Spectrum of choice

I’ve written previously about the Culture of Life. I embrace it because I think it represents a consistent, meaningful, holistic framework for thinking about life and how our social attitudes and public policy shape society.

For many Americans the philosophical questions raised through the Culture of Life framework translate into a nation divided on a series of incredibly contentious issues. Abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, ethics of war, etc. These are some of the oldest and most difficult issues debated dating to earliest antiquity. How any nation or people respond to the questions inherent to these issues often shape how they’re seen over the course of time on the spectrum from humane to barbaristic. This is because responding to these questions is ultimately reflected through policy that impacts the human person. In our time, the specific technology of contemporary science and medicine frame much of the conversation and guide each side’s thinking on the issues.

So the disagreement in its essence is about what is believed to be best for the human person. This is why the state exists, after all—the protection and preservation of a just social order for the good of the people within that order.

(Incidentally, Gallup polling demonstrates America’s consistent division, with pro-life and pro-choice attitudes divided almost evenly with one or the other having a slight edge depending on the year. As of 2014 that translates to the statistical split of 47% pro-choice, 46% pro-life. What’s very interesting is the related Gallup survey on public perception of the split. Americans don’t realize they’re as evenly divided as they are. When asked, most believe the nation is ~51% pro-choice and ~35% pro-life. This suggests that many probably think that Culture of Life issues like abortion or capital punishment or war enjoy greater consensus than they really do, which is problematic when trying to formulate policy based on incorrect data.)

In my previous post on the nuances of the Culture of Life, I wrote that I might get into some of the basis for my own pro-life instincts at some point. The Gallup survey on public perception has made me want to do that to help provide context for at least some of the attitudes that other pro-life Americans might share. As you can probably tell from my tone, I’m not interested in this for the purpose of political point-scoring or back-patting. I’m interested in talking through first principles with reasonable people in good faith, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of opinion.

So with all of that as a prelude, here is some of the basis for my own pro-life instincts, with a focus on abortion since that’s the most contentious issue:

First, as I’ve mentioned, I’m pro-life because the Culture of Life and Saint John Paul the Great’s Theology of Body are to my thinking the best, most consistent philosophical and metaphysical basis for articulating what human life is for and what we are in relation to one another.

Second, because I look at the data behind what drives the majority of decisions to abort. They usually indicate circumstances where we’ve neglected through public policy to provide substantive social alternatives. It’s usually about wealth—access to it, preservation of it, or lack of it. At the same time, we intellectually privatize the subject of social alternatives by saying that a mother’s decisions born out of non-optimal social circumstances are merely personal, and we can’t/shouldn’t get involved. We don’t typically privatize social issues like this in America.

Third, and relating to the above, I myself am the living result of an unplanned pregnancy. I likely wouldn’t be here but for the chance circumstance of a Catholic family whose moral psychology meant that they were inclined to embrace and support their still-in-college daughter during a challenging time. Their combination of personal, emotional, financial, material, and faith-inspired support helped ensure I could have a life. Those circumstances could be replicated as needed for every woman in a similar situation if we decided it was a social priority.

Fourth, I think a basically pro-life attitude is implicit in even ardent pro-choice advocacy. “Safe, legal, and rare” isn’t language that we apply to a happy experience, which is why we’ve seen those who prize abortion access over social alternatives largely move away from that language. We all naturally prefer to avoid abortion, but by framing the issue as a privatized choice we avoid exploring policy that’s likely to expand the spectrum of choice beyond “I need an abortion because the contraception failed.” For emphasis: Just as “pro-life” should mean accountability for that position as part of the consistent Culture of Life framework (e.g., consistency by also opposing capital punishment), “pro-choice” should involve similar accountability beyond the initial position of access to abortion. This would mean an openness to asking “What policies can be put into place to make sure mothers and fathers have the real options they need to bring their child to term if they choose? What social supports need to exist that don’t presently? What would that sort of society look like in practice?”

Fifth, because pro-lifers are the community I see most consistently working to create a set of personal, emotional, financial, material, and faith-inspired options for mothers and fathers looking for a fuller spectrum of choice, whatever that choice is.

There are probably other reasons, but I’m comfortable citing these as the rough foundation for my pro-life instincts. I think, just as pro-life advocates who argue for abstinence sound tired, pro-choice advocates who reflexively promote contraception and abortion sound similarly lame. I would like to see a fuller spectrum of choice that takes into account those of us who don’t already happen to be in a comfortable social, financial, and familial situation.

I’m so weary of the “culture wars.” I expect abortion to continue to exist as a point on the spectrum of choice for my lifetime, but that spectrum needs expansion if any of us are serious about policy that best serves the human person.

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