my body, and the government needs to get their hands off of it.” I say the government needs to intercede and you say screw off.

The problem here is that abortion is not a civil liberties issue, and it’s not a women’s rights issue. Perhaps, more accurately, the problem is that people like me don’t view it as a civil liberties issue, and our entire position is framed from a completely different conceptual universe from those who support it. The same evil you see in those ostensibly trying to keep women in an inferior position to men is an evil I see in you, for something arguably far more pernicious than chauvinism: murder.

I define life as beginning at conception.

That is as simple as I can make it, but people seem to miss the point. I earnestly, and deeply, and beyond any shadow of doubt believe that. And with that belief there are certain intractable conclusions by which I stand and stake my position. If life begins at conception, then termination of that life must be considered the same regardless of whether it is done at 10 years, 10 months, or 10 days from its start. We have legal and ethical frameworks for defining what the termination of a human life is. We call it murder.

I see abortion as the termination of human life.
I see abortion, therefore, as murder.
I see those who have and provide abortions as murderers, or accomplices to murder.
I see those who support abortion the same way I would see a person who candidly and with unwavering conviction told me that they thought shooting or stabbing other people was a perfectly acceptable practice if that person inconvenienced or endangered you, or infringed on your wants and needs in any way.

The question of whether the murderer is a man or a woman never enters the equation. I do not believe anyone has a “right to murder.” To the extent that abortion is a civil liberties issue, it is a matter of the right to life for the unborn — not a right to choice for the woman who, I daresay in most cases, at least had a choice when it came to the intercourse. And while I will never, ever justify rape or make excuses for a rapist, two wrongs have never been considered the path to righteousness. Committing murder because you’re a victim of rape does not paint you in a sympathetic light, and I’m not sure why anyone would think it would.

I do not hate women. In fact, I generally prefer them to men. I get along with them better, I feel more comfortable with them. I would rather talk with a woman, learn from a woman, be cared for by a woman, work with a woman, play games with a woman. And whenever I see a woman treated as inferior — be it receiving unequal pay, slander, coarse joking, or any of the myriad ways in which men mistreat the fairer sex — it bothers me greatly.

But when it comes to abortion, this is not that. Don’t kid yourself into thinking my position is as simple as feeble-minded bigotry, and don’t shame yourself by disregarding me as another woman-hating white man with antediluvian ethics. I stand against something that has always been wrong and defy those who would redefine the limitations on the inalienable right of all humans to life. And in our discourse, I think it’s critical to treat one another with the respect to which we claim to believe all people are entitled.

Stop calling me anti-choice; give me the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume I believe what I do because I don’t like women having freedom. Likewise, I’ll assume you don’t support murder, and I won’t do you the indignity of calling you anti-life. Our disagreement lies in our definition of where human life begins, and that is the only battlefield worth fighting on because all the other fights are distractions from that one, simple point. Argue elsewhere on either side and you slip into the stereotypes of the other side’s framing. A person who believes life begins at conception had better not be supporting abortion in any circumstances whatsoever. A person who believes otherwise has no basis for limiting who has access to the abortions he or she believes acceptable. I see no margin for exception that cannot rightly be defined as hypocrisy.

This political season has brought out the worst in so many of us, and frankly I’m glad I can’t vote, because I’ve been relieved of the burden of responsibility temporarily. It’s replaced with a guilt that I did not do all I could to ensure that the way I view things is the way our nation is run; but then this issue, like so many others, isn’t won with a ballot. Electing a “pro-life” candidate won’t convince people that life begins at conception anymore than electing a “pro-choice” candidate will convince people it doesn’t.

I’ve used strong language here, partly because I’m naturally aggressive and partly because I wanted to leave no room for the typical equivocations and qualifications I tend to use to hash up so much of the conviction from which I write. I don’t want to start fights and I don’t want to offend and make people hate one another. If I have offended you because I’ve called you a murderer or murder sympathizer, perhaps it will help to consider that you’ve been calling me a woman-hating bigot for years and that hasn’t stopped me from getting along with you. All I hope to have accomplished is to diffuse things a little bit with clarification, and give you — whichever side of this divide you’re on — a reason to take pause next time you’re about to share or post some partisan blog or slogan and consider the terms in which we phrase this delicate, heated discussion. We both believe that people are equal and important; in our endeavors to defend those truths, let us not make the mistake of dehumanizing those who oppose us. It may be inconvenient, it may be hard, but in the end we’ll all be better off for showing our enemies just a little love.

