Monday, May 25, 2009

Common Ground: Abortion

The anti-abortion protests by students and others against President Barack Obama’s appearance to deliver the commencement address to the 2009 graduating class of Notre Dame, and to receive an honorary law degree from the university, I hope was not representative of the education they received, but rather representative of those protestor’s Catholic fundamentalism. It was heartening to hear shout-downs by the majority of the graduates in opposition, which stood to demonstrate that the former rather than the latter is true. I always thought that one of the goals of a university or college education was to teach receptiveness to new and different ideas, listening to the opinions of others, and to respect views and beliefs that differ from your own -- in other words understanding the importance of reaching common ground on issues. I am sorry that these folks did not learn from that teaching.

Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins defended the university's decision to invite Obama and honor him with a degree. In doing so, he demonstrated the universities commitment to open-mindedness. He said:

We honor all people of good will who have come to this discussion respectfully and out of deeply held conviction.

Others might have avoided this venue for this reason, but President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him," Jenkins said. "Mr. President, this is a principle we share.

President Obama: … When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

What is common ground? It is the foundation for mutual understanding. It is a place where reasonable people find and then agree on the commonality of both sides of an issue, and in that spirit work collaboratively to, as in the case of pro-life and pro-choice, improved its legislation.

I could not state the common ground concept surrounding the issues of the abortion debate more clearly than Richard Galikov in his preface to The Abortion Debate.

Here is an excerpt:

Many pro-life and pro-choice advocates cannot even accurately state the other sides' position; and many people cannot even state their own position in a way they would be comfortable with after even just a few questions that get them to reflect on it. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes, for example, that giving a woman choice over whether to have an abortion or not means that she cannot make a wrong choice or choice that she would regret -- a choice made, and honored, say, in a moment of panic or fear, or a choice made on wrong information about the health of the fetus, the likely future quality of life of her child, or insufficient information about the resources available to help her have, care for, and successfully rear a healthy child. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that abortion should be a person's chosen first-line method of birth control or method of gender determination. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that promiscuity or sexual irresponsibility (male or female) is a good thing or that either ought to be encouraged. Almost no pro-choice advocate thinks that teen-age sex or teen-age pregnancy is a good thing. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that abortion is or ought to be considered a casual event or that it should be undertaken without reverence and respect for the life or potential life that is being ended. Almost none but the most zealous pro-life advocates think babies should be made to be born if that means they only suffer painfully and prolongedly until they die with nothing to somehow make up for that suffering. Almost no pro-life advocate can consistently maintain for any length of time their initial view that quantity of life is more important than quality, or, put in another way, that life under all circumstances is better than, and preferable to death under any circumstance. (They would have to disavow Patrick Henry's revered statement "Give me liberty or give me death", for example.) Almost no pro-choice advocate thinks abortion is a good thing; but many simply think it is sometimes the best of a bunch of bad options; and that it would be better if women's other options were better so that abortion would not have to be chosen. [italicization and underline mine] Pro-choice advocates would prefer to see fewer abortions chosen voluntarily -- not by making abortion even less desirable due to more punishment, but by making the other alternative (in regard to having and rearing one's children reasonably) proportionally more desirable than it currently is. Almost no pro-life advocate argues that it is better to force women to have babies they do not want than to help them want the babies they might have.

For many years, before legal abortion, women sought back-alley abortions. They were unsafe abortions. Women would die or suffer lifelong physical damage as a result. This is the danger of pro-life law. On the other hand, one of the dangers of pro-choice law is that it results in the possibility of using it as a method of birth control, and it, at least in current law, allows for late-term abortion. It seems to me that reasonable people with good common sense could find common ground from which to work, within political and religious accommodation, can produce a reasonable, workable, and mutually agreed upon consensus resulting in agreed upon legislation.