Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who Cares If It's a Human Person?

One indication that people on one side of an issue are either winning or losing the intellectual argument is that, strangely enough, they grow more honest about what it is they want to accomplish.

For example, the left generally abhors the idea of private ownership of guns and would like very much to ban both firearms and the second amendment that protects the right to possess them, but they'll never acknowledge that that is their goal as long as it's unclear whether they'll win the issue. If they did admit it prematurely they'd be run out of town, so they speak more soothingly and circumspectly of "reasonable" measures while adopting a long-term incremental strategy for achieving their goal.

This, parenthetically, accounts for much of the resistance to their proposals by those who understand how the game is played. Savvy opponents realize that as soon as they compromise and grant some of the left's recommendations for gun restrictions the ratchet will kick in and additional "reasonable" measures will soon be advanced requiring even more compromise until eventually the right to possess a means of self-defense is eliminated.

If, on the other hand, the left thought it was either winning or losing on this issue we'd probably hear more of them admitting openly that we do indeed need to ban guns entirely and that until we do we'll never have a safe society, etc. Both losing big and winning big tends to elicit honesty. As long as the outcome is in doubt, however, these folks rarely tell us what they're really thinking.

We saw this ratchet at work recently on the debate over allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. Those who did not want to raise taxes were assured that it'll just be the wealthy who'll be required to pay their "fair share," a term that was never explicitly defined, and once the wealthy have their taxes raised then that'll be the end of it. Yet no sooner were the necessary compromises made and tax rates on the wealthy allowed to return to pre-Bush levels than we heard two conflicting claims. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader, naively declared that taxes were now "off the table," but Senator Chuck Schumer notified us that this was just an appetizer for our voracious government.

I thought of all this as I read an article by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon in which Ms Williams as much as admits that the pro-life folks have won the intellectual argument, that an unborn child is in fact a human person, that there's no point in trying to deny that truth any longer, and that it doesn't matter anyway because she still wants the right to kill it. She writes:
I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.

As Roe v. Wade enters its fifth decade, we find ourselves at one of the most schizo moments in our national relationship with reproductive choice. In the past year we’ve endured the highest number of abortion restrictions ever. Yet support for abortion rights is at an all-time high, with seven in 10 Americans in favor of letting Roe v. Wade stand, allowing for reproductive choice in all or “most” cases. That’s a stunning 10 percent increase from just a decade ago. And in the midst of this unique moment, Planned Parenthood has taken the bold step of reframing the vernacular – moving away from the easy and easily divisive words “life” and “choice.” Instead, as a new promotional film acknowledges, “It’s not a black and white issue.”

It’s a move whose time is long overdue. It’s important, because when we don’t look at the complexities of reproduction, we give far too much semantic power to those who’d try to control it. And we play into the sneaky, dirty tricks of the anti-choice lobby when we on the pro-choice side squirm so uncomfortably at the ways in which they’ve repeatedly appropriated the concept of “life.”

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?

We’re so intimidated by the wingnuts, we get spooked out of having these conversations. We let the archconservatives browbeat us with the concept of “life,” using their scare tactics on women and pushing for indefensible violations like forced ultrasounds. Why? Because when they wave the not-even-accurate notion that “abortion stops a beating heart” they think they’re going to trick us into some damning admission. They believe that if we call a fetus a life they can go down the road of making abortion murder. And I think that’s what concerns the hell out of those of us who support unrestricted reproductive freedom.
Ms Williams believes her side has won on the larger issue, and she feels free to plainly admit that what pro-lifers have been saying for fifty years - that there's no substantive difference between a born and an unborn child and that abortion kills a person - is true. She says, in effect, "Yeah, abortion kills a living human person, but so what? If it makes my life easier I want to be able to do it." It's pretty chilling to think that this is probably the mainstream view among liberals.

She puts the cherry on top by calling those who are troubled by the culture of death she promotes "wingnuts." In Ms Williams' opinion it's not the people who are zealous in their determination to retain the right to kill children who are nuts, it's the people who want to protect children from a grisly death who are the lunatics. This piece of reasoning is nothing if not grotesque.