September 19, 2008

Taking the High Road

Today in my government class we decided that instead of taking notes or anything boring like that, we were just going to debate the issues. We talked about affirmative action, the role of the internet in political campaigns, and then, everyone's favorite pre-packaged debate: Abortion! Yaay!

This only happened once or twice in our particular debate, but it's something I noticed seems to happen pretty regularly when abortion comes up.

An otherwise pro-choice student, about to make a pro-choice comment, starts his or her statement with: "I wouldn't get an abortion myself, but...".

Or any variation thereof.

I used to do this, too, especially during the awkward, "We only half know what we're talking about" debates that went on in my middle school during the last big election. But the thing is, I decided that it's really, really stupid.

I think the idea behind it is to kind of try to put yourself on the moral high ground - I mean, you don't want anyone to think you're a baby-killer. But really, saying "I don't believe in abortion, but I think it's okay for other people" is a weird argument to me, especially when you're going to go on to say that people should look at the unique circumstances each woman is in, as some of the people in my class argued. Qualifying your endorsement of abortion rights by implying that not getting an abortion is the more moral choice makes for a poor endorsement.

I hope that made sense, I'm probably kind of rambling. But really, what you personally would choose shouldn't help your argument one way or another - the important part is having the RIGHT to choose.


Renee said...

Qualifying your endorsement of abortion rights by implying that not getting an abortion is the more moral choice makes for a poor endorsement.

Yes not only did that commentary make a lot of sense it was particularly astute. You are right qualifying your position like that implies that abortion is immoral.

MomTFH said...

Thank you! I have a similar problem with people who say that. It is a way of distancing the speaker and stigmatizing women who do get abortions.

I find it common at my medical school. You are more on the ball about this discussion than many of my fellow medical students.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Renee and Hilary. So many people are afraid of judgement just for being pro-choice they often try to find a way to lessen the blow. It's buying into the Anti-choice language by putting a "moral" aspect into the abortion debate. The biggest issue many pro-choice people have is using anti-choice language which, in turn, gives anti-choice beliefs more power.

Ol Cranky said...

As noted above, you did pick up on people trying to distance themselves from the moral stigmatization that comes with indicating you would consider terminating a pregnancy in certain circumstances.

Usually people who are personally "pro-life" (meaning they really wouldn't consider an abortion for themselves and do have moral issues with it) but believe it is a personal choice not to be legislated by government are more clear in making that distinction clear and as part of the reason they really are pro-choice. Of course, you are in HS so you do have to make allowances for the age/maturity of your peers as well as HS politics.

Just out of curiosity, did you call any of them on it?

Anonymous said...

Tuning into the words people use, (their rhetoric) is such an important aspect of political discourse or any discourse for that matter.

Making rhetoric explicit,(like calling people on it), is part of the discourse.

Here in the States, we see many topics through a hyper-moral lens. (e.g. smoking, weight, health, alcohol).

I've recently been reading blogs from Economists who talk about economics being about people making choices and how incentives work. One kind of incentive is moral.

Kristjan Wager said...

I think it makes perfect sense what you say. Which is why I always make clear that I don't consider abortion moral or immoral. I explain at greater length here, in which I link to an Amanda Marcotte post where she expresses something similar to what you say, though more forcefully.

Samuel Tinianow said...

But people who take that line in discussions of abortion do make an important point: namely, that the law isn't about what's moral, it's about what's best. One would hope we'd learned that from prohibition. Yes, drinking is immoral, but hey, guess what, people aren't perfect. And abortion is often the same way. While morality might tell that pregnant 16-year-old to keep her baby, practicality says otherwise, and in the eyes of the law, that's what should be important.

The mistake those people make isn't in endorsing one choice as more moral, it's in making the discussion about them and their own beliefs. That's the part that plays into the anti-choice argument, because anti-choicers are the ones who think it's okay to make policies according to their own personal moral beliefs.

The better way to say it would be to wait for the anti-choice side to label abortion as immoral, then to rebut that with, "That's all well and good, but the law doesn't exist for you to promote your own moral beliefs." That way they're the ones who end up taking the heat.

Spiffy said...

o_0 wow, I totally didn't notice there were so many comments!

Ol Cranky: Nope, didn't call any of them on it - I wish I had, though!