Distortion, evading the question and just plain stupidity are often very good ways out of a debate. If you are — or pretend to be — too dim to see the heart of what the opposition is saying, you may easily gloss over this to present a compromise or state of affairs with which everyone should be happy. But those evil, heartless, stupid, self-interested or unenlightened buffoons on the other side won’t get with the program.
The Great Questions do not devolve on questions of fact alone, nor do they admit of resolution from a magic regression run by a savior academic solving the problems of the West in a dimly-lit computer lab. Though every society has a core set of values (liberty, for instance), these questions cannot always be solved with a value judgment dependent on the “core” ideals and beliefs.
These questions redound to fundamental disagreements, occurring within the established value bounds of a society, on vitally critical points. As such, no amount of spouting of fact, recounting of anecdotes or attack on the opposition’s analysis will make an inch of headway in resolving the question. The only progress in a debate relating to such a question is to reduce large issues of policy down to the core difference of belief. And the only way one could be said to win such a debate is to employ stupidity or to commit an error in characterizing the position of the opposition in such a way that society ought to come to agreement or at least a compromise.
The issue of abortion is one of these questions, with each side basing its claim on the protection of liberty. The pro-life side argues against the murder of fellow humans — infringing on their right to live; the pro-choice side argues against government’s telling the mother what to do with her body — infringing on her right to self-determination. To understand the views of either side, we must face the question:
When does life begin?
If we prohibit an abortion that would occur an instant before life begins — assuming this point comes after there is any cell to destroy at all — the government has confiscated ownership rights in the woman’s own body; the protected mass is only a puddle of biological goo, useful at most for stem-cell or other such research.
If we allow an abortion that occurs an instant after life begins — assuming this point comes before birth — then we have warranted the premeditated termination of the life of a person without consent, informed or otherwise; some call this murder in the first degree, and others die for it.
Of course, feigned stupidity and other tricks can help us to avoid the intractability of the dilemma. One recent trick is to abstract the recent 24-hour waiting period issue from its true context and portray pro-lifers as opposing abortion because women will always make the important decision too casually. It does not matter if the woman has studied the issue with decades of objective thought.
If you think an abortion is a murder, it must still be disallowed. Whichever side you are on, the woman’s path to the decision, barring a threat to her own life, has no bearing on the morality of its execution. The act is either murder, even if a well-considered one, or a violation of the right to self-determination, a right that needs the most defense when others feel the determination poorly arrived at.
Still, critics of the pro-life movement are right to chastise us for pursing small fleeting victories, like this 24-hour waiting period, using tortured logic to bring them into compliance with current pro-abort law, when they are really just our feeble attempts to forestall a handful of abortions. These pathetic actions are the defensive whimpers of a movement that has totally and miserably failed in its task of guarding the sanctity of life in the womb. But don’t you worry about us, we will be called to account on that score on a particular, final date in each of our lives.
There are plenty of other tactics usable to obscure the issue against the unfashionably pro-life. Building on the false claim pro-lifers target abortion because they wish to restrict women because of their gender, some cry “misogyny.” This is silly diversionary ploy, especially in light of all the abortions taking place worldwide simply because the woman saw the prenatal tests render the deadly verdict, “It’s not a boy.” On a global scale, abortion is the ally of the true misogynist, the one who wants to see a reduction in the number of those he hates.
Calling people “anti-choice” is another good one, for who would not wish to be so labeled when one believes this means a choice to murder the innocent?
Another tactic is the shallow solution that approximately goes, “If abortion’s permissibility depends on a decision as to when life beings, let it be the individual woman’s decision, since it’s her body and the thing inside her depends totally on her.” This attempted resolution cannot ultimately stand. People do not regularly excuse crimes against entities they believe to be individuals just because the perpetrators happen to have different beliefs. As for sloganeering, a motto based on this reasoning such as “Against abortion? Don’t have one” has all the logic and moral significance of “Against the holding of humans as slaves? Don’t buy any.”
And we even have some intimating that the wretchedness of the potential lives of the aborted can justify the procedure. But we should let individuals judge the wretchedness of their own lives and make the appropriate decisions for themselves, not for others. The modern American teenager has proved more than up to the task of killing himself; if he chooses against his own life at some point, he is certainly capable of ending it on his own.
There is no abortion debate. There is only continual disagreement about when human life and the rights that accompany it begin. To believe you resolve for either side this rare, black-and-white issue that will admit no compromises is to fool oneself and to attempt to fool others.
Brooks Eubank is a senior in Calhoun College.