Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Isn’t it Liberal to be Pro-Life?

How policy issues are framed can profoundly shape how one views them, and this is no less true when it comes to abortion. In our political culture, we normally treat pro-life views as “conservative”, even though it’s not evident why they wouldn't be better described as “liberal”. Among the most fundamental principles of liberal thought is that one should be free to live as ou pleases as along as ou does not violate another’s rights, one of the most basic of which is the right to life. The right-holders referred to in this statement are normally understood to be humans (although many, like me, are guided by this principle in our dealings with the entire animal kingdom). This is why the question of when personhood begins is so crucial to the issue of whether the unborn deserve legal protection. 

Now, if we take conception as the starting point of personhood, then the pro-lifer is being no less “liberal” in advocating for the rights of the unborn than one seeking to prevent a mother from ending her newborn’s life. It’s not neutral, therefore, to call the pro-life position conservative, for doing so presupposes an answer to the question that lies at the heart of the abortion debate. Further, it reinforces the impression that abortion is merely a "moral issue" (similar to pornography or adultery) - a practice that many find objectionable, but otherwise violates no one's rights. This prevents us from recognizing how such pro choice slogans as "My body, my right", or "If you don't like abortion, don't get one" are based on the mistaken assumption that those who oppose abortion rights must necessarily be authoritarian social conservatives (whose ideology arguably doesn't comport well with our  individualistic political culture), and should therefore be disregarded.