It can get weird listening to liberals and conservatives talk past each other. Misunderstandings lead to frustrations and then the decibel levels rise.
Conservatives, who have been in full counterrevolution reactionary mode lately, have learned that ideas expressed in provocative language can trigger passions among their members.
Liberals struggle with the contradictions that they sense in the emotional terms used by conservatives.
Perhaps nowhere is the confusion more tangible than in the conflict between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who call themselves “pro-choice.” Often, it seems to pro-choice advocates, the pro-life legalized abortion opponents are also in favor of death dealing in the form of the death penalty, of war, and of torture. Moreover, pro-lifers seem to show little concern for the life and health of women and children.
Liberals are further confused when they see that the people who most loudly profess anguish that unborn babies are being “murdered” are often the same people who are against provision of birth control and who want abstinence to be taught in schools in place of sex education, despite growing evidence linking abstinence focused education with higher pregnancy rates. If abortion is murder and the goal is to reduce abortions then these things are counter-productive since sex education and birth control reduce abortion rates.
Pro-choice advocates say they are actually seeking to reduce abortions through sex education and birth control and so they object when pro-lifers describe them as “pro-abortion.” Why would anyone be for abortion, they ask.
It doesn’t help when legislators then seek to define “personhood” as beginning at conception on the premise that life begins at conception. Biologically speaking, eggs and sperm are just as alive as zygotes and embryos; there is never a moment during the reproductive process when the components are not alive.
But all of these seeming contradictions dissolve if the goal of pro-lifers is instead described as birth rather than life. Opposition to sex education is pro-birth. Restriction of birth control and abortion is pro-birth. The death penalty, war, and torture become unrelated issues. Poverty and quality of life, physical and emotional health are irrelevant to a pro-birth position. Gay marriage becomes a relevant issue as a threat to birth because gays would no longer be forced into a traditional marriage where they would be more likely to reproduce.
As for soaring rates of single motherhood, a pontificating Rick Santorum or a ranting Rush Limbaugh see single mothers as being to blame for making themselves available to men without a publicly blessed commitment. Men are supposed to couple with every fertile female available to them, that is their job. The female’s job is to be fertile and to carry and care for the resulting babies. Making sure that she has sufficient resources is her problem to solve. The pro-birth position is unconcerned on her behalf.
In this sense, the members of the pro-life movement are nothing less than the modern guardians of fertility, a firmly entrenched and primeval instinct in the human psyche. Once upon a time virgin females were sacrificed to appease this instinct, a clear incentive for young females to couple-up, and fast.
For these reasons clarity will be enhanced if we recognize that the pro-life movement should instead be referred to as the pro-birth movement. Then people have a better chance of talking about the actual issues instead of feeling baffled by the other side’s positions. Neither side is primarily for or against abortion (or life) per-se because abortion is not the real issue. The real issue is birth.
In the end it may come down to this: Some of us want to be married. Some of us don’t. Some of us want to have babies. Some of us don’t want a baby right now, or maybe not ever. And some of us want to force everyone else to marry and produce babies, all other considerations be damned. Whatever side that we find ourselves on, let’s call it what it is and allow our arguments to stand on their own merits.
Because true freedom and liberty require and deserve honesty and clarity.
Image: “too many babies” by Djuliet, on Flickr