Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion

'Ultrasound 1' photo (c) 2013, Martin Cathrae - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from. 

Growing up in the evangelical subculture of the 80s and 90s, I was well versed in the language of the pro-life cause, as familiar with Roe vs. Wade and the silhouette of a tiny fetus as I was with Disney princesses and contemporary Christian music. My young mind grasped the essence of the pro-life argument—that all of life is valuable, no matter how small or vulnerable—but mistakenly reduced the solution to abortion to a single step—vote for a pro-life president, and abortion will go away. A Republican president meant no more dead babies. It was as simple as that. 

…Until it wasn’t. 

The first president I voted for was George W. Bush. My dad dropped me off at the polling station and I marched into the Rhea County Courthouse to cast my vote for life.  While President Bush endorsed the 2005 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which I supported, he also championed a pre-emptive war in Iraq that costs hundreds of thousands of lives.  His presidency did not make much of a dent in the abortion rate, and even though he appointed conservative judges, Roe vs. Wade remained intact.  By the time W finished his second term, I had graduated from college, come to terms with the fact that the criminalization of abortion is highly unlikely no matter the party in power, expanded my definition of “pro-life” to include Iraqi children and prisoners of war, and experienced first-hand some of the major problems with America’s healthcare system, which along with poverty and education issues, contributes to the troubling abortion rate in the U.S. I remained pro-life idealistically, but for the first time, voted for a pro-choice president, hoping that the reforms I wanted to see in the healthcare, the economy, immigration, education, and for the socioeconomically disadvantaged would function pragmatically to reduce abortions. A couple of my conservative friends called me a baby killer. Several questioned my salvation. 

As I advocated for the election (and re-election) of President Obama, I confess I grew somewhat embarrassed by the pro-life cause. I hated those cars that boasted a “Choose Life” sticker on one bumper and a “You’ll Have to Pry My Gun From My Cold, Dead Hands” on the other. The stubborn commitment to abstinence-only education among many evangelicals struck me as counterproductive to the cause, and those awful statements about how a raped woman has a “way of shutting that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy were shameful and ignorant. Plus, sometimes it seemed like abortion was the only social justice issue my evangelical friends cared about, so they turned a blind eye to the ways in which Republican politics might hurt other disadvantaged groups, or turned my advocacy on behalf of other causes (like gender equality, trafficking, peace, healthcare reform, gun control, etc.) as an opportunity to make a statement about the horrors of abortion in comparison.  It was all picket signs and prayer walks. But I wanted more conversations, and action, around poverty, adoption, and healthcare. 

'stop abortion  now' photo (c) 2008, Steve Rhodes - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

For a lot of pro-lifers, it seemed, abortion was all about the baby.

The woman, and the factors that might contribute to her decision to terminate her pregnancy, didn’t seem to matter much.

But how can we end abortion if we don’t examine why women seek out abortions in the first place? Making it illegal won’t stop it from happening, and yet so many of our efforts are directed toward that end. Aren’t we wasting our time and money by simply throwing it at politicians who wave the pro-life banner, but then do little, practically, to address the underlying issues related to abortion? And why on earth oppose access to birth control and reforms in the health care system when those will likely make the biggest difference in actually curbing abortions in this country? 

(For an interesting look at the problem of categorizing the pill as an abortifacient, check out Libby Anne’s piece on the topic, where she notes that “if your goal is to save ‘unborn babies,’ and if you truly believe that a zygote – a fertilized egg – has the same value and worth as you or I – the only responsible thing to do is to put every sexually active woman on the pill,” because the pill actually reduces the number of zygotes naturally rejected by a woman’s body. Also, this month's Christianity Today includes a short article on how the morning-after pill does not inhibit implantation, but rather blocks fertilization.)

Furthermore, as I became more involved in the feminist conversation (some feminists are pro-life, of course, but many are pro-choice), I began to understand some of the arguments against the criminalization of abortion, like that banning abortion does not necessarily reduce the abortion rate, that enforcing a ban on all abortions would be impossible, and that women would likely seek out abortions through unsafe, illegal procedures anyway. 

