I’m a very tall man.
That short claim will elicit a chuckle or two from those of you who know me.
But it’s really just a matter of perspective. The key to tall-hood, according to the Ordinary Man – found amongst the pages of that timeless classic The Phantom Tollbooth - is to surround myself with midgets:
You see, to tall men I'm a midget, and to short men I'm a giant; to the skinny ones I'm a fat man, and to the fat ones I'm a thin man.
Speaking of perspectives, some time ago my daughter joined debate club. A host of volunteers are required to run regional competitions, and in the democratic way in which these things are decided at my house I was informed that I would be a judge.
It was extraordinary to witness these young debaters, most of them just thirteen years old, developing arguments both “pro” and “con”, arguing first one side and then the other of complex propositions, deliberating with surprising eloquence and insight over issues as varied as "slum tourism" and "arming teachers in schools."
Most fascinating were the thoughtful, nuanced opinions my daughter took away from these debates after being forced to explore and defend alternate perspectives. Debate club, I’ve decided, should be made mandatory for everyone, now that open, respectful, rational discourse around social and political issues in our current climate has become as common as hens’ teeth.
As social debates go, few are so perennially toxic as the argument around abortion. So when I came across an article on abortion in the New York Times last year written by philosopher and professor Laurie Shrage, entitled “How To Talk About Abortion”, it piqued my interest. Surely, I thought, no one should be more capable of skillfully tackling this divisive issue in a balanced way than a philosopher.
I was acutely disappointed, alas. It turns out that Ms. Shrage would have much to learn from my daughter’s debate club. The promising headline belied a simplistic, one-sided mess of false equivalencies and faulty conclusions. If she had set out to deliberately inflame the passions of those already disturbed by abortion she could hardly have written a more effective piece. I haven't space here to properly discuss the article’s many failings, but here’s a telling excerpt:
“Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”
That's true enough, so far as the health of the mother is concerned. But perspective matters. From the vantage point of the baby, the safety profile is rather different: the risk of death for him or her is 100%.
I can hear the instant howls of outrage. “It’s not a baby, you ignorant right-wing religious idiot!!”.
Hang on a minute. I’m not "right-wing", nor am I particularly "religious" (I detest the term, actually).
I know that pre-born life, for many of my readers, isn’t remotely equivalent to babyhood.
But for many, many others it is far from a settled question.
One doesn’t need to be “religious” to have an uncomfortable or conflicted perspective on this issue. A couple of years ago I wrote the following, as part of an essay stimulated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “Summer Jobs” fiasco:
I spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit during my training in pediatrics, at a time when by consensus the “age of viability” outside the womb was considered to be around 24 weeks of gestational age (these days it’s as low as 22 weeks – in Japan, for example, practically all “22-weekers” are resuscitated).
It was a period both poignant and precious, during which I was privileged to care for the tiniest humans, beautiful and delicate, some teeny enough to support in one hand.
We intubated them to help them breathe, nourished them through intravenous lines, nurtured them through the perils and pitfalls of prematurity, and rejoiced as they grew and thrived and eventually went home with their parents.
I was often struck by an uncomfortable but inescapable fact: only hours before these cherished babies were born and magically invested with all the rights and privileges and protections of Canadian citizens, just prior to being attended to with ferocious love and unmatched dedication, they were anchored by umbilical cords inside their maternal wombs, “property” of their mothers and amenable to being abruptly extinguished in place.
It’s an open question as to what “science” will bring us in coming years and decades regarding the “viability” of extremely premature babies, and consequently their personhood and by extension their rights. Each era is considered by the humans living within it to be an “Age of Enlightenment” before history consigns it to the annals as only slightly less ignorant.
We collectively and universally agree that newborn babies and children are to be carefully protected, and we go so far as to remove from families those children we deem to be at risk. Few crimes are more repugnant to us than the neglect, abuse, and murder of children; the worst of our condemnation and scorn is reserved for parents who harm their own offspring.
It’s not difficult, therefore, to appreciate that prenatal termination remains deeply and morally disturbing for many people. And it’s darkly ironic that such individuals, fiercely protective of the littlest among us, are dismissively labeled as “intolerant” of human rights.
It’s deeply troubling that the current Liberal government of Canada is (again) using abortion as a political wedge issue to score votes.
Trudeau, our Roman Catholic prime minister who is on record as being personally opposed to abortion, is making political hay out of the fact that his Roman Catholic opponent is personally opposed to abortion. He used the French language debate last week to deliver uppercut after uppercut to Andrew Scheer on the issue.
The mind reels.
Perhaps, I thought bemusedly, I don’t properly understand the Roman Catholic position on abortion. I’m not Catholic, after all.
I pulled up the Vatican’s website to access the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The proscription against abortion is clear:
“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
Abortion, according to the Catholic church, is equivalent to ending human life.
Justin Trudeau, therefore, is on record as opposed to ending human life. Seems reasonable enough, frankly.
Yet he has become an ardent fire-breathing supporter of a “woman’s right to choose”. Which means, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to which he openly and freely subscribes, that he supports the right of a woman to end human life.
Let me just quietly point out that the act of one human being purposefully ending the life of another is defined in every dictionary by one awful word: homicide.
If you are a Catholic - as Justin is - if you are personally opposed to abortion - as Justin professes to be - then what sort of tortured and twisted moral sleight of hand allows you to loudly and proudly declare that you support the right of others to commit abortion - homicide as defined by your very own creed?
And what sort of tortured and twisted political calculus allows you to tar and feather fellow Catholic Andrew Scheer for remaining true to his personal faith, for maintaining the integrity of his personal beliefs, for refusing to shout from the rooftops that he supports “women’s right to choose” abortion?
I’ll tell you what sort of calculus it is. It’s the sort that animates Trudeau’s cynical, cunning scheme to hold on to power. It’s the sort of evil calculation that weighs the preciousness of human life against votes – and decides that votes are more important.
Let that sink in.
Then cast your ballot on October 21.