My position on abortion, in case you need to know that before reading the rest, is that it should be safe, legal, and abhorent.
My argument today, though, is about how we tend to argue about abortion, and other controversial issues, especially in election campaigns. So let us look at a potentially important outcome of this election: the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Obama told Planned Parenthood that signing this act, assuming it passed Congress, would be the first thing he would do as president. Robbie George, a very smart guy and fellow Swarthmorean, says this act
would create a federally guaranteed ''fundamental right'' to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including ... a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons. In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs.
So, what does FOCA actually say?
It is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.
So how do you get from what the act says to all the things that George fears? The answer to this question could be repeated dozens of times in this polarized debate, and most others: Anything the other side does not explicitly prohibit, they must favor.
The point of this kind of argument is not to illuminate the truth. The point of this kind of argument is to create polarization. The point is to eliminate all middle positions. The point is to increase fear of the other side -- by reducing all arguments to Us and The Other Side.
In a free society, you can't prohibit polarizing and fear-mongering. What a centrist can do, though, is be skeptical of any argument that says if you do not prohibit every bad possibility, you must be for evil.