I also began listening to heartbreaking stories—from women like Cecily and Tamara who had to terminated wanted pregnancies for their health.   

And when I was honest with myself, I had to admit that I don’t know exactly when life begins (at fertilization? at the first heartbeat? at the existence of brain waves?). Does the Bible, or Christian tradition, really make this abundantly clear? There is even disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so was it really my place to deny a woman who has been raped, for example, access to a morning-after pill? 

And so I remained pro-life in my personal conviction, but I began to question my position that all abortions should be criminalized. I could be against abortion personally, but ambivalent about its legality, right?  I could have my own convictions about this issue without making a scene. It was as simple as that. 

….Until it wasn’t.

Under President Obama’s presidency, the overall abortion rate has indeed seen a decline, but he overturned some of Bush’s restrictions on late-term abortions, and there are these drones in the sky that don’t seem very pro-life to me.  I squirmed on the couch when, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, cheers erupted upon every mention of a woman’s “right to choose.” A lot of pro-choice folks like to say that “no one is pro-abortion,” but when celebratory concert series and festivals are organized around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but question the degree to which we have desensitized ourselves to the reality that abortion means the termination of, at the very least, a potential life, something that should never be celebrated with balloons and rock concerts. 

What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)

For a lot of pro-choicers, it seems, abortion is all about the woman.

The unborn child, and all the complicated, terrifying, and beautiful things its life represents, don’t seem to matter much. 

'Abortion on Demand and Without Apology' photo (c) 2011, Debra Sweet - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So just as I grew irritated with the pro-life movement for its inconsistency and simplistic solutions, I grew irritated with the pro-choice movement for its callousness and disinterest in discussing the very real ethical concerns surrounding the termination of a pregnancy. 

And then the Kermit Gosnell story blew up. 

The story involved dead babies and dead women, the exploitation of poor and marginalized immigrants and minorities, filthy conditions, racism, and multiple governmental failures.  

"This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women,” the Grand Jury reported, “What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths… Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion." 

In response, pro-life made the (accurate) observation that it is a mere technicality that separates the legal termination of late-term pregnancies from the illegal termination of late-term pregnancies so gruesomely exposed by the photos from Gosnell’s clinic.  Pro-choice advocates made the (accurate) observation that Gosnell is being prosecuted precisely because what he did was illegal and warned that, should abortion be criminalized, practices like his would likely flourish. I was pleased to see many pro-life advocates acknowledge that the story highlights the role poverty plays in abortion, admitting that the women in this case were marginalized and vulnerable, and that their needs ought to be talked about more often. I was pleased to see many pro-choice advocates acknowledging that the stark reminder of what happens to a fetus in a late term abortion was rightfully unsettling. (It should be noted that late tern abortions make up a very small percentage of abortions, as do cases of rape and incest…so both sides tend to appeal to rare cases in debates.) Kristen Howerton, among others, had the good sense push past all the pointless rhetoric about a supposed media conspiracy to ask why on earth the state of Pennsylvania didn’t shut this place down sooner. 

Here was abortion—in all of its heartbreaking complexity, with all of its ties to life, death, poverty, exploitation, fear, loneliness, politics, and propaganda—sprawled out on the front pages of our newspapers, and no single side “won.” It was an indictment on our shared apathy, on our shared callousness, on our shared simplistic political solutions. 

“…Because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion." 

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. I was, truly, speechless. 

My conservative friends took the opportunity to chastise and pester me, convinced my delay in writing a post on the topic revealed my participation in some vast media conspiracy and my unwarranted preoccupation with “minor” issues like gender equality in the church. When I explained on Twitter that a post about abortion isn’t simple enough to fit into 600 words, a guy tweeted back, “Sure it is. I can fit it in three: It’s always wrong.” 

Is it? 

When the life or health of the mother is at stake? 

In the case of rape or incest? 

When a woman’s body naturally disposes of a zygote? 

Meanwhile, my more liberal friends begged me not to write anything at all. It’s too complicated, they said, too controversial, too complex. 

Is it? 

When the life of the weaker is taken by the stronger? 

When one out of five pregnancies in this country end in abortion? 

