Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Abortion and Politics and Faith, Part III

I've been writing as I wrestle with my thoughts on abortion and politics. It's been (of course) brought up again because I'm a former Obama voter coming in to another election, challenged by other Christians about how a believer can vote for a pro-choice candidate. I wrote about about my evolving views here, and I wrote another about the history of abortion and law in the US here.

Do we really understand each other?

Do you, my pro-choice friends, understand that if we believe actual life begins early on in the womb, this truly becomes an a question of life or death, and so we have a moral and spiritual imperative to care and fight for life? The rights of women and privacy are very important to me, but I can't go to those secondary questions until the question of whether or not we are taking life is solved. Go there with me, and if we solve it then I am right with you in your fight for women to choose.

Do you, my pro-life friends, understand that if someone believes that life begins sometime after conception, then truly this can become a question of privacy and the right of women in their understanding? Have you really analyzed this perspective? Do you realize that in your passionate advocate for the unborn, you have been cruel to other lives?

Do we all understand just how varied opinion is on this in all areas, religion, science, medical, ethically? If there is such variance, do we really want this ruled on at a national level in any direction? I sure don't want the government deciding when life begins.

Where does this leave me?

Technically I fall into the pro-life camp.

When I hear the politicians talk, though, I find myself skeptical. Most say they value life, and so they wish to ban abortion. But, they say, they are reasonable and so  they support exceptions in the case of (insert most given reasons). I don’t understand this. See, if this is really about a concern for the continued existence of a live person, then we don’t make exceptions. It makes me doubt that their philosophy is actually consistent rather than just a conservative political platform.

I see the evangelical church join in abortion protest and yet, you know most of our young women are also going on hormonal birth control, which by the "beginning of life" definition of most evangelicals can cause abortion? Why do we care so passionately about the actions of people on the other side, but we turn a blind eye to what amounts to the same moral dilemma that is rife in our own camp. It sure makes it feel as if this issue is being used more to demonize the other side in political and social discussions and then conveniently forget about it when it might affect our own lives. I don’t know if I really believe we actually care.

And so - I have a hard time considering myself in the pro-life bandwagon, because the bandwagon doesn't make much sense based on the philosophy they're supposedly based on.

Here is here I am left.

I believe Roe v. Wade was a terrible decision. If a fetus is alive, the legal argument the court based their ruling on about the right to privacy is a moot point, and I believe this needs to be addressed. I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

However, does President have the power to overturn this ruling? Not directly. This ruling came from the Supreme Court, and so the people with the power in this question are the Supreme Court justices. The President does appoint them, but unlike lawmakers, you don't simply appoint judges with certain viewpoints and see those viewpoints come out in rulings. Their rulings come from philosophical interpretations of the constitution and law, not their personal opinions on right or wrong.

I am ambivalent. I don’t know that my vote for the President has much power all to influence this particular situation, but perhaps I'm wrong.  Perhaps a President who appoints potentially conservative justices really could sway a court to rule on underlying presuppositions based on when life begins and circumvent the privacy question. Thoughts on this, dear readers?

Ideally, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, I would not, however, place some other law in the books on the national level. If I and my own corner of America and the Church are unable to come to agreement on where life begins and what abortion is, I don’t think it should be legislated for all.

I do believe, passionately, in the power of creating a cultural value of life, and pregnancy, and care for children. We are in a tough spot in terms of advocating for legal change, but we in all corners of this country and the political spectrum can sit down and fight for a decrease in people who feel the need to seek out abortions at all. We can teach our kids to be mature, to fight the nonchalant attitude of our culture towards sex. We can instill around us the value of giving life, even when at times we sacrifice comfort. And we as a church already are joining the church throughout history in opening our arms to adopt, so that there’s always a place for any child whose parents can’t care for them. Celebrate pregnancy. Provide support services.

What do you all think, and how does it affect your vote?


Nate Johnson said...

I think you've done an admirable job of examining the issue more closely. I agree that there is considerable philosophical inconsistency in the pro-life camp.

I do think that in practice the president actually can do a lot to try to appoint pro-life judges. Pro-choice leaning groups have already been warning their base that if Obama isn't re-elected then there may be a majority to overturn Roe vs. Wade within the next several years. It's hard to know for sure, but you can do a lot of research into a judge's past cases and personal background.

