Where I Stand Today on Abortion

 

Last week I was the foil for one of the many recent articles declaring “Obama attracts young evangelicals.” No disrespect to Jon Ward, who co-authored the Washington Times article, but I believe Jonathan Merritt’s Southern Baptist credentials made him an even better foil for the same article in the Washington Post.

Washington Times cover storyThe experience of being featured in a national newspaper article, however, has given me an opportunity to reflect on my changing political views, especially concerning the issue of abortion. Whether this is wise or not, I believe in transparency, so I want to be honest here (even though I realize this opens me up to even greater criticism).

This may ultimately be a stupid thing to do, but I’ll just do my best to answer some of the questions that have been raised—and live with the consequences.

First, Justin Taylor is right about the importance of appointing Supreme Court justices if the goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and that seems to be the primary goal of most pro-life advocacy. I recognize there are wonderful things happening in the areas of pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, etc., but the rallying cry of the pro-life movement is “overturn Roe v. Wade,” and I have to confess that is something I no longer support.

I simply do not believe that criminalizing abortion is the best way to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Already we’ve seen the abortion rate steadily decline since 1990. Why? Well, it’s a number of factors, but I think one of the primary reasons is education—more young people are being raised with an understanding of and appreciation for the sanctity of life. My parents, once they joined the pro-life movement, were quite vocal in their support for pro-life causes, and that was passed down to me. The fact that abortion (and along with it sex and contraception, etc.) became a topic of conversation in many people’s homes has had a very good effect on developing more pro-life young people. And that is a good thing.

But the bottom line is I don’t believe a woman or a doctor should be put in jail for having or conducting an abortion. I no longer believe that threatening punishment is the best solution (and the Guttmacher Institute seems to support that conclusion), and therefore I can no longer support the effort to criminalize abortion. This ties into another question, written in the form of this statement: “Evangelicals who support someone like Obama do not truly believe that the unborn are human persons deserving full human rights.”

When Does a Fertilized Egg Become a Person?
I can only speak for myself, of course, but I suspect there may be many like me who have serious questions about the “human rights” of a fertilized egg. Yes, there is biological life at the point of conception—the potential for it to develop into a full “human person” (this is not going to develop into a kitten or a squirrel)—but what “rights” should be afforded? and at what cost to the mother who may be at cross purposes, facing an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy? What about the “human rights” of the woman without whom the fertilized egg would never develop? These are deep and profound questions not easily answered by a pat “life begins at conception” statement.

Abortion Rates 1973-2005I also find myself disillusioned by the apparent hypocrisy within the pro-life movement, which has tightly aligned itself to the Republican Party with its economic policies which seem to say to women, “You have to carry your baby to full-term, and we’re not going to do much to help you financially.” It’s an almost Darwinian “survival of the fittest” political platform that is inherently racist when you realize the abortion rates are highest among black and Hispanic women.

Here’s another reason for my disillusionment: Much of the birth control used by evangelicals essentially promotes “abortion” by not allowing the already fertilized egg to implant on the uterine wall. Now, if you really believe that life begins at conception, then this type of birth control should also be on your “to don’t” list. Perhaps Catholics have been more consistent in this pro-life practice, but I have not seen such consistency in the evangelical movement.

Why Risk Being Wrong?
Finally, I find myself questioning the theological arguments as to when life begins and the nature of the soul. None of these are conclusive in my mind. So I have to admit that I’ve become somewhat agnostic when it comes to the question of “When does life begin?” And, I can hear the response now: “Why would you want to be on the wrong side of that question? What if life does begin at conception? Then abortion is murder and even a holocaust! Why risk it?”

Well, I simply have to say that I would give deference to the life of the person standing before me who is faced with the abortion decision, over the potential life of the fertilized egg inside her. Maybe that’s being too pragmatic. To be honest, abortion has never had any real-life implications for me. Like it is for many (dare I say, most) people in the abortion debate, the actual people affected by abortion are just hypothetical and theoretical to us, and what happens on a daily basis has no real impact on our lives. I say this to my own shame, but also to hold a mirror up to my pro-life friends who fervently believe abortion should be made illegal in this country.

I have serious questions for you:

  • Who goes to prison if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
  • How do you plan to pay for all of the new prisons that will need to be built?
  • Who is going to adopt or provide foster care for the thousands of unwanted babies that would be born and abandoned?
  • What are you doing now to support the unwed mothers in your local community?
  • Has your church come alongside any pregnant teens to provide a safe, supportive environment for them to keep their baby and still get an education and develop themselves further?
  • Have you taken on any of the real financial costs for a woman who could not make it on her when faced with an unplanned pregnancy?

More importantly, I wonder:

  • How can we work together to see the number of abortions in this country continue to drop?
  • How can we work together to develop a culture of life in this country?
  • How can we work together to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed who do not feel they have a safe, supportive environment in which to bring a child into this world?

