Friday, October 08, 2010

Smile: Your Mother Was Pro-Choice

One of the interesting things about driving across America is the amount of evangelical propaganda advertised in hotel rooms and along the highways. It's definitely more dense in certain areas but even in progressive towns like Chicago and Boston you will still find a Bible in your hotel room. I find it even more interesting that despite this information and the fact that our country is inhabited by the religious majority, many religious people feel as though America is under attack by the non-believing community.

Isbelle and I were driving through middle America last week taking note of all of the tacky evangelical billboards and one stuck out to us in particular. It simply read:

Smile: Your Mother Was Pro-Life.

There are two major problems with this phrase. First of all it falsely presupposes that anyone opposed to pro-life is automatically pro-abortion. It is an incontrovertible fact that many mothers chose life without subscribing to the pro-life movement. This observation alone is enough to warrant the sign being taken down. Presuming, of course, that it's benefactor is at all concerned with intellectual integrity.

The second problem is more philosophical and I make this argument only to approach the issue from a different angle. Are we to smile because Hitler's mother was pro-life? What about Ted Bundy or Mark David Chapman? What about the child rapist who molested someone you love? What about the cruel, the vicious, the marauding and the corrupt? The second reason the argument does not work is because when you step outside of it's emotional appeal to your own individuality you can clearly see that it's application is limited to those you are either indifferent to or those you find morally palatable.

This post is not an attempt to make an argument for pro-choice. It is an appeal to those of you sincerely interested in public discourse to do away with intellectually dishonest argumentation. "Smile: Your Mother Was Pro-Life" is ultimately an enemy of the pro-life movement because it fails to rise to the level of integrity that the movement deserves. These people need to stop trying to take short cuts for two reasons:

1. People like me (we're now numbered in the millions) will call them out on it every single time.
2. They are devaluing their arguments in the marketplace of ideas.

I''m interested in good ideas. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of belief we all have to work together to make each others arguments as strong as they can be. After all, who would be satisfied to simply refute a straw man? Hopefully not you and certainly not me. Peace and kindness to you all from a van somewhere in Nevada.

In reason,

Clint Wells


isbelle said...

I love how people try to say "We might have a cure for cancer/world hunger/whatever by now but that person was probably aborted." While that may or may not be true, there are probably loads of awful human beings who probably haven't been born because of abortion. None of this matters just like we aren't missing all the babies that could have been born if it weren't for birth control or all the other endless combinations of babies that could have been born if people had slept with one (or several) of various other billions of people in the world at different times.

I am, and will likely always be pro-choice. I don't think it's my place to decide for someone else whether or not they should carry a pregnancy to term. Even though I'm prochoice, in my future, I hope to have a few babies of my own. And that's because, I'm pro-CHOICE and one of those choices is to have babies if I want them. But, ya know, if my mom wasn't prolife, I wouldn't really be missing the fact that I'm alive, now would I?

I agree, Clint. And, personally, I think that there are a lot of good pro-life arguments out there. It would be a lot more convincing to use these arguments instead of all the ones we saw on those billboards. Although unlikely, I think it's possible for someone to argue well enough where I could become pro-life but it's certainly not going to be because of those "Smile, your mom was prolife" billboards.

Robert said...

I agree Clint. Christian's who resort to rhetorically utilitarian arguments will get their sack lunch eaten by any non-christian that reads above an eighth grade level.

Robert said...

Come on Clint ... are you saying that a billboard slogan is the same as serious public discourse? Or is it somehow wrong for those on the Pro-Life side to use provocative advertising to make a point?

Pro-Life means choosing life; including at the moment of a child's birth. This is especially true given that late term abortions (after 27 weeks) are still performed in this country.

And this "Smile: ..." slogan is certainly a counter-attack to the corporate name of the countries most notorious federally-funded abortion machine, Planned Parenthood. PP in 2009 performed over 300,000 abortions and yet only provided less than 5,000 adoption referrals. This isn't planning your parenthood, it's the legalized killing of innocent children...but wait, we don't want to call it "America's Abortion Center", so we call it Planned Parenthood. So much for taking the issues seriously.

