Why We Can't "Agree to Disagree"

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  8/30/1999
 

The solution that some propose to the divisive controversy over abortion is that the opposing parties in this dispute should simply "agree to disagree." This is presented as a reasonable option. It does not require that either side change its views, but simply agree to allow the different views, and the practices that flow from them.

Sorry, but this is a proposal we in the pro-life movement can't accept.

First of all, to ask us to "agree to disagree" about abortion is to ask us to change our position on it. Why, after all, do we disagree in the first place? When we oppose abortion, we disagree with the notion that it is even negotiable. We do not only claim that we cannot practice it, but that nobody can practice it, precisely because it violates the most fundamental human right, the right to life. To "agree to disagree" means that we no longer see abortion for what it is -- a violation of a right so fundamental that disagreement cannot be allowed to tamper with it.

To "agree to disagree" is to foster the notion that the baby is a baby only if the mother thinks it is, that the child has value only if the mother says it does, and that we have responsibility only for those we choose to have responsibility for.

Certainly, there are many disputes in our nation about which we can "agree to disagree." Various proposals, programs, and strategies can be debated as we try to figure out how best to secure people's rights. But these legitimate areas of disagreement relate to how to secure people's rights, whereas the abortion controversy is about whether to secure or even recognize those rights at all. We can agree to disagree whether certain government programs should be allowed, but not whether acts of violence should be allowed. "Agree to disagree" seems like a neutral posture to assume, but it neutralizes what can never be neutral: the right to life itself.

Furthermore, the abortion dispute is not merely about conceptual disagreement. It's about justice. It's about violence, bloodshed, and victims who need to be defended. In the midst of a policy permitting 4000 babies a day to be killed, to "agree to disagree" means to cease to defend the absolute rights of the victim.

We don't fight oppression by "agreeing to disagree" with the oppressor. It is precisely when the oppressor disagrees that we have to intervene to stop the violence. The fact that the oppressor does not recognize the victim as a person does not remove our obligation to the victim. In the face of injustice, we are not simply called to disagree with it, but to stop it.

The proposal to "agree to disagree" presumes the issue is about people disagreeing over abortion, not about people being killed by abortion. The proposal shows how invisible the unborn victim remains.

It is a false solution indeed.