After Susan Komen Pulls Funding for Planned Parenthood, Pro-Choice Supporters Misunderstand the Pro-Life Position


Now that the Susan G. Komen organization has decided to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, my social universe is up in arms (judging from Facebook). It bothers me too. I'm pro-choice. However, I've been surprised by the arguments advanced by my pro-choice peers. They seem entirely besides the point. The pro-life position is premised on the idea that abortion is murder. From that, a few positions follow:

1) It is not important what percentage of Planned Parenthood's budget goes to abortion. If abortion is murder, 100% or 1%, it's too much. You could find their other services entirely unobjectionable and still want to pull funding. It's analogous to asking me to support an organization that spends 95% of its budget on after-school programs and 5% on underground dog fighting. I would say no. Wouldn't you?

2) A "no exceptions" policy, even for rape or incest, appears to be an unavoidable conclusion. If you are uniformly against the taking of a human life, then the circumstances of conception are irrelevant. Santorum's position that one must "make the best of a bad situation" is nothing but syllogistically sound. From his point of view, there is never a license to murder a child.

3. Any and all means to preventing murder, short of murder itself, would be acceptable. This would include legislative pressure, grotesque protesting, judicial petitioning, or really anything else they could think of. There's no calling foul on the tactics here. What shouldn't a person be willing to do to prevent murder?

The utter disconnect between pro-choice arguments and the pro-life perspective brings to mind some interesting research in political psychology. First, liberals tend to mischaracterize and misunderstand conservative positions more than conservatives do liberals; in other words, liberals are relatively lacking in political empathy (which surprises me because I associate liberalism and empathy for the poor). Second, liberals generally misunderstand the moral foundations of conservatives. Social scientists like Thomas Frank argue that conservatives use bait issues like abortion and gay marriage to pull a fast one on blue collar workers, getting them to support an economic agenda that hurts them. Jonathan Haidt, however, has found that cross-culturally, five broad moral categories cover most human moral behavior: protecting the individual from harm, reciprocity and fairness, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and a sense of purity and sanctity. It is Republicans' ability to appeal to these latter three categories, he argues, that explains their electoral successes. Liberals seem not to get this. Perhaps this explains why the pro-choice arguments I read seem so divorced from the conservative perspective.

But I'm tempted to think another dynamic is at hand. The premise that abortion is murder brokers absolutely no common ground. Really trying to imagine what it would be like to consider all abortion murder leaves me speechless. No pro-choice arguments would make any sense, and I don't think any ever could. And this, I think, is why pro-choice arguments tend to be so besides the point. Once we take the time to truly grapple with the other side's founding premises, conversation appears impossible.

Weigh in: How can we have a more productive conversation on abortion? How can the pro-life and pro-choice sides not talk past each other?

Photo Credit: World Can't Wait