Fighting words

Everybody knows there are few issues more loaded than abortion. It’s not a reach to say that it’s playing one of the biggest parts–if not the biggest–in polarizing the political landscape in America.

Everybody knows there are few issues more loaded than abortion. It’s not a reach to say that it’s playing one of the biggest parts–if not the biggest–in polarizing the political landscape in America. Opinion polls consistently show roughly two halves of the country falling under the banners of “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”

Or, if you listen to some people, “murderers” and “fascists.”

An interesting thing about abortion is that both sides seem to honestly believe they’re going to “win” in the end, as if decades from now one side will have prevailed and the other side will be marginalized or non-existent, a pitiful reminder of a sordid past. “Remember that time when abortion was an issue, before the forces of good won the day?”

People like to compare the explosiveness of the topic to slavery over 150 years ago, when one side did win the day. It’s a decent comparison, except that then the two sides were divided by geography, allowing the issue to be resolved by the Civil War (which is simplification, yes, but still generally true).

But the public debate around the legality of abortion isn’t going to go away. Not in a few years, not in a few decades, not in any of our lifetimes. There will always be women having abortions. No amount of legislation or preaching is going to stop that. There will always be people who believe it to be murder. No amount of legislation or preaching is going to stop that either.

So what can we do? Abortion doesn’t appear to be an issue that lends itself to compromise, yet concession between the two camps is what we need. And it’s not impossible.

Everyone will agree that in a perfect world, abortion wouldn’t exist. We might not agree on whether it should be allowed, but no one will argue that unwanted pregnancies are a problem, and that we should both aid those who go through them and prevent them from happening in the future.

Funnily enough, this gives us unique common ground: we can all agree that abortions shouldn’t happen, and most of us will agree that women who are pregnant and don’t want to be deserve our support. So why not work together with that in mind?

There are groups who push for free contraception; there are groups who promote abstinence. There are pregnancy crisis centers that support abortion, and there are centers that don’t. There are those who provide support for the poor, citing that economic instability is a major factor in deciding to have an abortion, and there are people who preach religion, believing that spirituality can provide guidance in a woman’s decision.

These tactics are also entrenched in political polarization. Their supporters fall into the two ideological abortion camps and attack each other, each side claiming the other misrepresents facts, skews studies to their belief system and lies to women (and men) about the realities of the issue. Some of these accusations are hard to look at objectively. As Time magazine said recently in a cover story about pregnancy crisis centers, “one person’s loving support is another’s emotional pressure.”

Pro-choice and pro-life forces have a common goal, and by and large they refuse to work together. They refuse to respect each other. This is a crux of the divide.

Pro-life forces need to think about the concept of freedom. Think about how you feel when your rights are being threatened. Think about how you would feel if a right to make decisions about your body was being threatened and put on trial. Think about how invasive that would feel.

Pro-choice forces need to think about death and murder. Think of how you feel when people are needlessly killed, be it one person or thousands. Think of what that provokes in you.

These are difficult and bitter things to chew on, but it is the issue at hand for the people we disagree with. And if we can’t understand and at least respect the people who are ideologically different from us, we certainly can’t expect to work with them to help make the world a better place.

There are ways we can help prevent unplanned pregnancies. There are ways we can work to reduce the number of abortions performed. And we can do this together, but we have to be willing to shed some of our dogma. It’s an uneasy thing for some of us to support pregnancy crisis centers that focus on alternatives to abortion, just like it’s uneasy for some of us to support centers that provide abortion information.

But all of these people are working to provide support and guidance to troubled women, and isn’t that deserving of at least our consideration, if not our approval? Isn’t it worth at least looking at the proposals the “other side” has for solving the problem before immediately shutting the door because it doesn’t fit into our ideological box?

What if our politicians refused to take a stand on pro-life or pro-choice? What if they objectively looked at what would best prevent unwanted pregnancies and best help women who currently have them? What if they tried the seemingly impossible task of taking the politics out of the phrase “I’m pregnant”?

It may be shooting the moon to imagine that we can try to put aside our differences on the issue of abortion legality to work on the larger issue at hand. But it’s more realistic than imagining one side will eventually prevail and solve the issue once and for all.