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Friday, July 11, 2008

Trying to Address the Charge of Prolife Hypocrisy

I welcome conversation with people who identify as prochoice on abortion. I especially welcome opportunities for cooperative action to reduce abortions and unintended pregnancies and pursue any other areas of reproductive justice where there is agreement.

Of course not every prochoice person poses it, but over the years and decades I have repeatedly bumped up against--or run smack into--a particular question that saddens and frustrates me every time. Because the energy put into dealing with this question--on both "sides" of it--would be much better spent on, say, passing out condoms or lobbying politicians on family leave together.

Frequently I try to answer it, and the ante gets upped, and upped, and upped, till I don't know what to do.

The question is this: "You say you're prolife, but what are you doing for people *after* they're born?"

And that's a fair enough question. I agree, prolife needs to encompass *every* life. And it is woefully inadequate to just sit around believing that. Prolife in the sense of *every* life is an endless, endless call to ever-expanding responsibilities, because as the slogan goes, "no one is free till everyone is free."

But what bothers me about the question is the way it's often asked. With preemptive, gotcha! scorn, as if it were of course a rhetorical question whose only possible answers could be "Absolutely nothing" or "Not only absolutely nothing, I am all about undermining and killing the already-born!"

I often try to answer "Why, I am personally engaged in doing ABCD to affirm already-born lives, and have been for decades." (I really hate being backed into this position. If I don't say anything, I am complicit with a misrepresentation. If I say something, it sounds like I'm trying to make myself look good to puff up my big fat antichoice ego...Sigh....)

Sometimes the "what are you doing" question opens up an opportunity for real conversation, engagement, and reciprocal understanding. And more power to those moments.

But sometimes, this is what happens instead.

Any one (or more) of the following responses:
--"No you haven't, you're a liar as well as a hypocrite."
--"So what if you've done ABC, you haven't done XYZ."
--"Well, then, you're the only one."

If I try to explain that I'm telling the truth, and divulge more evidence to that end, then because I have been decided beforehand, by definition to be a liar as well as a hypocrite, no evidence I produce will be admitted to the questioner's scrutiny.

If I say that in fact I have done XYZ as well as ABC, I am scrutinized over whether I have done GHIJ. GHIJ tends to be a demand absurdly beyond any reasonably striving person's sheer capacities.

Or it amounts to a demand that I violate the integrity of the beliefs I hold about abortion, as if my deeds ABC or XYZ cannot possibly count towards caring for the already-born unless and until I am in complete and full agreement with my questioner. (Sheesh...I would never tell a prochoice person that their work on preventing child abuse or promoting sex education doesn't mean a flip because we disagree on abortion--that would be really unfair.)

If I try to explain that I'm not some bizarre exception, that in fact I have lots of company, like so and so, and such and such, and this and that and the other...then somehow my evidence is found wanting, and wanting, and wanting. And the more I produce that evidence, the more inadequate it is judged to be.

I don't mean to imply that only prochoicers have such rigid, unbending attitudes towards their purported "enemies." I'm sure prochoicers are subjected to similar dynamics sometimes when they are trying to respond to charges like "antilife," "antiGod," and "antifamily." I'm not denying that--I'm just speaking of what I know in my own personal experience.

But I do want to ask both "camps": why do we do this to one another? And why don't we stop it? What have we got to lose?

10 comments:

Jen R said...

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I feel that pro-lifers who are for, say, the death penalty or the Iraq War are arguing from a weaker position than those of us who are consistent life ethic proponents. On the other hand, most of the times that people play the "you're a hypocrite" card when actually debating, it's just a card. No amount of proving that you're not a hypocrite will change their thinking -- they'll just reach for some other club. On the other other hand, debates are for reaching the audience, not the person you're debating.

Looking up, that's two minds and three hands. I need a nap.

And Marysia, I'm feeling kind of lousy about things today, so I want to say thank you for being you and being sane and making me not feel alone. :)

Marysia said...

