Monday, October 24, 2011

Freeing the Fetus from Politics

It's a subject about which I rarely write.

Mostly because I consider it a settled issue.

Abortion.

In its most prevalent usage, abortion is a convenient path for those who don't want to be responsible for their sexual promiscuity.

In the rarest of cases, it's a tortuous alternative for the sake of the mother's own life, the last resort by the slimmest of ethical margins, in which life outside the womb takes precedence over life inside it.

Because that's what it is, isn't it? Abortion is the taking of a life.

We all know that. We do: we ALL know that. Both pro-lifers, and pro-choicers.

Pro-choicers can spare me their objections - they know the choice in question is over life. So they try to take the sliver of deference pro-lifers pay to life outside the womb and extrapolate that into absolute dominion over life in the womb. And it makes their misguided argument less offensive when they try to complicate the issue with games about when life starts.

Even while we all know that the best way to make sure a little life doesn't start is to not have sex. After all, we can put a man on the moon, but despite our digital world, analog abstinence is still the only 100% effective form of birth control.

The Politics of Abortion

Unfortunately, like anything else in America, the abortion issue has become heavily politicized, with some conservatives staking an entire partisan platform on the issue. Many is the preacher and politician who warns churchgoers that Christians with a Biblical conscience can't vote for anybody in the Democratic Party, since Democrats feature abortion rights as part of their social manifesto.

Like every plank in the Republican platform jives with Scripture.

After meeting a delegate to the Texas Republican Party several years ago at church, I confided to her that I wasn't the true-blue conservative many evangelicals are. To which she responded with a straight face, "Well, are you pro-life?"

"Yes, of course!" I affirmed.

"Well then," she said, "as long as you're pro-life, that's the most important thing in politics."

Granted, even some of my gung-ho capitalist friends might argue that point when it comes to taxes and wealth redistribution, but I got what she was saying. Because just under the pro-life banner isn't just a belief that abortion is wrong, but that it symbolizes a pervasive attitude of entitlement and downright selfishness in the United States today.

If you can be convinced that a person's sexual appetite is more important than the life of a living being tucked inside its mother's womb, then you can be convinced of the validity of any number of entitlements. Because after all, accountability-free sex is an entitlement that the state may grant people, but just because the state grants it doesn't make it morally right.

I don't mean to denigrate the critical absolutes of the abortion debate, but if you can believe abortion is OK, then you can also be convinced that liberal welfare policies are OK, along with big government and ever higher taxes to pay for it all.

Current GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain claimed last week that although he personally considers abortion to be wrong, he doesn't think the government has any place telling a woman what to do with her own body. But that opinion - even after Cain tried to distance himself from it - belies a twisted viewpoint that the government is oppressing women by banning elective abortions.

The pro-life stance is about the government protecting the rights of an unborn child, rather than simply the rights of the birth mother. However, it could be argued that the pro-life stance affirms the role motherhood plays in our society, since it recognizes the woman's vital responsibility in providing a healthy pregnancy for her child.

Abortion and the Poor

Which brings up some sobering statistics wealthy conservatives need to understand. Nearly half of all abortions in the United States are sought by women whose annual household income is less than $30,000. Only 14% of abortions are performed on women whose annual household income is greater than $60,000.

Plus, although white women have the most abortions - simply by virtue of the fact that there are more of them in the United States than women of any other race - abortions are actually performed on a greater percentage of black women. And since more blacks live in poverty in the United States than whites, we should all understand the powerful motivator family finances - or the lack of them - plays in our country's abortion crisis.

So while Republicans and people like me (since many of my conservative friends distrust my conservative credentials) rail against government-funded entitlements, let's not forget that although entitlements aren't helping to solve poverty, they might be holding some sort of fiscal line against even more abortions. At least to the extent that food stamps, public housing, and other financial programs help poor families decide to keep their babies, instead of kill them for financial reasons.

Abortion in the Church

And evangelical conservatives, in particular, need a wake-up call regarding the prevalence of abortions in our own church-going midst.

What do I mean? How about this stunning figure: almost 20% of all abortions in the United States are performed on women who identify themselves as "Born-again/Evangelical."

Meanwhile, women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions.

This means that any difference in the abortion rate between churched women and unchurched women is almost statistically irrelevant.

Which may help explain how the abortion debate has lost a bit of its zing during these early days of the presidential election season. Rick Perry came out with some harsh words about Cain's socially liberal stance on the subject, but hardly any waves were made in the national press over it. Indeed, it almost seems as though abortion is an issue about which none of the Republican candidates wants to talk these days.

Probably because it's more of a political minefield than a personal one. Consider the remarkable advocacy of the pro-life stance from a liberal gay manager who was meeting my equally gay, liberal boss one day when I was an intern for the City of New York.

The Pope was coming to town, and my boss was part of a group protesting his visit. So my boss, when another manager who was gay came by our office, was making pejorative remarks against the Pope, assuming he'd get some affirmation from his other liberal friend.

To my boss's surprise - as well as mine, the other manager rose up in an unlikely defense of the pontiff. Whereas beforehand, they had been joking together about some hopelessly straight topic, this other manager suddenly started sounding like a Bible-thumper.

My boss was aghast. "But - but - ," he stammered, caught completely off-guard. "You're GAY! You're supposed to be pro-choice! You're supposed to oppose the Pope!"

The other manager was quick to respond. "Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I can't be pro-life. I'm gay, but I'm also Catholic, and I believe abortion is murder. I have to support the Pope on this one!"

I remember seeing the look in my boss's face - a look of absolute confusion. Obviously, he'd assumed that to be gay meant to be against everything conservatives champion. That moment provided him with a big lesson in the personal nature of politics.

Who's Face Do They See?

And it's that personal nature of politics that is likely keeping this year's crop of presidential contenders so quiet when it comes to abortion. Which helps explain why I don't think politics is necessarily the best way to handle this travesty anyway.

Inevitably, the face people who would contemplate an abortion see is the face of surly anger and distorted partisan rancor.

Instead, I look to the people I know who volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers across the country. Many of them prefer to be called "pregnancy resource centers," but however they're identified, they still provide life-saving options for women who initially assume abortion is a solution to the pregnancy they think they don't want.

Thousands of pro-lifers meet one-on-one with anxious mothers and fathers in big cities and small towns, explaining the biology of conception and the literal facts of life. Most of the staffers who sit down and care for the parents in crisis are evangelical volunteers whose only pay is knowing that they're on the front lines of murder prevention.

They're the face of Christ, offering a sympathetic countenance, not fear of losing a policy decision. They're the eyes of Christ, twinkling with hope and alternatives. They're the arms of Christ, comforting the aching shoulders of parents who've discovered that pro-choice is no choice at all. And they're the voice of Christ, advocating for the promise in the womb, who can't yet speak for itself.

It's this front line in the battle over abortion where the daily struggles are fought and the victories are won. Because it is here that the discipline of right choices and personal accountability are stressed, but not inflicted as a cold law or a stale mandate.

Like many other facets of the Christian life, the fight against abortion is less about laws than it is a conviction that the truth we've been given is greater than anything our government and culture can deliver.

And that even with stronger laws, the only thing about abortion that will truly ever go away are its innocent victims.
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