Thursday, July 30, 2015

Abortion, Gun Control, and the Slippery Slope

Abortion and gun control are two hot-button issues that have been in the news lately.  Abortion because of the release of a series of undercover videos discussing the sale of organs from aborted fetuses; gun control most recently because of the shooting in Lafayette.

Let me say from the outset that I don't agree with the type of ambush journalism that led to these videos, nor do I think it is appropriate to politicize tragedies or make policy decisions based solely off of one event or anecdote.  But now that these issues are brought to the forefront of the national conversation, the question is, how do we respond?

Of course, these two issues are very different.  It seems that those who are in favor of one are opposed to the other.  But as I have listened to various opinions and dialogue over the past few weeks on these subjects, I have been struck by the many parallels.

For example, both issues are highly controversial with staunch supporters and fierce opposition.  Both are advocated by entrenched lobbying organizations, namely Planned Parenthood and the NRA.  Both issues have become litmus tests for the party bases.  Both gun ownership and abortion are recognized as rights by the federal government, whether explicitly through the 2nd Amendment or through decisions of the Supreme Court.  And as we have seen lately, abuse of these rights can lead to gruesome acts of violence against innocent victims.

What I have found most interesting is that supporters of gun rights and abortion have invoked the "slippery slope" argument in defense of their positions, i.e. that any restriction of gun or abortion rights will open the door to the eventual loss of the right.  As a result, even the most widely-supported, common sense proposals face heavy opposition politically and are dead in the water before the debate even starts.  This isn't helped by the fact that lobbyists severely penalize Democrats and Republicans for even benign infractions against the party platform.


I am pro-life.  My stance on the issue is best articulated by this statement from the LDS Church:

"...Some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion."

I would never personally encourage anyone to get an abortion, except if the the health of the mother were in jeopardy or if the child is not expected to survive. In cases of rape or incest, I would be supportive of whatever an individual decides, since that is a very personal matter.

Experiencing what I have with my own children - watching as the "plus" sign appears on the pregnancy test, seeing the form of a child take shape on an ultrasound, and witnessing the birth of my son and daughter - I have a reverence for the miracle of life at all stages of fetal development.  As my wife and I sat with the technician at our 12-week or 20-week appointments, it wasn't just a clump of cells that we saw on the screen - it was our child, the same one that now rushes around our house in his Superman cape and tells me he loves me as he drifts off to sleep, or the little girl that smiles and waves to me as I walk out the door on my way work.

And so, wherever possible, I would plead with my friends or family members to consider adoption if they truly don't feel fit to be a parent at this point in their life.

That said, the fact is that abortions have been ruled as legal, at least until the fetus is viable.  And if abortions are going to be legal, I believe they should be safe.  I oppose attempts to shame competent abortion doctors out of practice or to so severely restrict abortions that women are only left with dangerous options.  (And it should go without saying that I oppose violence against abortion proponents.)

While I am pro-life, I at least understand where the pro-choice crowd is coming from, particularly in cases where the fetus has not yet developed.  I understand the notion that a zygote cannot feel pain and is not sentient, so I don't have a good legal argument why destroying a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy should be banned, even though I wouldn't advocate it myself.  I sympathize with women who feel that their reproductive health should not be decided by bureaucrats and legislators, especially those of the male variety who they may perceive as patriarchal and misogynistic (often with good reason).  I agree that abortion should be an option at all stages of pregnancy where the health of the mother is at risk or when the child is not expected to survive, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.

However, in the eyes of the law, once the fetus is viable, the rights of the woman must be reconciled to the rights of the child. And so I am among the 60 to 84% of Americans who believe late-term abortions should be illegal in most circumstances.  I don't know if the number is 20 weeks or 24 weeks or some other threshold, but surely there is a point where a fetus is just as human inside the womb as it will be out.

While it appears that Planned Parenthood didn't break any laws by selling fetal tissue, we should ask ourselves whether buying or selling organs from aborted children should be legal, even if there's no profit involved.  At best, the practice creates a conflict of interest and at worst it is an act of barbarism.

While there are a number of reasons to defund Planned Parenthood, I'm not sure it's good politics.  Planned Parenthood does provide some needed services, including contraception, sex education, and other general health services, particularly for lower income families.  Instead, let's better regulate the activities that such organizations are involved in.

Gun Control

I'm not a gun enthusiast by any means, but most of the people I know who own them have proper respect for them and have taken appropriate training.  For many, hunting is a long-standing family tradition.  And hard as it may be for city slickers like me to believe, in some areas people still rely on guns for food.  (Free advice - don't kill anything with a name.)

I believe the Constitutional right to bear arms should be upheld, but I think there are ways to reasonably restrict access to deadly weapons to prevent accidents and violent crimes.

I agree that keeping guns out of responsible hands doesn't necessarily decrease the danger from irrational criminals, but more needs to be done to make sure that guns aren't getting into the wrong hands in the first place.  At the very least, background checks should be required for anyone seeking to acquire a gun.  Also, I don't see anything wrong with requiring training or licensing, at least for the most dangerous firearms, as long as the process does not put an undue burden on the gun owner in time or cost.

Controlling access to guns does not equate to taking away the right to bear arms.  While it would be unconstitutional to prevent a law-abiding citizen from procuring a weapon, the right to bear arms does not need to be extended to felons or to the mentally ill.

Reasonable restrictions on guns will not necessarily prevent every violent crime, but that's no reason to declare the cause as futile and not do what we can to stem the tide of gun-related deaths in the United States.

Common Sense Solutions

Given the current political environment, any motion to restrict either guns or abortion seems unlikely.  Perhaps the only way to make progress on either front would be to arrange a compromise on the two issues simultaneously, pushing through legislation on both gun control and abortion in a single bill.

And why not give that a try?  If you are a gun advocate, would you sacrifice a few extra days to get a permit or have a background check if it would save viable fetuses from being aborted?  And if you are pro-choice, would you allow restrictions on elective late-term abortions if it meant fewer lives lost to gun violence?

In the spirit of Henry Clay, maybe we can turn two controversies into one win-win victory on behalf of Life.


me said...

Dang, Jeff... I love your blog! Good stuff here. These are common sense solutions to significant and controversial issues. Unfortunately, as you said, people are so unwilling to even listen or try on the other side's point of view. If we did, we might actually be surprised at how much we actually gave on common.
One issue regarding guns and mental health... As one who works in mental health, this is a very controversial issue because clinicians usually have to make a diagnosis to treat a patient... even if they are mildly depressed or anxious. So, at what point is someone considered "mentally ill" and unfit to own a gun? I have veteran patients with PTSD that are very concerned about this issue.

Jeff Smith said...

That is a very good point about PTSD. Ultimately I think it has to be health professionals like yourself who help craft the legislation as well as make the individual determination of whether someone is fit to own a gun. Maybe it's impossible to do so fairly and therefore it will never happen, but I'm not qualified to make that conclusion.