Monday, September 23, 2013

At the very least, use your enemies wisely.

Guns don't kill people. The boundary conditions of the universe kill people.
A friend of mine shared this image on Facebook, and it showed up in my feed. I have some things to say to all of you, pro-life and pro-choice alike, about it.

I feel like we're talking past each other. And by "we" I mean everyone. This image really bothers me, not because there are guns pointed at a fetus, or because I strongly support Planned Parenthood, but because it reinforces the misrepresentation of the pro-choice position as anti-life. This really is not so far from an image of pro-choicers eating babies.

If we want to make progress, we have to be willing to communicate and collaborate rather than antagonize, and that means making an honest effort to understand the beliefs and motives of those who disagree with us. The terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are already a huge barrier, because they frame the issue confusingly and counterproductively.

If I understand correctly, and I've made an honest effort to, people who support legislation that denies a women the right to kill a fetus, should one begin growing inside her body, do so because they believe fetuses are a type of child, and therefore a moral patient toward whom we are responsible as we would be any other person.There are variations, of course: Some believe fetuses have human souls, and that the same religious doctrines apply to them as to any other child of God. Some are concerned that since we can't currently be certain at what point a developing human becomes capable of suffering, we're obligated to behave as though even a zygote can suffer. But by and large, those who want to restrict reproductive rights in favor of the rights of fetuses believe that humans are people regardless of their age, be that three days, three months, or thirty years. The right of a person to live is more fundamental than the specific rights a person has over her body. Not only does this make good sense to me, but I agree on that final point, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't.

But it is inane, petty, and intellectually dishonest to suggest that we can rightly conclude from knowledge of someone's anti-abortion beliefs that she therefore does not highly value women's reproductive rights. Let alone that she therefore hates women and wants the government to dictate everything that happens to her body.

The implicit claim of this image is similarly inane, petty, and dishonest. It suggests that if a person doesn't support legislation that limits women's access to medical procedures that kill fetuses, she therefore thinks such specific rights should be valued above the right of a person not to be killed. It shouldn't take more than five seconds to see the problem here. Perhaps one need be a monster to murder another person in cold blood, but that's not even in the ballpark of concluding that embryos don't have enough of the relevant properties to be thought of as people.

If we didn't childishly divide ourselves along these lines into the good people and the evil people, the humanists and the misogynists, the godly and the baby killers, both sides could make progress toward what they value at the same time. If we saw each other as people instead of as murderers who hold guns to the heads of unborn babies, we could join forces to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, to support mothers who do want children, to ease the burden of caring for an infant so the prospect of carrying to term isn't so devastating when things don't go as planned. And all the while, we could continue talking about the core issue, which is what a fetus really is and what rights it ought to have, and people will be a hell of a lot more willing to change their minds when recognizing the truth doesn't mean joining The Dark Side.

So regardless of your position on abortion, it is not in your interest, or the interest of those whose rights you want to protect, to promote hatred, misunderstanding, and the desire to Defeat the Enemy. Instead, promote kindness, promote understanding, and promote collaboration toward shared goals. Do not post this garbage. If you're on my feed or reading this blog, you're almost certainly above it.