Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice Part II

I guess I should have gone into more detail on my last erant, but at the time I was just trying to quickly fire off a little rant over a pet peeve of mine.

My good friend Josh decided to poke at me a bit in the comment section:

You too are using “dirty semantics propaganda” by suggesting that “pro-choice” is dishonest and that it should instead be called “pro-abortion”.

If you have a frank discussion with many people who are pro-choice, you would likely hear sentiments similar to what Rudy Giuliani recently expressed: that they are in fact, personally, against abortion – not pro-abortion, as you would like to call them. However, all things considered they do not believe in legislation that outlaws abortion. There are a myriad of reasons. Obviously, considering your rigid viewpoint, you’re not likely to agree with many of them, so I’ll spare you a list.

Let’s consider these facts:

Representative Kucinich is a strong supporter of the “pro-choice” position and is at the same time a man whom I admire and consider an intelligent and moral human being. So I think it’s hardly fair to call my anti-abortion views rigid if one means to suggest that they are not nuanced and informed from a consideration of both sides of the argument.

Josh makes reference to a “myriad of reasons” why a person who personally abhors abortion might in fact be against passing legislation to outlaw it. He is right that he need not list them because I am very familiar with these reasons. As mentioned above, I am a big supporter of a “pro-choice” candidate and have supported such politicians in the past. More importantly, a majority of my fellow anarchists are supporters of the “pro-choice” position. Thus, my politics have me steeped in arguments about why legal abortions are thought to be crucial for women’s rights.

Despite this, I find none of them compelling because they skip over the critical issue of whether or not the fetus constitutes a human life. Given my belief that the fetus is a human life, none of their arguments can justify what constitutes murder in my mind.

The interesting bit though is how someone like Giuliani or Kerry can reconcile the personal opposition to abortion with the “pro-choice” position. If the unborn is not a human life, then why have any personal opposition to abortion? It’s just another medical procedure with potential side-effects both emotional and physical. One might caution against it for practical reasons, but nothing would warrant a deep personal opposition against it. So if people who take this position are not cynically playing the politics of appealing to both sides, then I can only conclude that they are avoiding dangerous introspection about their personal opposition to abortion and what it says about the nature of the issue. It’s easiest to engage in this self-deception when we use words like “choice” that obscure just what kind of choice is being made. Again, the slave owners in the Old South could have labeled themselves pro-property and appealed to one of our society’s sacred cows, but this language only serves to hide the real issue of what kind of “property” they were claiming a right to own.

In my experience, this group of individuals who are anti-abortion but “pro-choice” are generally not the ones writing militant literature on behalf of the movement. Instead, these leaders argue that the fetus is not a human life and that abortion is therefore not murder. Logically speaking, they shouldn’t have any personal opposition to the procedure and thus cannot be said to be “anti-abortion”. Instead, they are “pro-abortion” because they see it as a valid procedure. Using the term in this way is not “dirty semantics propaganda”. It is simply calling a duck a duck. When I call these people “pro-abortion”, it is not to suggest that these people advocate abortions as a hobby or see them as the be-all and end-all of birth control. My usage of the term simply means that these people support abortion as a valid medical procedure.

When I wrote my earlier rant, I spent some fair bit of time contemplating whether to use the terms “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” or instead to use “pro-legal-abortion” and “anti-legal-abortion”. I considered this for the exact same reason that Josh cited in his comment – namely that some people personally oppose abortion but side with the “pro-choice” position. A thought came to mind that although I am not a user of illegal drugs, I would not label myself “pro-drug”, despite the fact that I favor the legalization of drugs. Although this consideration gave me some pause about moving forward “pro-abortion” vs “anti-abortion”, something about this analogy felt like a disconnect to me although I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At the same time, I thought the terminology was becoming unwieldy and approaching legalese, so I opted to just go ahead with my simpler terms as originally planned.

Which is unfortunate in that I seem to have completely distracted potential readers from the point of the rant.

Hopefully, it can now be seen that my terminology was innocent of any deliberate semantical mischief. The terms I advocated are natural ones if imperfect for describing a debate on legalized abortions. In hind sight, I think I would now say that better terms would be “pro-abortion-rights” and “anti-abortion-rights”. In contrast to my muddled attempt to describe neutral terms for the debate, the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” and especially their counterparts “anti-choice” and “anti-life” are highly charged terms that dishonestly frame the debate and unfairly vilify the opposition.

