The President spoke eloquently this week on the need for Americans to find common ground on the issue of abortion.
He made a start by naming the ONLY common ground—the desire of almost everyone to reduce the number of abortions done each year.
And that’s the end of the “common ground” conversation. People don’t even agree on WHY they want fewer abortions. Some people think abortion is a bad thing. Other people think the need for abortion is a bad thing.
The anti-choice side (we’re ALL pro-life, after all) says it takes a “moral” position—that abortion is wrong. The pro-choice side says it takes a “moral” position—that adults should have personal autonomy.
So OK, everyone has a moral position on abortion. These positions may conflict, but they’re both based on a moral vision. Neither side can logically deny that—these positions are based on equally heartfelt, equally clear, moral visions.
What is NOT equivalent, however, is the political relevance of these moral visions.
The success of our country, our political system, and our way of life comes from a set of principles—unusual in the history of the world—that are NOT up for discussion.
The most important one of those principles is this: Everyone is allowed to believe what they want. Adults are free to do what they want, as long as they don’t hurt other people. In exchange for this extraordinary freedom, adults are expected to tolerate other adults believing and doing what they want.
While the pro-choice and anti-choice positions are equally based on morality, the difference between them politically is quite simple, and quite profound.
The pro-choice position is “I’ll behave according to my morality, and you behave according to yours.” The anti-choice position is “I’ll behave according to my morality, and you must behave according to mine, too.”
And that’s the end of the common ground that our President, and all these feel-good dialoging communities, yearn for.
So let’s acknowledge the real world.
Let’s all agree to do what we can to reduce the number of abortions. Let all the self-described “pro-life” people finally prove that they’re genuinely against abortion–and not simply against sex—by supporting contraception, and the sex education that encourages people to use it.
Beyond that, the “common ground” is to be found in our uniquely American legacy.
Over two centuries ago, our founders created a system that magically made it possible for people with conflicting moralities to live and thrive together. Until then, human communities were either morally homogenous, or they lived with continuous warfare. America was the first country with neither, and so it has been a fountain of creativity and wealth—and yes, religious fervor—ever since.
The system works. People just have to live within its rules.
There’s a name for people who want to undermine the political system in order to impose their moral viewpoint on their fellow citizens. In other countries, we call them terrorists.