the dialogue about abortion

Over at Via Media, Amy’s started a discussion about dialogue.

1) Who are the parties in the dialogue?

2) Where is this dialogue situated?

Should be an interesting conversation.

To take things a step further, what are the necessary ingredients/principles in dialogue? What does dialogue look like in practice? I’ve made some efforts in the past to grapple with the concept of dialogue on my blog.

I know the term has been seriously sullied by the recent Notre Dame debacle, but it would be good to recover a positive sense of the term. It’s one of the three keynotes of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day 2009, which is coming up on Sunday.

I think there are probably several situations/contexts in which the abortion dialogue needs to take place — maybe several dialogues, even. One of the most important, I think, is the actual experience of the woman in a crisis pregnancy.

I highly recommend an article entitled Abortion: A Failure to Communicate by Paul Swope. It appeared in First Things back in 2002. A snip:

Research suggests that modern American women of childbearing age do not view the abortion issue within the same moral framework as those of us who are pro-life activists. Our message is not being well-received by this audience because we have made the error of assuming that women, especially those facing the trauma of an unplanned pregnancy, will respond to principles we see as self-evident within our own moral framework, and we have presented our arguments accordingly. This is a miscalculation that has fatally handicapped the pro-life cause. While we may not agree with how women currently evaluate this issue, the importance of our mission and the imperative to be effective demand that we listen, that we understand, and that we respond to the actual concerns of women who are most likely to choose abortion.

One consideration left out of this article is the woman’s relationship with the child’s father. It’s especially significant, I think, in a culture already facing an epidemic of fatherlessness. When a woman faces a crisis pregnancy, how is her decision conditioned by the attitudes of the man… particularly if she grew up with a father who was physically or emotionally unavailable? Does she see herself faced, oftentimes, with a decision between keeping her child and keeping a relationship? Pretty gut-wrenching for someone who already has fears and wounds around the issue of male support and availability.

5 thoughts on “the dialogue about abortion

  1. LD,

    No argument with the incoherence you reference.

    Don’t worry about the rabbit chase. I could use the exercise. Besides, it led to a salutary admission of my own moral turpitude.

  2. Perhaps you misunderstood me.

    You seem to be talking about a dialogue about whether abortion is or is not an intrinsically evil act. That is not the dialogue to which I am referring.

    I’m talking about the dialogue about what motivates the choice for an abortion. It’s a significant question, I think.

    We tend to operate on the assumption that those who choose abortion do it because they don’t think it’s an evil act, and that as soon as they understand it to be evil, they will never choose abortion again.

    Maybe it works that way for some, but I think it’s an assumption that needs to be challenged. I don’t think our moral understanding translates into action quite so neatly. I seem to recall a few times in my own life in which I knew something to be evil but chose it anyway. OK, more than a few times.

    I am not saying that the debate over the morality of abortion is not needed, and that people do not need to see that abortion is — categorically and without exception — evil. It is foundational, but not, in many cases, sufficient, to impact behavior.

  3. Dear Clayton,

    I did understand you, and I agree with you. My earlier missive should not be held up as an example of literary clarity.

    Of course the assumption needs to be challenged – and of course there are plenty of data out there to corroborate your point.

    I was simply trying to illustrate the fundamental incoherence of those who, like the president, (1) deny the premise that life begins at conception and (2) encourage or at least pay lip-service to social programs that are ostensibly aimed at reducing the number of abortions by providing women in crisis situations with viable alternatives to abortion.

    If I’ve taken us chasing rabbits, I apologize.

    It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

    LD

  4. Gut-wrenching, to be sure, Clayton: and also, in a very important sense, beside the point.

    We do not say of murderers: “well, he was forced to choose between keeping his business partner (alive) and keeping his business.”

    Either abortion is murder (or tantamount to murder), or it is not. If it is, then such considerations as you are articulating must be secondary.

    On another, distinct but related point: the president’s remarks at ND are an excellent case-in-point illustration of the reason why pro-choicers’ “safe, legal, rare” mantra is ultimately non-sensical.

    If abortion is not murder, or tantamount to murder, then why ought we worry about, why ought we spend public money and invest public energies to build a society in which it does not occur, or only rarely?

    If the men are not fathers, then why hold them to account?

    Best,
    LD

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