Pro-Life v Pro-Choice: A Conservative Justification for a Third Option

PRO-LIFE v. PRO-CHOICE: A CONSERVATIVE JUSTIFICATION FOR A THIRD OPTION

When the issue of Abortion arises, there are essentially two camps – Pro-Choice and Pro-Life.  Contemporary politics, or at least common uses of the labels, would lead you to believe the following about the two groups.  The first believes in a woman’s right to have dominion over her own body and hence, believes she has the “choice” to determine if she will carry a pregnancy to term.  The latter believes that life begins at conception, and that any subsequent taking of that life is the moral and/or legal equivalent to murder.  The second camp is the home of the group of individuals that label themselves as “conservatives.”  I too consider myself to be a member of this illustrious group and will humbly attempt to discuss our “position” as well as my problems with said position.  We believe in principled governance and we expect our elected officials to share in this belief.  A noble endeavor no doubt, but it is curious to this conservative how simply pledging allegiance to this Pro-Life camp without further explanation or justification, and ignoring every other piece of evidence that would infer principled governance, gives one the “conservative” credentials that a principled electorate so passionately longs for.  Why do we as conservatives time and time again continue to deny admission to our illustrious group any individual who even hints at the idea of opening a dialog with the other camp?  Is our goal to find like-minded individuals, or is our goal to save the lives of innocent children?  Given that “preservation of life” implies nothing about increasing our “membership,” I would be inclined to assume it was the latter, but that doesn’t always appear to be the case.

My own thoughts and frustrations with this “vetting process” have led me down many roads in search of answers – many of them admittedly taking me to the limits of both liberalism and libertarianism in pursuit of clarity on the matter.  I find it hard to believe that one can truly be committed to the goal of protecting innocent life if he cannot allow himself, even for a moment, to attempt to understand the rationale of the other side.  After much deliberation and personal reflection regarding the issue, I have come to the conclusion that we simply need more “camps.”

My exploration of the Pro-Choice camp has led me to the belief that while we as “conservatives” need to be mindful of their rationale, it is of little importance to our position on this issue.  Their position on Abortion is derivative of an entirely different paradigm as the focus is on the mother’s rights rather than any determination of said rights being afforded to the unborn.  I do not dismiss that position on merit or even as a matter of politics, I simply believe that once this examination has been undertaken, it is more important for us to focus on solidifying our own position rather than deliberating over how to discredit the opposing argument.  For we too are not without flaws.  In fact, I think we have many.

So focusing on the Pro-Life camp, I am led by many of my “conservative” peers to believe that this is a moral choice; it is the religious choice; and accordingly, it is the only choice.  As a Christian myself, I appreciate this position but I am deeply confused by the fact that many of my “conservative” brethren forget that Christianity is a personal choice as well.  It is not compulsory for this or any American to affiliate with any religious institution or agree with any religious belief – Christian or otherwise.  Our 1st Amendment guarantees that we have the Right to practice religion in any manner we see fit – or to not practice at all.  As “conservatives” this right forms the justification for nearly every argument that we make in the public forum and the political arena.  With that in mind, I am deeply troubled when, on issues such as this, we abandon that 1st Amendment high ground; and rely upon as the foundation of our Abortion position that- this is a moral choice; it is the religious choice; and accordingly it is the only choice – and fail to see how said justification flies counter to the spirit and the letter of the 1st Amendment.

As I stated earlier, I am a Christian and I do believe that one’s faith has a role in the political process.  I think it is our Right as Americans to vote for candidates in a manner that reflect our values.  That being said, I believe that far too often, those on the political Right confuse the difference between conservatism as a philosophy or ideology with what many consider being “conservative” in one’s daily life.  The latter typically implies an emphasis on things like family values or a religious upbringing.  While I certainly believe that those things are virtuous, I do not believe that they encapsulate what conservative ideology is truly all about.  I see it more as a process toward decision making, or in a political context –  a process that leads to policy formulation or choosing positions on issues.  The everyday role of “conservatism” is no less important, it is simply individual in nature – as I believe the spirit and the letter of the 1st Amendment intended for it to be.

