Columnists > Voices

So far, we're losing

Moral relativism still dominates the abortion debate

Issue: "Fact & Fiction," Dec. 21, 2002

I WAS HEADED FOR A TWO-DAY CONFERENCE ON THE subject of countering abortion. So with nearly an hour extra at Los Angeles International Airport, I thought I'd find out what the folks there were thinking about the issue.

My poll wasn't scientific. In the end, it didn't need to be. The statistics, skimpy as they were, were overwhelming. The pro-abortionists have won-and the American public has yet to discuss the subject in any serious way.

That, of course, is exactly what the pro-abortionists want. They know as well as we do (maybe a lot better) that if we ever get around to an actual discussion of what happens when a baby is aborted, they'll lose almost every time. But if they can change the subject-say, for example, to the issue of women's rights--maybe then they can bluff their way through.

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My informal, superficial poll at LAX suggests that's exactly what they've done. And they've done it with overwhelming effectiveness.

Over the course of an hour and a half, I approached perhaps 50 people. "Pardon me, sir," or "Pardon me, ma'am," I would start, with my notebook and pen as obvious as I could make them. "Have you ever been asked to participate in a public opinion poll?"

"This is for real," I would then reassure them. "I'm not trying to sell you anything. I just want to ask you-and you don't have to give me your name-two simple questions on the subject of abortion. Is that OK?"

About half the folks I approached fell by the wayside even at that level. But give the other 27 folks credit. They were willing to hear my questions, and most displayed a pleasant enough attitude.

"In the most general terms, do you think of yourself as someone who defends abortion or opposes it?" I hadn't taken time to refine my question, of course. I'm not sure what George Gallup or George Barna would have said about my approach. But it seemed pretty direct and clear enough to me

But it wasn't, apparently, clear to my respondents. For the record, just seven of them said that they opposed abortion; five said bluntly that they defended the practice. But the typical response was to look one direction, and then another, and then to start sputtering about how varied everyone's circumstances were, and how no one could possibly know all the details of any given situation, and after all who am I to judge?

After a bit, I came to expect such a response as standard. Then I would press on and ask again: "But just for you personally, not trying right now to impose what you think on anyone else, do you tend personally to be for abortion or against it?" Now feeling a wee bit safer (and usually reminding me a second or third time how reluctant they'd ever be to impose their morality on anyone else), more than two-thirds of the people I talked with assured me that abortion is something they wish would just go away.

So I asked my second question. "Do you think," I would ask, "that most young people-let's say kids in high school-know what actually happens when an abortion takes place?"

Now the relativizing became heavy duty. "What do you mean?" folks would ask. "Doesn't that depend on when the abortion takes place?" "Don't you have to know more of the circumstances?" And again and again: "Who am I to say?"

Two things impressed me in my mini-poll exercise. The first was that folks were actually ready to talk about the subject-if I could get through the first door of resistance. The fact that so many declined had more to do with people's general reticence than with squeamishness on the topic of abortion. Most would have backed off just as quickly if I were talking about mouthwash or dog food.

But my second conclusion is how desperately we pro-lifers need to engage the actual topic and move the public past the phony issue of choice. Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (more about him in a couple of weeks) reminds us that the "choice" bluff would never be allowed in the context of other profound social issues. Just imagine anyone telling Martin Luther King Jr. that how someone treats blacks really boils down to that person's choice in the matter.

Such relativism has long since been disallowed in most moral debates. The fact that it still works in the Los Angeles airport-and throughout our society-is testimony to what a shabby job we pro-lifers have done so far.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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