Things I Wish I’d Blogged in 08: Abortion
Ok, wish is way, way the wrong word here. I have no particular desire to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and excoriated, and trying to articulate anything outside of the two polar black holes that constitute “debate” on this toxically sterile issue guarantees that this will happen.
Any objective observer of the abortion rights issue in the United States will I think have to agree that partisans on either extreme are not actually talking to each other. Extremists on both sides – and I do have friends and colleagues at both extremes – so badly distort opposing arguments, so viciously impugn the moral character of those who disagree with them, and so vehemently insist that this issue is of transcendent importance that it threatens to destroy the possibility of civil political discourse entirely. Even partisans of the extremes tend to agree on this – though they know that it is the other side that is doing all the distorting. So, like most people, who I think intuitively at least have a much more nuanced position (which, of course, partisans at the extremes denounce as “soft” or “unclear”), I have studiously avoided the issue. No good will come of handing a match to someone dousing the room in gasoline, eh?
But during this presidential election year, it was just about impossible for a Catholic to avoid the issue – even though the candidates did. For example, after Sunday mass one October morning I found a leaflet on my car informing me – complete with graphic photos and “dripping blood” fonts – that a vote for Obama was complicity with the murder of millions of babies, and thus meant a renunciation of Catholicism and a sure ticket to Hell. As a Catholic who felt that it was important to support the modest change in direction Obama offers from the catastrophic course the United States has been following, I felt it was important to respond. So, while I did not address the issue of abortion rights per se, I did write a post relying on the Bishop’s document on faithful citizenship to advance the obvious but modest argument that a pro-life Catholic could in fact vote for Obama in good conscience.
Predictably, the post drew hostile comments, ranging from fairly civil renunciation to bitter vituperation. However, I was gratified that Obama won the majority of the Catholic vote, leading to speculation (and some handwringing in the Catholic blogosphere) that Catholics will no longer constitute a reliably conservative voting block on the basis of the single issue of abortion.
All of this leaves me with a feeling of uneasiness, as though we are trying to ignore a landmine that we know is buried somewhere in the vicinity. Quite beyond its ability to destroy political discourse, abortion does remain a profound moral problem, the occasion of so much terrible pain in our world. So I find myself wishing to say something about abortion, to be able to engage in a real conversation that could get past the vituperative cant of the extremes, that would actually regard the ideas of Catholic teaching and liberal political ideology not as weapons to castigate those we disagree with, but as tools for forging greater understanding.
To partisans of either extreme, before denouncing me please note that I have not actually said anything about abortion rights yet. Please tell me what would be wrong with having a real conversation? What would it look like? What would be the rules?
How much good we could do. How do we begin?