My turn: Abortion issue obscured by labels

Pro-lifers should ask why so many abortions; pro-choicers need to ask what constitutes life

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Planned Parenthood's upcoming opening in Juneau has once again brought the debate over abortion to the fore. And the debate truly is over abortion, despite the misleading ideological labels of "pro-life" and "pro-choice." Both sides, unfortunately, are hiding behind noble-sounding labels, trying to claim the moral high ground. The real issue for both sides, however, is abortion.

First, let's take the pro-life side. I fall into this camp, as I am opposed to abortion. Unfortunately, however, most people in the pro-life camp really are merely anti-abortion. There is a big difference between the two. To be pro-life, we need to promote and defend human life everywhere in all forms. This means not only opposing abortion, but also funding services for the poor, getting serious about fixing health care and improving education so our students can be better prepared for life after school.

Instead, many in the pro-life camp want to cut programs for the poor, take a "hands-off" approach to health care and provide lip service to fixing education. How about a pro-life foreign policy? If we are serious about defending human life, we could step up to the plate and do something substantial to stop the genocide in Sudan. To sum up, it's high time we pro-lifers put our money where our mouth is. Tackling these issues would be expensive and would require a re-working of our priorities. But we have to do this to live up to our pro-life label. Yes, we need to oppose abortion, but we need to do a lot more than that to call ourselves pro-life.

The pro-choice camp also is hiding behind their label. In reality, they are merely pro-abortion. They are happy to limit choice in other arenas of public life. Note the prevalence of pro-choice leaders who wanted to ban smoking in bars. And would the pro-choice movement support legalized polygamy in cases where it was the clear voluntary choice of all parties involved? A couple of letters to the Empire have used the logic of, "You think abortion is wrong, but I don't, and you can't tell me what to do." Using this logic forfeits our ability as a society or as individuals to address injustice. If anti-abortionists cannot try to stop what they consider to be an injustice, then can anybody try to stop injustice? Pro-abortionists would agree that a choice between justice and injustice is really no choice at all, but they tend to ignore that anti-abortionists think of abortion as an injustice. Anti-abortionists believe this because they believe that fetuses are human. The crux of the debate, then, is the (often unasked) question of when human life begins. The "pro-choice" label dodges this question.

It is sad but true that both sides in this debate will put their own odd spin on abortion data. For example, one can imagine the competing stories behind the ongoing, significant drop in the number of abortions in the United States, from a high of 1.4 million in 1990 to around 800,000 per year now. Anti-abortionists might say, "Well, the younger generation of women is finally getting it and choosing life!" while pro-abortionists might say, "We've finally educated enough women to the point where we have fewer unwanted pregnancies!" or alternately, "Our Republican leaders are chipping away at the availability of abortion providers for people who would otherwise choose them!"

The true pity is that 800,000 abortions per year represents a failure for both sides. For anti-abortionists, that's 800,000 women who think their best option is to abort their babies. That means there's a lot more work to do to make our society truly pro-life. For pro-abortionists, those 800,000 abortions mean that, while abortion is safe and legal, it is far from rare.

It is obviously too much to expect that both sides will work together on this highly polarized issue. Perhaps it would be enough if each side were simply more honest with themselves. Better yet, perhaps pro-lifers could ask themselves why so many women want to have abortions, and if simply outlawing abortion will curb this desire. And perhaps pro-choicers could truly engage the question of what constitutes a human life.

• Patrick Minick is a Juneau resident and stay-at-home father of three.

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