JCecil on an Abortion Legislation Compromise
Joe Cecil of In Today's News has a post on a compromise to the abortion issue. I was typing up a response in his comment box, but then it was getting too long, so I decided to put my thoughts here.
I'm not responding to everything in the post, or making a statement on my position on the issue. I am pro-choice, I think the later the abortion the higher the burden of availability and that to effectively and truthfully even begin to address the issue, you have to approach it from the demand-side, i.e, why are women having abortions in the first place.
But in regard to Joe's post, go read it first, and here are a couple of points that I note:
Pro Choicers are not necessarily basing their arguments in favor of choice on the issue of personhood as Joe appears to assume. That may be the argument for some, but many others are well aware that there is a person in there. The fact is that everyone knows that at some point in the equation the fetus is a person, any statement to the contrary by anyone is just quibbles. So the issue is not so linear as to when we can all agree on when personhood is achieved. The issue is not about justifying or advocating abortion, but about having the freedom to make that tragic choice when all options have been considered. So my point is that Pro choicers are not saying abortion is good, but that sometimes people are reduced or forced into that choice and it is a tragic choice because they are aware that a human being's life is being ended.
I remember in my fervent pro-life days, five of us enlightened guys were debating the issue with two unelightened ladies. One point they kept making over and over was what if you can't care for the child and it is going to suffer? To which we replied, "So you want to kill the child because you can't care for it?" Their answer in unison was an emphatic, "Yes"!
Now that threw me off kilter majorly. One of our arguments in the pro-life thing was that the only reason that people could support choice was that they dehumanized the unborn child or that if they didn't then they were cold heart evil people. Well we all knew these ladies very well that they were normal good, grade A egg types. So much for that argument. From then on, something bothered me, and it was that they were seeing something that I wasn't. For one, they did not view the issue as involving a monadic abstract "life" distinct from everything and everyone else. This brings me to another issue.
The other issue is that this whole debate has ceased to be about "life" itself. The term effectively means nothing anymore. There is no such thing as "life." There are living organism, living persons, etc, but no such thing as life, except of course, when we start speaking in the spiritual sense of God's zoe "In Him was life (zoe)." There is no life there are only people.
One significant contribution of Gaudium et Spes in Vatican II was that it refurbished the definition of what it meant to be human and made in God's image from the traditional staid viewpoint. Traditionally, as human beings, we said that we are made in God's image because we have a will and intellect. GS agreed with that but added a third characteristic that is no less important.
But God did not create man as a solitary, for from the beginning "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential. [GS 12]
The public and social dimension of our existence is not simply a cultural accident, it is essential to be being human is. The individual attributes of being human are no more important than the social dimensions of our nature. The whole discussion of "life" issues has been reduced to an abstract and incomplete notion of human beings. Thus, it becomes then about fighting for malnourished principles and definitions and less about fighting for persons.
The aforementioned lively discussion with the ladies opened my eyes to the fact that their notion of life hinged, not on mere existence, but on human dignity defined in fuller terms of living with dignity as a human. The pro-life movement is concerned primarily and solely about simple physical existence. It is enough that a baby is born, that's pro-life. It matters little, if at all, that the child is born into abject poverty, has nothing to look forward to but being sexually abused, extreme hunger, disease, drugs, etc. That's a separate issue for pro-lifers. Those are issues that can be turned over to the social justic committee. But these ladies brought home to me the fact that life is more than simply existing.
My experience with those ladies also highligthed a key turing point for me. In my days in the pro-life movement and it is the case now, the boilerplate context is that choice is about convenience. That is, a woman wakes up some morning, has coffee and bagels with friends, decides that she is no longer interested in her baby, gets an abortion at 2 pm in time to make the movies by 5:30 pm. It was then I realized that people who advocate choice are not doing this because they enjoy seeing babies die. It first hit me then that these people care and are doing what they do because they believe it is the right and caring thing to do. These ladies said they would have an abortion if they felt that hope was lacking for their baby. That was not concvenience, that was love from their veiwpoint.
Now, I know about all that "where there is life there is hope" plattitude stuff and everyone has examples of how people rise from impossible situations to a life of dignity. That is not the point. Such heart warming stories mean nothing to the millions of children who go to bed extremely hungry and cold every night; or to those born into slavery, servitued, or faminine, or war, etc. For every heart warming story of success, there are a million tragic stories of people whose lives were hell. (One reason why I like the book of Ecclesiastes, it doesn't mince words about the fundamental absurdity and injustice of existence in this world. Say all you want, in the final analysis, "vanity of vanity all is vanity" or in other words, crap.) As much as like to hope so, "it" doesn't always work out.
The pro-life movement thrives on a few key things, one such thing is the abstraction of "life" and an abstract stripped idea of personhood, i.e, "life" is simply physically existing. The pro-choice movement counters with a concrete realism, i.e, that abortion is a tragedy, but the fact is that to respect what it means to be human, there are a lot of moving parts that have to move in unison. That is more complicated task and one that the pro-life movement has shown no interest in.