What’s It Like To Be You?

The state legislature of Oklahoma recently passed a bill criminalizing the performance of abortions by physicians in that state. Doctors faced the threat of losing their license to practice medicine in addition to other sanctions. Ultimately, the governor vetoed the bill, but it spawned another round of emotional and often ugly arguments about what may be the most divisive issue in a country that is about as divided politically as any time in its history. If you are opposed to abortions, it is easy to demonize those who perform them; in some cases, anti-abortion activists have been moved to violence, even murder. Well, it occurs to me that it would help to better understand both sides, doctors and anti-abortion activists, but how best to do that? I recommend fiction, and although I do not have a recommendation for better understanding anti-abortion activists, I’m sure they exist. For the doctor, you can’t do better than John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, which is the best treatment of the abortion issue that I’ve ever read. No data or journalistic reporting will ever aid understanding like a work of fiction. The narrative structure allows the reader to enter the mind and life of the characters, and in this book, there are those in opposition to abortion as well as the doctors.  Fiction lets you know what’s it like to be someone very different from yourself, which is good ammunition in preparation for an intelligent argument.

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