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Beyond Control

One of my quirks is that I enjoy philosophical discussion but am generally disdainful of any talk regarding politics. Sadly, this is an untenable position in the U.S. because in a democracy, government is the means that we use as a society to enact those philosophies. If we believe something is truly, honestly, deeply wrong, then we go to the polls and elect people who promise to make sure that those ideals are upheld by society at large, usually through the implementation of laws prohibiting said specific activity.

When things work this smoothly, there’s no dissonance. Philosophy sharpens my beliefs into something concrete, and then I use the political machinery to enact them. Unfortunately, politics also gets bogged down with quests of personal gain by politicians, influence by lobbyists, ill-informed decisions by elected officials, and, of course, rampant egotism. Just as disheartening is the fact that voters themselves (myself included, at times) aren’t always well-apprised of the issues. Wrapped up together, that’s been enough reason for me to stay relatively quiet for more than a decade. Add in the emotional explosions in play since 2016, and I’ve found myself even less willing to walk the political minefield.

Mostly when I express opinions these days, particularly on something as open as social media, I tend to stick to the uncontroversial. Plug my novel. Note that I broke my glasses. In the rare instances where I explore the philosophical, I stick to the less explosive aspects of modern Christian thought. It’s far less stressful. Occasionally, though, my personal morals intersect with the world in such a way that interaction with the wild beast that is political debate is unavoidable.

Today, I’m tired of being lied about.

Last week, Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Now, I don’t live in Alabama, so my direct involvement in this is basically zero. However, social media has exploded in recent days regarding this decision, particularly with commentary from pro-choice advocates. By far, the most common complaint I’ve seen is that the decision in Alabama was about “controlling women.”

Is this true? Absolutely…but that’s a very incomplete picture. Restricting abortion options removes choices from women, and thus provides them less control over their lives. Of course, in that sense, making rape illegal controls men, as it eliminates option for them to seek sexual satisfaction. Very few would argue that such a restriction is bad, though. The truth is that within any stable society there will be numerous controls on behavior. There have to be. People will always disagree on right and wrong, so we allow our government to make rules that are inherently restrictive so we can live in something approaching harmony.

So, the question isn’t “Are we controlling women?” but “Is this a reasonable control?” By completely eliminating the second question and framing the first as the matter of moral import, we’ve robbed the entire conversation of any merit. It’s impossible to answer without incriminating oneself. If you answer “no” then you’re lying. If you answer “yes”, then the foregone conclusion is that you’re doing something evil. It’s the current twist on the old “Do you still beat your wife?” routine.

There are reasonable debates to have on abortion, but this isn’t one of them. In fact, by switching to this tactic, the entire argument against pro-life becomes ad hominem and implies a desire to avoid discussing the facts. This is especially bizarre since the rallying cry in our post-2016 world has been that emotions shouldn’t cause us to ignore reality. Honestly, I agree with that, which is why I want to break this down further.

The central question to the abortion debate shouldn’t be “Are we controlling women?” but “Do the unborn have rights?” If they have rights, then those rights are in conflict with the rights of their mothers and we can have debate what happens when there’s a violent intersection of rights. If they have no rights, then, yes, we have to agree that any kind of abortion restrictions are an undue attack on women’s freedoms.

What conveys rights? That’s a question for the philosophers, but in the U.S. we tend to use the Bill of Rights (as interpreted today) and assign rights to all people. Are you a person? Then you have certain rights. I’ll be using this as the basis for my arguments. If you disagree that a person has rights by virtue of being a person, then it’s honestly a rhetorical debate on your part since here in the U.S. this is where we stand. Personal disagreement is moot until the Constitution or the current interpretation of it is altered.

So…is an unborn fetus a person? That kind of depends on whom you ask.

My sister miscarried a year and a half ago. I was there for the aftermath. She lost a child. I can’t look at her, at the pain she suffered, and with a straight face tell her, “You just lost a bundle of cells.” To her, it was a person.

Janelle and I tried to get pregnant for years. We did fertility treatments. None of it took. We never even got so far as the positive pregnancy test, let alone a miscarriage. If we ever had seen those two lines on test strip, it would have been life changing. I can’t imagine that even if I were pro-choice that I would have told people, “Janelle’s carrying a parasite, but in a few months we’re excited for it to upgrade into a baby!” We would have been parents at that point, born or unborn.

What about the women who have lost children to violence, who have miscarried due to trauma? Can I honestly look her in the eyes and tell her that the baby that was taken from her was property? That when someone stole the life from her womb, it was the same as breaking a TV or a car? That’s a hard sell.

To those who desperately want their children, that growing life is a person. I agree with them. As far as I’m concerned, every wanted child, born or unborn, is a person.

What about unwanted children, though? What about a woman who doesn’t want to carry a baby to term? Why should she have to see this unwanted bundle of cells as a person?

I can’t provide merit to that argument for one simple reason: personhood cannot, should not, and must not be assigned by virtue of being wanted. Such a concept is drawn straight out of the most terrifying dystopian novels. No single person should be able to unilaterally grant or deny personhood based on whether or not that potential person is an wanted. Period.

You don’t have to agree with me. You can choose to believe that an infertile couple who miscarried didn’t lose a child, or that a stillborn full-term baby was never a baby at all. I don’t have it in me to do that. And I certainly can’t then say that a child stops being a child by virtue of being unwanted.

So, my personal beliefs require that I give that unborn baby rights. I agree that those rights are in conflict with the mother’s, but in such a case I believe the right to life provides protection from active destruction and trumps the rights of other parties. I further believe that the rights of the one who had no choice in the matter trump the rights of the one who didn’t. (Which means, yes, that in cases of rape I’m willing to consider an exception as neither party had a choice.)

Do you disagree with me? That’s fine. The world will never agree on everything. You can continue to campaign for pro-choice.

However, what you can’t do is continue lamenting how these new laws are all about the patriarchy, and that the pro-life side exists for no other purpose than controlling women. It’s insulting and untrue. Besides, if you can’t address the issues with arguments that eschew ad hominem attacks, then expect the other side to keep ignoring you. Until the issue is debated on an intellectual level, these kinds of laws will only spread in right-leaning states; after all, savaging strawmen provides no compelling rebuttal to their actual stance.

It’s time to put personal vitriol aside. Spreading lies about the intents of other people won’t advance the discussion. Besides, if our compassion for our fellow humans is so low that we cannot engage them with respect, then what right do we have to make decisions in matters of literal life and death?