Fighting Words: Abortion and Civility

Austrian sociologist Hans Millendorfer claims to have discovered, at least in his native Austria, a perplexing correspondence: his statistics show a rise in abortions paralleled by a rise in civility. To those of us who consider abortion a violent and evil act, it seems strange that such violence should be accompanied by an increase in courtesy and politeness. But that is exactly what happens, at least from the pro-life side, in the abortion debate. While there are outspoken and quarrelsome opponents of abortion, most of those who oppose it are willing to treat its advocates with a courtesy bordering on complicity. Even the worst and most gruesome form of abortion, the partial birth abortion, cannot move many pro-lifers to call their opponents anything worse than "pro-choice."

What does abortion have in common with civility? The virtue that abortion lacks is honesty. Civility is not per se dishonest, but sometimes the convention of civility in effect establishes dishonesty. Abortion is based partly on misunderstandings and faulty information, but largely on deliberate deception by its advocates and providers. Abortion involves a high degree of institutionalized and generalized hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that has become so normative that now it is hardly noticed. The hypocrisy inherent in the abortion situation in the United States begins with the language, as in the substitution of the neutral word "choice"...

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