When places like these fail to get shut down in part because we’ve turned abortion into such a political issue? 

I think a lot of progressive Christians like myself, eager to distance ourselves from some of the rhetoric and policies of the Republican brand of the pro-life movement, shy away from talking about abortion, when our call to do justice and love mercy demand that we speak and act to address this issue, even though it may be more complicated than we originally thought.  

In fact, I wonder if an appreciation of the nuances in the debate, and of abortion’s connection to traditionally “progressive” issues like poverty and healthcare, may actually make those of us who are “stuck in the middle” especially effective agents of change.  Let’s face it: We are unlikely to find a single party that truly represents a “culture of life,” and abortion will probably never be made illegal, so we’ll have to go about it the old fashioned way, working through the diverse channels of the Kingdom to adopt and support responsible adoption, welcome single moms into our homes and churches, reach out to the lonely and disenfranchised, address the socioeconomic issues involved, and engage in some difficult conversations about the many factors that contribute to the abortion rate in this country, (especially birth control). It seems to me that Christians who are more conservative and Christians who are more liberal, Christians who are politically pro-life and Christians who are politically pro-choice,  should be able to come together on this and advocate for life in a way that takes seriously the complexities involved and that honors both women and their unborn children. 

In other words, instead of focusing all of our efforts on making “supply” illegal, perhaps we should work on decreasing demand.  And instead of pretending like this is just an issue of women’s rights, perhaps we should acknowledge the very real and very troubling moral questions surrounding a voluntarily terminated pregnancy. 

I am still unsure of exactly how to do this. I don’t even know where to start, really. The more I learn, the more complex this issue becomes. But the Gosnell case does in fact point to something simple: that we are failing to care for the most marginalized and helpless among us, be they unborn children or women whose desperation sent them to Gosnell’s clinic. And we won’t be able to promote a “culture of life” until we are willing to advocate on behalf of both. 

Perhaps God has called those of us who feel “stuck in the middle” to do exactly that. 

###

What do you think?

How has your thinking on abortion changed and evolved through the years? What was your response to the Gosnell story?

And what sort of PRACTICAL steps can Christians take to to both address the complexities of abortion and actually curb the abortion rate?

Note: I'm closing the comment thread, just because once you reach 600+ comments, it's a bit too much to manage. Most were civil and thoughtful, so thank you for engaging!

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Has Pro-Life Become Un-cool?

Transient

My guest post over at On Faith has generated quite a response over the past few days, and I’ve really enjoyed interacting with new readers about what it means for our generation to call a truce on the culture wars. 

Of course, some folks have been critical—both fairly and unfairly. But one blog post in particular caught my attention because, as much as I disagree with the writer about some of the other issues he addresses, I think he makes a fair point about abortion.

Responding to my assertion that twenty-something evangelicals are more interested in championing adoption and taking in single moms than protesting at abortion clinics, pastor and blogger Daniel Darlingwrote: 

"What often frustrates me about my generation is that we’ve decided certain causes are chic and others are signs of narrowmindness. To speak out on behalf of the millions of innocent babies who are sent to their death—that’s labeled extremism. But to speak out on behalf of victims of sex trafficking—that’s noble." (Read the whole post here.)

It is true that over the past two or three years, my position on abortion has become more nuanced. Growing up, I was under the impression that if we elected a Republican president, Roe vs. Wade would be overturned and there would never be another abortion in the United States ever again.  Obviously, this was a naïve perspective in that it overestimated the power of the presidency and underestimated the root causes of abortion, which would certainly contribute to continued abortions even after the practice was technically made illegal. 

So despite the fact that I believe human life is inherently valuable even in its earliest form, I only feel a little guilty voting for pro-choice candidates because I’m often convinced they will do more to address the root causes of abortion--poverty, health care, education, etc.  And as I explained in the post, I think it’s important for the church to embody an alternative in this debate by caring for those who are caught in seemingly impossible circumstances. 

