April 08, 2005

Picking Sides

Politics casts a long shadow. Americans often forgive and more often forget the indiscretions, moral, financial or romantic, of past leaders. But the big issues, the issue of civilized progress and human liberty always stand out. What’s the number one criticism of the founders? ‘They owned slaves.’

The truth is a little more complex, but the basic inhumanity of owning, buying and selling another human being allows us all to feel shame. Even though everyone has faults and nobody is perfect, even though the founders were perhaps the most intelligent generation of geniuses ever to inhabit the same country and government at once, we refuse to forget that these great men did some of the worst things imaginable.

The civil rights movement continues to crop up now and again, with even a suggestion of opposition to the movement often condemning people. Trent Lott, Zell Miller, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, etc. all have faced criticism for colluding or the perception of colluding with racists and bigots.

The reason we look down on the failures of the past is two-fold. First, it’s easy to criticize people for supporting slavery now that it’s been banned for well over a century. At the time in the late 1850s when less than a fifth of the country was abolitionist, it would’ve been seen as loopy zealotry and religious extremism. It’s a lot easier to pass moral judgments that have already been decided and accepted for a generation or more than to make a bold proclamation when half the country disagrees.

Second, we identify ourselves by the values we affirm: liberty, opportunity, comity, and so forth. When part of our history is inimical to those beliefs and to that identity we necessarily cringe, especially something as hypocritical as slavery or Jim Crow.

It was not easy to be an abolitionist in the 1830s. It was a tiny minority even in New England that wanted the evils of slavery banished from our borders. Those that espoused this view tended to be kind of weird, they tended to be quite religious, and they tended to be vilified, mocked and even attacked. They were also silenced; abolitionist societies sent mailings into the South but there local postmasters eventually censored them all. Some abolitionists saw their printing presses destroyed or were even mobbed in the streets.

And plenty of them were radical. William Lloyd Garrison burned the Constitution in protest, believing it tainted because of slavery and general discrimination. John Brown ordered special pikes made after reading about them in a Biblical reference. He and his sons killed several people in Kansas and stormed a federal armory in western Virginia. John Brown was the clinic bomber of the anti-slavery movement – complete with ultra-extreme religious views and single-minded righteousness.

But today these crazies, religious zealots and fringe viewpoints are considered heroes, visionaries and moral truisms. If history today looks so kindly upon the leading fringe of the anti-slavery movement, how will people in 100 to 150 years look back on the anti-abortion movement? That, I think ought to help illustrate the importance of ignoring politics and pursuing principle.

What will people in a century think of the euthanasia movement? Will they see it as an awkward remnant of Nazi-style beliefs? Will they be horrified that it could happen here half a century after Hitler’s death?

What would they think of the pro-life movement to stop abortion? Will NARAL and Planned Parenthood be the equivalent of the apologists for slavery? Will Roe v. Wade be considered the Dred Scott case for abortion? Will the pro-abortion Democrats of the last half of the 20th century be seen as equivalent to the pro-slavery Democrats of the first half of the 19th century?

It has applications to other issues as well, of course. I’ve said in my blog before that gay rights and immigration are very important issues to not come down on the wrong side of. Looking back, how many people hold sympathy for the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party? Do today’s “stop immigration” people want to be directly compared to the xenophobes of the 1850s and the 1910s? Do those vigorously opposing gay rights want to be seen as civil rights opponents in twenty years? Because I’m willing to bet that history will NOT look kindly upon either. Unless you have a strong moral conviction, you have to ask yourself: is it worth putting myself on the wrong side of history? Is it worth it to oppose liberty and count myself next to the ash heap of history?

That’s what everyone needs to realize when it comes to abortion. The logic, reason, right and liberty are all on the pro-life side. The pro-choice perspective has rejection of science, denial of liberty and lame, shallow platitudes.

In the future the pro-life view will be much closer to the widely-accepted one. The conflict over abortion will be gone. This is true for a simple reason: technology. Science will end the conflict. Abortion will be irrelevant and unnecessary because science will make it possible for pregnancies to be saved earlier and earlier.

Already science has moved the “point of viability” backwards as doctors are able to save younger and younger babies. Eventually they will figure out how to remove a fetus from the mother and be put in a special incubator at say, 30 weeks, then 25 weeks, then 16 weeks, then 8 weeks. Eventually pregnancy could be done entirely outside the mother.

Now, if it’s possible to remove a fetus instead of aborting it, then it eliminates the false dichotomy, currently accepted by many people, between the mother’s rights and the child’s rights. Of course, this is not truly legal doctrine, since right now the Supreme Court doesn’t recognize fetuses as persons; non-persons have little or no real rights. But if it were possible to simply remove a fetus from the mother instead of abort it, how could we accept it any longer? That would be like dropping an unwanted infant out of a high-rise window when you could simply put it up for adoption.

In the future with people being incubated and born outside their mothers, that means there are people who in many cases might have been aborted. It means that we would have a society that didn’t need abortion. Boyfriends wouldn’t need to pressure for an abortion to get out of marriage or fatherhood. Parents wouldn’t pressure for an abortion to avoid being burdened emotionally or financially by an early grandchild. Mothers wouldn’t see abortion as a way to continue, education, career or relationships in place. Abortion would be totally irrelevant.

Of course, right now abortion only means that women get back the seven or eight months they would have spent going through the difficulty of pregnancy. But the process of removing a live fetus intact would get rid of that as well.

It would shatter the remaining legal and social arguments for abortion, all except the occasional Malthusian whine or self-indulgent complaint. As a result, there’d be no harm in being pro-life.

We’d all see, via science and technology, that life in the womb is valuable, is unique, is independent, and is worthy of protection. Technology will make it possible. Even if it takes a hundred years, the country will be pro-life. Looking back at today, will you be proud of your abortion opinions? Will you still think them moral and right?

I do not ask this question to make you feel like you must give in to peer pressure. If anything, my point is that history tends to favor people that were relatively fringe in their own time. What I am trying to do is make pro-choice people compare their views to the villains of history – who by the way all thought they were right and good people – and see if that shakes anything loose. I don’t want to scare you into being pro-life just to hop on the bandwagon; I want to make people examine their beliefs critically and see if they can still hold up. The test of history is a great one, because it forces us to find a place for our views alongside others.

Of course, I am also trying to point out the obvious contradiction: if a 10-week fetus is living independent of the mother in 2075, can you really see it aborted in 2005? Can you really advocate the open killing of humans that would, with better technology, be saved from that fate and allowed to live full lives? Maybe that doesn’t convince you as much as it ought to, but certainly it merits consideration.

One thing is certain: pick your side carefully. The future will be pro-life and the pro-choice movement of today will seem foolish at best and inhumanly evil at worst. Are you still confident in your beliefs, given the opinion the future consensus will hold of you? History is watching.

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