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Visualize for a moment what would happen if San Francisco hosted a rally on the hot-button topic of abortion. How many people would you expect to show up to support each side?

Well, considering that San Francisco is the city that regularly votes in overwhelming numbers for Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, two of the strongest abortion advocates in Congress, and that San Francisco is perceived as being among the most liberal cities in the nation, you would likely anticipate the pro-choice side to vastly outnumber the pro-life side at any rally.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Because when the anti-abortion group Walk for Life staged a march in San Francisco last Saturday, January 23, they turned out an overwhelming and jaw-dropping 40,000 pro-life activists, who were met by a well-advertised counter-protest which managed to draw no more than 80 (that’s eighty, eight-zero) pro-choice advocates. 40,000 vs. 80 is a 500-to-1 pro-life advantage, something that seems inconceivable in the sex-positive liberal stronghold of San Francisco. How did this happen?

We’ll get to verifying the attendance levels at the end of this essay (skip down to the section below called “The Numbers” if you’re curious now). Meanwhile, let’s get a taste of what the day was like!

This picture shows what miracles a deceptive camera angle can wreak. As the huge mass of pro-life protesters assembled for the march, a small contingent of counter-protesters awaited them here across the street. Could you guess from this photo that the pro-life marchers in the distance outnumbered the pro-choicers by 500 to 1? Because the handful of pro-choice counter-protesters are in the foreground, they fill the camera frame impressively — while the pro-life contingent fades away into the distance.

Always pay close attention to news photos! Even an undoctored image can be framed in such a way as to deceive.

Dueling Narratives

This sign kind of summed up with perfect concision the two-pronged pro-choice strategy for the day. The “text,” to get all postmodern, is to focus on women’s ownership of their own bodies and their individual rights of self-determination. The “subtext” is to intentionally destroy any sense of propriety in the proceedings, to use vulgarity and sexuality to rob the other side of its innocence and somehow in the process thereby drag the pro-lifers into the gutter where prim virginity is no longer a source of power but rather something to be mocked.

The fatal flaw in this horribly ill-conceived two-pronged strategy is that that subtext totally undermines the text, and vice versa, so that the argument ends up canceling itself out. Any legitimacy your point of view might have had instantly evaporates when you start yelling “Cunt cunt cunt!” in your opponent’s face. You can try to win by having a rational debate; alternately, you can try to win by punching below the belt; but if you try to do both simultaneously, you are sure to lose.

(And no, don’t ask me what’s going on in the crotch region of that sign — I couldn’t figure it out either.)

This impressive banner encapsulated the other most common message that the pro-choice side tried to put forth: that the pro-lifers’ religiosity was the basis for their “hateful” beliefs, and that they were mostly not from the Bay Area and were thus outsiders bringing an unwanted ideology into a liberal enclave.

Once again, one wonders if the total irrelevance of the pro-choice message is intentional or not. So much effort went into this banner, and yet it in no way addresses the concerns of the people on the pro-life side. As a result, I imagine that the banner was completely ineffectual in changing anyone’s mind, and instead seems to have been made solely for the amusement of the pro-choicers.

Here’s a video of the pro-choice side chanting their favorite slogan, one which they repeated over and over for hours on end all day long:

“Christian fascists go away, abortion rights are here to stay! Right-wing bigots go away, abortion rights are here to stay!”

I understand that each side strives mightily to frame the abortion debate in their own terms, because to even acknowledge the opponents’ point of view is to lose the argument. But if you’re actually trying to change hearts and minds, squandering your brief time on the soapbox with a statement like “You’re all a bunch of assholes — go away!” isn’t going to do the trick.

Full Disclosure:

(In American politics, one is not really permitted to discuss the abortion issue while feigning impartiality. There’s no such thing as neutrality anymore. So I should say where I stand on the issue, since my stance will likely affect your perception of this essay.

I am mostly, though not enthusiastically, “pro-choice.” But that doesn’t mean I am pro-abortion. I think abortion is gruesome, and is often traumatic, and should be avoided if at all possible. Yet I balk at the notion of the government dictating which medical procedures are allowable, and at bureaucrats intervening into the inviolable relationship between doctor and patient. In other words, my libertarian bent and anti-authoritarian attitude trump my strong distaste for the concept of abortion. This is made possible by my personal assessment that an embryo is not a fully fledged and legally definable individual until it reaches the level of “viability” — in other words, until it becomes mature enough to survive outside the womb, which is at around five-and-a-half months of gestation.

This issue of “ensoulment” — the point at which a human egg becomes a separate human life — lies at the heart of the abortion debate, though it is rarely discussed in overt terms. Opinions range from the “Every Sperm Is Precious” Monty Python family to late-term abortion advocates who say a baby isn’t a baby until it draws its first breath. Me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think a one-hour-old fertilized egg counts as a separate legal entity, nor do I think that a premature 7-month fetus can just be tossed into the garbage can as so much excess tissue. In my admittedly non-expert opinion, at some point a fetus’s brain develops to such an extent that it achieves awareness of its individual consciousness; and at some point its body matures enough that it could survive outside the womb. Both of these developmental markers seem to happen right around the point of earliest “viability,” somewhere between five and six months of gestation. And so, lacking any more likely indicator of a fetus’s moment of “ensoulment,” in my (once again admittedly non-scientific) opinion, that’s the point at which a fetus can be dubbed a separate human being with all attendant legal rights.

Because of this, although I reluctantly must concede that the state should not outlaw abortion up to five-and-a-half months, I strongly oppose late-term abortions after that point, because at that late stage, abortion could be considered homicide.

I realize that this middle-of-the-road position will likely please no one, and may possibly even anger some readers on both sides of the argument for not being sufficiently pro-choice or pro-life. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything nor draw adherents to my point of view: I’m just laying all my cards on the table so you know where I’m coming from. Whatever my personal opinions are about abortion, I can still cast a critical eye on both sides of the debate and see where they fail and where they succeed. Now: On with the essay!)

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