(Originally posted in 2019)
An argument between self-declared Pro-Choicers and Pro-Lifers inevitably results in, at a minimum, frustration and no resolution; in the extreme, it can result in murder. Perhaps the difficulty in finding resolution is because there isn’t a continuum between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice; rather, these positions are at the poles of two different continua, one of which exists between Pro-Choice and No-Choice, and the other exists between Pragmatism and Pro-Life:
Pro-Choice <——————> No Choice
Pragmatism <——————> Pro-Life
Granted, the two continua are related, with (most?) folks finding their particular positions on each continuum somewhere between the poles. Those who engage in debate about abortion are likely positioned near the extremes of the two different continua, which makes understanding, and therefore compromise and resolution, difficult if not impossible.
Pro-Life and Pragmatism are the poles of a continuum that contains all positions having to do with the sanctity of human life. Extremists at the Pro-Life pole believe the sanctity of human life is absolute and that any and all actions causing or hastening the death of any human being at any stage of development are wrong and should be opposed.
Pragmatist Extremists are not concerned about the absolute sanctity of human life; instead, they look at practical considerations rather than ideals. They may see abortion as a practice that can improve or maintain the quality of a woman’s life or family, or a way to reduce the probability of bringing a child into a world that will not welcome it. A Pragmatic Extremist could support capital punishment and war, and could argue for the elimination of government-supported health care or other programs that would increase the longevity of poor Americans if doing so is not practical in the Pragmatist’s judgment.
An important takeaway here, which may have crossed your mind as you read the preceding paragraph, is that many (most?) folks who portray themselves as Pro-Lifers are actually closer to the Pragmatism pole on the “Sanctity of Life Continuum” because their positions on a number of issues (e.g. war, capital punishment, universal health care, and opposition to the welfare state) reveal that their respect for the sanctity of human life is not absolute (See “Once Upon a Time”).
Complicating matters is the fact that there are a significant number of Americans who are simultaneously Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers, which is a circumstance that reinforces the reality that too many of us are quarreling over the extremes of two different continua. (See “75% of Millennials are Pro Choice and 65% are Pro Life. Wait. What?”)
The “Choice Continuum” is illuminated by this question: Does government have the right to interfere in private and consequential personal decisions? Pro-Choice Extremists would respond, “absolutely not;” No-Choice Extremists would respond, “absolutely yes.”
Pro-Choicers are often card carrying members of the Army of Equality (Progressives) who are inadvertently aligning with Conservatives’ (i.e. the Army of Liberty’s) stated opposition to extending the reach of the Federal Government into the private lives of Americans, which in the matter at hand, are the private lives of American women (see “LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ“).
Ironically, the No-Choicers in the Army of Liberty are willing to make an exception to their opposition to government overreach by advocating that the government should coerce American women to comply with the religious or philosophical dogma of a minority of Americans by making abortion illegal. (In 2018, a Gallup poll determined that 18% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, which suggests the size of the minority of Americans positioned at the No-Choice pole on “Sanctity of Life Continuum.”)
In addition to their hypocritical position supporting governmental interference into the private lives of Americans, No-Choicers have squarely positioned themselves in opposition to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, all the while citing the same amendment as protecting the lives of fetuses. Resolving the issue of “Choice” in favor of the current Constitutional guarantees of personal freedoms and equality for all makes the differential treatment of women illegal; however, it does not resolve the matter of the rights of a fetus.
This right, the rights of an unborn child, introduces a third continuum that muddles the matter further:
Life begins at birth <——> Life begins at conception
Where a person stands along this continuum depends upon the answers to this unresolved question: When does life begin? Which inevitably leads to this perhaps most difficult question of all: If life begins before birth, whose rights are pre-eminent, those of the unborn or those of the mother?
Given that Christian Extremists (among others) advocate for the view that life begins at conception, one might assume there are opinions in the preeminent record of Judeo-Christian belief that address when the life of a fetus begins, but theologians have determined that the Bible offers no such clarifications. In the absence of specifics, Pro-Lifers rely upon subjective interpretations of Biblical verses that validate the sanctity of life, but those interpretations do not answer the question: When does life begin?
There is, apparently, a solitary Bible verse that does refer to when life begins: Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” which has been used by some Pragmatists to identify a starting point for life, i.e. a fetus lives when it breathes, which, with the advances of medical science, is extended to mean that life begins when a fetus can survive outside of the womb. “Abortion: What the Bible Says (and Doesn’t Say)” will provide you with more food for thought.
Of course, relying upon documented views of Bronze and Iron Age humans to justify or refute contemporary points of view is a bit of a stretch, given that those humans were sufficiently sophisticated to believe the sky was a solid dome embedded with the moon and stars, and who believed a baby grew from a man’s seed that was planted in a womb, or that their views have been subjected to a few thousand years of “whisper down the lane.” (A discussion of these incongruities is beyond the scope of this post.)
In the absence of inviolable truth about when life begins, we are left with unprovable myth and personal opinion to support continuing and misaligned arguments that clumsily attempt to merge the three continua. As someone who is closer than not to the Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and Life begins at birth poles of their respective continua, I can point to a few concepts that allow all opinions to breathe while diminishing related governmental overreach. These are concepts that are aligned with the current American Rule of Law, which has evolved with the guidance of humans who had and have a more enlightened view of the universe than did our Bronze and Iron Age predecessors:
- Our Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion allow an individual to believe whatever s/he chooses to believe, regardless of where those views lie on the three continua.
- Our Constitutional freedoms also allow us to express our beliefs to others as fervently as we wish (in the absence of battery, murder, libel or slander).
- Those same freedoms preclude Americans from using the government to force all Americans to follow and implement a particular religious or philosophical point of view.
- As of this writing, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause precludes any attempt by the government to enforce any action that only impacts women.
I hope that the next time I decide to dive into an argument with someone about abortion, I will remember to clarify what it is we’re arguing about: Pro-Life versus Pragmatism? Or No-Choice versus Pro-Choice? If it were up to me, I’d want to tackle the issue of when life begins, because if the Life-begins-at-birth versus Life-begins-at-conception continua can’t be resolved, we’ll never resolve the others no matter how passionate our arguments.
I think I’m ready to rumble. Are you?
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