A number of years back there was an organization called “Common Ground” that got pro-choice and pro-life people together for dialog. From all accounts at the time, it was a very useful dialog between people who routinely demonized each other. I don’t know what happened to the group, but in honor of what they did I named this commentary.
The primary pro-life position is that life begins at conception and therefore abortion is killing a human being. That is an argument based on theology or on the potential of a fetus. I think most people would regard a single fertilized human egg as not a human being, but that view shifts as a fetus becomes more recognizably human and ends with most people regarding a fetus that could live outside the womb as a human being. That is, there is a range of opinion on what constitutes a human being.
This pro-life argument is one I respect and I think it is one that can be debated as those with different positions make their best arguments to persuade the other side.
However, there are a couple of what I call “parasites” on the pro-life movement that make it harder to find common ground. The two parasites are (and these will be stated rather bluntly):
- The Catholic church’s desire to control its members’ sex lives
- The authoritarian view that women should be punished for having sex outside marriage.
There a several facets to the Catholic position. The most severe, from the standpoint of preventing abortion, is its position on artificial birth control. The Catholic position boils down to “Catholics must make babies”. The birth control pill is out because they say that in rare cases, it cause spontaneous abortion; condoms are out because they prevent intimacy in marriage; tubal ligtation is out because it is “mutilation of the body”. The rhythm method is ok because it doesn’t work reliably.
The fully exercised Catholic position creates more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.
The authoritarian view is that women should be “responsible for their actions”. If you have fun, you have to bear the consequences. These folks also are against birth control (since it leads to immorality) and generally against sex education. In essence they say that keeping teenagers from having sex is more important than preventing abortions.
I think that the pro-life movement would be far more successful in preventing abortions by removing the parasites and looking for common ground with the reasonable elements in the pro-choice movement.
I think that there a few things that most folks agree on.
- Unwanted pregnancy is a bad thing.
- Killing human beings is a bad thing.
- Sometimes is is necessary to take life to save life.
And from these principles several public policy initiatives could spring:
- Easy access to sex education.
- Easy access to contraception
- Support for unwed mothers
- Rape and abuse prevention programs
- School drop-out prevention
- Adoption alternatives
- Attacking the root causes of poverty (jobs)
Pro-life folks are not stopping any abortions with their current coalition with the anti-contraception and the authoritarian moral crowd. The reason is that they are looking in the wrong direction for allies.