An interesting discussion occurred on a Jezebel comment thread the other day, surrounding the pro-life/pro-choice/abortion debate. Each side claimed to be open to debate, yet every statement dissolved into attacks and accusations.
Obviously, this issue is hugely polarizing, and a matter of life and death, quite literally, but there’s something more preventing any sort of productive discussion on the topic.
I took a class on argumentation, as part of my Masters coursework. One of the biggest things I took from the class was that there can be no legitimate argument or debate unless both sides can agree upon the initial terms.
So for example, imagine you are planning to paint a wall. You decide to consult a friend/partner/spouse/whomever on the color choice. They don’t like the color you’ve selected because it’s too dark/light/neutral/aggressive/whatever. That’s fine. But they also don’t think the wall exists.
You can’t argue over what color to paint a wall if both parties can’t even agree that there is a wall, much less that said wall is in need of painting.
Maybe that example seems a little facetious – afterall, a wall is a wall, right?
But the point is, our starting points are different, and those are what we have to defend and define in order to make any sort of headway in the legal discourse surrounding the topic of abortion in the US.
The biggest starting point that has to be understood is that this is not an issue of religion. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” So if we’re talking about this in the legal sense, religion cannot be involved, because to favor or disfavor religious discourse would be unconstitutional. Of course, that’s assuming you recognize the right of the Constitution to govern lawmaking in the US. Let’s just assume that one, I hope.
This is not (and should not be) problematic for religious individuals, because affirming abortion does not mean forcing individuals to have abortions. There is a difference. And mandating the religious beliefs of one group over the religious or a-religious beliefs of another group would be constitutional violation (see above). And yes, the Free Exercise Clause (“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) is important, too. In fact, the right of taxpayers not to have to support abortion services because it *might* be against their religion is already federally protected.
The Hyde Amendment prevents any federal funds from being used for abortion services. That means those who worry that their religious freedom is being threatened by the taxes they pay going to fund the whorish and amoral behavior of slutty women nationwide can stop worrying.
Then, of course, we have the life issue. This gets even more tricky. Again, we have to be careful of religion. Because that has to be the accepted starting point – that anything that begins with “according to the Bible” or “God says…” is not allowed.
So when two cells meet, a sperm and an egg, is that life? I’m not a scientist, but I have some vague idea that if you took those two cells out of a woman’s body and set them on a table, they would not magically become a person. This is an important distinction. Maybe it would be life, but it would not be a person according to our legal understanding of the term. Those cells would not be capable of breathing, thinking, acting – not as they were. Without the intervention of science, or another person (the mother’s body), those two cells are never going to grow up to pay taxes, vote, or serve in the army.
Any legislation that seeks to call the combination of two cells a person (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma, Mississippi, etc.) has to be viewed with a good deal of suspicion. At the very least because it’s an obvious violation of the “no religion in legal issues” principle.
I know there is a lot more to this issue but I didn’t set out to write a treatise, and I didn’t set out to solve the abortion debate. I just wanted to maybe put together something to better help people understand how an informed debate about abortion could be started. We have to go back to the beginning if we have any hopes of ever having valid discourse about such a highly-contentious topic.
Feel free to leave your thoughts – just no personal attacks. <3