No, I don’t have certainty about when personhood should be recognized and full human rights afforded to a baby—or if a fertilized egg should ever be elevated over the life of a woman—and that is certainly a factor in the erosion of my support for overturning Roe v. Wade (besides other concerns I have about the criminal justice system in our country). I can say this: I am still committed to reducing the abortion rate. And I still consider myself a pro-life evangelical. But if those movements are more narrowly defined, then maybe I am neither of those things. Perhaps “whole life post-evangelical” would be a better label for me. Let me know if any reporters are looking for that angle on the election story.


Frank Schaeffer’s latest article is a forceful argument for why he is voting for Obama. It is a must-read!

Conservative Republican megachurch pastor Joel Hunter has some interesting things to say in Zack Exley’s article “Will the Real Pro-Life Party Please Stand Up?” (www.tinyurl.com/prolifeparty) Link

 

 

Posted on 08-18-2008

Comments

  1. Steve K. says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Jeff, I think you’re mistaken about partial birth abortion being legal in this country:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,266724,00.html

    Has something happened to overturn the federal ban since the Supreme Court upheld it last year?

  2. Eddie says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Laura said,

    “I guess my take on the issue is that you can be pro-life and also believe that abortions are wrong without feeling the need to involve the federal government. As Christians, why are we so hung up on having the federal government police morality”

    So I ask you…..Would you like the federal government to no longer police any moral issue. Such as this….should the federal government no longer enforce laws that do not allow strip clubs to operate in family neighborhoods or by schools.

    Or how about this one….public nudity…nudist be free to wander the streets naked if they like…That is a moral issue.

    or how about this….should we allow marriages between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, sisters and brothers. What if i want to take 16 wives…..are not laws that do not allow me to do that moral issues that you are suggesting we not get hung up on. Just curious.

  3. Eddie says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Let me rephrase that last bit…came out kinda choppy

    Aren’t these laws that prevent me from doing these things based on a some moral issues that you are suggesting we not get hung up on.

  4. Jeff says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Steve ~ you bring a fantastic question to the table with the “What does a POST Roe v Wade United States look like to you?” You’ve brought to light a topic that many pro-life people haven’t even thought about.

    First of all, I don’t believe that overturning Roe v Wade will “criminalize” abortion – as many of the extremists scream. Overturning it primarily means that we’re not using taxpayer money to fund killing babies. And I can pretty much guarantee you that if performing abortions ceases to be financially lucrative, most abortionists will quickly become absolutely disinterested (Again, we need to follow the money trail here. Abortion is a billion dollar “industry” today.). Doctors will not stop performing abortions because they fear going to jail. They’ll stop doing them because they won’t be making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as a result.

    Second, we need to admit that we’re not living in the Dark Ages. All manner of highly effective contraception is available to everyone in America. Getting pregnant is not an inevitable result of having sex – regardless of the moral ramifications of the context of the sexual act. Again, we need to be reminded that the overwhelming majority of abortions are “convenience” abortions – and by that, I mean abortions that are not due to rape or incest. That’s another way of saying that those pregnancies could have been avoided, but they weren’t. And why weren’t they? Because we’re now using abortion as post-conception birth control.

    Third, there is already full medical care available to poor pregnant women – married or not – in America. Is it ideal? No. Should it be improved? Yes. MUST it be improved and expanded, if Roe v Wade is overturned? Absolutely.

    Fourth, in a post Roe v Wade America, tens of thousands of couples – who desperately want to adopt children – will be able to, because the children were not killed before they were born. This is a very good thing for at least two reasons.

    There are lots and lots of speculative ideas we could bat back and forth. But the bottom line is that what “might be” is of lesser importance than what “is” – and what “is” is that unborn babies are being killed by the tens of thousands. All of us tend to follow the path of least resistance – and that path of least resistance is to get an abortion when a person gets pregnant.

  5. Jeff says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for the link Steve. I was mistaken – and was a couple years behind. 🙂

  6. laura jeanette says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Eddie said: “should the federal government no longer enforce laws that do not allow strip clubs to operate in family neighborhoods or by schools…”

    I was under the impression that those laws are mostly state laws and city ordinances, not federal. To me, there’s a big difference between a state law and a federal law. As for abortion, I think the federal government should leave that up to the states, as well.

    And I don’t agree with government funding for abortions. But I do believe that the federal government is not in a position to take away the right of a woman to have an abortion because the main argument against it has to do with a religious-based, not scientific-based, view of when life begins, as I have clarified in a preceding point.

    As for the government policing morality, laws about murder, incest, rape, etc. as far as the government is concerned many times have less to do about upholding morality and more to do with containing society, preventing chaos, ensuring safety. In order for our society to be productive, we have to enforce laws that protect that productivity. There are many immoral things that aren’t illegal (adultery, lying, greed) and some illegal things that aren’t necessarily immoral (driving fast, parking in the wrong place).