I believe that this distinction is where many “conservatives” get thrown off course on this or any issue.  They read political websites and hear speeches given by candidates that show a laundry list of “issues” that they support, and they say things like “we believe in family values, a strong national defense, the preservation of life, the sanctity of marriage, and the Right to Bear Arms.”  Then proudly written somewhere on the page or read loudly in the speech is the word “CONSERVATIVE” and they believe they have finally found their man.  Now I would like to believe that these politicians understand that they have just fused the ideology and the principle together in the same message, but I do believe that many “conservatives” no longer understand the difference between the two.  It is this problem that I would like to address and will try to do so by using the subject of Abortion.

THREE POINTS BEFORE WE MOVE ON

Before reading on I would like to make three quick points. The first being.  We send our elected officials to Washington to represent us based for the most part on the major “conservative” talking points:  Abortion, Same Sex Marriage, Preservation of the 2nd Amendment, Lower Taxes,  Smaller Government, and States’ Rights.  That’s not an exhaustive list, but it pretty much hits the high points.  While each of these talking points obviously plays at least an ancillary role in many other debates, how many days does either House of Congress spend dealing expressly with these key issues?  If you’re answer was less than 365, maybe you should be more concerned about your politicians deliberative process than you are with the talking points he / she can recite on the campaign trail.

The second point I would like to make before we begin is this.  We as conservatives often associate our own views with many of the previously stated positions or “talking points,” so it is only natural that we would expect our representatives to do the same.  My question to each of you would be this.  What do we really know about said candidate if all we know is that they are smart enough to agree with a list – that they know they cannot oppose and still get elected?  I would say nothing.  I believe our focus should be on their approach to conservatism rather than the end result.  It is the approach that will guide them through the legislative process each of the days that they sit waiting patiently for Abortion and Gun Control to emerge on the docket.

The third point is related to the issue of Abortion.  Many conservatives argue that if one is not “Pro-Life” then they are in fact “Pro-Abortion.”  I will attempt to mask my disdain for this label by simply stating that I believe such a conclusion is misguided and only serves to discredit the true justifications of the “conservative” position.  Put simply, if conventional thought regarding the “Pro-Life” position is that Life begins at conception, does it really make someone a proponent of Abortion if they simply believe life begins further along in the process?  Are they suddenly marching in protests with signs championing abortion services just because their view of life begins at a later stage?  I would simply point out that I believe that such an individual could absolutely dismiss the “Pro-Choice” argument and think abortion is an abomination on the most unforgivable of levels, yet still disagree with the moment that life begins.

THE PROCESS

As a conservative, I believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution.  I believe that Principle is my guide in this endeavor.  It gives me the conviction to do so in the fashion intended by our Founding Fathers.  I also believe that said Principle – being absolutely individualized in nature and not subject to compulsion by this or any government – gives me the strength to defend my actions because they are based upon the religious, moral, and social standards that I have chosen for myself.  With that in mind, I do not assume, imply, or even infer that any other “conservative” or any other American for that matter shares a similar set of principles to my own, and I recognize their freedom to be guided by whatever source they deem worthy.

Putting this philosophy into action on the issue of Abortion leads me first to the Founding documents.  The Declaration of Independence told us that we were “endowed by our Creator” with the Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – that was kind of an important document in the history of the United States and the world for that matter so I hold it in pretty high regard.  More importantly it laid the foundation for the drafting of our Constitution.   From that document comes the idea that there is a ”right to life” – so that is where we will begin.

The problem arises when determining where life begins.  Courts have deliberated, people have argued, and scientists have debated this point endlessly and without conclusion, so we’re going to bypass these conflicts and focus on the problems specifically related to the “conservative” position.  Until the Supreme Court is made up entirely of Justices that possess both medical and law degrees, I am going to assume that they are just as biased and ill-informed as the other side – and as we are for that matter.

So where does life begin?  As a conservative, I believe we start with strict interpretation.  Not that this is groundbreaking to anyone, but there is no mention of Abortion to be found in our Founding Documents.  If this were a normal case for Strict Interpretation we would then move on to ancillary debates, contemporary writings, speeches from the Founders, etc…. and at a later date we can fight over which of those takes precedence.  On this issue, there’s really not much if anything out there, so the work is quickly done.  If there was a smoking gun, don’t you think we as conservatives would be using it by now?

