Witness two columns published today, from two different sides of two technically separate but closely related issues. First, regarding embryonic stem cell research, comes A Middle Ground for Stem Cells by Yuval Levin, an advocate of President Bush's position restricting funding for embryo-destructive research:
At its heart, then, when the biology and politics have been stipulated away, the stem cell debate is not about when human life begins but about whether every human life is equal. The circumstances of the embryo outside the body of a mother put that question in perhaps the most exaggerated form imaginable, but they do not change the question.
And thus, Levin completely (and probably deliberately) evades the point, because this question has already been addressed, and is being addressed, and the answer thus far is a resounding NO. Abortion policy, as it stands, dictates that not only is embryonic human life less valuable than another human being's life or health, it is less valuable than another human being's convenience--by Constitutional law, there can be no restrictions whatsoever on abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, which certainly covers the stage of prenatal development we are concerned with here.
Embryonic stem cell research is a subset of the abortion debate. If abortion were a settled issue, then there would be no controversy about embryonic stem cell research--it would either be an unthinkable atrocity, or a better use for the waste products of an abortion than simple disposal.
It's because abortion isn't a settled issue that we have both sides forced to jockey over stem cells, each looking to gain a back-door advantage over the other without really admitting what it is that they are after.
And speaking of abortion, the same deceptive tactics have long been at work there, as well. Witness our second column, Roadblock to abortion compromise by Ellen Goodman:
For at least a dozen years, anti-abortion activists tried to portray their pro-choice opponents as the extremists. But gradually, from Terri Schiavo to Plan B to stem-cell opposition, the right wing overreached. In that reddest of states, South Dakota, voters in November repealed an abortion ban that echoed the theme: No exception! No compromise!
Meanwhile, pro-choice groups spent those same years listening to the people who want to keep abortion legal but less numerous. If there are 3 million unplanned pregnancies and half of them end up in abortion, you do the math. The point on which most Americans agree is reducing unplanned pregnancies.
In any debate, the easiest way to win, especially when your own side's arguments are defective, is by defining or redefining the issue in such a way that the parameters favor you--so that it is impossible for your opponent to win. That's exactly what Goodman is doing here, with a "middle ground" strategy that has also been adopted by Senator Clinton (itself a descendant of her husband's famous declaration that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare").
Note how the abortion debate is framed, not in terms of the nature of the act of abortion itself, but in terms of reducing the number of abortions. If you accept this as the ultimate question, then the debate becomes a question of reducing abortions by outlawing abortion vs. reducing abortions by reducing pregnancies--a utilitarian angle that the pro-choice movement will win every time.
The "extremist" pro-life argument, by contrast, is that, since abortion is murder, it necessarily follows that legal abortion is government-sanctioned murder--a grave evil in and of itself, and something that should be eliminated, regardless of how effective it is at reducing the number of abortions.
Instead, the corresponding "extremist" pro-choice argument opposed to this--that it's not government-sanctioned murder (or, alternately, that government-sanctioned murder is just fine)--is disguised as part of the compromise. Under false pretenses of "reaching out" to the opposition, the pro-choice movement seeks to secure for itself a permanent advantage on the only question that really counts.
It's slick, it's condescending, it's deceptive--in short, it's perfectly in keeping with the character and methodology of the pro-choice movement.