Saturday, February 20, 2010

An unbridgeable divide

Last night I had what was to me a pretty bizarre experience. Google alerts included a link to a question on, a totally general web forum which I had never heard of before. This question came from a 24 year-old grad student who is scheduled to have an abortion.

A 24 year-old grad student. Second year of a PhD program. Maybe that's why I bothered to read this; this very easily could be one of my classmates.

What she wanted to know was what having an abortion was like from other people who'd had abortions. The truly bizarre thing was her tone. Here is what she wrote:

So, what can I expect during and after all of this? How long will it be until I am back to “normal”? What kind of pain can I expect during and after? Is it likely my boyfriend and I will be able to go out to lunch on the ride home, or will I be completely out of commission? How can I expect to feel Saturday afternoon? Will I be ready to go out and enjoy Saturday evening? What will Sunday be like? Will I be ready to return to work on Monday? Also, Is there anything I should do in advance (eating / not eating)?

Thanks in advance for sharing your stories! <3

I read through literally all the comments on this post, and I was truly fascinated to see the conversation unfold. This girl confessed in her comments that this decision to have an abortion was not hard at all. She'd thought it out completely in advance, and knew that if she got pregnant she would have an abortion. Simple as that.

There was quite a range of responses to this, of course. Most of the commenters were pro-choice, but that didn't keep some of them from being bewildered by the seeming ease with which this girl came to such a decision. That led to some interesting and sometimes heart-wrenching stories being exchanged.

One story in particular was from a woman who truly regretted her abortion, and shared that experience of regret. She did not indicate that she was pro-life; her initial comment was,
I support your right to choose too, but it’s certainly not something I, personally, would be running around telling people everybody and their brother with the same attitude of “How do you make chocolate chip cookies?”
Then in her next comment she shared what life after the abortion was like for her, which was so poignant.

I was rather taken aback at how many people dismissed this as unhelpful, and even chastised the woman for being judgmental. It could just be the pure insanity that grips most people who post on web forums, but something was seriously distorting the way these people viewed this conversation.

From reading other comments on this post, I realized that there is a fundamental divide in our country on this question: what is this creature?

At first it would appear to be a totally empirical question, but it ends up being a democratic one. It is really only if the strong majority of Americans can agree that the creature is human that we will work to protect it. (Or am I being too speciesist?)

I suppose the reason I think about and blog on abortion so much is that this really is a fundamental question. Yes, or no. Human, or not human. Live, or die. There is no in between. The law of the excluded middle could not be so painfully clear.

People on both sides of this question seem to wonder how on earth those on the opposite side could be such terrible people. Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out which side feels stronger. My first thought would be the pro-life side, but sometimes I'm not so sure.

Pro-lifers often don't understand that pro-choicers can seriously feel violated by what is perceived to be an invasive demand made by pro-lifers. A woman's fundamental human dignity at stake. Without her right to her own body, what dignity does she have?

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, don't appear to understand that pro-lifers seriously believe humans are being killed by these personal choices. If you believe fellow humans are being killed by something, is it a virtue to keep silent, to leave it all up to personal choice?

With so much at stake on both sides, what middle ground can we possibly hope for? If the unborn truly possesses basic human dignity, then how can there possibly be justification for abortion? But if the unborn is purely property of the woman, then how can there possibly be justification for taking away her right to choose?

There are a couple of temptations for humans faced with this extreme dilemma. One is the "deep down" hypothesis. This is the belief that "deep down" people on the other side know they're wrong, and for one reason or another are clinging to something they know is wrong.

Sometimes this temptation causes us to go on crusades to try to convert people, which isn't so bad, really, except that we fail to realize the huge divide we're trying to cross. Other times the "deep down" hypothesis leads us to make moral attacks on each other, as when pro-choicers attack pro-lifers for being crazy and judgmental, and pro-lifers attack pro-choicers for being selfish and callous.

Another temptation is to write off people on the other side as hopeless. The end result is both sides viewing each other as strategic targets that need to be eliminated in the war for America's conscience.

At this point many piously open-minded intellectuals would want to step back and search for common ground, as if to defy the law of the excluded middle. I am afraid, however, that despite my ability to view the issue from the other side, reality doesn't afford me the luxury of actually supporting both sides at once.

This is why it doesn't surprise me when even groups like Feminists for Life are treated as extremists pushing a dangerous agenda. There can be no compromise. Even seemingly friendly organizations are suspect.

The soul that longs to cultivate love for all humanity is heart-broken by realizations like these. The temptation arises to simply avoid controversial issues like this, to refuse to pick a side. But I find that ultimately such a choice cannot be the loving one. Can either side possibly view that as genuine love for human beings?

Thus I find it positively draining on my soul to be passionate about this issue. Yet I persist, possibly in the tradition of Martin Luther, that "it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience." But how can anyone who stops to reflect not wonder, is my conscience so much better than theirs?

As much as I wish answers to these questions would fall out of the sky, I can't hold my breath. If there is any value in personal integrity, then I have to act on the personal conviction that it simply makes no sense to kill something before it "becomes" human. What makes sense to me is that scientifically speaking the unborn is human, and morally speaking every human is a person.

I can, in theory, imagine believing that such is not the case, but I can't live in such thought experiments. All I can do, I suppose, is take away a certain amount of empathy from hearing various opinions, and try to translate that empathy into acts of love.

Beyond this, there is nothing I can do to bridge this wretched divide.

1 comment:

  1. I only skimmed the Singer article, but interestingly enough, I've come across at least one self-described liberal atheist who opposes abortion on demand precisely because it deprives human fetuses of the basic level of protection our society guarantees to any other animal.


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