So that leads us to that second point – our individualized set of principles that guide our decision making process.  We will ignore social and non-religious moral factors that may contribute to one’s core principles, and focus purely on religion for the interest of time.  Lets say our Faith tells us we believe life begins at conception – we won’t murky the waters with how birth control confuses that debate either – we will simply say when sperm meets the egg.  Real scientific – I know.  Thus, any termination of that life would thus be “murder” under that standard.

No rocket science here – I know.  Contemporary political debates would lead one to believe that this is the position of any and all conservatives.  My question… is this really the case?  And… is this really the most consistent and “conservative” position in the first place?  I will pose a few scenarios here that might flesh out my point and illustrate my argument that it is really religion and not conservatism that is driving our stated position on this issue.

What if a conservative came along?  Lets just call him Thomas Jefferson.  He was a champion of individualized Principle protected by the 1st Amendment, so we will use his name here.  Jefferson dismisses the Pro-Choice argument and believes abortion is murder.  What if Thomas Jefferson, relying upon his own 1st Amendment protected list of principles, which were only loosely “religious” in nature, believed that life began at birth?  His religion, or more accurately, his guiding principles led him to believe life begins when a baby is born.  This would certainly disqualify him from the Pro-Life camp in the 21st Century, but would it make him any less “conservative?”  Perhaps more importantly, would it make him Pro-Choice or dare I say Pro-Abortion?  Maybe it makes him something else.

Lets throw another scenario in here too.  In this one, we will call our conservative Ronald Reagan.  Ronald Reagan dismisses the Pro-Choice argument and believes abortion is murder.  What if Ronald believed that life began when a fetus reached viability – when it could live on its own outside the womb?  His position is admittedly more difficult to get our hands around because viability is a subjective standard when it is viewed in a speculative context, and it will continue to change throughout the course of time with improvements to medicine and technology.  With that in mind, how would we view Ronald Reagan if his set of principles led him to believe that life began when a fetus could live outside the mother?  Would he be any less “conservative,” and would we label him with the Scarlet Letter of the Pro-Choice camp?   Would we allow him to characterize his position as Pro-Life if he believed that life began somewhere after We say it does?

The unfortunate reality facing both Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan is that they would undoubtedly be dumped in with the Pro-Choice camp.  Even having dismissed that train of though from the outset, we still find ourselves labeling two individuals as part of a group that follows a completely different thought process and was never even part of their deliberation.

So where does this leave us?  On the most personal of levels, I would argue it doesn’t change a thing.  From a practical standpoint, it leaves us in a rather precarious position if we are Jefferson or Reagan.  They must either subscribe to the “conservative” position or face certain banishment from that camp even though their respective positions are based on their own individualized set of principles – just as ours were only coming to a different determination.

A NEW APPROACH FOR CONSERVATIVES

This dilemma has led me to the conclusion that the “conservative” community must consider an alternative approach to this issue.  The current position alienates genuine conservatives who only disagree based on their own social, moral, and religious principles.  Excluding them or characterizing them as “less conservative” because of this and this alone is the height of hypocrisy.  How can we as the last line of defense for our Founding documents and the greatest champions of the 1st Amendment turn a blind eye to its letter and spirit on a fundamental issue such as this, and walk away believing that we have an ounce of credibility to call upon it in any other?

The truth is… we cannot.  So what do I propose?  I would humbly submit that we as conservatives cast this debate in an entirely new light.  Either we must abandon the old label of “Pro-Life” and look for something more reflective of its true meaning, or we must open our doors and bring in the Jeffersons and the Reagans of the world who also share in our belief that all Life is worth saving.  The Pro-Choice camp can keep its label.  It is of no matter to us.

Practically speaking, such a position may even begin to bring a few of the Pro-Choice’rs over to our side.  They are not ALL the “Pro-Abortion” sinners that so many “conservatives” try to characterize them as.  Many of them simply struggle in the same way that many conservatives do.  They are frustrated with the role that organized religion plays in framing the debate without admitting its presence.

I have no doubt that some of you reading this will immediately question my “conservative” credentials.  You will be quick to label me many things – the last being “conservative” and I am fine with that.  I would only ask each of you to ask yourself this one question.  Is being conservative about the process of decision making – in the political sense or in the practice of our day-to-day lives – or is it about a laundry list of talking points that “conservatives” are supposed to remain loyal to?

