Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fine, I'll talk about abortion - part one

I hate arguing (or, for that matter "discussing") abortion. I loathe "the abortion debate" (which is seldom actually a debate, and only partly about abortion). I'm sick to death of the entire topic. If there's a sufficiently powerful and active god out there - or even a kindly disposed alien race watching us - I would take it as a personal favor if you could boost our technology to a point where Star-Trek-level transporter devices could be used to transfer fetuses to safe, reliable artificial wombs. This, so that we could finally shut up about abortion and go back to actually talking to each other.

But it's an election year and I have a Facebook account, so apparently there's no escape. Never mind that the "debate" seems deliberately structured to be unresolvable, never mind that the "discussion" almost always devolves into people arguing past each other, never mind that the whole thing is intensely divisive and almost certainly doing more harm than good. It seems I'm going to hear about it anyway.

I've written before about why I think it's a stupid argument: a large part of the rhetoric hopelessly conflates moral issues with legal issues, which muddies the waters under the pretense of simple clarity. To have any sort of real discussion, you have to step back from the established sides and take a serious look at what you actually want to accomplish and how best to go about it. The existing arguments aren't going anywhere - they've been repeating the same points for over a decade now, and anyone who was going to be convinced is convinced already. To make any progress, we need to tear them down and start over.

And honestly, I don't think that's going to happen. As far as I can tell, too many people have a vested interest in keeping the argument going. It gets out the votes, it brings in the donations, it provides a rallying point for religious and political communities, and it lets people feel like they're fighting for something really important.

That's not to say that Pro-Life and/or Pro-Choice activists are just playing along for something to do. For the most part, I think that the people on both sides really do believe most of what they're saying (with the usual allowances for exaggeration and hyperbole in any political rhetoric). But human beings are emotional as well as rational, and having an important moral issue to defend is something that has a powerful emotional appeal. Anger, and especially righteous anger, can be addictive, and I really do think that's a factor in why people keep rehashing these arguments.

For the next few posts (at least on this topic - I may take a break and post about other things, too) I'm going to ask you to set aside moral outrage, take a deep breath, and just follow along while I try to explore a few points. I'm sure these are all things that have been said before; I don't think anything new has been said on the topic since May 21, 1984. But I've been hearing pro-choice and pro-life arguments for a couple of decades now, and I don't think either position as it currently exists is really useful. So please bear with me while I try to explore why - and more importantly how - I think that the time, money, and energy currently devoted to the issue of abortion could be better spent.

That's not to say that I don't want feedback, reactions, corrections, or alternate perspectives. I'm leaving the comments open. Feel free to disagree, but try to do so without arguing - be constructive, or at the very least calm and polite. I will delete anything that I decide is too acrimonious, but I trust my readers to know how to express themselves without stepping over that line.

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