All that aside, abortion is not likely to be a major issue in this election, and what I’m about to say is not meant to be associated with what I just said:

If you, unlike me, are registered, I encourage you to go and vote tomorrow for a candidate you can honestly say you believe in, and I truly, truly mean that. I do not care who you vote for. I think there are extremely valid reasons for supporting either of the main candidates. I also think there are reasons to vote for neither of them. So if you can’t honestly say you believe in any candidate, I encourage you not to vote. Because there’s no sense betraying your own conscience to support a platform officially with which you emotionally or psychologically disagree, particularly if they win and you find yourself in years to come regretting having done so. So many people will tell you that there’s no such thing as a vote that “doesn’t count.” If you believe that, then act on it: value your suffrage, and use it with conviction and intent. The right to vote entails the right to withhold a vote.

May your decision tomorrow — whether Obama, Romney, Other, or none — be calculated and honest, and may our nation’s future be one of hope, however the ballots fall.

Re: Atheism

This was written in response to an online acquaintance’s defense of “militant” atheism. Since I have many atheists of varying convictions in my life, I decided I’d publish it as a blog instead of as a private response because I think it touches nicely on things many of us have briefly discussed.

First of all, I appreciate you taking the time to write out your thoughts more thoroughly. What I’m about to say isn’t supposed to be a counterattack or anything, it’s just a statement of my own position so that we both have an equal understanding of the other’s reasoning.

I mentioned semantics as being a problem because of the word “choice” and it’s probably not appropriate. In any matter — it doesn’t have to be religious — a person who has not had something adequately proven to them should never be expected to just go along with it as if they were sure. So if you’ve not been provided with compelling evidence for the existence of a God, then you’re not “choosing” to disbelieve — believing isn’t within the realm of rational behavior for you.

Unfortunately the nature of religious experiences, at least in my own life, is that they are personal and therefore impossible to convey to other people as proof of much of anything. I am no more capable of denying the reality of a god in my life than you are of accepting that reality.

It’s a poor analogy, but consider gravity. It’s an active invisible force that ultimately affects everything in the universe. Gravity, like the God of the Christian Bible, is rather inconvenient. In fact, given the choice, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would actually want either to exist as they do. The one prevents you from, say, flying to work. The other prevents you from living as you please.

But a person who “believes” in gravity doesn’t really have the luxury of pretending it’s not there. They can’t unlearn how to observe its effects. Moreover, they recognize that as it is a guiding principle of the universe it is going to affect people whether or not they acknowledge it. That means that even if someone’s crazy enough not to believe they’ll die when they jump off a tall building, you do your best to convince them not to. You may not know them, you may not even like them, but as a conscientious human you want to do your best to stop them from killing themselves.

For the believer, the world is filled with people who — to us — are ignoring gravity and playing on the ledges of skyscrapers. Some want to use legislature to keep people closer to the ground, or to at least put up safety nets. And while as a fervent libertarian I totally disagree with legislature being used as the means for doing so, I at least see how such moves could be well-intentioned.

Ironically, the very purpose of the Old Testament law — particularly the Ten Commandments — is precisely what you said you are militant against: “when it’s used to make people constantly feel guilty for being human.” To that extent it makes sense that you don’t like it. People don’t like fevers, or pain in general. But the point of fevers and pain is to make you aware that something is wrong in your body so that you can try to fix it before it kills you. If we weren’t guilty and in need of fixing something, religion would be pointless.

