The Problem With The Abortion Debate Pt. 2: The Hopeless Analogy.
This is a continuation of my thoughts on the abortion debate. Part 1 can be found here.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of analogy. I use analogies with great frequency, they are integral to my communication style. The question is- Why do we use analogies at all? I use them for clarity-to show the extension of my logic or the logic of others onto similar circumstances that might help elucidate my position (or theirs) on an issue. But what happens when analogies go wrong? There is no such thing as a perfect analogy, but some are definitely worse than others.
Sometimes analogies betray the reason why we can’t reasonably discuss a topic…..
Whether intentional or not, the analogies that I am encountering to argue against my position on abortion are misleading. I say intentional or not because I am unsure whether they are crafted to purposely leave aside the point I’m driving at or if they betray the fact that the person I am speaking with has no real understanding of the topic at hand.
There is no other topic that I can think of that has as many interrelated interests and nuances, as many divergent definitions and concepts as abortion. As such, this is not a discussion that lends itself to analogy- there simply are no analogies that suffice. Yet the battlefield is littered with them, and each side feels they have won on the contingency of their analogy. Each one feels they have won by exposing the fault of the opposing analogy. Ultimately, what gets lost is a real understanding of the issue at hand.
Let’s start with the most common analogy I have encountered thus far. Spousal abuse. The analogy goes that spousal abuse is wrong, we all agree to this. I agree(though many pro-choice advocates do not ) that abortion is inherently wrong. So why do I support laws that make spousal abuse illegal and not laws that make abortion illegal?
Let’s begin on those points I think are obvious enough. We have (at least in Canada, perhaps America takes a more “the act is illegal, what more do you want?” approach) an entire infrastructure surrounding the protection of women from abuse. We have Women’s Shelters, we have support networks, we have financial support, we have child services, we have legal protections- an entire network that takes away the most pressing concerns for a woman contemplating leaving their husband and reporting abuse. As John Barron points out, we do this because women are worthy of being protected. So why do we not offer infrastructure to take away the most pressing concerns of a pregnant woman contemplating abortion? Are those children not worthy of being protected? Are they only worthy enough of laws that protect society from perceived culpability in the immoral act- but not laws and policies that proactively seek to protect the victim? Why the double standard?
So why not support both laws preventing abortion in tandem with policies designed to reduce the incidence of them?
Well, there is the matter of where the spousal abuse analogy falls apart. Does an abusive husband’s abuse constitute some competing moral good? Well, not that I am aware. Does a woman’s choice to abort constitute a competing moral good? If we value control over her body, true social equity with men, and personal liberty- then yes. So our comparison falls apart unless we entirely set aside the unique issues that face a pregnant woman. I don’t really care if you decide to value “the primacy of life” over these other considerations- so long as you acknowledge that there are other moral considerations.
If you realize that they exist, then perhaps you might begin by guaranteeing the financial and medical stability of the other human life involved, as well as the one you hold so dear. Perhaps you might like to make laws that give some similar burden on the other 50% of the DNA donated at conception (and I mean meaningful, not just “yes, yes, he needs to give a token child support payment”). That would be a good start. If we did these things, I’m still not convinced that abortion should be illegal- but I can concede that I would find reasonable limitations on abortions more palatable.
So my offer is this: Give me one worthwhile analogy that exposes the fault of my pro-choice stand. Give me good reason to doubt that I’m holding to a reasonable position. Every time you give me an analogy that ignores the bulk of the reasons to protect the right to choose at the expense of the very good reason to deny it, you tell me that you are either not listening or don’t understand…or worse still- you are committed to disingenuous dialogue.