In my 20s, I was pro-choice. I didn’t like the government telling women who made mistakes what to do with their bodies. Though I’m pro-life today, I still feel this way. Too many abortion opponents are far too unsympathetic to the difficult decisions some women have to face.
Too many pro-choice advocates are also too indifferent to the unvarnished consequences of those decisions.
The recent controversy over Planned Parenthood allegedly selling fetus organs, as seen in an undercover video produced by a pro-life group (Planned Parenthood claims the video is heavily edited), has disturbed people on both sides of the abortion debate. The language used in the video is forcing many to see the “specimens” described not as something that can be justifiably discarded, but as human beings.
This controversy reminded me of moral questions I wrestled with years ago that eventually turned me pro-life.
Strangely enough, that conversion began with foreign policy.
I’ve long been an anti-war conservative, something that sounded odd during the George W. Bush years and before the rise of libertarian Ron Paul, but in the 1990s there were many Republicans who opposed Bill Clinton’s military interventions. Antiwar Republican Patrick Buchanan won the New Hampshire presidential primary in 1996 and he was my candidate.
I felt like U.S. foreign policy was something too many Americans treated nonchalantly. That the deaths many of our interventions caused, not only of our soldiers, but of civilians and particularly children, was something we shrugged off too comfortably, thousands of miles from the combat field.
The moral distance between the actions carried out in my country’s name and the brutal consequences bothered me.
One example many antiwar types in the 1990s cited was Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s reaction on 60 Minutes to a United Nations statistic that a half million Iraqi children died due to Bill Clinton’s sanctions on that country, to put pressure on Saddam Hussein.
Asked reporter Leslie Stahl of Albright in 1996, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and you know, is the price worth it?”
Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
For perspective, a half million is 167 times the amount of people who were murdered on 9/11 (Some dispute this U.N. total, but it was still the number Albright responded to).
And apparently those sanctions weren’t “worth it,” or didn’t work, because in 2003 the U.S would engage in a full-blown war to depose Hussein. Nearly 4,500 American soldiers would die in that war. Over 114,000 people would die overall, including 3,911 children.
I’m not a pacifist. Sometimes nations must go to war to defend their security and interests. There are casualties in any war. Soldiers die. Civilians die. Children die.
But knowing this, shouldn’t we have a pretty high threshold for when we go to war? Has that threshold been high enough? Where is the line? Do we become too relaxed in where we draw that line to the degree that we can distance ourselves from the carnage?
Out of sight, out of mind?
Foreign policy is not black and white. There’s a lot of grey area, particularly for a country like the United States and it’s historic role as a global leader. Those who always favor the most aggressive approach militarily can sound as callous as those who insist the U.S. should never engage. The latest U.N. numbers show that ISIS has killed 15,000 civilians in the last 16 months.
Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, there’s nothing simple about the issue of abortion. Those on both sides of the debate who try to make the issue black and white usually end up sounding the most vulgar.
But I became pro-life because I came to the conclusion that abortion ultimately meant distancing one’s self from the grim reality of the act performed. One has to pretend that it isn’t a life being taken to make the act less consequential. To reduce it to a mere “choice.” The human aspect is diminished.
It’s the same way too many Americans view war, where the lives being taken in our name are so far away and so culturally different from us, that we get to a point where they’re not even considered fully human. They’re not even considered. They’re statistics. A blip on the news at best, if we ever even hear news about them at all.
There’s nothing more precious than life. The greatest inhumanities are always caused when we are able to separate ourselves from our humanity.
We shouldn’t do that.