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Rhetoric dangerous on abortion issue

Ryan Williams | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Over the past several months, our country has seen a notable deterioration in the level of civility and rationality in public discourse. Reasonable voices advocating practical solutions to our nation’s problems have been silenced; drowned out by bitter partisans on both sides of the political spectrum who zealously cling to their own view of the world and reject all others without a second thought. These slaves to ideology would have Americans believe that every single issue is another front in a contentious, ongoing war between good and evil. Nowhere is this divide more evident than in the controversy surrounding this past weekend’s 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.

The rhetoric surrounding this divisive issue is filled with searing vitriol and righteous indignation. Social and religious conservatives would have you believe that every supporter of a woman’s right to choose is a heartless, baby-killing monster whose hands are stained with enough blood to doom them to an eternity in hell. These fervently dogmatic extremists have as their sole objective an absolute ban on the performing of abortions in the United States, without care or regard for the human and societal consequences of such action. On the other side of this divide are those ardent partisans who would paint all opponents of abortion as racist misogynists seeking to impose their own morality onto their unwilling fellow citizens.

Rhetoric of this kind is not only counter-productive, but also leads to human tragedies like the horrific murder of George Tiller, an abortion-providing doctor who was ruthlessly gunned down by a pro-life fanatic while serving as an usher at his local church service. The grief and devastation experienced by this man’s family and friends will only become more common as long as the extremists on the left and the right are the only ones doing the talking. Americans need to understand that they do not have to choose between these two polarized viewpoints, that even on this incredibly contentious topic, there is a common-sense middle ground on which we can all agree, once we acknowledge that abortion is not the black and white, good versus evil issue that so many make it out to be.

The decision to have an abortion is one that no woman makes lightly. For many women, it is the most difficult choice they will ever have to make, affecting them for the rest of their lives, and it is a decision that can only be arrived at after weeks of anguished contemplation. Demonizing these women, as many on the right are wont to do, is both cruel and unjust. These women do not choose to go through with an abortion because they are too busy or too lazy to raise a child; they choose it as a last resort because they feel that they have no other options, and because they cannot bear the thought of bringing a child into a life of pain and suffering. Because of this sense of desperation, criminalizing abortion will only lead women to pursue unsafe, back-alley treatments, which we know from the past almost always have horrific and gruesome consequences for both mother and child. Instead of overturning Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion, we as a nation should be doing more to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country, by providing mothers with more options and alternatives so that they do not feel that abortion is their only choice.

Reducing the number of abortions performed in this country is a goal that all Americans can hope for and share, and we all eagerly await that day when abortion is no longer seen as a necessary last resort. But that day has not yet arrived, and until it does, abortion must remain a viable option for women. Those zealous fanatics who march around carrying graphic images of unborn fetuses, or who stage elaborate protests designed to misinform and defame others, do a disservice to themselves and to their country. Americans of all political stripes yearn for the day when divisive partisan debates over abortion are no longer necessary, when all women feel confident and comfortable enough to give birth to their children. And until that day comes, we as a nation would be best served to follow the advice of former President Clinton, and ensure that abortion remains “safe, legal and rare.”

Ryan Williams is a sophomore. He can be reached at twilli15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.