To My Liberal Allies: We are humanitarians. Conservatives are supposed to join us in humanitarian concerns, opposing me-first individualism and stressing people's connections with society and the world, but they haven't been too good at that for the last century and a half or so, so it's up to us. So, liberals, listen up.
In The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), Steven Pinker usefully reminds us of key points by the two rather different philosophers, Peter Singer and Jeremy Bentham. Pinker tells us that in The Expanding Circle, Singer argues "that over the course of history, people have enlarged the range of beings whose interests they value as their own" (Angels 175) — and liberals should see this trend as a very good thing and work to reinforce that expanded circle and, in places, expand it further. In 1789, Bentham clarified a crucial point for, if not animal rights, at least human responsibility regarding sentient life: "The question is not Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" (Angels 148).
So, liberals: Given that we humans do privilege humans, and probably should, we want a broad, and, ahem, liberal definition of "human." Given the often-horrible history of people restricting "human" to "people like us," we need to resist strongly the habit of exclusion. Mel Brooks's 2000-Year-Old Man is a serious nut job, and the seriousness includes his rendition of The First National Anthem as "Let 'em all go to hell / Except Cave 76!" And we have a humanitarian duty to protect as much as possible all sentient creatures from unnecessary suffering.
That does not mean that we back down on abortion rights, but it does mean that we recognize that some place in a pregnancy we get a being close enough to human to deserve some of the rights of human personhood, and that some place in a pregnancy we get a being that may be capable of suffering and deserves protection from unnecessary suffering.
Some place during a woman's pregnancy, she carries a being we should include in "the expanding circle" and whose concerns deserve attention along with those of the mother.
There are practical implications there, which I will get to in my turn to conservatives.
To Conservatives Who've Gotten This Far: A consistent liberal position would be that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, and as early in the pregnancy as possible. In your resistance to abortion, you're moving it intentionally toward illegal but also — I hope inadvertently — also toward less safe and later in the period of gestation. There is indeed "always a death in an abortion," and you're moving that which gets killed closer to a human person, closer to a sentient being capable of suffering in that death. And some of you folk, in resisting birth control, are making abortion less rare.
Now I assume most readers know enough biology and theology to know that "Life begins at conception" is just a stupid statement: yet again, life doesn't begin; it began. According to the Book of Genesis, it began not long after God created the heavens and the earth a good deal back: Happy new year 5773 for the Jewish count; Christians have the world a bit older, so let's round off to 6000 years. The scientific estimate we can round off to 3.5 billion years — and it doesn't matter; it's past tense "life began" and a long time ago. So since most people aren't stupid, what they mean is "Human life begins with a human conception" and you're defining "human" essentially (and I mean "essentially" in terms of essence here) as a human soul.
If you have ensoulment at the moment of conception, you have a human life in a zygote, embryo, or fetus, and killing it is murder, and, in some theories, worse than murder. In some theories, that little human — even when microscopic — is not only an unborn baby but also an unbaptized baby. And the fate of unbaptized babes? That once-famous Puritan minister and poet, Michael Wigglesworth, has God address dead infants, who "never had or good or bad / Effected personally," but still inherited Original Sin (Day of Doom, lines 233-40, 354-57).
A crime it is, therefore in bliss
You may not hope to dwell
But unto you I shall allow
The easiest room in hell.”
There are coherent and elegant arguments to be made against abortion and against contraception and against any form of sex that doesn't lead to reproduction. But nowadays those are religious arguments: after some time in the 20th century, when the human population hit three billion — and certainly nowadays at seven billion and counting — secular arguments in favor of "Be fruitful and multiply" lost their power. Hell, from a religious point of view it's been maybe the one commandment human beings generally have fulfilled. And applying religious rules gets really dangerous in a country not only into sex but with almost equal enthusiasm into sects.
Social conservatives can talk about our being "a Christian nation" or even "a Judeo-Christian nation" or someday maybe even "an Abrahamic nation" and bring in Islam; but they can do so only if they don't get into the bloody — and historically it's been very bloody — details of which Christianity (etc.).
And liberals, here's where I need your attention again, especially liberals with an interest in religion.
If there's wide appeal for making abortion safe, legal, early, and rare, the question is what the objections to that would be, and the major one as a practical political matter is that the means to that goal go against the law of God. Offering contraception and back-up abortion is going to tempt people to sin, and that is really bad: In the Eden story, God is more pissed off at the tempting Serpent than with Adam and Eve.
There are secular arguments to be made against encouraging nonmarital sex, but those are answerable by pointing to European places doing quite nicely with readily-available contraception and relaxed attitudes toward sex as recreation. Indeed, sex can be dangerous, but anything worth doing is worth taking some risks to do, and sex — secularly viewed, taking commonsense precautions — is usually safer than sky-diving or skiing.
The key arguments against contraception and nonreproductive sex are religious, and I think liberals (et al.) need to confront the issue directly. Try this: any God who would damn unbaptized babies, any God who would send kids to Hell for masturbation or anal intercourse or fornication or giving or receiving fellatio — isn't worthy of worship.
So, if you've gotten this far, let us get specific on what is to be done. I say the ethical imperative now in the USA is abortion clinics numerous enough and handy enough for early abortions, and strong social action to make abortion acceptable only in an emergency. That implies "Plan B" availability, preventing that "emergency." An effective program also means coming down hard on US and international pharmaceutical firms to work on contraception for men and, simultaneously, for now, putting strong pressure on men and boys to use condoms.
Such popular culture staples as pornography can be of use here, but more important might be the law. Whether or not to remain pregnant after discovering a pregnancy is the decision of the girl or woman. DNA testing can be used to identify fathers, and fathers can be — and shall be if this argument succeeds — compelled to help pay to raise their offspring, by their indentured labor if they can't find a job. So it's a man's right and duty to control his reproduction, which for now means vasectomy or, if you don't want the responsibilities of fatherhood but do want the option later on — then for now use a condom. (And, of course, more frequent condom use is also a good idea for public health)
So, liberals: Understand that conservatives have legitimate concerns here and that religious people have the most serious of concerns — issues of salvation. Realize that conservatives have legitimate complaints about the coarsening of our culture through, centrally, oversexualization, exhibitionism, and plain tackiness. Liberals and conservatives: Work to make all abortions after the first trimester very rare and a serious medical matter. And conservatives, sorry, but that means you're going to just let some of us go to hell — although you can insist, and occasionally enforce by law, that we do so with minimal annoyance to the neighbors.