Tuesday, October 10, 2006

There's More to it Than Choice

I’ve recently read that the Supreme Court is going to start taking up abortion cases soon. I doubt that, in the end, things will change much. As John Roberts, the conservative Chief Justice, said in his confirmation hearings, Roe v. Wade seems to be “settled law” in America. That is, abortion on demand is something that America wants.

In last night’s Gazette, Don Coldsmith, a local writer, expressed his views in an op-ed piece. While he said that he objected to the use of abortion as a method of birth control, he supported the right to abortion because of the difficult cases he had seen (rape, incest, fetal anomaly, etc.) as a practicing physician here in Emporia. He also said supported abortion on demand because, in his view, abortion opponents are religious extremists bent on imposing their will on America’s women. And, finally, he claimed that those trying to find a political solution, or any solution, to the problem of abortion, are un-Christian.

I sent a response to the Gazette a while ago. I’m not sure it’ll be published, but that’s not as important to me as making my feelings known.

I’m actually quite surprised that he even published the piece. What axe did Mr. Coldsmith have to grind? It came at a time when the pro-life movement in America is pretty much dormant. As the Chief Justice said, abortion on demand seems to be settled law. America wants abortion, and America will have abortion, and anyone who objects is a narrow minded religious bigot.

My response to the Gazette follows. I am posting it on my blog to express the view that my role in the debate is far less to change the world than it is to keep the world from changing me. I have a conscience and I will not allow public opinion to determine what I believe is right and wrong. Abortion on demand may indeed be legal; but I believe it is morally repugnant:

Upon reading Don Coldsmith’s op-ed (“When does life begin?”) in yesterdays’ Gazette I spent some time considering areas where our philosophies aligned. Like Mr. Coldsmith, I object to the use of abortion as a birth control method. I don’t believe that government can, or should, compel religious belief. Like him, I understand there are times when pregnancy brings on agonizing choices for women.

He cited the difficult cases - rape, incest, and fetal abnormality - to support his contention that abortion is a civil right. While I understand the difficult decisions these cases bring, they are not the heart and soul of abortion in America. In Guttmacher Institute studies conducted in Nebraska from 2001 through 2004, rape or incest was given as the reason in 60 of the 19,235 abortions performed, three-tenths of one percent of the total! During that same period there were 88 abortions in which fetal-anomaly was cited, one-half of one percent of the total. The most frequently cited reason was “socio-economic” (11,453 cases, about fifty-nine percent of the total). The next two in order of frequency were “no contraception used” (3,651 cases, nineteen percent) and “contraceptive failure” (3,250 cases, about seventeen percent). The statisticians may employ euphemisms to deaden to awful blow, but the truth is the primary reason for abortion in America is birth control. A viable human being has been conceived, then not wanted, and somewhere in the process is discarded.

There should be an eagerness to solve the problem, but that’s not what’s happening today. It’s not about the difficult cases; it’s about economics and a philosophy under-girded by the notion that many of the un-born are unwanted social burdens. We’ve come to the place where it’s becoming truer by the day. To paraphrase the words of the old Bahamian spiritual, “Life is a thing that money can buy; the rich will live and the poor will die.”

Like Mr. Coldsmith, I support the free expression of religion. That freedom has brought great change to this country. The abolitionists of the nineteenth century, for example, used explicitly religious rhetoric to demand an end to slavery. Their words thundered from America’s pulpits and public squares. Great Americans like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglas, and Sojourner Truth spoke and acted forcefully against the evil. Their great anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was both a religious and moral statement. Its words are as true today as they were when they were penned.

I grew up in the days of the civil rights movement in America. Like the movement to end slavery, it was both a religious and moral force, telling America that the time for equal civil rights for all Americans had come. The air back then was filled with the stirring words of Dr. King and the anthems of our time. None of us who lived through those times will ever forget the explicitly religious tone of the words, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Nor will we ever forget singing “We shall overcome” or “I shall not be moved.” Christians heard and sang them, as did Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists (I was an atheist at that time). And we acted on them. Eventually the nation passed legislation to end Jim Crow and segregation. There were some who protested that the supporters of civil rights were religious extremists forcing their own narrow brand of religious belief on the public by way of politics. But the nation pressed beyond bigotry and change came.

There’s one last thing Mr. Coldsmith and I have in common, our Christian faith. It should be the strongest of all the bonds we have. While I’ve not taught church school classes for forty years, I’ve earned a graduate degree in Christian theology and have, to the best of my ability, practiced my Christian faith for close to forty years. I’ve never in all those years ever advocated or supported the notion of a national religion, coerced conversion, or religious extremism. I do, however, support the principle that I have the civil right to express my views on public policy, especially when it converges with my moral convictions. I did so in the sixties during the civil rights movement, and I have the right and duty to speak from my conscience against abortion on demand today. Unlike Mr. Coldsmith I haven’t been able to find a way to sidestep the soul searching the issue brings with it. Conscience demands more of me than that.

In a few months Christians will be celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace. I wonder what the season would look like if Mary and Joseph had lived in our time. Would the centerpiece of all humanity be considered an unwanted burden, then discarded? What would we be left with? Perhaps all we’d have would be great masterpieces like “Madonna without child.”

I’d like to believe that there the possibility of dialogue with Mr. Coldsmith and others in the pro-choice movement. Unfortunately, there seems to be, as Holy Writ declares, a great gulf fixed between us. America has made its choice; abortion on demand is the law of the land. Until we find the moral capacity to change that we’ll continue to maintain the grisly status quo.

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