Saturday, November 3, 2012

Among other things: why I am firmly pro-choice, and why evangelizing by intimidation infuriates me

Okay, so a little background: a friend on Facebook from SPU shared this image on her feed:

And I pointed out the ways in which this picture was misleading, mainly that I consider embryos and fetuses life, just not necessarily people, and that we certainly don't have issues killing bacteria here on earth.

That led to some discussion that, for being on Facebook, was surprisingly civil, that resulted in her advocating for adoption as an option, and then recommending I watch this video (Direct YouTube, in case the site changes). Now, I don't recommend you watch this video. It was infuriating, and is half an hour of a guy (ironically named Ron Comfort) bullying people into agreeing with him. He uses the oft-used "ask leading, scary, intimidating questions that frame the discussion such that when I go in for the kill you have forgotten why you believe what you believe and look like a terrible person if you disagree with me even though you're not" technique, and it's frustrating and repugnant to watch person after person be subjected to it. But the basics: the first 13 minutes remind us of how horrible the holocaust and Hitler were, and includes a disturbing but carefully-selected set of clips of people having no clue who Hitler was. Halfway through we finally get to abortion, and he does the usual of comparing abortion to the holocaust, and corners people into agreeing that abortion is unequivocally murder. In particular, he uses this pre-example of if you were in a bulldozer, and Nazis were telling you to bury some Jews, most of whom but not all of whom were dead. If you don't, you get shot, Nazi gets in and does it anyway. He then takes it one step further, asking that if the Nazi instead gave you the gun and told you to shoot the survivors (actually a more merciful option than live burial), would you do that? The answers varied, but were pretty mixed on the first question, and heavily weighed towards non-cooperation on the second.

After sitting through that for a half-hour, there were a lot of things in my head, but what I ended up writing down was a pretty lucid, I think well-thought-out explanation of why I so vehemently abhorred the video, and more generally, why I am pro-choice. So I decided that all that thinking and writing should find its way out of that particular Facebook thread, and onto this blog. So, with minor editing for context and cleanup, here was my response.

I have so many issues with what this ironically-named Ray Comfort is doing, and think what he is doing is morally heinous. But what he did do is highlight for me what the root problem that I have with legally prohibiting abortion is.

The example Ray was giving at the beginning - with the tank and the gun - is a morally unsolvable question. There is no moral right answer to that question. If the Jews are going to die anyway, and you have a choice between burying them yourself, or dying and letting the Nazis bury them? There is simply no right answer to that question. Either option is terrible, and morally repugnant, and a horribly traumatic experience. But if someone chose to exit with their life and carry that choice with them for the rest of their lives - would you sentence them to death? Would you stand behind them and mandate that they submit to death, because you think they shouldn't bury the Jews?

I certainly hope not. Because as I stated: there simply is no morally correct thing to do in that situation. Those kinds of situations exist. As much as we don't want them to, they exist. It would be so nice if every situation to had a nice, clean, right-or-wrong, black-or-white answer so that we can tell other people when they're doing the right thing or not, and we could know whether we are doing the right thing or not.

But the world isn't always like that. And presenting people with a situation like that - where there is no moral right answer, where every option is horrifying and morally repugnant - and then pressing them to answer, pressing them to make a decision, and making it clear that if they make a decision that you think is the less evil of the two, then they are wrong and morally lacking and bad people - that is evil. It is wrong, it is cruel, and it is evil.

To bring this back around to the topic of abortion: I believe that abortion is another of these situations. An unwanted pregnancy is a morally heavy situation. There is no one right answer to what to do when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, especially when there are severe consequences to carrying the pregnancy through. There is no clear, shining, white, correct answer. There is no choice you can make that is not messy and difficult and distressing.

For me to go in, with legislation, and decide (especially as a male who will never be pregnant!) that for everyone, my choice is the correct choice - in this situation where there are no clear right answers - is morally repugnant, and I simply cannot do that. If you find yourself in that situation, by all means carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption. But don't force everyone else to do so, just because that is what you have wrestled out of this insanely difficult, no-right-answer situation.

In summary: Like the tank example, an unwanted pregnancy is a complex, morally heavy, very difficult situation, with no one right answer. There is no one morally right answer to it, and forcing one answer on everyone is morally repugnant.

