Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Need To Understand Soft Middle Of The Anti-abortion Movement

Like a lot of people, the shooting in Colorado Springs has shocked and horrified me.  As always happens after mass shootings and terror attacks, the takes have been hot and unending.  One thing that has struck me, however, is the depiction of those opposed to abortion.  While I understand why pro-choice people would lash out in anger after this attack, they are repeating the common mistake of failing to understand their opponents.

I have been involved in a few protests over the years, but the first ones I ever attended were anti-abortion protests.  There was one every year in my hometown that involved long lines of people on the two main streets (forming a cross) holding signs that read “Abortion Kills Children.” I participated in that protest at least twice.  My parents both were and are strongly against legalized abortion, and they still attend anti-abortion events.  Other members of my family are also very vocal and politically active on the issue.  My views on the subject have changed, although I understand where my family members are coming from, even if I don’t agree with them.

One thing I have noticed, ever since I was a child, was that the ways that many pro-choice activists characterized opponents of abortion seemed completely alien to my experience.  One accusation I kept hearing was that those against abortion were simply misogynistic men who wanted to control women. This surprised me, since the biggest and most passionate opponents of abortion I knew then (and now) were women.  These were also not meek, submissive women, either.  The men I knew didn’t seem particularly patriarchal in their attitudes compared to the rest of the male population.  By the way, I am not discounting in any way that criminalizing abortion carries with it an attempt to control and limit women.  However, to view opposition to abortion only through that lens is a distortion that will make it extremely difficult to understand the resilience and power of the anti-abortion movement.

My concern with abortion in my youth had everything to do with growing up in the John Paul II Catholic Church.  It was the one and only political issue that the priests would speak on from the pulpit, and they spoke on it incessantly.  I swear it was the subject of every other homily I heard, and I heard a lot of them.  I was a very devout believer, and my relationship with the abortion issue, like a lot of other Catholics in places like rural Nebraska, had a lot more to do with my religious beliefs than my political orientation.  On pretty much every issue except for abortion, I was liberal, rather than conservative. As my more Leftist political outlook flowered in high school, I tried to see protecting fetuses as part of a greater concern with social justice and protecting the powerless from harm.  That's at least how I tried to reconcile two sets of beliefs that seemed at odds with each other.  Over time my mind changed, but it took awhile.

Of course, a lot of other people with similar upbringings have yet to change their minds.  When I visited home this summer, I was struck and surprised by the sheer volume of anti-abortion billboards, both on the roads and in the towns.  It was part of the landscape, like the clouds in the sky.  I get the feeling that in that part of the world being anti-abortion is just another way of expressing allegiance to the local identity, as is being conservative, as in "of course I'm not pro-choice, I'm not some sort of weirdo from back East!"  This is the soft middle of the anti-abortion side, the sector you don't hear much about.

Events in Colorado Springs have shown how there is also a violent, extremely radical sector of this movement, one that acts with bullets and bombs.  Unlike what some folks have implied, the soft middle doesn't go for this.  One close family relation of mine lives not far from Wichita, and even though she is very active in supporting pro-life causes, she took to social media to denounce the murder of Dr. Tiller. I'm a little put off by a lot of popular commentary on the anti-abortion movement, because it lumps people together with vastly different viewpoints, even if they agree on making abortion illegal.

Abortion is an issue I have shied away from discussing here, both because it is probably the issue with the least fruitful public dialogue attached to it, and also because I do feel a twinge of shame at breaking from my family members on an issue they probably care about more than any other.  While I tend to take the pro-choice side these days, I am tired of the blanket stereotypes and bad faith when it comes to interpreting the motives of abortion opponents.  I am sure it makes those who want to keep abortion legal feel good about themselves, but it won't help them if their goal is to actually advance their cause.

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