Extremism and fatigue with the abortion debate

Sometimes, I get tired of extremism all around. Well, it’s not extremism so much as a lack of an attempt at empathy that gets me. I set aside these links in January. Both appeared in my feed reader around the same time.

On the pro-life side, Jill Stanek wrote a post about how a silver coat hanger pendant was described as “gorgeous and touching” by an abortion proponent. It is an incredibly odd thing to say, but there’s no attempt at understanding on Stanek’s part—however challenging that may be. Is it seen as “gorgeous and touching” because it’s a tribute to women who died from unsafe abortions? (Why that’s a poor argument for legalized abortion is a matter for another post.) Instead of attempting to understand what would cause someone to make such a bizarre statement, Stanek just takes the opportunity to point out how crazy the other side is.

I get tired of that sometimes. Point out how absurd the arguments are, but I’m not sure I see the value in ridiculing the people…

And on the other side, you can always rely on Feministing to be void of empathy for anyone they disagree with. We’re referred to as “antis” (1984 was not an instruction manual…), and in a lengthy post about sidewalk counselling at abortion clinics, Jos is entirely incapable of even imagining—for a split second—what might possess us antis to try and talk a mother out of killing her unborn child. We’re all stupid, think lowly of women and just want to harass them. I suppose it’s totally inconceivable (pun not really intended) that anyone might be thankful that they were caused to re-think a decision to get an abortion.

Sometimes, it’s just tiring to constantly hear all the strawman arguments and caricatures. It’s easy to show how illogical the arguments in favour of abortion are, but the real challenge is to respond compassionately and empathetically to those who speak most violently against us, rather than to descend into the same bouts of name-calling or ridicule…

*sigh* </rant>

I’ve probably been guilty of the same thing. Here’s to making more of a conscious effort to criticize what people say, rather than simply ridiculing the people themselves.

2 thoughts on “Extremism and fatigue with the abortion debate

  1. I sympathize with your quest for a more polite effort.

    However, sometimes pro-lifers do understand. And what the other side does is just stupid.

    A coat hanger pendant is stupid.

    Attacking stupidity is a necessary part of our struggle. And that kind of attack will necessarily be seen as a put down.

    It doesn’t mean it’s not necessary. It doesn’t mean it lacks charity. When somebody does something stupid, calling it stupid isn’t a lack of charity.

    We shouldn’t be so concerned about compassion, dialogue and understanding that we turn into pleasers. Our quest to understand the other side shouldn’t be an attempt to be seen as compassionate. Understand the other side– by all means. Be intellectually honest, fair and accurate.

    But don’t do it in the name of pleasing their side. Or even the middle.

    Do it for the sake of your own soul. Constant put downs, constant ridicule, constant attacks, constant crap-flinging is just corrosive to the soul.

    This is a war. Never forget that. There are no nice wars. To win this struggle, we need some of everything– we need people who are heart-driven. We need people who are head-driven. We need people who are political. We need people who are cultural.

    We need all kinds of tactics.

    I’m also really concerned about civility in debate and wanting to get beyond the typical abortion debate script. In my experience, the way to do that is to say something that’s never been said before, or bring up a fact that is not widely known. The “Abortion is murder/My Body My Choice” tango gets stale and doesn’t move people forward. You have to break the paradigms. The compassion thing can become in itself a trap, because you become so heart-driven, you forget hard truths and you’re not willing to say unpleasant things, just not to seem harsh.

    Everything in moderation.

    • Yeah, I think I agree with you. It’s not necessarily being polite that I’m concerned with… a lot of important commentary must necessarily be offensive. It will be offensive to expose abortion because abortion is offensive.

      And, I definitely have no pretensions about trying to please the other side. Though, there are some who have a similar world-view to the “reproductive rights” crowd, but haven’t necessarily considered the abortion issue fully, or are open to arguments, or conflicted about it. I have many such friends. I find that that sometimes calling out stupidity is effective, but other times a more understanding approach can be more effective.

      You’re right–it’s a question of tactics, and we need all kinds.

      As for getting beyond the typical script, I know what you mean… At our clubs fairs last year, when people came up and asked what Students for Life was, instead of just saying “we’re the pro-life club,” I was saying, “We oppose abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and other fun things that kill people.” Obviously tongue-in-cheek, but the jarring comment got people’s attention.

      I think though, that beyond being heart-driven or head-driven, the goal is to integrate head and heart (and hands…).

      *shrugs* just thinking out loud

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