As for invading people’s lives, as I said, I’m a libertarian. I imagine for the most part we agree. The one area where I think legislation does need to be made is with abortion, but that’s a totally different issue. Suffice to say I think part of that debate is caused by how we frame it; you might consider abortion legislation interfering with a woman’s right to choose what happens in her own body, I consider it an attempt to extend anti-murder legislation to include everyone I consider to be a human being. If we both agree that murder is wrong then we can move the debate away from the petty women’s rights scapegoat and more towards scientifically and/or Biblically determining where personhood begins, as that’s really all that we disagree on.

For what it’s worth, the very function of religion is to interfere with people’s perceived happiness. As I hope I established earlier, following Christianity or Buddhism or Wicca for that matter really isn’t (at least it shouldn’t be) like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream. Every day I see things that make me wish Christianity weren’t true. I hate the thought of people who are, quite frankly, much nicer and much more beneficial to the human race than I am being condemned while I’m not. For me the notion of reaching out and trying to save them — that is, to stop them from jumping off that roof — isn’t about personal satisfaction in winning an argument. It’s about not wanting to see people die in the name of some “freedom” they never really possessed in the first place.

The great tragedy of human history is that religion has been so brutally misused. If you want proof that people are inherently flawed and incapable of exercising freedom according to their own rules, look no further than the church itself. Radically misguided interpretations of scripture have led to not just the persecution but the deaths of millions. Both Hitler and the KKK considered their actions godly. Radical dismissal of the sort of teachings that could lead to such behavior certainly doesn’t surprise me.

If you’re burned out by public displays of so-called Christianity, all I can offer you is the consolation that many Christians are too. We see the behavior of outspoken groups and we know, because we’ve read and lived the Bible, that there’s no room for hate or harassment or murder in the life of a true believer. We still might annoy you — as the fever on humanity’s spiritual conscience, that’s to be expected. But if you can remember that we are — or at least, we’re trying to be — acting in earnest for your best interest, then hopefully you’ll be able to tolerate it when, yet again, so-and-so speaks of Jesus’ great love or asks you if you’ve ever considered where you’ll spend eternity. We’re not trying to get you to join a fun club. We’re trying to convince you that gravity will kill you if you’re not careful.

I don’t know how deeply vested your atheist convictions are. I don’t know where you’ve been, what effort you’ve put into it, etc. And I respect the fact that many people will never be convinced by Christianity or religion in general and don’t want to spend their whole lives being harassed by it. Perhaps you can appreciate the fine line I walk: the desire to respect your freedom on one side, the conviction that I should do all I can to keep you from killing yourself on the other. Like any good emergency worker, I will wrestle you down if I have the chance — so you can live to enjoy your freedom another day. But for most people I’ll never have that chance, so I’ll continue to speak as calmly and as kindly as I can from where I stand.

Perhaps you really, really don’t care what I have to say. Perhaps you never got past the original notion that God is like gravity, and every time I refer back to it you’re sneering because it’s so ridiculous. Gravity’s real, and you can prove that. God’s not, so conversation over. Well, not really. As I’ve said earlier, I try to be as rational as possible in life. Usually to the point where people consider it asinine. Heck, the sheer length of this response should prove that I’m often more thorough than most people would have cared for me to be.

But the fact remains that we are, ultimately, discussing the nature of reality. Granted, the thing I believe in is supernatural — beyond natural — which means that science — natural philosophy, as it was once called — is neither capable of nor intended for proving or disproving God. But that hasn’t really stopped people from trying to put them at odds with each other.

So I’ll end with this. I act out of a belief that God is real. My belief is founded on personal experience in tandem with interpretation of the Bible, which I consider to be true. But I am also a rational, intelligent person, and if someone were to lay out a proof that God does not exist, that the things which I attribute to Him all have perfectly viable, proven scientific explanations, then I would be more than happy to leave what would have to be a life of the grimmest, most restricting illusions and finally be free to live as I wish. I don’t want my beliefs to be a challenge to yours, but if you want to fight — intellectually — then consider the gauntlet thrown.

And if not, or if you accept my gravity analogy and are willing to peacefully coexist with this newfound understanding of where we stand, then I couldn’t be happier to move along with our lives.

Oh, and thank you for reading!