Clint Wells said...

Robert - Yes, billboards are a form of public discourse. Yes, it is wrong for pro-lifers (and anyone) to employ intellectually dishonest propaganda as a legitimate argument in the public square. Provocative advertising is fine. But one should not lie or short-cut an argument just to be provocative.

Your second paragraph doesn't make sense. Pro-life does not simply mean choosing life. Pro-life is a political stance on the freedom a woman has to legally terminate a pregnancy. As I stated in the post, many women who are pro-choice utilize their freedom to choose life. That's why it's pro-CHOICE and not pro-ABORTION.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention does an annual study of abortion statistics. In 2003 they found that late term abortions (abortions after 21 weeks) constitute 1.4% of all abortions in a year. Yes, it happens. But it's hardly a priority issue and it doesn't make sense in your argument to reference it.

A counter attack? Are you serious? As my post already suggested, if the pro-life argument wants to do their cause justice then they need to give up the dishonest argumentation. You have not at all refuted my two reasons for labeling it dishonest. In fact, I'm not sure what your point is at all other than to make me reiterate what I've already said.

Matt said...

A helpful reminder to all of us that soundbytes and sloganeering, while provocative, are usually insufficient in carrying the weight of most issues we deem worthy of putting up on a billboard. And the reality is that every socio-political group, theistic and non-theistic, makes use of this tactic and we should call their bluff, as you have here.

Two places of potential disagreement or misunderstanding:
1. I do believe it's unfair to assume intellectual dishonesty. They might just be nitwits.
2. My struggle with a consistent pro-choice ethic (which I don't equate with pro-abortion) is the basis of one's choice. Because of our inability to know what happens tomorrow and a basic human tendency towards self-absorption, should we rely on our own intuition and intellection?

Clint Wells said...

Matt -

1. I choose to assume that most people most of the time know what they are doing.

I've spent a lot of time driving south on Highway 65. On that road there is a billboard with a picture of the devil (clad with a red cape, tail and pitchfork, naturally) that reads "Go to church or the devil will get you!" How ironic that in many cases, particularly in light of the Catholic rape scandal, the opposite seems to be true.

In both cases I assume the benefactors of the billboard were as thoughtful as possible before providing the necessary funding to erect them. I also imagine their smug little faces each time they pass the signs.

It seems more diplomatic to argue the dishonesty rather than assume they are nitwits.

Clint Wells said...

2. The pro-choice ethic is essentially an ethic of freedom. The false dichotomy propaganda of pro-life vs. pro-abortion fails to properly classify pro-CHOICE in the moderate category between the two. Pro-choicers consider it just as legally indefensible to mandate abortions as it is to outlaw abortions. It is mainly an issue of a woman's bodily autonomy. More than that, it is an issue of sexual education and reproductive rights for women.

I subscribe to objective, provisional morality. It's objective (note: NOT ABSOLUTE) because it belongs to the species, not the individual and it is provisional because the moral zeitgeist evolves and new evidence continues to shape and reshape our (bio)ethics. For example, evidence for fetal viability gets better every year as well as truly amazing breakthroughs in incubation technology that provide earlier viability for fetuses.

In the case of pro-choice it is imperative to protect the reproductive liberties of women and to understand that a person's life is more valuable than a POTENTIAL person's life. This is easily seen in the case of a pregnancy that, if carried to term, would be fatal for the mother. Consider your wife or sister in this scenario. Perhaps even then you would opt for the child. But what if the survival potential for the child was only 50%? There is clearly an imbalance of value between life and potential life.

We shouldn't rely on our own intuition all of the time. We should rely on family, friends, good education and good science. But what do these things matter when you have no rights in the first place?

This is the great masquerade of the pro-life movement. They shout about life but ultimately they are enemies of both existing lives (generally pro-war/pro-capital punishment) and the pursuit and security of reproductive freedom.

Matt said...

