"Women should have the right to kill children, as long as they are still inside of them. But, it is killing children. It's just that it is OK if they do."
These are the words of comedian Louis CK when he performed last month in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. The 20,000 people in attendance applauded and laughed, pushing down any evidence of being offended and basking in the hilarious logic, wavering in their own minds as to whether it was offensive, non-fictional or both.
Abortion is probably the most divisive, complex issue in modern times. It ensnares every other polarizing conversation like religion, gender, socioeconomic conditions, class warfare, politics, even race. A collision of emotional anguish and legalese envelops all those who dare engage with the impassioned teams from the other side -- the enemies of truth, the hypocrites too drunk on ideology to engage sensibly.
I always believed that as a man I should just keep my head down when tempted to weigh in on the abortion debate. A part of me still feels that way, but after my partner and I brought two kids into this world I felt an incorrigible, nagging voice that will not go away. This voice, when I allow it to speak, feverishly runs through the typical pro-life and pro-choice mantras, arguing with itself until I am mentally exhausted from the mutual blind spot of each side. I only knew two things for certain: if my wife had had an abortion a year and a half ago, my daughter would not be on my lap as I type this piece, and she should never lose the right to end a pregnancy.
You are either with us, or you are a murderer. You are either with us, or you hate women.
There are several contradictions embedded within the two accepted positions of abortion politics. In the pro-choice camp, the definition of a fetus changes depending on whether or not the mother wants to keep the baby. If she doesn't, a fetus is just a bunch of mingling cells, an organic compound that does not constitute an actual living thing. But if she does want to start a family, that fetus becomes a miracle, something to be protected at all costs. This malleable definition is understandable, given the enormous magnitude a decision like having an abortion carries, but is still impossible to reconcile considering the deference to logic and consistency we must give the definition of a singular thing.
Meanwhile, the pro-life camp continues to place religious people front and centre to articulate the notion of a fetus being a living thing. After decades of losing the argument by putting god before science, religion before logic, they still appear unable to grasp why theocracy is not an effective starting point if your goal is to increase the support for preventing abortions in the first place. Add to that a vehement tendency to place abortions side-by-side with strangulations and drive-by shootings, and you have a camp unwilling to adjust their dogma to the detriment of society itself.
Everything about this issue makes my head explode. First and foremost, there is an unhealthy prerequisite of undying support for one group or the other, a destructive starting point steeped in deliberate polarization that works as a barometer and an albatross for both groups.
You are either with us, or you are a murderer.
You are either with us, or you hate women.
Lovely, I know, but also an accurate depiction of the insanity that grips this issue. Accusations of misogyny are a typical ruse by pro-choicers when describing pro-lifers, a fallacy of epic proportions as it ignores one obligatory fact: far more women are against abortion than men. In fact, if it were not for men co-signing a woman's right to choose, abortion laws would have been challenged more fiercely a long time ago.
But in our hyper-chivalrous society, men are being asked to shut up and nod politely as they help hold the abortion door open, a cynical reality given the vital role they play in the debate. And while there is some fodder to spotlight where old men attempt to be the sole arbitrators of women's health, by and large men are the most valuable allies in the fight to keep abortion legal.
I believe as a society we should strike the balance between supporting this right and labelling it accurately.
All of this leads me to believe that we need to scrap the pro-life and pro-choice labels so we can usher in a new era of rationalism and honesty. Taken on its face, I am more inclined to side with a pro-choice argument from a legal standpoint, but the branding of that label has been poisoned, commandeered by radicals who are disinterested in discussing real ancillary issues such as mental health and the societal impact of abortion. If you've ever known a woman who has had a miscarriage or who has given birth to a stillborn baby, you know the emotional toll both those situations carry. Abortion, from what I am told by women who have had to make that difficult choice, is nearly identical.
On the other hand, from a biological perspective, I am more inclined to side with a pro-life position; abortion means ending a life. But again, this label has been politically poisoned and is a paradoxical position if you do not believe in forcing women to give birth, or in punishing them if they do.
Once you really boil down the dominating talking points and focus on the scientific, emotional and legal realities, you come to a fairly uncomfortable conclusion: Louis CK was right. Abortion should remain legal, and it is literally like ending a life. Our society, for better or worse, has decided that this is a self-defence issue, in the realm of justifiable homicide where a woman is given the authority to destroy another human being in the early stages of life, and I believe as a society we should strike the balance between supporting this right and labelling it accurately. By doing so we can probably better educate men and women on birth control, mental health, and the impact abortion has on relationships between mothers and their families.
And perhaps, by erasing the pro-choice/pro-life labels, we can succumb to a more rational, less polarized dialogue where demonization becomes a relic from the past.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost: