Pro Choice? Pro Life? Pro Baby?

What with the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller and President Barack Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, there has been talk recently of trying to make the abortion debate more civil.  Some people are asking, “Can we debate without demonizing?  Can we disagree without being disagreeable?”  I think the answer to both questions is a big “No.”

Let me make clear that I can understand the sentiment of pro civility crowd.  Our society cultivates both tolerance and self-absorption, which makes it tempting not to argue about anything too much–just live and let live.

But the abortion issue is a little difficult to align with this mindset because there are many passionate people on both sides.  Pro Choicers believe that this issue is about women’s right to control their own body.  How dare someone else tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her reproductive organs?  Secondarily, there are those who see the benefit of abortion as a means to slow overpopulation.  Why bring unwanted babies into a world that can’t continue to sustain our numbers anyway?

Pro Lifers believe that life begins at conception, so every abortion is murder.

Pro Choicers believe that their opponents are religious wackos and control freaks.  PC’ers see their opponents as hypocrites twice over.  Many Pro Life conservatives support the death penalty.  And some abortion doctors have been killed over the years.

Pro Lifers see their opponents as baby killers and irreligious wackos–people who care more about the welfare of bald eagle eggs and convicted serial killers than unborn babies.  Pro Lifers resent being called the bad guys over of the killing of abortionists.  Fewer than ten abortionists have been killed by Pro Lifers.  George Tiller was the first to get killed in more than ten years, and each time Pro Life organizations condemn the murders.   There are no celebrations, no dancing in the streets by Pro Lifers.

When the morality of the issue is so primary to it, it is unsurprising that the two sides have trouble being charitable or finding common ground.  But common ground is not impossible. A few years ago, Congress passed a law ordering life saving assistance for babies who survive abortions.  It was a version of this law that President Obama refused to support as a member of the Illinois state legislature.  He first voted “present” and voted “no” the next year.  He was afraid it would start a slippery slope away from legal abortion.

As a pithy compromise, Pro Choicers say that if Pro Lifers are against abortion then they don’t need to have them.  But this is hardly satisfying for people who see abortion as murder.  “If you’re against murder, fine, don’t have one.”  That doesn’t make sense.

At what point is a baby alive?  Pro Lifers say it happens at the moment of conception.  Pro Choicers say it is unknowable.  Maybe another possible area of compromise could be found here.  If a fetus is developed enough to survive on his/her own outside the womb, how could any fairminded person say he/she doesn’t deserve protected status inside the womb?  I’m not saying that protecting this class of babies would stop Pro Lifers from wanting more; I’m just saying this should be a winnable battle in the conflict over saving the babies.