Only now and then do I contemplate just how problematic it is on an ideological level that abortion is a part of our culture. I’ve written blog posts about fair trade, protecting the environment, supporting gay rights, and honoring freedom of religion for Muslims, but I can’t remember the last time I wrote a post about why I think even unborn human beings have a right to live. In fact, today I had planned to write a post speaking out against tentative plans in the Tennessee legislature to adopt immigration policies similar to those that caused such controversy in Arizona, basing my argument on the inherent worth of our Hispanic neighbors. 

I’ve worked so hard to separate myself from the Religious Right and the culture wars, perhaps I just don’t want to be seen taking on their favorite issue

So maybe Daniel Darling is right. Maybe young evangelicals like me avoid talking about abortion because it’s just not as cool as talking about sex trafficking and immigration. 

And maybe that’s a problem.

What do you think? How has your view of abortion changed over the years? And how can we hold to our convictions on this matter without getting caught up in the culture wars? Is that possible?

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Tiller And The High of Easy Outrage

The fact that the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is still making headlines nearly two weeks after his death has led some to accuse the media of exploiting the situation to paint all pro-life advocates as violent extremists.   Although I’m not convinced that reporting on the incident reflects a liberal bias as much as the more practical “if it bleeds it leads” bias, it is clear that much of the rhetoric among left-wing personalities like Keith Olberman has been infused with unfair generalities. 

However, I would caution against anyone pointing the finger when it comes to painting with a broad brush. When we are honest with ourselves, it’s hard not to notice how a part of us rejoices whenever a representative of an opposing ideology does something so horrendous or embarrassing or extreme that we can stand up, and with a rush of righteous indignation say, “See! That’s how they are!”

Both liberals and conservatives, religious and unreligious, privileged and under-privileged are guilty of doing such.

I once attended a lecture in which a right-wing evangelical speaker used isolated examples of eco-terrorism to paint the entire green movement as having a “violent, anti-Christian agenda.” And we all remember the palpable giddiness of the Fox News anchors when the Rev. Wright tapes were unearthed and replayed over and over again during the 2008 election. Sometimes I find myself feeling a little relieved when a televangelist gets arrested for fraud or when Rush Limbaugh makes a sexist remark. It makes it so much easier for me to hate them.

This kind of easy outrage happens whenever someone blames 9-11 on religion or the Holocaust on evolutionary theory. It happens every time Lou Dobbs does a long expose on a crime committed by an illegal immigrant. It happens when we sneer at Miss California as one of those dumb Prop8 supporters or shun the profanity-laced rants of Parez Hilton as the hate of another angry gay.

When someone with whom we disagree clearly crosses the line, it’s like we get a free pass. Our enemies become more manageable and our prejudices more justifiable.  Secretly we are thankful for the chance to pit black against white without having to take into consideration the many shades of gray.

Perhaps we do this because we are lazy. Perhaps we do it because we are insecure. Perhaps we do it because, deep down, we’re afraid of what will happen when we discover there are ways in which we might actually agree.

Do you think the media has exploited the Tiller murder to make all pro-life advocates look bad? In what other situations have you observed such exploitation take place?

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Stem Cells, In-Vitro, and Octomom

President Obama is poised to issue an executive order this week reversing Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem-cell research. A lot of pro-life conservatives, as well as evangelical leaders like James Dobson, adamantly oppose such a move.

I understand why people are against stem cell research, but here’s what I don’t understand: Why don’t more politicians/evangelicals speak out against in-vitro fertilization?  Hundreds of thousands of “leftover” embryos have been created through in-vitro fertilization, and will only be destroyed if not used for research.  To be intellectually/morally consistent, shouldn’t those against stem cell research be against in-vitro fertilization? I’ve heard many a sermon against stem cell research and abortion, but  not a single one against in-vitro.

In some ways, I think that the crazy “Octomom” story that’s been getting so much press recently sheds some light on this issue. In several interviews, Nadya Suleman, who received in-vitro fertilization and gave birth to octuplets, said that the reason she chose to have eight embryos implanted (despite already having six children) was because she believed that each of those embryos represented a life.  Those who agree with her should either support her decision, or take a stand against the whole in-vitro fertilization process.

