Abortion reasoning, by historical analogy

I am on the record (briefly) supporting what I hope is a nuanced view of the abortion debate. The short version is, I am pro-choice but not pro-abortion, and I have a healthy respect for the arguments on the anti-abortion side of the fence.

In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, who ran a practice that performed late term abortions, familiar battle lines are drawn with regard to anti-abortion extremists. In Congress, we are having familiar debates about the Roe v. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision, as we always do when a vacancy opens on the Court. But we seem no closer to understanding each other, and no closer to reaching, if not a compromise, at least a détente.

Into these well-tread tracks delves Megan McArdle, who writes a careful and nuanced post on her blog at the Atlantic espousing a position that tracks very closely with my own. Her argument is very easy to misinterpret if one is not a careful reader. Her allusions to slavery and Nazism are the sort of arguments that are quick to inflame, but her examples are illustrative and so the comparisons, I think, justified.

The definition of personhood (and, related, of citizenship) changes over time. It generally expands–as we get richer, we can, or at least do, grant full personhood to wider categories. Except in the case of fetuses. We expanded “persons” to include fetuses in the 19th century, as we learned more about gestation. Then in the late 1960s, for the first time I can think of, western civilization started to contract the group “persons” in order to exclude fetuses.

But that conception was not universally shared. And rather than leave it to the political process, the Supreme Court essentially put it beyond that process. Congress, the President, the justices themselves, have been fighting a thirty-five year guerilla war over court seats.

She goes on to argue that, due to this inability for those who fervently believe that “abortion is murder” to have any voice in the federal political process, they feel driven to express themselves through acts of violence and terror. I’m not sure that I believe re-opening the debate would staunch this appetite, and I’m sure that I don’t believe that giving in completely to the demands of the anti-abortion fringe is a viable option, but I do understand the conflict, and the way in which the abortion debate fuels terrorism in much the same way that the Israel-Palestine debate does. This understanding does not lead us to answers, but it is more productive than simply villanizing the other side of the debate.

Read Megan’s article here.