Why, thank you, Jen.

Voucher Codes said...

I wonder how can a human being kill another human being like this,who is in fact a delicate part of her own body?

Marysia said...

Because women get put into all manner of difficulties where it appears to be the only real "choice."

Women are scapegoated for having abortions, but the scapegoaters seldom consider the overall social contexts that put them in such a horrible place.

npolimeni said...

Life before conception:

There is an assumption that ‘human life’ is the only valuable life that must be preserved. This is NOT TRUE. Most of those who believe that, do so on a biblical foundation. The senior concern of Christianity is the saving of souls. Yet they have allowed modern medicine to determine the initiation of life, which has have gone as far as to attribute life to the fetus. Does modern medicine acknowledge the existence of a soul? If religion is the basis for the preservation of a fetus, why not go back further? What about the soul before he joins the fetus? What of the soul who is forced to enter a body he would have not chosen on its own volition? Insisting on preserving a body, for the sake of preservation, and to show that one “has a heart” is based on the individuals emotional needs, and not the needs of the soul they’re about to condemn.

If one understand life on this side of humanity as well as on the other side of humanity, one would not be so quick to condemn a soul into a potential life of misery or poverty in human embodiment by forcing them to stay in the human body where the expected environment will have little or no survival support, when they wouldn’t have made that choice themselves. But the value of a human body is thought to be superior to the life of the soul who will inhabit it. On what basis is that so. Who more than the mother can sense the desire of her womb?

A soul about to acquire a human body, has the right to receive all the tools that it will need to make a valuable contribution, else informed that the door they are considering to use to enter humanity is a dead end, and in their behalf the door will be closed.

It’s a cruel penalty to force a soul into a body which has little or no chance to succeed, or starts with enough handicaps as to have his opportunities diminished by known difficulties, just to satisfy the hypocrisy of the parents desire for off-spring, and their emotional comfort.

Out of one side of the mouth they condemned thousands of people to die on wars, and out of the other, try to makes us belive they are pro-life... They just want replacements for dead or old soldiers…

Marysia said...

Hello,
You raise many and complex concerns and I fear I will not do justice to them all, but here goes...

Please read the Nonviolent Choice Directory and Blog more carefully, if you have not done so already.

You might discover the following:

Nonviolent Choice is not a Christian initiative. It is by and for people of all faiths and none, including but hardly limited to the myriad schools of Christianity (Christians are highly diverse).

Because there are people of all faiths and none who take what we call a "pro every life, pro nonviolent choice" approach to abortion.

We are *not* abortion opponents who think a fetus should be saved in the womb because of his/her utility as future cannon fodder. Quite the opposite! We believe that life is valuable and worthy of protection from violence at all stages.

Evidence for this point:
--My recent interview with the amazing ecofeminist activist Rosalie Bertell. We discuss and reject this particular form of opposition to abortion.

--Our Directory has an entire section on choosing alternatives to the military, precisely so our precious out-of-the-womb children do not end up as battlefield casualties and killers of other precious already-born children.

The "Current Action Alerts" on the lefthand sidebar of this blog permanently links to these helpful, lifesaving resources.

--If you check out Nonviolent Choice's affiliations, you can see that we belong to coalitions and campaigns that oppose war and address the causes of war--among many other forms of violence.

We agree wholeheartedly that children should not be spared from abortion only to be born into stunted, damaging, hurtful life situations.

But to us, that is not a justification for abortion. It is an urgent, serious, never-ending call to work our butts off to make this the best possible world for children and their parents.

If you look at the "Current Action Alerts" in the lefthand sidebar of this blog, you will find that all of them reflect and express this concern.

If you look throughout our Directory, you will find many, many resources to promote this cause of making the best world possible for children to be born into.

Why should we take our own moral failure to create and sustain a good world out violently on our children, whether they are prenatal or postnatal?

