The fallout from Proposition 26 has been very revealing. The measure was defeated by a sizable majority, and there are various theories as to just what was its downfall. “Overreaching” seems to be the consensus explanation, but I think the problem is more basic. It was seen as overreaching because it implicated a variety of issues and practices that the average “pro-life” Christian was not prepared to question. Almost everyone in the great state of Mississippi is “pro-life.” It’s really quite polite to be so. But it is a much smaller percentage who are willing to condemn abortifacient birth control, and still fewer of that group are ready to say that certain advances in “reproductive technology” violate the natural law. Perhaps, and a bit more understandably, legal “personhood” is also too difficult of a concept to apply to entities that do not yet exist within the immediate jurisdiction of the state.
While I supported Prop. 26 and am still convinced that it was a morally justified position, I am willing to have the conversation about each of these issues. From my own perspective, I am convinced that the ethical questions will always have a singular answer, however, the prudential political questions may vary depending upon our context and ability. Still, what I saw more than anything else was a failure on the part of the citizenry to articulate clear principles and to explain why they would support one practice yet condemn another. We did not have our first principles in order, nor did we quite know how the law ought to work in support of those principles.
Because of this, I would like to have an extended conversation about these matters. I want to examine those principles, as well as ask certain key questions as to why people think and decide as they do. A distinct but directly related issue is the proper role of law and the most appropriate jurisdiction for certain social and civil protections. Until these are fleshed out, the pro-life conversation is really only partisan.
What do I mean by partisan? I mean what we already know. “Pro-life” is almost never a legitimate talking point in politics, but rather a carrot which the Republicans dangle in front of the social conservatives. It also happens to be a point of hysteria for both ends of the political spectrum. It is an expression that is used to draw battle lines. It is religious. It is apocalyptic.
The far Right uses abortion to decide between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. They have gruesome poster boards. From time to time they shoot people over this matter. But the far Left is just as crazy, if not more so. They use abortion as the ultimate benchmark in personal liberty, deriding pro-lifers as backwards and bumpkinesque. I was told that by supporting Prop. 26 that I was almost certainly a misogynist, and one otherwise smart young man told his equally smart sister that if she supported Prop. 26 he would no longer be able to trust her as a serious intellect, judging her to instead be a fanatic (and perhaps a cult member).
Adding to the complicating anecdotes is that conservatives who oppose the intrusive reach of the State are willing to support legislation that has the possibility of requiring criminal investigations for miscarriages and perhaps prescriptions as to the permissible behavior of pregnant women. Equally contradictory are the liberals, who otherwise want to outlaw Happy Meals, saying that their body is outside of the State’s jurisdiction. Pro-choice material is some of the most libertarian (if not anarchistic) literature in the political arena. How is it that each side can appear to violate their political principles in the service of a singular issue?
One thing abortion is not, or at least not very often, is reasonably and carefully discussed. Why should one believe a certain way on this issue, particularly in light of other basic beliefs? What sort of laws ought to be created in light of those beliefs? Can we be consistent on this matter, and if so, on what grounds?
Until we have a reasonable discussion in public fora, it seems unlikely that pro-life will ever get beyond religious and social boundaries. I am convinced that pro-life is both an issue of religion and of reason, and thus I don’t enjoy either side dismissing or abusing religion or reason in the pursuit of their goals. So I would like to ask a few questions and, hopefully, approach a few answers.
We can divide the discussion into two parts: the ethical and the political. These are not fully “separate” (as in having nothing to do with one another), but they are distinct. Not all sins are crimes. And, except for rebellion, not all crimes are necessarily sins. I would refer the reader to my paper on natural law for a further discussion about these distinctions.
In the next series of posts, I will be laying out the various questions that arise under each heading, and hopefully, we can accumulate enough information and coherent propositions to be able to articulate a rationally coherent and rhetorically effective pro-life case.