Now, I also had significant and independent issues with the video itself and how it was filmed, its arguments, and particularly with how Ron Comfort treats people. The comparison of abortion to the holocaust is a common one, because the holocaust is the example of ultimate evil in the world, so most things people see as evil eventually get compared to Hilter and the holocaust. But there is a world of difference between killing people, with lives and children and mental activity and birth certificates and consciousness, and killing an embryo that has no appreciable mental activity, no consciousness, no sense of self. Taking an ultimate evil and aligning people's actions with it is deceptive and does not result in useful change.

As an example, consider this: octopuses are very complex creatures with consciousness, some basic sense of self, they have families and brains and beating hearts, they care for their eggs, and show signs of incredible intelligence and problem-solving skills. But our society has accepted that it's okay to kill them because they taste good. Would you kill a person if they tasted good? Why is it okay to kill octopuses? Is it because they can't talk to us, can't communicate? Because they are different from us? Does that mean it's okay to kill mute people, or people with severe mental disabilities, because they can't communicate as well? Does it mean it's okay to kill people of other races because they're different than us? No. No rational person would answer those questions affirmatively. You could probably find some off-the-wall neo-nazi who will give you repulsive quotes about how he would kill those people, for effect, if you wanted. But the majority will say no. Am I okay to conclude, then, that those who kill and eat octopuses are evil, that calamari is the new holocaust, that we should immediately outlaw the killing of octopuses? If you're willing to do that, what about pigs? They are also surprisingly intelligent creatures. Cows?

In the case that you are a vegetarian, and you do think that killing animals is morally repugnant - do you think we should make it illegal to kill animals in all situations? Outlaw meat entirely? If not, why not? You just agreed that it's morally wrong, why should we not outlaw it?

You may think that what I am doing is unfair, or full of logical fallacies, or beside the point, or painting you into a corner, or just a bunch of distracting, question-firing, I'm-smarter-than-you bluster.

That's because that's exactly what it is. If you step back from my rapid-fire questions, my cornering you with carefully selected questions, you realize that there are reasons that as a society we think it's okay to eat animals. Most people - at the least - aren't advocating for outlawing pork, and that is a good thing. Because there is a difference between killing octopuses and killing people, even if my questions made it seem like there wasn't.

And that's exactly what Ron Comfort is doing. It's ruthlessly effective, but it's bullying, it's unfair, and in my opinion, is an evil, very morally problematic thing to do. And it does nothing, in the end, to further your point, except to bully and intimidate people to agree with you, at least while you have a microphone shoved in your face, but it does nothing to foster discussion or change hearts and minds.

Another minor counterpoint: Ron is arguing that fetuses are people, which is not a universally acknowledged or agreed-upon point. But for the sake of this argument, I will pretend that's a given. He then gets people to say that they value life, that they wouldn't shoot the Jews, and then asks them why they would kill babies, isn't that the exact same thing? And because he's bullied them with his questions and framed the conversation very specifically, they can't find a way out.

Killing is bad, but killing isn't killing isn't killing - even if it is undeniably human. There's a reason we have trials and varying punishments, and don't just hand out the death penalty every time someone causes the death of another person. There's a reason we have manslaughter, and first-degree murder, and second-degree murder. It's because even murder - that universally bad thing - is not black and white. It's not simply all right or all wrong. If I fail to secure something in my truck and it ends in the death of someone, I undeniably caused their death. Should I get the electric chair? No. There should be some punishment, but few people will argue that I deserve to die. Did Ted Bundy deserve to die (or spend life in prison)? Most people will agree with an emphatic yes. If I kill someone because I thought they were going to kill me, but I ended up being wrong, should I die or have life in prison? Probably not. Should I spend more time in jail than if something fell out of my truck? Probably.

And most saliently, in my opinion: why is it morally acceptable to wage war and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians? Why is that killing okay? You probably have all kinds of reasons, and a lot of them are probably good ones. You have justifications, and that's a good thing. I may not agree with them all - I personally have never seen a wholly satisfying justification for war - but you probably have reasonable justifications.

What does this all have to do with abortion? Because even if abortion is killing a human life - which I don't believe that it is - you can't just say that it is wrong at its face because of that. As a society, we have several justifiable reasons to kill someone. It is striking when put that way, but it's very true. So you have to offer some additional argument - besides "it is killing someone" - to justify outlawing it. And again, this is even if an embryo is a full-fledged person with rights. When you start offering those reasons, there we can hash back and forth why we believe the different things that we do, but simply saying "it's killing, you said killing was wrong, therefore you contradict yourself" is facile, frankly lacking in thought, and not at all useful. Taking that reasoning to make laws and intimidate people into agreeing with you is wrong, and watching that kind of bullying happen for half an hour straight was incredibly frustrating and discouraging.