At the end of the day, I am Pro-Life – even by the “conventional standard” that I have just spent this time calling into question.  That being said, I will proudly accept any label my “conservative” brethren would bestow upon me if doing so helps in any way to shape this debate in a more reflective light.  I genuinely believe that the conventional “conservative” position is anything but conservative as it is expressed in contemporary politics.  I believe it is merely an expression of personal beliefs masked in the legitimacy of “conservatism.”  I believe this endeavor discredits true conservatism with every word that is uttered in its name.  I believe that real progress will not be made on this issue until ALL conservatives can admit that their position is rooted in religious, social, and moral beliefs rather than an ideology which would never intend to make any of those compulsory.  Conservatism is about principled governance, but it is not about choosing those principles for American citizens, and being Pro-Life is about saving the lives of the innocent – not about telling our fellow citizens where that Life begins.

Also Linked at The White Sepulchre / Makes My Brain Itch

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  17 comments for “Pro-Life v Pro-Choice: A Conservative Justification for a Third Option

  1. January 12, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Whew…! Damn T, that was something.

    Because I’m too exhausted after reading to comment intelligently, I’ll just say that I’m happy there was a conservative kid at my alma mater with enough balls to call Obama a “Pro-Abortion Extremist”. I, too, have a picture of myself in cap-and-gown next to the Lion Shrine and that’s the best damn accessory I’ve seen.

    Homerun piece. When I catch my breath I’ll have to distribute this.

    • T. CHRISTOPHER
      January 12, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      Many thanks Russ. I was asked in a comment to clarify my position on this or a similar issue so this was the result. I too have taken a break for a bit to rest after a couple of hours of rambling. Small world on the picture I suppose. Is that Hofstra?

      • January 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm

        That’s the Pennsylvania State University Lion Shrine in State College, Pennsylvania a/k/a Happy Valley.

        • T. CHRISTOPHER
          January 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

          That would have been my second guess if I wasn’t factoring in geography. Looks a lot more like Nittany Lion than the Hofstra pride now that I take a second look.

  2. Longhorn Fan
    January 12, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Really insightful post T Christopher. I haven’t heard conservatism distinguished from what the mainstream believes to be conservative in this manner before or at least not from a conservative. You have a very unique argument for your abortion position. I find it refreshing that you can think critically about your own beliefs and even what you are supposed to believe as a Christian conservative. This was very well done.

    • T. CHRISTOPHER
      January 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      Thank you very much for your comment Longhorn fan. I like to think I focus on the “why” questions rather than the “Whats.” I happen to think that keeps me grounded and it helps me stay true to my stated process. Thank you again for your comment and my condolences on the BCS. If Colt would have stayed healthy you guys would have rolled that tide.

  3. Charles M
    January 12, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I like the post but did you think about addressing the 10th amendment debate that some call the libertarian position? I am a believer that this is a states rights issue and belongs in the 50.

    • T. CHRISTOPHER
      January 13, 2010 at 2:08 am

      Thanks Charles. And yes, I absolutely considered the 10th Amendment analysis. I agree with you that many characterize that as the libertarian position. If you were to look at the link at the bottom of my page I think you will find a similar argument there.

      I could spend half a day in a room with someone who shares that position and not get anywhere frankly. Not that either of us is wrong – its just that both of us could not be right. For the sake of this argument, I needed to get past that point as the results are not all that dissimilar if you get past that point and choose a forum -at least in theory / in practicality maybe not.

      Its essentially a 1st Amendment issue either place as the Incorporation Doctrine of the 14th Amendment made 1A applicable to the states as well.

      I don’t know that it was that detrimental to leave out but I probably should have mentioned it. I thought about squeezing it in, but as you can see I am long winded and it would take a while. I know it would have in all likelihood pleased my libertarian friends to have seen it there, but they weren’t exactly the target audience on this one.

  4. Moderate Democrat
    January 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I found your article very interesting. While I am pro-choice, I do not consider myself to be pro-abortion. As with other issues, I find it interesting this third idea of someone who opposes the ban of abortion but would not consider getting one if the occasion arose. Until conservatives and liberals start to agree to compromise on issues, I am stuck here in the middle being a half assed pro choice college student.

    • T. CHRISTOPHER
      January 13, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      Well I certainly appreciate your comment and the courage for someone to admit that they are a moderate democrat around these parts. I have to tell you that while I love to destroy moderate Dem’s who hold public office, if you are a college student there is still hope for you. At least you have not fallen too far to the Left for us to ever be able to pull you back.

