Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where the "abortion debate" is going

by Nick Cox

Nowadays, there is no abortion debate—that is, the ongoing shitstorm that the phrase "abortion debate" refers to does not rightly constitute an actual debate. A debate is a conversation in which people try to convince each other of some point or other by means of rational argument. The ultimate purpose of debate, at least according to charmingly naive optimist J.S. Mill, is to aid in the improvement of human society by leading people to truer beliefs.

Far from the polite tea party that the naive Mill imagined, the so-called "abortion debate" is a lot more like the World War that his progressive liberalism so naively failed to anticipate. It is not debate but trench warfare: each of the two camps, having dug itself into its own ideological stronghold, has set about reinforcing the walls with rhetoric and launching nasty slogans (along with the occasional bullet or pipe bomb) in the general direction of its enemy.

This analogy is apt in two ways. The first is that the "abortion debate" bears the image of a violent conflict. Most of the words exchanged in the debate present themselves as attempts to convince people of their position. But ultimately they serve as little more than attempts to demonize or otherwise lash out at the other side. The recent murder of Dr. George Tiller, which will sure as hell not win the pro-life movement any new adherents, was only a more literal version of the rhetorical ordinance that both camps are constantly lobbing at one another.

The second thing I want to emphasize about this battle, which explains precisely why it is not a debate, is that both sides are utterly entrenched. No one is convincing anyone of anything; everyone's mind is already made up. Furthermore, the two sides of the abortion debate are, as far as I can tell, completely irreconcilable. Quibbles about late-term or partial-birth aside, ultimately you either think abortion should be legal, or you don't; between these two options there can be no middle ground.

So there you have it: it looks like the "abortion debate" may already be the closest it will ever come to a satisfactory resolution. At this point bombarding each other with more and more arguments for why abortion should or should not be legal would be a waste of time. Instead, we should start trying to figure out if we can possibly reach some sort of truce. Although at this point we are probably dug in too deep to leave our trenches, I hope someday we can at least stop shooting at each other.


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