Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Pro's

Just saw an article that is making the rounds about an American Christian doctor who explains why he will perform abortions.  People circulate the article because it is a hot button, and American Christians circulate the article because we are just as polarized around the topic of abortion as everyone else in American society.

One one facebook exchange, a man criticized some of the assumptions of the "pro-choice" arguments, and two women who were his facebook friends immediately asked if he is or isn't "pro-choice."  It was asked diplomatically, and I felt myself wanting to respond, but not for either the "pro-choice" or "pro-life" position.  I object to the way this topic has been "framed" as a policy position, and how that has obfuscated the complexity of women's decisions that raise the question of abortion in the first place.  Not only that, the reduction of any issue, but of this issue in particular, to a policy (demanding a kind of pro-or-con "position") has led both polarized sides into complementary forms of dishonesty and manipulative speech.

How have we come to the point where one must be pigeon-holed, or pigeon-hole oneself, as a policy reification?  Why must you or I or anyone else be identified as "pro-life" or "pro-choice"?  How did we come to occupy a figurative "position," whether we like it or not?  "Framing" the subject of abortion ("framing" is a weasel-word used by public relations experts that implies the intent to manipulate perceptions prior to the presentation of a subject) as this either-or "position" smuggles in a conclusion disguised as a premise. . . that this question or topic or subject (rather than the existential reality of any actual woman facing this so-called "choice") is nothing more or less than policy, that the law has the last word, and that the moral arguments (which generally share completely incommensurable premises) must be made to (instrumentally, manipulatively) fit the goal of getting the right law and-or policy in place.

How is it that we have become blind to all the ways that reducing the millions of often terrifying, mind-fracturing, soul-wrenching decisions of women, who find themselves pregnant in situations too numerous to count, to an up or down vote on a legal policy.  The tail certainly is wagging the dog here.  At least from the point of view of Christians who believe we are to emulate the compassion of Christ, who refused to resort to rule-books but placed his hands on actual lepers, corpses, and dusty feet. . .  in person, one at a time.  Oh, the scandal of particularity!

Some focus-group organizing, statistics-studying, instrumental-psychology exploiting, message-controlling, public relations PhD somewhere told those who had determined that this was ultimately a "policy issue," that in the "marketplace of ideas" all moral considerations before the implementation of policy are negotiable in order to "win" in the policy arena; and this public relations expert then told them that in order to more effectively manipulate "public opinion," we (whichever of the two "we"s) need to recognize that people want to be for something, not against it, so the "issue" (which is now part of a focused political competition) needed to be "framed" as for-something, that is, pro-something.  Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.  The question of whether this kind of selectivity of language is in any way dishonest, from either side, is no longer an ethical consideration, because the "good" of the right policy is a higher-good than the good of scrupulous and uncomfortable honesty.

Alasdair MacIntyre once observed that modernity is characterized by the loss of any general ability to distinguish between manipulative and non-manipulative relations and speech.  Here we have a perfect example.  Politics has become, truly, the "marketplace" of ideas, and as such it is governed by the marketplace's utter amorality in practice.  The policy end always justifies the rhetorical means.

We are not in favor of legalizing abortions (abortion is a scary word).  We are "pro-choice"  We are not in favor of criminalizing abortion (if every woman in the US who has had an abortion were thrown in prison, we would see the greatest demographic shift since the European plague).  We are "pro-life."  It is not a child in the womb, but a "fetus" (a modern word, which will find no referent in the Scriptures); because our argument hangs on the dehumanization of whatever that is in there until some arbitrary threshold arrives (based on the invention of "trimesters").  The unborn citizen is to be protected "from the moment of conception" (another phenomenon that was not understood then as it is now); because women's wombs will not cooperate with our "pro-life" agenda by standardizing any other moment during pregnancy.

If we are "pro-choice," it is best not to mention how many women are pressured into abortions, as opposed to pressured against them.   Doesn't fit the polemical template.  If we are "pro-life," we can't follow through with the argument that abortion is "murder," because -- as we noted above -- 35 out of 100 adult women stand to be imprisoned before they reach menopause.  So we'll redirect the arguments back to the babies (including the "babies" who are comprised of 16 cells) rather than answer the embarrassing question, what would criminalization do to women?  Neither side wants to acknowledge the actual circumstances of individual women, because the emotional anguish that accompanies most abortions is inconvenient to the policy arguments of one side, and the impossibility of any good answer to life's complex dilemmas and crises for many women is inconvenient to the policy arguments of the other side.

My objection is not to policy.  I don't take lightly any woman's situation where pregnancy poses a potential or actual crisis; and I do take very seriously women's objections to men trying to retain the power to make these decisions for women.  If asked whether I believe the state ought to criminalize abortion, I have to say, absolutely not.  I'm not going to call that pro-choice, though, because that's PR bullshit-speak.  My position on the law has everything to do with my profound mistrust of the the state (and men in general as a dominant sexual class) and nothing to do with the liberal legal fiction of disembodied "choice."

My objection here is to our inability, as Christians, to talk about this in any manner except that which has already been dictated by campaign managers and their ilk, apart from considerations of policy, and apart from the considerations of the competition for "public opinion" that characterizes such competition.  Can we talk about this without the rulebook in view?  Can we think about this as it relates to the actual women we may know?  Can we, at last, relinquish both control and the illusion of control over everyone everywhere, and try compassion, healing the sick, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, casting out demons, and washing feet?

With that, I'll leave with a recommendation, and that is to read Barbara Duden's exceptional history of the perception of pregnancy, Disembodying Women, for a kind of dislocative epistemological jolt out of the world of "framing" and "messaging."


  1. Yes, the label "Pro-choice" is very misleading. There are many "choices" for a woman in a pregnancy, and it depends a LOT on individual circumstances, or context, if you will; something the law, in its glorious duality & remove from reality, refuses to see.

    This little tome is a good analysis of "PR Bullshit"-think---much more concise and shorter than George Lakoff's books. I highly recommend it for both Christians & non-Christians :

    "Frankfurt argues that bullshit either can be true or can be false; hence, the bullshitter is a man or a woman whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression favorable to the speaker, with no concern for the truth of what they're saying. Likewise, the bullshitter is not concerned with consistency between what they're saying at the moment, and anything they've previously said. Consequently, "the bullshitter is faking things, but that does not necessarily mean he gets them wrong." He simply doesn't care. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie, while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to his or her agenda. Bullshit thus is a greater enemy of the truth than are lies."

  2. SCOTUS Reinterprets Religious Liberty to Justify Corporate Discrimination

    Thoughts? Systemic, yes, but a good thing?

  3. Thank you for this. Rare, an intelligent discussion thereof. Abortion IS a scary word, it should stay legal and be rendered unnecessary by birth control and employment/aid.

  4. Big news here in this particular sense, I AM "pro-choice"

    " Brittany Maynard’s mother responded angrily to criticism from the Vatican of Maynard’s decision to end her life early under an Oregon law written to let terminally ill patients die on their own terms.

    Days after Maynard’s Nov. 1 death at age 29, the Vatican’s top bioethics official called her choice “reprehensible” and said physician-assisted suicide should be condemned.

    On Tuesday, Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, issued a sharp written response. She said the comments from Mon­signor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, came as the family was grieving and were “more than a slap in the face.”

    Her response was made through Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group that worked with Maynard in her last days.

    Maynard had terminal brain cancer and in the spring was told she had six months to live. She moved to Oregon from Northern California with her husband and parents because Oregon allows terminally ill patients to die using lethal medications prescribed by a doctor."