I find myself increasingly frustrating with my own opinion on abortion. I just can't seem to develop a robust, directly stated opinion on the matter. The only way I can think about the subject is basically an equivocation; both/and. I consider that a pretty major failing.
First, I guess, the pro-choice side of my both/and problem. It has become an increasingly common pro-choice argument that pro-lifers are not so much concerned with the issue of homicide and the life of the fetus as they are with controlling sexuality, specifically women's sexuality.
I find this to be a fairly compelling argument. Pro-lifers will insist they believe that the fetus is a person, and that abortion is murder. The problem is, pro-lifers simply don't act as if they live under a regime with a higher civilian body count then Stalinist Russia. Stalin was responsible for 40 million dead Russians; the U.S. alone has had 48 million abortions over a slightly longer time period. There should be constant horror and outrage; how can daily life continue as usual for someone that believes they live in the bloodiest society in history?
But there isn't. The outrage over abortion is no greater than the usual moral outrage over, say, homosexuality.
The other piece of the argument is all the empirical data that feminist blogs collect concerning the activities of pro-life groups; persistent interference with contraception, persistent moral condemnations of (usually female) sexual activity, etc. Or the constant insistence on "responsibility," which is just an extension of the double standard and whore/madonna split women have always had to deal with. If you'd like to see these discussions, visit Pandagon - there's a link on the side of the page.
So anyways, I'm convinced that concern over women's sexuality is the excessive real of the pro-life movement. By excessive real, I mean the ideas and concepts that show through the cracks in the surface (in a previous post, when I say that "hate the sin..." is really "just following orders," I'm pointing out another example of the excessive real).
Because of this, I think pro-choicers are correct when they say the pro-lifers don't so much care about the life of the fetus, but when and for whom a woman opens her legs. And so I consider the pro-life groups to be basically insidious. The forces of domination, as it were.
It needs to be stressed that that this excessive real, this obscene, disavowed underside, is built into the pro-life position. It can't be chased away by logical syllogisms and a body of correct facts. The explicit pro-life position, that of the rejection of murdering babies, is sustained by and dependant upon this underside. It is this underside that allows pro-lifers to go about their day without being overwhelmed by the horror of living in a Stalinist regime; the underside is what provides the distance from horror so one's life can function.
Of course, that isn't the end of the issue. Just because the pro-life position carries with it an obscene underside, doesn't mean pro-choicers are let off the hook when it comes to thinking the homicide issue. Just because your opponent is incapable of being completely forthright doesn't mean you can ignore his explicit position.
In our culture, in our particular place and time, any claim that abortion is murder will carry with it the obscene underside of the domination of women. I know this won't seem like a satisfying statement, but I think it is true. All the valid logic and correct facts in the world won't change it. But for the sake of completeness...
Empirical data will never be able to settle the issue of the fetus' legal status. There is no scientific test for personhood. No body of data can tell you when the fetus becomes a person, and so is entitled to protection under the law.
Any time chosen, from conception to the third trimester to birth, is going to be arbitrary. Sure, empirical data can be interpreted to support some of these positions over others, but empirical data will always leave room for dissent among reasonable people.
The cautious position, which I favor but can't argue forcefully for, would be that conception confers legal personhood. The problem is, "cautious" is not a serious endorsement of a political or ethical position. And "cautious" does not mean "less arbitrary."
None of that erases the importance of grappling with the question, "is abortion murder?" It is the great failing of the pro-choice side that they refuse to do so. They've found out the obscene underside of the pro-life movement, and they think this makes their argument for them. It doesn't.
In the end, my pro-life sympathies are based on something I find compelling, but intellectually weak. I think there could come a day in which a pro-life position can be directly articulated, without the obscene underside. If that day comes, then the primary pro-choice arguments will dissolve (not proven illogical or incorrect, but will simply dissolve into the winds of history) and the abortion issue will be settled. On that day, we'll all wake up, and our hands will be covered in blood, and that blood will never wash off.
The problem is, I refuse to submit the present to the judgment of history. The preceding paragraph, while compelling, is simply unacceptable by any rigid intellectual standard. We live and move and have our being in the present; some pseudo-messianic future cannot help us in the present.
So this is my problem. I have both pro-choice and pro-life sympathies. That isn't acceptable; sitting on the fence is a cop out. I just have no idea how to resolve this. Sometimes I think that learning to do a proper dialectical analysis would solve this problem for me, but dialectics is a game for the big boys. It is hard to do without just being facile, or just making a more sophisticated equivocation.