Nonviolent Choice does not regard only human life as valuable. See the top of the lefthand sidebar. We originated from a book edited by and full of vegetarians and environmentalists.

Also, check out, for example, the Directory sections on Nutritious, Nonviolent, Eco-friendly, Even Tasty & Low-Cost Eating and Eco-Friendly Living. And, once again, the interview with Rosalie Bertell.

I personally am an environmental activist, a vegetarian since 1996, and adopter of three animals from no-kill shelters. Like people of all faiths and none, I believe that humankind's refusal to rever other living beings is destroying this planet.

You sound as if you're mistaking Nonviolent Choice for somebody else!

Please get to know us better before attributing all these ideas to us.

Thank you kindly.

npolimeni said...

Thank you, Marysia, for your comments. I am aware of the nature of this site, and realize it's not against abortion.

I posted here to present a fresh view on how pro-choice folks may challenge anti-abortion groups' untenable stance. I probably should have said so in my original post.

I would have posted it in anti-abortion sites, but of the many I found, there wasn’t a single one that allowed comments from the public… which surely tells us those groups aren’t interested in reviewing new concepts or opening up to changing their minds.

Marysia said...

Thank you for clarifying your purpose here.

But please do understand, we're maybe not what you expected, but we *are* abortion opponents. We simply oppose it in the context of all other forms of violence to unborn and already-born humans, and in the context of being veg and environmentalist.

We advocate the right to make *nonabortion* sexual and reproductive choices. These are rights in and of themselves and vitally necessary for reducing abortion.

Our focus is on social action to reduce the root causes of abortion...not on the well-trod grou nd of whether and to what extent it should be legal.

If you are presenting a fresh argument against prolifers, why not take it directly to prochoice groups for their evaluation?

And if you want to present it to prolife groups or blogs, there are a number who accept comments. Like this one. I have tried to address your argument.

But, in my experience anyway, there are both prolife and prochoice websites and blogs that don't take comments.

Though this needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis--if I were you, I wouldn't necessarily take this as proof that prolifers all have closed minds. (or prochociers, for that matter.)

Not taking comments is probably rather a sign that one has been overwhelmed with hateful comments and wants a reprieve from them, more than anything else.

Hateful, disrespectful comments abound on both sides of the abortion debate, unfortunately. I can't blame anybody for wanting to protect themselves from the onslaught, even as I maintain a different policy for this blog.

npolimeni said...

You provided me with many different ways to answer… I’m afraid, I’d have to take a much deeper approach to consider the appropriate sequence; so forgive me for answering more or less at random.

I think naturally, most humans would be opposed to abortion. It’s a biological programming to preserve the life of off-spring. In fact, I personally don’t like abortion, and would prefer alternatives were used. On the other hand, as you say, these need to be considered on a case by case; and I would most certainly oppose legislation to prevent each human from having the right to make his/her own choice about her own body or off-spring. I am not in that boat, so I can’t presume to know how to captain it.

Now the pro-choice/pro-life positions as they appear in the media may just be purely political footballs, and not a reflection of what is really underlying the social thinking. In fact, your site is truly a refreshing approach to the issue, and I had never come across it before… so it tells me that there are other ideas on the topic that are not specifically battling anything, but instead, are promoting healthy alternatives of looking at the battles. My first post is obviously a response to media-stimulated concept of the issue; which prompted me to take the ‘theological approach--beyond the conventional god.” You show me that such is not all there is. That is good.

Allow me to make certain assumptions about your underlying philosophy. My familiarity to vegetarian and ecological approaches leads me to believe that these ideas are rooted in eastern philosophies, such as Buddhism, Taoism.

