Tuesday, June 13, 2006

They don't even know what "pro-life" means.

I have been following with interest an argument on Redstate concerning choice, morality, and the meaning of pro-life.

The discussion started on a diary concerning Mitt Romney's more liberal positions as Governor of Massachussetts (apparently, Republicans don't understand the "take what you can get" principle that allows us to appreciate Ben Nelson).

It quickly became clear in the ensuing discussion that the contradictions inherent among the notions of libertarianism, conservatism, and the "pro-life" position reveal themselves nearly instantaneously.

The first thing we see comes in the form of the "I personally oppose abortion, but I can't enforce that decision" form of pro-life:

s that he has HIS OWN personal beliefs but feels no need to impose his personal beliefs on others. While I will bet he WISHED others would share his beliefs and values, he doesn't feel a need to enforce his beliefs and values on other people.

You seem to be saying that he isn't a conservative because he wouldn't force other people to abide by his personal value system and codify his beliefs in law. I disagree. What makes a conservative is what you yourself would do and what you yourself believe. It isn't that you would force others to live by your beliefs and values. There are other words for that kind of thing.

This poster may be legitimately considered as both pro-life and pro-choice. This is the position held by John Kerry and Bob Casey concerning abortion. It is essentially a libertarian position.

The problem for libertarians in the abortion debate--regardless of their personal beliefs regarding the morality of choice--is that the position held by religious conservatives is unable to separate the concept of their version of morality from legal versions of morality as determined by law:

We're not talking "legislating morality" in the sense that we're legislating everyone goes to church, we're talking "legislating morality" in the sense that it's immoral to kill other humans. Even your staunchest 'Toid will grant that's a legitimate function of government.

(I don't know what a 'toid is on Redstate.)

It's a fascinating exchange going on here, especially for Redstate. The problem is one we know all too well: one person's version of morality is not another person's version of morality when it comes to religious precepts. Of course, there are exceptions--it may be the case that in some moral system somewhere, murder is not a moral offense--but a respect to the opinion of mankind is generally enough to be able to draw such distinctions. And that's where the current abortion debate stands.

A Muslim or a Jew living in the United States will understand that no matter what their religious precepts say about eating pork, it is at odds with the principles of freedom as defined by Lakoff to require--even should they be a majority--that legislation be enacted against it. The problem is that the definition of whether one is killing a human being or not is a slightly more serious matter than dietary precepts.

So here, we already have two different versions of being "pro-life" or anti-abortion: one definition that assigns the morality of choice the same importance that is ascribed to other seemingly arbitrary codes of morality determined by religions, and another definition whose logic demands an imposition of its belief on the rest of society.

I assume most of us are aware of these definitions already, but there is a third definition--one of pragmatism and the inevitability of imperfection. This is the middle ground--a "third way" of sorts that seeks to please both the parties involved, but ends up satisfying neither.

the real argument is that we, as a society, constantly make decisions that balance life, money, convenience and personal freedom. factories release some harmful chemicals into the atmosphere because it would be prohibitively expensive to avoid it. people are allowed to drive hummers, even though they are statistically more likely to kill someone if involved in an accident. some people live in extravagant wealth while children starve to death in other countries. poor people get crappy medical treatment. innocent people die in wars.

we recognize that "sanctity of life" isn't the end of the argument. it gets a lot of weight, but in the end, other considerations must also be taken into the balance.

It is obvious that these three positions are inherently contradictory. The Democratic position on choice--that abortion should be rare, safe, and legal, regardless of one's personal belief in the practice, has no such logical inconsistencies.

And this is why Roe v. Wade will never be overturned. The adherents to the second definition of "pro-life" that I named will never be strong enough to dictate their terms to the entire nation, and conservatives with either viewpoints one or three have a little more foresight than to go along with them for the sake of political expediency.

As long as Roe v. Wade remains law, conservatives can unite in opposition to it, but if it is ever overturned, the proverbial excrement will hit the proverbial spinning cooling apparatus forthwith. There will be debates about whether to outlaw abortion state by state, and that will fracture the movement. There will be debates about what punishment abortion providers and patients should be punished with should they undergo the process. If abortion is indeed murder, then why wouldn't it fall under the murder statutes, in which case abortion patients and providers would both be conspirators to first-degree murder and subject to the death penalty? And if abortion merely deserves a place in regular criminal law that remains separate from the laws concerning murder, then on what grounds is it criminalized in the first place?

The pragmatists who value the best compromises and trade-offs will also have to deal with other sticky issues that will throw wrenches into the movement, and by extension their electoral prospects.

1) The adherents of the second definition of "pro-life" will attempt to regulate out-of-state travel to obtain an abortion should a neighboring state maintain legal access to abortion, and conservatives would have to prepare not only for political repercussions, but also for sound rejection from a conservative federalist court that such laws completely violate the interstate commerce clause.

2) The rape exemption is obviously a hot-button issue. A pragmatist quickly realizes that the majority of the public supports such an exemption. It has been discussed here many times before, and I have written many times, that if aborting a viable fetus constitutes murder, it will remain murder regardless of the circumstances of the creation of that fetus, and the pragmatists can sense it.

(Time was, I used to argue this point only in theory--but I met someone recently who shared a personal story with me concerning this issue. If you happen to read this--and I assume you know who you are--please know that I was touched by your candor, and that story is the main reason I decided to write this as soon as I saw the thread on Redstate.)

So in short, there is already enough disunity on the abortion issue among conservatives--even right now while Roe v. Wade is still in force--that any Republican who actually cares about the electoral future of their party knows that criminalizing abortion will wreck their political aspirations.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I feel that Roe is safe for the time being. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]

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