It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said that the test of a first rate intellect is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. I've certainly done my best to adhere to this standard -- to compartmentalize the separate sides of the various cognitive dissonances that have presented themselves throughout my life, all in an effort to avoid the gears in my brain grinding to a halt. Trust me when I tell you that this is an important skill to master when you've got a past filled with positively atrocious behavior that you feel like you need to rationalize.
With that in mind, there's one bit of intellectual dishonesty that I've never been able to get my head completely around -- I'm talking the kind of crossed signals that leave me feeling like NOMAD the killer robot from Star Trek, bouncing off the walls, smoke coming out of my head, shrieking about how I must -- STERILIZE. And maybe that's why it's the one subject I've for the most part avoided writing about.
The other day, I was driving through Fort Lauderdale when I happened to come upon a protest outside of what I assume was an abortion clinic. If it wasn't, then the poor people inside the place had to wonder why some guy was standing on their sidewalk holding up a six-foot-tall picture of an aborted fetus and a giant wooden cross. My first reaction was, of course, anger, because regardless of how I myself feel -- or anyone feels -- about the abortion issue, it's unconscionably offensive to display images of that nature in a place where children who happen to have made it out of the womb can ostensibly see them. Holding a public street corner hostage -- and in certain respects, that's exactly what these people were doing -- in an effort to make what is essentially a political point is a form of terrorism. And that's not even taking into account the fact that it feels like it can't be more than a short hop from being the guy willing to stand on a sidewalk holding a dead baby in one hand and a cross in the other to being the kind of True Believer devoted enough to take the fight to the next level, if you get my drift.
Oddly, and for the life of me I can't really explain why, my opinions when it comes to abortion have never really been swayed by the gruesome images of shredded fetuses that are so popular with the truly psychotic among the self-described pro-life crowd. Maybe that's because I feel like they shouldn't be necessary; it should be obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes and an adherence to reality what abortion does to the tiny being whose image in a sonogram, under different circumstances, would bring intense joy to a woman, couple, etc.
And that's where the dissonance comes in: I fully support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. I do this even though I think that, in many cases, abortion is an absolute wrong.
I realize I'm opening one hell of a Pandora's Box by saying this, and that I'll likely be accused of being a patriarchal monster who wants to deny women the right to control their own bodies and their own destiny, but let me stress once again that, particularly from a political standpoint, I think a woman has to have the last word over what happens to her. But by the same token, I do agree with those who say that abortion is a decision that should by no means be trivialized, which is why it's always made me queasy to hear at various feminist rallies the indignant cries of "abortion on demand," as if those calling for such unrestricted access to the ability to end a pregnancy have no real appreciation for the seriousness of the subject they're talking about. Getting an abortion isn't the same thing as ordering a pizza and it shouldn't be treated as if it were. I'm certainly not claiming that everyone, or even most women, are militant to the point where they approach an abortion with little or no understanding of or feeling for the significance of the decision they're making; on the contrary, I really do believe that terminating a pregnancy is an act that's rarely taken lightly and that those who choose it often do so for reasons that deserve unequivocal support and compassion.
But where I have the problem, where it all goes wrong for me and twists me up inside, is that it is simply impossible -- particularly with the kind of technology that now provides a veritable window to the womb -- to deny that a fetus is a human life. It is. That's just all there is to it. I'm of course willing to concede that in the earliest stages of a pregnancy, the fetus resembles a tadpole more than anything else, and since I'm not approaching this from the point of view of someone who's religious, I couldn't care less about whether a new soul is created at the moment of conception; that's complete rubbish as far as I'm concerned. But by the time the second trimester rolls around -- and abortions are still very much permitted at that stage -- that fetus looks quite a bit like what it is: a baby. You can call it whatever you'd like to make yourself feel better about it -- and I fully admit that I often do, simply to prevent the aforementioned cognitive dissonance from growing too loud and impeding my ability to function -- but that's a kid you're carrying. Just ask anyone who's thrilled about being 15 weeks pregnant.
But back to the religion question for a moment. I can't help but think that it's unfortunate that the Christian ultra-right has hijacked the abortion debate, because in reality this isn't a metaphysical question at all; it can be argued from the point of view of almost pristine logic. Even if you take the notion of God completely out of the picture -- and I'd highly suggest that you do -- you still have inarguable physical evidence of something growing during pregnancy that's completely separate from the mother in which it's incubating. Separate brain waves, separate limbs, separate life. The only question is: At what arbitrary cut-off point do you declare that that life is developed enough to deserve deference at the very least, protection at most?
Those protesters standing on the sidewalk had it all wrong. They didn't need the giant cross because they had the image of the dead baby. The didn't need religion on their side. They had reality.
And yet in the end I still can't bring myself to support their cause, either way.