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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6 comments:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

In ancient Israel, the pre-born human being was considered to be a person and, at birth, one-year old. The wisdom of Israel held that the value of the single life defined the value of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

History teaches that when the individual person is of expedient non-value, the value of the plural unit, the whole society, becomes regressive and expendable.

Today, there are those who say, "Abortion is such a messy negative subject." The American new age holocaust is what it is. Regardless of a sophisticated rationale it is a form of cannibalism - devouring one's own kind - and has no place in a free humane society based on individual worth.

If the individual is worth zero what will our Nation be worth? Isn't the whole the sum value of the parts - the individuals who make it up?

Is there any other kind of human? After all, isn't every "group" merely a convenient plural verbalization about individuals?

Ask any ten-year old, "If one equals zero what does twelve (ones) equal?"

If each individual is worth zero what will society be worth? The consequences will accrue to each and every individual in our Country.

Dear reader: Don't YOU qualify as 'an individual?' Are YOU prepared to be weighed in the balances of your own choosing? The perverse cause produces the perverse effect. Obviously and sadly, it is already happening...

"The fool foldeth his hands together and eateth his own flesh." Ecclesiastes 4:5 Selah.

Dear Trendy-One: Are there any questions about our Nation? YOUR future? How about arithmetic?

P.S. The next step down? Assisted suicide.

Semper Fidelis

Rob in L.A. said...

Another factor in perpetuating the status quo is misleading, politically driven language and policies.

An example of such language is “abortion on demand.” This politically inspired term glosses over the agonizing that a pregnant woman usually goes through before deciding on an abortion.

Another example is the phrase “partial-birth abortion.” The anti-choice movement came up with this name in order to taint a procedure that doctors usually call a “dialation and extraction” or DNX. Some medical authorities say that a DNX may be the safest abortion procedure to protect a woman’s health. However, the Republican-led Congress ignored these medical authorities when it inserted language into its “partial-birth abortion” ban, saying that the procedure was never medically necessary.

A member of my extended family had a DNX. Into her third trimester, this family member learned that the fetus she was carrying had developed an abnormality: its brain was developing outside its skull. Doctors told her that, if delivered, the baby would probably die before its first birthday. Moreover, because my family member’s husband was not in the income bracket affected by the estate tax, caring for the deformed baby until its imminent death would have been an expensive proposition. She had the DNX. A year later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. This happened during the 1990s. I shudder to think what my family member would have had to do if this had happened after Congress’ ban on the procedure.

If Phil wants to have an honest, open dialogue about abortion with those on the pro-choice side, he will need to get past such emotionally charged, politically driven language as “abortion on demand” and “partial-birth abortion.”

Also, if so many women have abortions for “socio-economic” reasons, perhaps those who push for fewer abortions should also push for economic policies where more women could afford an unexpected pregnancy. For example, they could start by supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage. Instead, many self-proclaimed pro-life politicians have pushed for Bush’s regressive tax cuts and economic policies.

“...The pro-life movement in America is pretty much dormant”? Maybe as far as marching in the street is concerned. But this would only be because many of its adherents are now in positions of power. South Dakota’s state legislature this year passed a sweeping anti-abortion law that bans every procedure short of needing to save the pregnant woman’s life, even in cases of rape and incest. It’s no secret that many South Dakotan legislators hope that their law will ultimately overturn Roe vs. Wade.

On its website, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington lists ten restrictions on abortion that Bush has supported since taking office. These range from reinstaing the gag rule on international family-planning agencies receiving government funds to support for a “consciousness clause” protecting pharmacists who refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions.

Speaking of contraceptives, maybe one reason why some of the women in the abortion survey didn’t use any is because of Bush’s “abstinence only” policy on sex education. If their schools want to receive federal dollars, public-schoolchildren can only be taught how contraceptives can fail, not how they can work. New surveys say that pregnancy rates among high-school-age girls are on the rise.

Personally, I think that if you have sex before you graduate from high school, you’re doing something incredibly stupid. But there are apparently some who disagree with me. As much as I wish it were otherwise, there are more than a handful of high-school-age kids out there eager to explore their sexuality, and they’re not going to be swayed by an adult’s admonitions — mine or their parents’. But they’re also not being given all the facts about contraception.

Gag orders on family-planning providers, consciousness clauses, abstinance-only sex “education,” criminalizing abortion in South Dakota — none of this sounds very “dormant” to me.

Many opponents of abortion describe themselves as “pro-life.” But too many of them do not recognize the life of the pregnant woman. It’s no small task to take nine months out of one’s life to bring another into the world. Not every woman can afford it. Should she have had sex in the first place? Maybe not. But an honest effort to use birth control may not have been successful. And even if she had been unwise enough not to have used contraception, forcing her to endure an unwanted pregnancy for nine months would be excessive punishment, I think. Adoption sounds like a good idea, but some pregnant women who agree to adoption change their minds upon having the baby, and thus put themselves in the position of having to raise a child they might not be able to afford. There are vagaries that women face when they become pregnant, and the law of the land must recognize these. It would help if the “pro-life” movement recognized them too.

Maybe some forms of abortion should indeed be made illegal, but if so, such procedures should be criminalized on their merits. However, if arguments for their criminalization rest on misleading, emotionally charged language like “abortion on demand” or “partial-birth abortion,” that is not a discussion held in good faith.


Rob in L.A.

prying1 said...

Welcome Home Phil! - Unfortunately those who prefer self centeredness will continue to wander in the wilderness. - Keep on talking to God about them. He can change their hearts and he want to do so. - Keep on posting - GBYAY -

garnet david said...

Phil, though I do not believe Christ is the Lord and do not believe God favors Christians, I do believe abortion is wrong, as it capital punishment and killing animals.

If abortion were to be made illegal, or allowable only in certain circumstances, then I hope those who find it "repugnant" would offer to adopt unwanted children, which would otherwise be abused and neglected, not exactly God's plan either.

And I hope the entire Christian community will begin to heavily pressure the Catholic Church to allow contracption.

This will make for a better world.

Your writing is valuable and intelligent voice in an otherwise radical and close minded religious culture in America.

Guy said...

Phil...Missing your posts. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

took a drive through the flint hills today...feels like i'm back in wyoming.