Thursday, August 23, 2012

Re-Framing Abortion: The Perpetual Political War

I hate talking about abortion. Everyone's view is carved in stone and has been for decades. Both sides get fired up at the slightest provocation and, sadly, there's never any political progress on the issue.

Even when the Whitehouse and both houses of Congress are controlled by the same party, there is practically no movement on abortion. George W. Bush had a Republican House and Senate for four years. Obama had a Democrat House and Senate for two years. Movement on the abortion issue: zippo.

There have been battles along the way--a partial-birth abortion ban that was overturned, supreme court appointments, whether government health plans should cover the morning after pill, etc. Those partisan battles are the point of this political debate, because: we've always been at war with Eastasia!

Abortion is a perpetual political war that gnaws at our polity by inflaming equal and opposite responses from Republicans and Democrats. A war where we learn to hate the "other" so we don't notice the kleptocrats looting the treasury.

Welcome to my dystopian view of the American two party system.

Because this particular debate is fraught with vitriol, I believe we need to re-frame abortion around principals that both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have in common. In arguing for or against any policy, we should refer to our shared history, tradition, and the writings of our founders and other great Americans.

America is a pluralistic society rooted in the separation of church and state. While religious arguments may sway one's view on any number of issues, they are unconvincing in this secular theater. Civility in our pluralistic society requires that we respect each other's beliefs even when we do not agree with them; therefore, appeals to religious tenants and traditions contribute to the rancor of the debate.

While America's founding was influenced by Judeo-Christian thought, those beliefs were circumscribed by our founders in the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." To find an American creed--a belief that is widely shared among Americans--I think we must limit ourselves to America's founding documents and omit references to God to have the widest secular appeal.

Our public policy discussion about abortion should be based on this phrase from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all... are created equal..." That simple phrase establishes these tenants of our shared American creed:
  1. Our equality begins when we are "created"
  2. Our equality at creation is self-evident
  3. Collectively we agree to this truth
This framing of the policy discussion does not resolve the abortion debate because of the ambiguity surrounding the concept of "creation". Certainly, many pro-lifers will argue that creation is conception and many pro-choicers will argue that creation is not instantaneous, but rather the entire process of pregnancy culminating in birth.

I'm not trying to settle this debate, rather I would like to see thoughtful discourse on the issue. This re-framing establishes premises that all Americans can accept. This will not bring our perpetual political war over this issue to an end, but it will create a common foundation for discourse--a sort of Geneva Conventions for the war. And that, I think, will remind each side of the basic humanity of those with whom they disagree and hopefully foster some civility.


Corey Stinson said...

When this debate gets re-framed as one over natural (or god-given, depending on your point of view) rights, then the discussion can truly be renewed. Do we have a right to life as HUMAN BEINGS? If so, and if it is a right, then don't we all have it? Or is it just a privilege, afforded to a few relative to their political power? This is the framing of the debate that should set moral people on both sides of the aisle to thinking. Instead, we must get bogged down by ridiculous people on both the left and the right.

We know who they are.

You said it best when you said: "Abortion is a perpetual political war that gnaws at our polity by inflaming equal and opposite responses from Republicans and Democrats. A war where we learn to hate the "other" so we don't notice the kleptocrats looting the treasury."

Welcome to the road to libertarianism, it's good to have you here.

Anngie said...

Those on the right of this debate should recognize that it will not be possible to create policy that will relieve them of their responsibility to their faith. Just as the poor will be with us always, so too shall those who make poor decisions. Policy will not change that and they must therefore continue to work on the mission of their faith, to protect the life of the innocents. I have often said that the right should adopt the McDonald's/Burger King marketing philosophy, so for every planned parenthood there should be a "life savings" institute across the street. God does not promise an easy path to virtue, nor does he hold us accountable for our sister's choices in life. We must commit to a lifetime of spreading the message, helping where we can, and stop thinking of the loss of a policy victory as a moral failing.