In practice, I try to weight the abortion issue more for the presidency and Senate (they confirm the supreme court justices). For the House of Representatives, I'm generally more open to the Democratic argument that they're actually more "pro-life" because anti-poverty measures reduce abortions.

I totally agree, though, that Roe vs. Wade needs to be overturned. Even if we wanted to, a national ban on abortion simply wouldn't be politically feasible. After Roe vs. Wade is overturned, abortion would probably be outlawed in Mississipi and South Dakota, where it's already under severe restrictions, but would continue as normal in California. I think that simple political step could be an important part of building a culture of life in America, though. It's certainly not the cornerstone, but I think it's also worth working towards.

Ultimately, though, yes, families who love their severely disabled children, who adopt, and who support mothers and children in need are the real face and the heart of the pro-life movement, and it's only through their testimony that the hearts and minds of Americans can and will be converted.

Amy B said...

While your assessment of the inconsistency of many evangelical pro-lifers seems to me to be correct, I do want to say that there are large numbers of Catholic pro-lifers and a fair few of evangelicals like me (and you?) who do not feel that hormonal birth control is licit, and who do not agree with the rape/incest exception for abortion. So not all pro-lifers are inconsistent. But, I have felt the same feelings of not being comfortable entirely associating myself with a group that has often been unloving and inconsistent in their rhetoric.

Regarding whether there should even be abortion legislation at all - I am ambivalent about this. So long as there are women (and men) who want abortions, they will happen whether legal or illegal. And along with you, I feel that working for heart-change in people, and working for conditions in society where women won't want abortions are the more important goals. (Although, not all abortions are obtained by women in poverty and distress. I personally know of a woman who had one while married, living in a nice home, with a good job. She obviously had her reasons, probably not ones that could be easily changed from the outside.) So passing a law that nearly half of the country thinks is oppressive and ridiculous and terrible would probably be ineffective at best.

HOWEVER, we do have basic laws to protect people from harm. As well we should. And so if unborn life ought to be acknowledged as such, then it also should receive full protection of the law. So I think continuing to have the conversation about whether or not life is present is important. (Though I find it frustrating because I do not personally find it difficult to come to the firm conviction that we should be prejudiced towards the assumption of life from the beginning. So I can be admittedly impatient with the perspective that either doesn't think life is there, or doesn't care to think about it at all.)

I completely agree that Roe v. Wade should be overturned - not just because I want to see abortion stop, but because it was so poorly reasoned.

Finally, while I think this issue trumps many others in terms of importance because we are talking about HUMAN LIFE, I don't know that I think it has to be a deal-breaker always. If the chances of making a difference are slim, while other issues are quite critical at the time, an argument could be made for voting for a pro-choice person. It would be very hard for me to come to that place, however. The other issues at hand would have to be grave indeed, and the pro-choice candidate clearly preferable.

Catholic Mutt said...

I think you know where I stand. I do not believe in using hormonal contraception, because I do believe in life beginning at conception (well, and a couple other reasons, thank you Humana Vitae).

But I also think that we are doing such a disservice to everyone by demonizing the other side. The pro choice people that I know are truly concerned about women's rights. They're not trying to do something terrible, but trying to help toward good. I think that if we really want to make progress, yes, law changes may help, but what we really need to do is to give the help and support women need rather than tell them what they should and should not do.

And I agree that exceptions should not be made. Life is life. I'll take exceptions for now as an improvement from where we currently are, but life needs to be protected without exceptions.

Rach said...

I like what you said, especially about exemptions...I'm working through a post that I will hopefully publish soon about how exemptions are bad for the pro-life and the pro-choice camps.

This last year is the first year where I have really been trying hard to understand the pro-choice POV. And I think I get it, for the most part. What has struck me as the most interesting is that pro-choicers view beginning of life is philosophical rather than scientific. And...I don't know that I can disagree with them on that point. I am leaning towards life beginning at implantation, but I do attribute that to philosophy that is supported by science.

Anyway, now I'm wrestling with the question of regulation. Do I really thing it is best to legislate my moral and philosophical values when others disagree? I don't know. But I am also relatively certain that in this cultural climate, if abortions are made illegal, many, many women will still have them in less safe ways. And many, many doctors feel strongly enough about this to help them get abortions, even illegally.