It really gets me riled to be called “anti-choice” when as a firm proponent of individual freedom, direct democracy, and participatory economics, I am all about choice. I want people to have a say in everything that effects their lives – not just a few rights that may or may not be respected by the State and the “opportunity” to legitimize the system by marking a box on a ballot every few years to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

So if I love choices and freedom, then why I am not in favor of abortion rights? For the same reason that I’m not in favor of murder rights. I value human life and value human liberty only when it respects the liberty of others. Murder violates both life and liberty, and since I consider abortion the murder of a defenseless human life, I find that abortion also violates my value of life and my value of liberty.

I want to also make it clear that I am not one of those people who sit in judgment over women who get abortions. That is neither my place nor anyone else’s place save God alone.

I understand that many of these women obtain abortions under extreme stress and that it is a hard decision for them that is made under sexist pressures from a society that makes an unwed pregnant woman a pariah in many ways. I understand that to a woman living in poverty who cannot afford another mouth to feed while living with a husband who stubbornly refuses to use birth control, the decision to have an abortion can seem like the only way out.

I think abortions are a symptom of our diseased society. In a just society where woman are treated equally and not held up to different standards of conduct than men, unplanned pregnancies would not be the source of shame or ostracization that they are to women in our society. In a just economy, where people’s livelihoods are guaranteed and people don’t have to worry about starving, not getting proper health care, or not “getting ahead” in the system, woman would not experience the various economic pressures that fuel many of the abortions performed in the United States.

Needless to say, I think our society needs to radically change before we can eliminate abortions. Not only must we foster a change in attitude and perspective, but we need to meaningfully address matters of social justice.

That is one reason why when I do vote, I find myself supporting candidates who want to do something about poverty, sexism, and economic justice. Advances in these causes logically and empirically reduce the number of abortions performed. Supporting a self-described “pro-life” candidate usually means supporting someone who will only use the issue as a political football for gathering support during key elections. Symbolic gestures and political games do nothing to stop the killing of the unborn, and worse, the regressive political stances on economics and woman’s rights that usually accompany these candidates actually do harm and result in more abortions.

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1 Comment

  1. I think my use of the term “rigid” was fair – it wasn’t meant to be a jab at you. I meant “unwavering” – in that no matter what the myriad of reasons are, they would not change your mind. I also know that you are familiar with the issues and knew these reasons already (and they, obviously, have not compelled you).

    I did not mean “rigid” as an implication of some irrational, blind fervor. Indeed, that you support a pro-choice candidate shows, at the very least, a reasonable approach towards weighing the issues. Many Republican voters (and by many I’m not trying to suggest a majority) are single issue voters – and their pro-life position is their only issue. IMHO this shows unreasonable weighing of the issues given the fact that the war, the environment, civil and economic justice (and the economic divide), and corruption in politics should have sizable weights tied to them (and, for me and you at least, these weights pull us away from the GOP – although the Dems are typically just as guilty when it comes to that last issue).

    I also didn’t mean to say that “semantic mischief” was “deliberate”. But, in continuing defense of my use of the word rigid, this comment from your post illustrates precisely what I mean:

    “So if people who take this position are not cynically playing the politics of appealing to both sides, then I can only conclude that they are avoiding dangerous introspection about their personal opposition to abortion and what it says about the nature of the issue.”

    I know you weren’t making this statement about the pro-choice position in general, but such skepticism of the another viewpoint does appear quite zealous (not that zeal is necessarily a bad thing).

    I do wholeheartedly agree with many of the other points you made here. I would say that pro-choice and pro-life advocates would both agree with one particular statement you made (and with at least parts of the paragraphs that follow it):

    “I think abortions are a symptom of our diseased society.”

    I hope you won’t see this comment as a poke. I am certainly not trying to escalate the discussion into something heated. I think you are entitled to your beliefs and your opinion- I’m not trying to flame your blog nor persuade you one way or another.

    BTW, I hope you have a fun time in the Caribbean this week!

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