I Said, They Said … what can we say?

So I visit this blog for writers every once in a while, run by the horror writer M.J. Rose, on the topic of book promotions.  Rose has an occasional feature on her blog, offering the advice of a clinical psychologist who, the blog says, specializes in addressing the psychological aspects of writers’ issues (like writer’s block).  In her guest appearance on the blog the other day, she declared a break from the standard psychological advice in order to “after eight years of shame and fear … savor the blessings of being an American at this particular moment.”  She offered a list of “advantages I’m grateful for,” which included these at the top:

Despite repeated challenges, the First Amendment has not been overturned.

Neither has Roe v. Wade. (If you are unsure why this is a writing issue, consider Virginia Woolf’s hypothetical Judith Shakespeare, and all the women she represents whose voices have been muted or lost through the lack of body autonomy most male writers take for granted.)

Of course, I’m not one to count Roe v. Wade as a blessing for anybody, but I was struck by her choice of words, and so I decided to say so in the comment box.  I decided being succinct and noncombative would be the best route, and so I left this:

There’s something ironic about emphasizing the value of Roe v Wade by invoking muted or lost voices, no?

It seemed like a reasonable and fairly incisive comment to me, but of course, different people come at this issue from very different directions, so I was interested to see what responses the comment might draw.  As of now, three people have responded to it in the same comments box.

The first:

 I agree with Barry, but the issue is so complex, and has been so oversimplified and radicalized by its opponents, that I understand what Dr. Sue is saying. Telling women that they are prisoners of their bodies, that they cannot take safe, expeditious measures to terminate accidental, unwanted, pregnancies even if they are due to rape has an oppressive effect—even if, God willing, a woman never has to make that difficult decision. It’s a short step from that to limiting other freedoms for a segment of society.

The second:

Barry: no. Not at all.

(Now there’s a writer who doesn’t struggle with word count.)

And the third:

Barry, the irony I see is that in a supposedly “post-feminist” culture women’s status as full, autonomous human beings is still considered a debatable topic.

Is it not amazing how different people can approach the same issue, presumably understanding the same underlying facts and circumstances, and arrive at such radically different perceptions and conclusions?  Must I presume “ill will” in order to explain the way these people perceive it, as if they really do see the injustice of abortion but are only trying to justify it in the name of convenience?  I tend to think not.  I think I can presume they’re “people of good will” (can’t I?).

So what then?  They understand the same human biology that I do (which tells us that we’re human and alive from the first moment of conception).  And they see the same frightening aspects of our cultural and political history (that any time we’ve defined certain humans out of the category of being full persons with dignity and rights, it has always turned out disasterous).

How is it, for example, that the third responder doesn’t see the sad and disturbing irony of protecting the “full autonomy” of some human beings at the expense of the “autonomy” of another group? 

How is it that suggesting a woman ought not kill her unborn child makes her a “prisoner of her own body” any more than suggesting that she ought not kill her toddlers or teenage children makes her a “prisoner of her own home”?

I’m not trying to be argumentative.  I’m struggling, not for the first time (abortion, after all, is one unit I cover each year with my high school juniors — an essay I wrote about that experience that was published a couple of years ago in Touchstone is here), with questions about how we can ever have a productive dialogue about this when we seem to be looking at the same issue with such different eyes?  What sort of reasoning can convince reponders like those above of things that seem so obvious to someone else?

I know someone might say, Well, they’d say the same thing about you — how can you be missing something so clearly true and important?  But the thing is, I don’t believe I’m missing it at all.  I do see the truth they’re trying to uphold: Women are free persons with rights and personal dignity that permits them to control their own lives.  And they’re correct.  It’s accurate and important.  I have five daughters, and want every one of them to be strong, independent, respected, etc.  So I do see it.

But that’s not the only truth to be taken into consideration here.  Wanting my daughters to be strong and independent does not mean teaching them to make their way through life by taking down anyone and anything that stands in their way for whatever reason.  I expect them to show others the same respect I want shown to them.  Isn’t that, after all, the only way to build a society where anyone gets any respect?

So the truth that the pro-choice folks like those who responded to me are missing is, Unborn people are people, too. 

My questions: Why are they missing it?  And how, effectively and respectfully, to help them see it?



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