Abortion-Why can’t it be settled by debate?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a conservative activist. He is passionate about abortion, viewing it as a primal violation of the right to life. He wrote a book about Democrats entitled “The Party of Death.” He sees abortion as comparable, but not identical, to murder. The difference is that there is no malice in the mistaken view that human life does not begin at conception.


Kevin Drum is pro-choice. He does not believe that a zygote is endowed with the same rights as a fully developed human being. He believes he understands the opposing position.

Whenever I write about abortion, I usually get a bunch of tweets or emails asking if I even understand the conservative position. Answer: of course I do. Most conservatives say that abortion is murder. Given that premise, their opposition to funding abortion, legalizing abortion, using some day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones Magazine, August 3, 2015

But he wonders if the opposing side has a similar understanding:

So I’m going to ask the mirror image question here: does Ponnuru understand the liberal position on abortion? Most of us don’t think of fetuses as persons, which means abortion doesn’t involve killing a human being in any meaningful sense. Given that premise, our support of funding abortion, legalizing abortion, promoting day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.

It is a question I have occasionally posed to conservative friends.

The conservative position is not beyond liberal comprehension. If abortion is murder, if a microscopic fertilized egg has rights that meet or even sometimes surpass those of a woman, then some conservative attitudes quite naturally fall into our understanding.

We can walk around the edges of that reasoning. Reductio ad absurdum logic takes us to police investigation, as every miscarriage makes the womb a potential murder scene, and in vitro becomes less a gift of new life than a demon of death as eggs are discarded.

But that stroll around the periphery still leaves the premise intact. The conservative position, with all its extreme conclusions, is consistent. The premise is simple. Human life, with every right God grants to each of us, begins at the moment a single male cell arrives at the single female cell. Everything else becomes a series of branches blossoming from that single strong trunk.

Those who accept the logic understand what they accept.
Those who take exception understand what they reject.
Those who are indecisive understand what they are hesitant about.

I’m unsure whether my conservative friends accept that I understand their arguments without accepting them. They seem to see their own views as so compelling that any difference must, just has to be, a result either of ignorance or of pure evil. Discussion wavers between endless, ever-so-patient, repetition and vehement passion.

I am even less sure that my conservative friends have even a glimmer of insight into their opposition.

I have wavered in determining whether abortion is wrong. Sometimes I have thought it wrong, often I have not. I have never thought it should be illegal as a basic proposition.

As I see it, human life does not begin at a point in time. It is a continuum.

Although scripture offers no clear theological guidance, I was instructed by one conservative that there is a biblical reference to God knowing us completely, even before birth. He insisted that the passage provided definitive proof that life begins at conception. It is hard for me to accept reasoning that depends on God being so completely limited. Were we not known by the Creator of the universe before our ancestors themselves were conceived?

When the legal right to life must be conferred on an embryo is a more complex question. Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute seems to suggest the answer is purely one of definition. He offers as a parallel the debate of whether Pluto is large enough to be a planet. The answer is not a fact. It is an arbitrary standard.

I go with that to some extent. But, in this case, it is more than arbitrary definition. It is also a question of rights.

Most of us would not like to see a viable fetus killed a few moments before birth.
Most of us would not like every woman investigated by prurient legal authorities the day after lovemaking, on the legal suspicion that she may commit an unauthorized purging of zygotes.

At what point do we abrogate the rights of a woman to make decisions about her body?

To anti-abortion militants, it is a meaningless question.
To others of us, the rights of women are far from meaningless.

Conservatives might want to seek at least an understanding of that position.

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Posted by on August 7, 2015. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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One Response to Abortion-Why can’t it be settled by debate?

  1. Tall Stacey Reply

    August 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    The reason, Burr, is the same one that Barry Goldwater repeatedly identified years ago. Abortion has become a religious crusade of a radically evangelical christianist movement. As such, they cannot compromise, and cannot see any alternative, and cannot quit.

    And the leaders are making money at it!

    In “Barry Goldwater’s Left Turn” by Lloyd Grove in The Washington Post (28 July 1994) he hit the nail on the head when he said “When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

    He followed that up in November 1994 (as quoted in “John Dean, Conservatives without conscience” (2006) with his most famous comment:

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    Earlier, in a speech to the U. S. Senate, September 16, 1981 he’d said: “On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
    I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

    And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.” “

    The man was a visionary. While he was far right wing himself in those days, today he’d be a liberal!

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