In contrast to that, you talk about violence as something that has to be avoided or protected against. (Maybe I’m going too far afield with this…and maybe wrong…) In those ideologies, we consider two things: a) in a universal sense, violence is part of the life-bringing process, and b) There’s a universal connection of all life in all forms. From this, we can say, that no one life form is more desirable than others; although when humans, we think being human is better. It’s natural we should feel this way. I mention this, in sort of praise of the flexibility your ideas appear to have, and sort of contributing a rationale to support it, and expand it,

In further examining what you indicate is the focus of this group, which is “social action to reduce the root causes…” I see your scope significantly broader than one might recognize at first impression, since it necessarily encompasses social, political and economic issues, that while you may not be addressing directly, at least you must keep in your sights; the interconnectedness of life!

From my perspective, since you provide a forum to explore ideas with others, I think, even if my point of departure would be significantly different than yours, our objectives seem to converge in ways.

On the ‘political arena:” We make assumptions on the reasons other pro-choice/pro-life blogs don’t take comments, that they are tired of hate comments from the other side.

There is some truth in what you say, and that's an answer I've received when I asked for the reason there was no open discussion. It is a weakness in our American culture. Those who spout hate, usually do so, because they don’t have
a) a proper education on social manners, and

b) They don’t have a clear idea of their position or how to rebut another argument, so they resort to hateful speech.

On the other side, we, as a culture are incredibly ambivalent in handling violence; we can better deal with physical violence, than with violence of words, so we refuse to handle hate speech with the right tools.

This is reality is confusing, because, I’ve found “free speech sites” where no comments are invited or allowed! We favor interchange of ideas, but let a handful of zealots who would spread hate, stop the rest of us from rational communication.

You’re in a nice, quiet corner of the net, so you’re not likely to draw such hate comments. But as your ideas spread you cannot assume it will never come! As you become more effective, you’ll be noticed.

So, as long as you don’t outright reject my communication, allow me to feel free to express whatever viewpoint I wish to advance, that can help me and other think beyond our normal spheres. Thank you.

Marysia said...

You are most welcome.

Mutually respectful conversation, as you say, can only spark new thinking... and new ways of problem solving and promoting social justice. And I appreciate your tone of respect and your kind words about what we're trying to do here.

Actually, Nonviolent Choice has already received some hateful comments, here and elsewhere. And I think your observations about the poverty and counterproductiveness of hateful speech are right on the mark!

Yes, Nonviolent Choice is based on an ethic of reverence for all life and a sense that all lives are interconnected. The spirit that moves us is, I believe, one that moves people of all faiths and none, in my experiences with interfaith dialogue.

While "Eastern" religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, all have highly evolved wisdom about nonviolence and the web of life, this sort of ethic is has its deep strains in various "Western" religions too.

It can be discovered in Judaism, Islam, Earth-based spiritualities, and Christianity--consider Mennonites, the Society of Friends, the "consistent ethic of life" named as such originally by Catholics, many of whom were rooted in the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.

There are also many people who identify as freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, or nontheists
who gravitate to this ethic.

I agree, many people in the US want to go beyond the very polarized way abortion is presented by the two major political parties. I have talked with both prolife and prochoice people and found a real desire for positive solutions to the problem.

On violence as a part of nature, carnivorous animals prey because that's all they know how to do. But human beings can know and do better and refrain from harm as much as they can.

Although much is made of how naturally aggressive and warlike humans are, whatever aggressive instinct we have, I think, is meant for self preservation, which is not quite the same as dominating others. But socialization can put this instinct into a very detrsuctive overdrive, in a culture where violence and dominance are institutionalized.

In your prochoice position I can discern a humility about making decisions for other people. And that is laudable, and, I think, applicable to to many, many situations.

But the question arises of whether anyone has the right to do violence, especially on someone who cannot defend him or herself.

And this brings me to another problem I see in the way the abortion debate is so often framed, as a matter of an individual right or non right to have the procedure.

Some European countries are blessedly different, but Americans lose sight of the entire social context in which people have difficult pregnancies and abortions, and of our collective responsibility for altering this context so that people aren't backed against the wall like that.