      As to your comment, I appreciate your sentiments. As a Pro-Life Republican I find myself frequently frustrated with the similarly situated as they are unwilling to even open a dialog on this issue bc they fear it will lead to a tidal wave of abortions. I simply think that selfishly and stubbornly puts what is perceived as principle ahead of the most important interest of all – protecting innocent life. If we cannot engage in political discussion with those we disagree with on the issue that most Americans put near the top of their list, how can we ever expect to find a solution to this problem?

  5. Me
    January 18, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  6. B. Daniel
    January 21, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Mr. Christopher, I see your essay as a scholarly piece and I believe a very useful analysis to support finding a way to bring together conservatives who agree on other important issues but have varying views on what “pro-life” means. If you will permit I would like to add my thoughts to this discussion. I am not breaking any new ground here but this is how I see it.
    Two beliefs: 1) As a professional life science researcher I have no doubt that human life begins at fertilization — not debatable to me on the pure biological level (sperm penetration of the egg produces a complete genome in an omnipotent cell and yields a zygote – that is life — period). 2) The word for wanton, willful taking of an innocent, defenseless human life, e.g. a fetus, is murder.
    But human existence itself is not perfect and choices sometimes need to be made and some choices are life and death decisions –they happen in war, in law enforcement, in legal executions, or also unfortunately, in the course of human procreation. For a human pregnancy the question of what morally justifies the “choice” to abort is the core of the debate.
    I suggest that there are certainly gradations to what choices should be morally permitted. I, (like most?) would almost always agree with the moral validity of an abortion to save the life of the mother. I am less enthusiastic or flexible on abortions performed to end the pregnancy resulting from rape and incest – but by definition these are not planned pregnancies.
    I am much less willing to agree with a decision to abort a fetus because genetic testing indicates certain or a likely fetal disease or malformation – but I agree this is a very difficult situation.
    I totally reject the choice of an abortion because of some life style inconvenience, e.g., a change in life status or because the fetus is of the “wrong” sex.
    So to me, as to most of us, all “choices” are not morally equivalent. The ultimate and most inhumane choice is infanticide – such as a “partial birth” abortion. This choice, in my opinion represents a nadir in the definition of humanity.
    The Roe v. Wade decision of the SCOTUS also considered gradations and recognized a growing interest of the State in the welfare of rights of the fetus with the stage of gestation. This is something many pro-choice people prefer to ignore or refuse to discuss. In fact, most pro-abortion individuals really only look to Roe v. Wade as a “justification” for abortion (its legality) and refuse to acknowledge the restrictions.
    But why would it be unreasonable for me, with my moral position clearly staked out, to place levels of acceptance toward conservative candidates based on what degree of choice they allow? I would never accept a candidate even conservative (limited governance, fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, protection of our boarders etc.) who supports a partial birth abortion – or the kind of infanticide that results from allows a fetus surviving from a failed abortion to die under a towel – a position supported by President Obama for example.
    On the other hand wouldn’t it be reasonable for me, and others, to prefer a conservative candidate that supports a reasonable definition of choice even one that is more tolerant than mine own limits or a candidate who truly accepts in all the elements of Roe v. Wade? These seems to me to be a middle ground that is not firmly pro-life but not an unfettered pro-choice either.
    This seems like the level of “moral compromise” that I can live with. I guess another way to say it is I can see a moral reason to support a conservative who will favor policies that do impose a certain level of restriction on abortion as to one who has an unqualified pro-abortion position. Fewer abortions are not as desirable as the absence of abortion but I chose this over more abortions.
    Some will take acceptation to this kind of morality. But I believe that demanding a “perfect” world or candidate in this matter will insure that we move increasingly away from a “good” world. In a “good world” we can rationally work with people of good will to reach a more perfect world.
    Staying home and refusing to accept or vote for a less than perfect conservative – on all issues – it the Achilles tendon of conservatives. You can but rarely have “everything”.

  7. February 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it with

  8. April 29, 2010 at 7:12 am

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  9. May 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    I wrote a couple articles about the exact same topic but you seem to know a bit more about it than I do.

  10. June 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    The Supreme Court successfuly upheld the 2nd admendment. The only thing concerning about this case was that it ended up with a 5-4 majority.

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