So, like you, I see the most value in trying to do what we can on an individual level to make options other than abortion more appealing. Abortion policy is one factor in my vote, but it is no longer the deciding factor.

Rae said...

Your approach is somewhat astonishing to me because we went to such different colleges and live in such different worlds currently. As far as I know, every educated person I know believes that human life begins at conception, it is just a question of what constitutes personhood, and what rights persons actually have. My experience at a "liberal" college involved a lot of encounters with variations of arguments like Thompson's violinist http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

Anyway, I don't see how you can get around the government determining these questions. For the sake of the State's interest in protecting its citizens and keeping peace, it has to determine who is a person with the right to protection. Not deciding is to decide, no?

This isn't to say that I disagree with your ultimate conclusions: I believe that it is absurd to pull abortion out as THE MAIN ISSUE while ignoring the whole host of social issues that lead to abortion in the first place.

AHLondon said...

"When I hear the politicians talk, though, I find myself skeptical. Most say they value life, and so they wish to ban abortion. But, they say, they are reasonable and so they support exceptions in the case of (insert most given reasons). I don’t understand this." Because politics is the art of the practical. I don't like it. No other conservative I know likes it. But the alternative is an outright ban which would not have enough support to pass and invites the problem of enforcement if it did. We shouldn't make a law on principle that we intend to ignore, so what? Incarcerate post procedure teenagers? The political call is to put in place as many restrictions as possible. The personal call is to engage in persuasion and debate on the issue and to work against the forces that result in unwanted pregnancies and to support adoption options. With reasoned persuasion, more restrictions are possible. With root causes work, restrictions are less necessary.
Sure liberal politicians have more good/evil, right/wrong convictions and one might admire their steadfastness in seeking to impose those convictions on society, but if they are steadfast in the service to bad ideas, then that conviction is a problem.

Kacie said...

@Nate, the point about the presidential power in appointing pro-life judges is where I'm trying to face the fact that I may simply be wrong. If that is a point of real power, and it has power this season, I must be sobered and react accordingly.

@Amy, absolutely. I love that Catholics are consisten in their belief and actions on birth control. When evangelicals rag on them for it, I defend them! I also know that some evangelicals also avoid hormonal birth control because of their view of when life begins. In my circles, though, both in Bible College and several churches, probably at least half of the young women (myself included at the time) were using hormonal birth control.

I also think you're right, many abortions aren't caused by poverty, but by a desire to maintain the comfort of the status quo. As long as comfort is our idol in this culture, we'll want access to abortion.

Isaac's point about lawmaking is that we DO want national laws about murder. And if abortion is murder, it should be legislated. It's just hard to imagine us as a country coming to agreement about when life begins, which is the philosophical prerequisite.

@Catholic Mutt, I've said it before, but I so respect that you all who actively following Humana Vitae are consistent with your belief and practice! I also appreciate that you're still respectful of the other side.

@Rach, Yeah, the beginning of life is philosophical rarther than scientific. Interesting. I was in a class where we talked about the point of death. When do we die? We kind of say when the heart stops, but that's also disproven because a heart can be restarted. When brain-waves stop? They also can be restarted. If we made it comparable to the "life at conception" view, it would be when DNA ceases to exist, which is ridiculous.

It's not as clear as I used to think.

@Rae, I think a great many people don't differentiate between life and personhood. That violinist arguement is pretty terrible, but it's similar to the only real pro-choice arguement that's been argued to me by friends. That is, essentially, the life doesn't matter if it infringes on mine. Our own right to happiness, convenience, and comfort is the God. If that's the only pro-choice arguement there is, it's pretty terrible.

I disagree that the government has to determine. I think on many issues it's best if the federal government doesn't decide, and the states are left to make their own decisions.

@AHLondon, if politicians were saying, "I support this law with these exceptions because that is what we need in order to make it passable" that would be one thing. Instead, I heard them saying that they are reasonable people who support the compassionate option of exemptions. That's a whole different message.

Nate Johnson said...

I just ran across this and thought it pertained to the conversation on presidential power and its effect on the nomination of supreme court justices and the possibility of roe vs. wade being overturned.


In short, Obama at least, thinks that "Roe v. Wade is probably hanging in the balance" in this election.