Very few issues seem more polarizing in American politics and discourse than the issue of abortion. On “both sides” of the issue emotions run high and rhetoric flows like a mighty river at flood stage. An outsider looking in might be forgiven for assuming that in America a person must choose between hating women or hating babies. A third way, it seems, is non-existent. I say, “it seems,” of course, because that’s not actually the case. Beneath the din and clang of the loudest voices lies a majority of people who hate neither women nor babies, people who recognize the complexity of the issue and want to find solutions that both reduce abortions and respect and protect women.
In years past I have tiptoed around the issue, not because I had nothing to say, but because to say anything at all was to invite an onslaught of rebuke from one side, the other, or both. In recent months, however, as I’ve begun to broach the subject, I’ve discovered that many people really are willing to engage the issue in its complexity. When I ran an informal Twitter poll asking if anyone would be interested in “a longform blog series addressing what I view to be the complexities of abortion and a possible common-ground way forward,” 68% of 87 respondents said “yes,” so that’s what I’ll attempt to do here.
This task, if I’m honest, seems daunting. Even as I begin, I’m aware that I have neither the time nor the expertise to adequately address all the nuance and complexity of the issue. Furthermore, I’m acutely aware of the fact that I am a man offering opinions about an issue that disproportionally affects women. Whether or not you agree with the assertion that abortion is an issue of bodily autonomy, it is an undeniable fact that, in general, men have sought to regulate to some degree what women can and should do with their own bodies. Not wanting to perpetuate that trend, I have asked a few female friends of mine to offer their input on what I have written.
This blog series should be read as one perspective in the larger scope of treatments on the issue. I won’t say anything here that hasn’t been said (and rebutted) elsewhere. My only hope here is to help inch us closer toward a framework for constructive and productive dialogue. In high-stakes, emotionally charged conservations, the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective is crucial. In light of that, I want to close this first post by offering a few questions that I hope will encourage both empathy and charity.
Here’s a question I’d like my pro-life friends to honestly consider: Why do more than 50% of Americans, most of whom are generally rational and compassionate humans who don’t hate babies, support some form of abortion while 99.9% of Americans would NEVER support a mother killing a one-month-old baby?
Here’s a question I’d like my pro-choice friends to honestly consider: Why do nearly 50% of Americans, most of whom are generally rational and compassionate humans who don’t hate women, staunchly oppose abortion?
What if we worked from the good faith standpoint that pro-lifers are motivated by compassion for babies and pro-choicers are motivated by compassion for women and that most pro-lifers don’t hate women and most pro-choicers don’t hate babies?
Asking ourselves how a reasonable and compassionate person might come to a different conclusion helps us engage in constructive, non-demonizing dialogue.
One of the things that makes abortion such a complex issue is the way that it intersects with and is informed by so many different areas of life: religion, science, medicine, law, women’s rights, and public opinion, just to name a few. In the posts that follow, I will attempt to illustrate how, even in each of these individual categories, abortion is a complicated issue as well as how that complexity compounds in the big picture. In the end, I hope to offer some thoughts and reflections regarding a constructive way forward that both respects women and actually reduces abortion. To begin, in the next post, I’ll address the potentially surprising reality that America isn’t actually as divided as it may seem.