1. We might be talking past each other on this point. I don't subscribe to grand conspiracy theories, and while evidence exists of cover-ups in certain cases (certainly the Catholic abuse pandemic is evidence of this), I have no more reason to think that the pro-life movement is intentionally fudging the facts or engaging in slip-shod rhetoric than I do to believe that the GLBT community, societies for free thought or the NRA engage in the same behavior.

I've seen the devil billboard on I-65 and agree with the smugness behind it. But I don't see a shred of dishonesty in that statement, simply a boatload of stupidity.

I would suggest this better explains your last point about the discrepancy between people who are pro-life when it comes to abortion and seemingly pro-death when it comes to war, guns, etc. I don't see this as a great masquerade, as you put it, but more likely a tragic inconsistency in the application of an ethic of justice and care for the weak and abused.

Either way, I think we agree that the sound byte is an overused tool of propaganda coming from seemingly every corner of society. The issue of abortion has largely been ignored by 18-35 year olds and for the sake of loving women who find themselves in unexpected and unwanted pregnancies - and the children they're carrying - we need more reasoned conversation.

2. As you can imagine, I struggle to believe that morality can be left in the hands of self-determined community standards. One man's enlightenment is another man's chronological snobbery.

And it just seems upside down to demand the rights of the strong at the expense of the weak. I don't think it's too crazy to suggest that mature humans often set aside their rights for the sake of those who are helpless and in need.

I do think you overstate your case about actual life versus potential life with your use of language such as 'imperative,' 'easily,' and 'clearly' in your third paragraph. Whether or not pro-life and pro-choice proponents can ever agree on the application of their positions to the issue of abortion, it does seem that wise and educated people fall out all across the spectrum on this issue. As such, you're entitled to your opinion and I'm thankful for your willingness to state your convictions, but for many people who know how to use their brain, your position isn't the obvious conclusion.

Earlier you provided statistics showing the small percentage of late term abortions as an argument against the anti-abortion crew. So in all fairness, I'm not sure your argument about the potential threat that full-term pregnancies present to some women is valid either. That is certainly an ethical dilemma but the statistical evidence of such cases is, again, rather miniscule.

I genuinely appreciate you bringing up the issue - much to chew on.

Clint Wells said...

Matt -

1. I don't think we're talking past one another. I think you are erring on stupidity and I am erring on dishonesty. I'm not making a comment on the moral superiority of one over the other, I just think that's whats going on here.

2. You said:

"I struggle to believe that morality can be left in the hands of self-determined community standards."

But this is precisely the story of morality. A developing moral zeitgeist based on the evolution of community standards. This is why morality is objective and not absolute. The rapist may consider his actions moral, but the community standards for pain values beg to differ and so we create and enforce laws to mirror our evolving moral values. Consider the recent liberation of women, gays, and blacks. This is why morality is provisional.

Demanding the rights of the strong over the weak is not an idea I've ever espoused. I don't know where that came from.

You said:

"I do think you overstate your case about actual life versus potential life with your use of language such as 'imperative,' 'easily,' and 'clearly' in your third paragraph."

So, you don't consider it imperative to protect the reproductive rights of women? You don't concede that the life of a mother is more valuable than the potential life of a fetus with 50% survival prediction? I simply do not see how this can be. Conceding that life and potential life have a value discrepancy is not conceding the entire argument. It's just objective logic.

The criticism of your last paragraph does not stand. I appealed to the statistics about late-term abortions only because it is sometimes portrayed as being commonplace (as Robert alluded to).

I appealed to the hypothetical of a pregnancy being fatal for a woman to illustrate that the issue lies on a moral spectrum and cannot be relegated to black and white answers.

The two arguments were not used at all in the same way and therefore do not really cancel each other out.

Matt said...

I believe it's imperative to protect the reproductive rights of women AND an unborn child's right to life. The issue at hand is what should be done when those two rights come into conflict. I'm simply not content to uphold an ethic where the person in a position of power can simply discard a weaker person because they are an inconvenience.