So what do you think about embryonic stem cell research? What do you think about in-vitro fertilization? Why do you think politicians/religious leaders shy away from taking a stand against in-vitro and yet adamantly oppose stem cell research?  Should the religious community rally around Octomom?

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Let's Talk about Abortion - With Gentleness and Civility

I’ve noticed that nearly every time I post anything about the upcoming presidential election, the issue of abortion inevitably emerges in the subsequent comments.  I know how important this topic is to many of my readers, so I thought I’d take a moment to address it head on and give everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts.

As you know, I plan to vote for Barack Obama in November…not because I think he’s some kind of Messiah or that he embodies all of my values as a follower of Jesus Christ…but because I prefer his policies regarding the economy, healthcare, and foreign relations over those of John McCain’s.  I also consider myself to be pro-life. I believe that abortion is wrong, and that its pervasiveness represents a troubling deterioration in our culture’s view of the sacredness of human life.

While some may see these two positions as incompatible, I suspect that there are growing numbers of pro-lifers out there who have developed a more nuanced approach to this issue, one that acknowledges the inconsistencies within each political party and seeks to find the most practical and realistic way to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in this country.

[If you haven’t noticed, “nuance” is a really hip word this year. I’ve found that it is quite helpful in describing your position on something if a) it takes more than two sentences to explain, or b) you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.]

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I respect people on BOTH SIDES of this highly-emotional and important issue. In the past I’ve been critical of “one-issue” voters who routinely base their vote solely on a candidate’s position on abortion, but I’ve recently toned down my criticism as I continue to speak with earnest and compassionate friends who have every right to base their decision on what touches their hearts the most.

When thinking about abortion and this year’s presidential election, a few questions come to mind.  Hopefully these questions will help by providing a framework for comments that may follow the post.

1. Does life begin at conception?

Catholics and evangelicals generally believe that life begins at conception, based on references in Scripture and the traditional teachings of the Church. The science seems to support this position.  A zygote has a unique DNA structure that technically fulfills the criteria need to establish biological life—metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. 

Still, not everyone agrees that a zygote or a fetus has a soul, and there is disagreement even among the most ardent pro-life supporters about the exact point at which an unborn child qualifies as a human being. (This can be complicated by the fact that some birth control pills prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Does that count as an abortion?)

I’ve heard some theologians argue that the Bible best supports the view that life begins when blood begins to circulate, others that it best supports the view that life begins the moment we draw breath.

My personal conviction is that, since we don’t know for sure, it’s best to play it safe and assume that life begins at conception. (An interesting topic for another day might be how one’s philosophy regarding mind/body dualism factors into things.) Therefore, I believe that an unborn child is entitled to the same rights as a born child.

As a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I feel compelled to speak up for the defenseless. I consider an abortion to be an example of the strong preying on the weak, and I am committed to calling it out as a sin.

However, I do so knowing that not everyone in this country agrees with me. Not everyone believes that life begins at conception, and so not everyone will see an abortion as a human rights violation. So the question then becomes, do we pursue legislation that would force the rest of the country to adopt our religious position regarding life? If the majority of Americans support abortion rights (as public opinion polls show), is it forcing our beliefs upon others to seek to make abortion illegal? How should we handle pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or situations where the life of the mother is at stake? Who would decide?

I feel a little conflicted about this. On the one hand, I am aware that the government trumped public opinion to end segregation, which was the right thing to do.  On the other, I’m not convinced that making abortion illegal would actually end abortion unless accompanied by a sweeping change in the hearts and minds of the American public. 

2. Does Life Continue After Conception? Is it worth protecting?

This may sound like a silly question, but it’s one that pro-lifers rarely seem to ask themselves.

It is estimated that around 4,000 abortions take place each day in the U.S. But consider this:

Worldwide, 30,000 children die each day from preventable diseases. Around 16,000 die from hunger-related causes.

In the U.S., nearly 28,000 babies die each year before their first birthday. As a result of economic inequality and lack of healthcare, the U.S. ranks 29th worldwide in infant mortality. This is a higher infant mortality rate than Cuba.

Nearly 10-million children are uninsured in the U.S.

