Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Point-Counterpoint on Civility and Abortion

I am almost prepared to agree with Alan Jacobs in his assessment of President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame. Almost. Jacobs:

We really should treat one another respectfully and not caricature our opponents’ views. But it’s also important to note that this can only be the primary concern for those who support legal abortion, and especially those like the President who oppose any significant restrictions on abortion whatsoever. If you have already decided that abortion is not the taking of a person’s life, then of course civility in debate is going to be at the forefront of your mind. Thus the widespread applause for Obama’s generosity of spirit, even among people who have no intention of treating the pro-life movement with anything but contempt.
Jacobs is correct on the narrow point, that abortion is, generally speaking, a matter in which civility can more easily rise in priority for those of us in favor of the "pro-choice" status quo; and of course he's right on the narrow point that we should strive not to caricature our opponents' positions.

But on the larger point, no, I think it's important and fair to expect people to scale their certainty with the availability and quality of evidence undergirding the certainty. I would expect Jacobs would be nodding right along with Obama had he been asking for civility from Muslims who were screaming for the head of someone who dared to draw a cartoon of Mohammed.

That said, yes, I agree that we on the "pro-choice" side could stand to do some honest reckoning of the degree to which we respect the "pro-life" position. I include myself in this although I've never spent much energy trying to convince "pro-lifers" that I respect their position. I don't. I respect their right to hold the position, and I respect "pro-lifers" as much as I respect any other people; and as to the matter itself, I recognize that details matter, that there are relevant nuances to consider, and that "bad cases make bad law," yadda yadda yadda, but cutting through all the pleasantries, euphemism, and hedges, I'm not kidding about siding with the "pro-choice" position and against the "pro-life" position.

Whether it's red-faced shrieking about "killing babies" or "blasphemous" representations of Mohammed, I simply don't find the shrieking believable. I don't find that degree of passion justifiable on reasonable grounds, and so, yes, I cop to the charge: concerning the anti-abortion position, I think it's more phony than not when it reaches the point of screaming and throwing the word "murderer" around, let alone planting bombs and shooting guns.

I think people should say what they mean and mean what they say, and we should all hitch up our big-boy and big-girl diapers and accept that life includes people with whom we will always disagree. And yes, I apply this standard to Obama too, who is, insofar as I am able to judge it, a frequent violator.

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