In the weeks leading up to Obama's speaking engagement at Notre Dame's graduation ceremony, many news sources covered the controversy it stirred up among pro-life activists who were gearing up to protest his presence there. At least one source claimed that a positive effect of the hubbub was to promote open debate on the abortion issue.
While appealing to emotion is an element of debate, what really differentiates it from what most people refer to as arguing is the fact that a successful debate makes points and counters points brought up by the opponent in a primarily civil tone, using accurate facts and consistent logic, in addition to appropriate framing or context for the issue. A good example of the difference between a debate and an argument can be seen in the difference between the Obama/McCain presidential debates, which were heated at moments but mostly civil, compared to a passionate argument between a parent and teenager, where respect, civility, logic, factual accuracy, and appropriate contextualization are often sacrificed in the heat of the emotions.
In attempting to post my opinions on comment threads at the end of some articles on the controversy around Obama's speaking at Notre Dame, I did not find Christian pro-life activists engaging in anything like a civil debate. In fact, I found that the only substantial difference between the arguments between my Catholic parents and me during my teenage years was the fact that, as an older and wiser person, I take more of a logical, civil, debate approach then I did back then.
In attempting to engage in debate with Christian pro-life activists on these comment threads, here is what I encountered. Every logical point I tried to debate was ignored, and I was repeatedly subjected to personal attacks. Not a single pro-life activist attempted to address any of the salient points I presented. They refuse to acknowledge that one of Christ's primary missions on earth was to alleviate suffering, while forcing women to bear children when they are not emotionally, physically, socially, psychologically, or financially ready to do so have the effect of promoting poverty and domestic abuse. They refuse to acknowledge the enormous amount of resources it takes for a woman to go through a pregnancy and raise a child, or to acknowledge that many women do not have access to these resources. They refuse to acknowledge that abortion prohibition would disproportionately affect the already struggling poor, while rich woman can sell a summer home to pay for pre-natal and child care, or fly to another country for an abortion. They refuse to address my points that they could lessen the instances of abortion by supporting better schools, affordable daycare, and social programs that would help ease the burdens of struggling or single mothers. They do not attempt to address the fact that only one third of all fertilized eggs in a woman ever come to term, or how closely a woman's choice to have an abortion resembles this natural process, since both take place when circumstances are not conducive to the health and well-being of either the mother or the child. They refuse to acknowledge how their stance implies that they think they have more rights to a woman's body than she does. They do not attempt to present any counterpoint when asked how forcing a woman to have a child against her will is any different from the historical agenda of the Catholic Church as an innately patriarchal institution. They refuse to acknowledge that it is fundamentally misogynistic to blame the problems of humanity on women, particularly in this time when most of the problems of humanity are byproducts of masculine values of conquest and invention. They refuse to address any of the numerous historical instances of oppression, exploitation, or mass murder that have been committed over the centuries in the name of Christ.
The approach they take is as follows. Logic, civility and context are lost in their arguments, which rest mostly on emotional appeal. Repeatedly, elements of my comments were taken out of context and they constructed arguments around my misrepresented words. They do not address how forcing women to have children against their will fits perfectly within the context of a patriarchal institution. With so many of them supporting the death penalty and the Iraq war, and some of them even assaulting and killing people who perform abortions, they refuse to address the lack of logical consistency in their self described "pro-life" stance. They give no credence to the fact that humanity has always used "making love" as a way to share love and closeness, as the term implies, and not simply as a means to procreate. They habitually imply or state outwardly that abortion is murder, which is both a visceral emotional appeal and an enormous slander against people who provide, defend or have abortions, and serves to silence any women struggling to recover from the difficult decision of having had to chose an abortion, particularly women who were inculcated with a sense of guilt and inferiority in their Catholic upbringings. As if vilifying these women with the term "murderer," and screaming "Murderer!" at them, were not bad enough, they repeatedly evoke images of piles of dead baby parts, and some display those grotesque images prominently at their protests. Not only is this a visceral emotional appeal that re-traumatizes women who had to make a heart-wrenching decision, often after enduring date rape or exploitation from some patriarchal male, it misrepresents abortion itself, which in the vast majority of cases is not performed on near-term fetuses, but on developing embryos.
Just as in my adolescence my parents would end "debates" with "Because I said so!â€? Christian pro-life activists end their "debates" with "Because God said so!" They refuse to address the fact that we live in nation where religious freedom is supposedly accepted, that we are supposed to have a separation of church and state, and the fact that in this era of mass communication no one can claim ignorance to the fact that there are many ways to conceptualize god.
Obama had hoped that the pro-choice and pro-life contingents would engage in debates without dehumanizing each other, but how is that possible when the pro-life contingent repeatedly proves itself incapable of engaging in civil or logical debate? Meanwhile, women who find themselves in the no-win situation of having to choose between bringing a child into bad circumstances or terminating the pregnancy are supposed to remain calm, cool and collected, while members of a notoriously patriarchal institution label them as murderers. On top of the personal attacks and the overall insulting and invalidating nature of the pro-life approach, I was also attacked for referring to extreme Christian pro-life activists as "these people." Considering the beatings I endured from my old-school Catholic father, the exploitation and date rape I endured from abusive and sexist boyfriends, the abortions I endured rather than risking perpetuating the cycle of abuse and poverty, all on top of the fact that I have to live in a "man's world," if the strongest epithet I use is "these people," I think I am the one showing self control, under the circumstances.
In this context, if I am vilified for referring to them as "these people," what is the point me attempting to state things diplomatically? If I am going to be vilified no matter what I say, then I should say what I really want to say. Of course, being who they are, pro-life activists will repeat the following quote out of the context of this essay. Taking things out of context is what they do. So, since they play dirty and vilify me and condemn me to hell in this world and the next no matter what I say, here is me not pulling any punches:
The "pro-life" stance is simply a perpetuation of Christianity's fundamental crusade against female empowerment. Raping a woman and forcing her to bear children are two sides of the same patriarchal, misogynistic coin; where-in men claim more rights to a woman's body than she has. The term "pro-life" is a misnomer since very few people who promote this agenda put equivalent effort into protesting the death penalty or unnecessary wars. Even the ones who have consistently pacifist stances refuse to acknowledge that people also have a right to quality of life. Most of them do not know it, but they are being manipulated by powerful people to help perpetuate the creation of an underclass who have so few options that many of them are compelled to join the military and become cannon-fodder for dirty wars. Followers of Christ, wake up and see that you were too busy persecuting gays and women and defending priests who sexually abuse children to notice that you took a wrong turn.
Wow. Even after everything I was still able to use restraint! If enough people keep screaming "Murderer!" however, I imagine that eventually I could begin screaming back a stream of obscenities followed by words like "brainwashed idiot."
At this point, I am actually thinking that an effective way to get "these people" to engage in civil debate rather than personal attacks, would be to launch a massive class action suit of slander and libel against people who state or imply that people are murderers if they have, provide or advocate the right for women to have standard abortions. While most people agree that taking the life of an innocent person is murder, only people with a very specifically patriarchal agenda equate murder with taking the potential life of a potential human who must live inside a woman's body and consume her resources in order to actually become a person. Pro-life activists who scream "Murderer!" are insensitive and insulting, and their slander and libel is just another indication of their innate misogyny.