The abortion argument is a weird one, where one side believes that murders are going on and yet is expected to act no differently than they might in a debate about tort reform. It’s like asking a peace activist to enter a discussion with a Darfur general, and to calmly and reasonably discuss the finer points of machete use.
If you accept, just for a moment, that a fetus is a human being, then how can you justify not yelling and screaming and throwing things at scared teenaged girls as they enter a clinic?
I have always had great sympathy for the pro-life movement. Though I firmly believe that abortion should be legal and available, the pro-choice movement has always been dominated by rather infantile creeps who characterize a fetus as anything from a parasite to a tumor. It’s a level of willful blindness that borders on being as extreme as that of pro-life activists who think that an abortion doctor is the moral equivalent of Robert Pickton.
When a sense of moral righteousness leads you to conclude that your opponents shouldn’t be allowed to voice their dissent, you’ve crossed into the territory of tyrants and simpletons. One, quite simply, must be either morally bankrupt or intellectually lacking, to defend oppression in an attempt to affect emancipation.
Such is the only possible conclusion about the university officials who had several Carleton University protesters arrested for the “crime“ of holding pro-life posters on their own university grounds in October. They were given the chance to protest off in a corner, as though such half-measures were even remotely in line with the idea of free speech and ideological tolerance. Set beside shock-posters encouraging donations to Haitian relief funds, or Darfur intervention programs, their posters seem downright tame.
Some of the quotes that come out of pro-choice activists are distressing. I’ve seen suggestions that nurses should be screened for pro-life sentiment, and that protesting in front of an abortion clinic should be considered a crime. It’s a problem.
While I acknowledge the personal and societal necessity of available abortion, I can’t bring myself to think of it as a moral no-brainer. If a woman’s decision to have an abortion can be changed by a shouted statistic, or a picture of a fetus, then perhaps she shouldn’t be having an abortion.
Only recently has it seemed radical to acknowledge the emotional and medical fallout of the abortion procedure, or the moral considerations in stopping the potential for a human life. That some people want to avoid having to think such uncomfortable thoughts, to label a fetus as a cancer and go about their day as though nothing happened, is not a compelling constitutional argument against freedom of speech.
Even in the rather heart-wrenching case of the traumatized young girl merely choosing the least horrifying of several terrible options, we cannot oppress an ideological group simply to save her from additional emotional confusion or distress.
Without a doubt, some of the pro-life rhetoric stems from a wish, both deliberate and subconscious, to control women. But don’t kid yourself: A lot of it stems from a genuine belief that a fetus is no different than a child, and that abortion is no different than infanticide. Yes, it’s largely based on religion, but anyone who thinks that a fetus has been scientifically proven to not be a human being is ignorant of the literature on the subject.
One shouldn’t dismiss this argument simply because of its association with other religious concepts that can sometimes seem silly.
Pro-life legislation is a threat to democracy, and should be opposed and stopped at every turn. On this, there is no real room for debate – the right to abortion is a basic right afforded to every human who can reach the state of pregnancy. Pro-life sentiment, however, might just be necessary in any society that wishes to call itself morally self-aware. Pro-life activism is, in a very real way, one of the only things keeping abortion from becoming the routine non-issue that many pro-life activists mistakenly claim that it already is.
The Peak (Simon Fraser University)