No one knows for sure, but it is estimated that nearly 200,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the U.S.-led War in Iraq. Around 25,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the war in Afghanistan. These are men, women, and children.

The number of U.S. soldiers killed in the War on Terror has surpassed the number of people killed on September 11, 2001.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the genocide in Darfur. Over 2.5-million have been displaced.

White evangelicals are the strongest supporters of the death penalty, with 74 percent approval, despite growing questions about the fairness of the system.

With these numbers in mind, I can say with confidence that I know very few people who are consistently pro-life. While evangelicals are on the front lines of fighting against abortion, they are noticeably absent from initiatives to intervene in Darfur, pursue universal healthcare, re-examine capital punishment, and end the war in Iraq.

The only difference between a child killed in an abortion and a child killed in a U.S. airstrike is that in the first case, the mother thought the child’s life was expendable, and in the second case, the U.S. military thought the child’s life was expendable…collateral damage. We discredit ourselves by waving the “pro-life” banner when we are nothing more than anti-abortion.

Based on the premise that life is scared from cradle to grave, neither political party can boast a consistent pro-life ethic.

3. What are Obama and McCain’s Abortion Records like?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of Obama’s abortion record. He supported the Freedom of Choice Act that would declare it a fundamental policy of the United States that a woman has a right to get an abortion. This law would make void any state law requiring that parents of a daughter under the age of 18 be notified when she seeks an abortion. I disagree with that position.

Now, as an aside, this rumor that Obama voted in support of infanticide is completely false. As an Illinois senator, Obama voted against a bill that contained language designed to protect infants who were “born alive.” The thing is, there was already an Illinois law in place that would protect infants. Even the Republican state senator who sponsored the bill said that “none of those who voted against [the bill] favored infanticide.”

McCain has a pretty consistent anti-abortion record.  He voted against partial-birth abortion, and in support of the Child Custody Protection Act. However, in the past he has made comments that indicate he is skeptical about the possibility of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision. In 2000 he said, “I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.” He later took the comment back after conservative backlash. McCain voted to confirm the nominations of Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, all of whom support abortion rights.

4. How serious are Republicans about ending abortion?

The first time I voted for George Bush, (back when I was just 19, and a pretty hard-core conservative), I voted for him primarily because I thought that Republicans were serious about ending abortion. But over the past eight years, I have grown more and more suspicious about the Republican Party’s motives in courting the Religious Right on this issue.

Just last night, after the debate, John McCain’s chief strategist was asked by Wolf Blitzer on CNN about the details of a post-Roe v. Wade America.

“That’s too many hypotheticals,” he responded defensively.

It seems to me that if the Republican Party was serious about appointing judges to overturn Roe v. Wade and passing laws that would make abortion illegal, they would provide voters with some specifics about how this would work out practically. How would these laws be enforced? What sort of penalties would doctors and mothers face if they broke them? Which government agency would be responsible for oversight—the FBI? Would gynecologists be required to report pregnancies to the government?

The logistics are, in fact, pretty daunting.

I’m beginning to suspect that Republicans are taking advantage of pro-lifers in an effort to build a reliable base of one-issue voters, and that they have no intention of actually making abortion illegal.  

Randall Balmer writes in his book, Thy Kingdom Come, that “the leaders of the Religious Right have had more than a quarter of a century now to formulate their proposals, but they have failed so far to make public the specifics of their plan…Am I the only person in America who finds it curious that even though the Republican Religious Right coalition seized control of the House of Representatives in 1995, the presidency in 2001, and the Senate in 2003, these conservatives have made no serious attempt to outlaw abortion, their stated goal?” (p. 22-23)

How serious do you think the Republican Party is about outlawing abortion, and, (perhaps more importantly), do you think outlawing abortion would effectively end abortion?

5. Would overturning Roe v. Wade end abortion?

I got this information from a site called ProLifeProObama, which was passed along to me by Laurie, a friend of the blog. According to the site:

Overturning Roe Vs. Wade, a long time goal of the pro-life movement, would not end abortion in the United States, it would simply send the decision to the states.

