Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reply to "Should pro-life voters vote for Obama?"

To your post, I guess in some ways I've forgotten how much of a stumbling block abortion remains for many Christians. To that end, thanks for reasoning out your piece.

If I may add my own conclusion on the abortion issue, I actually find myself standing in the camp of reduce but not criminalize. Safe, legal, rare. I think pro-life and pro-choice are both worn out and rather useless monikers, and it reinforces the misperceptions that those who support Roe V. Wade somehow glory in abortions and are not pro-life. (I'd argue for a consistent ethic of life, likely not an uncommon phrase to you.) I'd rather talk about those who want to criminalize vs. those who don't.

First of all, as Obama has articulated, when life begins is a moral and theological question, not a political one. In my opinion, good politicians are those who acknowledge this complexity, not spout empty, black-and-white declarations designed to continue to lock down the votes of certain unnamed demographics. Whenever one believes life begins, there is good reason to believe that criminalizing abortion will in no way end it. In fact, if I correctly recall, a recent study found that the abortion rate didn't statistically vary between countries where it was legal or illegal (sorry I don't have the citation off the top of my head). As you mention, abortions are as old as time itself, so do we want a system that criminalizes women and that will ultimately lead to abuse and desperation, or do we want a legal channel for abortions in some cases combined with a comprehensive approach to reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions? I certainly think the latter. (I understand this won't sound tenable to folks who believe absolutely that abortion at any stage for any reason is murder, but again, that is a theological position that is - in my opinion - hard to legislate in a pluralistic democracy. And actually, I think Pew has some good data that the percentage of Americans who actually favor criminalizing abortion w/o exceptions is super tiny; they just often are the loudest, as my time at the DNC last week bears out.)

This leads to a couple other thoughts. First, I think one reason the GOP position on this is so infuriating is the fact that all other policies of that party, in my opinion, wash their hands of the mothers most likely to get abortions and of their babies once they are born. According to their policies, life begins and conception and ends at birth. But they do nothing to support women at risk and nothing to support these very children once born into the world. I think this understanding is undergirded by an overly simplistic and, in my opinion, wrong notion about who is having abortions and why. This very line of reasoning was recently echoed in remarks by Bishop Charles Blake, head of the 6-million member pentecostal Church of God in Christ. Even while pro-life, he identifies openly and proudly as a Democrat because he'd rather be with a party with whom he agrees on 99% of issues than with one with whom he agrees on 1% (namely, abortion, and I'd argue that the GOP stance on this issue is political, not moral).

Second, I think the Religious Right has done a fine job brainwashing the country into binary thinking on this issue, namely, if you believe in God or are a Christian, then you must favor criminalization. If fact, a large number of church denominations have official "safe, legal, rare" stances, theologically argued and grounded. The Methodist Church is one, which is why one can say that Hillary Clinton was actually in line with her church's teaching on this issue (despite the vehemence against her from so many Christian conservatives). Another is my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I encourage anyone to check out their abortion statement and truly follow it's theological reasoning and level of moral deliberation and discourse:

Whether or not one is convinced, I'd hope that the space can be created to acknowledge that sincere Christians who take their faith and the Bible seriously can support Roe v. Wade.

To this last point, I'd also like to point out something Randall Balmer dug up in his recent book (Thy Kingdom Come) about the issue of abortion. As a historian, he argues that the catalyzing factor for the Moral Majority was not Roe V. Wade, but rather, a lower court decision against Bob Jones' discrimination against non-white students. Balmer argues that abortion was only added to the agenda in the late 1970s, years after Roe v. Wade. As part of the case he makes, he points out that the Southern Baptist Convention actually passed resolutions several times in the 1970s affirming Roe v. Wade. Again, this fact might not change minds, but I'm of the opinion that the Religious Right has damaged this issue almost beyond repair by making political hay off of it for the last 30 years. It was begun as a political ploy, not out of moral outrage.

Forgive the long post, and thanks again for your note. Comments welcome!


Anonymous Quentin Banks ( said...

Actually Bob many pro-choice groups do glory in abortions. They want abortions to be available at every stage of pregnancy without exception. Do you remember when pro-lifers tried to work with pro-choicers back in the 90's in the Arkansas legislature by passing a state law that would allow abortions only in the case of rape, incest or the life or the mother? Pro-abortion advocates went absolutely berserk! That's because they know that these are the case in only the tiniest of percentages of abortions and they want to leave it open for women who desire to use abortion as a form of birth control.

I've read enough of the philosophy of groups like Planned Parenthood to know that they want abortion whenever, wherever WITHOUT EXCEPTIONS. How about parental notifications for minors? "No", they say! How about partial-birth abortions? Yea, those are just fine with us!

No one is interested in filling up courtrooms, jails and prisons with women who have unwanted pregnancies but our laws speak to those things we consider right in our society. Roe v. Wade moved the issue of when life begins out of simply being in the moral and theological realm. They are now inextricably linked in our society.

No, there is no reason to believe that criminalizing abortion will end it. Nor is there reason to believe that criminalizing murder in general will end it. But do we therefore reason that we shouldn't have murder laws on our books? Stealing is as old as time itself as well. But we still have laws against stealing because we consider the right to private property a valuable ethic.

Pro-life people see the sanctity of life as a cardinal virtue that should be reflected in our laws, especially regarding those who can't speak for themselves because they are inside the woom: "Hey please don't kill me just because I'm only 5 months old and you don't want me!"

I don't want to stand before God and say that I tried to compromise with pro-choicers on a baby's right to life because I lived in a pluralistic society and it was such a thorny and sticky issue.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Another Bob said...

I read this post now for the first time, on Nov. 8 2008, and appreciate the comment here in response to the circular reasoning of Bob, whoever you are, Bob. Thanks for that clear response, Quentin whoever you are.

3:00 AM  

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