If states with more than 45% "pro-life" sentiment chose to outlaw abortion, this would only impact 16 states accounting for 10% of abortions nationwide, or less than 100,000 abortions a year.

Women in these 16 states would still be able to travel to seek an abortion in another state, or seek an illegal abortion, making the impact likely less than a 10% reduction in abortions nation-wide.

States with the highest abortion rates in the country, like California and New York, would be unlikely to outlaw abortion in their states.

Nearly half of all abortions in the world are performed in countries that have made abortion illegal.

The lowest abortion rates in the world - less than 10 per 1,000 women of reproductive age - are in Europe, where abortion is legal and available

When all is said and done, I’m not convinced that directing our efforts to overturning Roe v. Wade is the most effective strategy for actually reducing the number of abortions in the U.S.  However, I understand that such a ruling would certainly be an ideological victory, and would make a strong statement regarding our country’s value for human life.

6. What is the best strategy for actually stopping abortions from happening?

I think the Pro Life, Pro Obama site does a good job of addressing this issue. It says, “Many pro-life advocacy efforts have focused on the legal status of abortion, rather than addressing prevention of unplanned pregnancy and the needs of pregnant women and families. This has intensified the division and partisanship around this issue, but has little effect at reducing the abortion rate itself.

Here are some interesting statistics:

The most frequent reasons given by women seeking an abortion are that a child would limit ability to meet current responsibilities and that they cannot afford a child at this point in their lives.

Unintended pregnancy has increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.

Women below the federal poverty level have abortion rates almost four times those of higher-income women.

A recent study by the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good finds that social and economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years.

Economic assistance to low income families is correlated with a 20% lower abortion rate. Across the entire United States, this translates into 200,000 fewer abortions

The abortion rate has declined most rapidly from 1990-1996 when there was an economic boom under President Clinton. While rates have continued to decrease, they have declined less rapidly in recent years when poverty rates have been climbing.

Is it too much of a stretch to argue that Obama’s economic and healthcare policies would set up a better environment for decreasing the number of abortions than John McCain’s?

As the site points out, “under the Obama health plan, no one would be denied health care coverage because of a pre-existing condition. He would change the bizarre practice of pregnancy being listed in many health coverage plans as a ‘pre-existing condition.’”

Furthermore, Obama supports paid maternity leave and expansion of programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership, which allows low-income mothers to get one-on-one support from trained nurses.  

Whose economic policies do you think would most positively affect abortion rates? I’m leaning toward Obama’s—primarily because of his healthcare plan. But I understand that in opting for what I think is the more pragmatic route, I concede the important ideological struggle. In voting for someone who I think will help reduce the number of abortions, I vote for someone who does not share my conviction about the sanctity of human life. Weird. Anyone else out there doing the same?

7. Are Christians willing to adopt?

Finally, I think ole’ Shane Claiborne said it best when he said this:

“It’s easy to have political views—that’s what politicians do. But it’s much harder to embody a political alternative—that’s what saints do. The greater challenge is right living, not merely right thinking….Those who would like to see abortion grow rarer and become nonexistent had also better be ready to take in some teen moms and adopt some unwanted babies… This is why we loved Mother Teresa so much. Mother Teresa embodied her politics. She didn’t just wear a T-shirt that said, ‘abortion is homicide.’ She loved moms and unborn so much, she could say with integrity, ‘If you don’t want to have the baby, you can give it to me.’ Which is why everyone called her Mother.” (p. 235 of “Jesus for President”)

If Christians are going to commit themselves to being pro-life, they must be willing to adopt, work for social and economic justice, and help teen mothers along. (I also think they need to be more open to comprehensive sex ed, but that’s another post!)

***

Whew! Long post! Feel free to comment on any of the seven questions. But before you react to one another’s comments, please recite the following to yourself:

“The person with whom I disagree is a fellow human being who is just trying to do the right thing like me. I will not call him/her names, (like baby- killer or socialist or religious nut), because that’s what little kids do when they are afraid or intimidated…and I’m not a little kid. Instead, I will show respect to everyone, and I will continue to read Rachel’s blog, and I will most definitely buy her book."

Thanks.

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