  7. laura jeanette says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Jeff – The lady was an immigrant. She is an example of someone who is a product of a country where there are not “legal” abortion clinics and people use other means to end pregnancies. “Abortion” has been around since before it was ever even called abortion. Heck, people have been trying to end unwanted pregnancies since before there was a United States.

    A note on adoption: There is no shortage of children in America who can be adopted. Our foster care system is overrun.

  8. Jeff says:

    August 22nd, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Laura, that is really stretching it as an excuse for legalized abortion.

    And you’re right. Abortion has been around since before there was a United States. But so has pedophilia.

  9. dave says:

    August 24th, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Eddie said: “There are so many better ways of fixing a mistake that does not include the killing of an innocent baby.”

    Eddie, I more or less agree with that (there’s still the problem of figuring out at what point it’s a baby), but I’m not the one you need to convince. I’m not convinced that overturning Roe V. Wade is going to do anything to stop determined women from getting abortions, and I’m not convinced that voting for the Bush’s and McCain’s of the world is even going to do anything to overturn Roe V. Wade in the first place.

    I guess the bottom line for me is this: Look at the lengthy discussion on this topic, and this is, as far as I can tell, among people who are Christians. If there’s this much controversy over the issue, then that’s a reason why I’m no longer comfortable with painting the issue in completely black and white terms (either you’re okay with any abortion or against every abortion) and voting on a candidate based solely on whether or not they are pro-life. Do we even know if they’re pro-life in the same way that you or I would define it?

    Sure I wish Obama came down more on the pro-life side, but on just about every other issue, I prefer him over McCain (and I’m not going to get into any of those other issues lest we all start going off topic), so I’m not going to use the abortion issue as a litmus test anymore. I personally feel really burned about voting for Bush twice mostly due to the pro-life cause.

  10. Anne says:

    August 24th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Distractions (visiting grandkids, etc) have kept me from responding to recent posts. I’m now going to try to respond a little at a time.
    I’ll start with the background of Roe v. Wade. Norma McCorvey, who was “Jane Roe” said she was raped. She has since admitted she was lying. She was young, doing drugs, and living in a park. She never had an abortion, and she never testified in a court of law.
    Sandra Cano, who was “Mary Doe” in the Doe v. Bolton case never wanted or had an abortion. Sandra had sought legal aid to get a divorce from her child-molesting husband and to get custody of her children. When her attorney scheduled her for an abortion, she fled from the state of Georgia until she was assured that she didn’t have to have an abortion. She has always been pro-life. Sandra believes that her attorney (now deceased) either forged her signature or deceived her into signing papers that she believed were related to her divorce.
    The Doe case was the companion case to Roe — that is, both cases were decided the same day. Roe legalized abortion. Doe created the “health exception” that ultimately resulted in abortion for any reason up to the day of birth, including “partial-birth abortion.”
    Sandra never testified in a court of law. When her case was being heard, one of the justices even wondered if she were a real person. Sandra was horrified when she learned what her case had done. Her attorney had her records sealed, and it took her years to get them unsealed.
    Both Norma and Sandra want to see their cases overturned.
    When Roe was decided, the Court did not address the issue of the humanity of the child, which they saw only as a philosophical issue.”
    Even liberal legal scholars acknowledge that Roe is on shaky legal ground.
    If Roe is overtuned, it will not end abortion in America. The issue will return to state legislatures to regulate abortion, as they do other issues.
    The Supreme Court ruling on partial-birth abortion did not outlaw late-term abortions; it only banned a method –partial birth abortion (killing the baby during delivery). For example, an abortionist can inject a substance into a baby’s heart in the womb to kill the baby, and then abort it.

  11. Anne says:

    August 24th, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    P.S. Prior to the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases being decided, some states had legalized abortion. If Roe and Doe are overturned, the states that still have pre-Roe & Doe laws banning abortion will return to those laws. States that have repealed their pre-1973 laws will have the option to pass laws regulating or banning abortion.

  12. dan says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    POWER! excited power for the hurting. steve; look at the emotion that exists with or without your comments. it’s all from the heart. it makes my heart swell. i don’t wan’t my heart to swell and burst — i want to briefly wave to your ideology, hopefully wait shortly for your honesty, and communicate well in the future.

  13. Steve K. says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Powerful emotions indeed, Dan. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. Steve K. says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Anne, I appreciate you coming back into the conversation because I appreciate your knowledge and history of the issue. From what you describe, I think we can agree that Roe v. Wade was pretty flawed in the way that it came about. However flawed it was, I guess I’m still not convinced that it should be overturned and the decision turned back over to the states.

    Here’s why: What I imagine happening in that scenario is some states banning all abortions (South Carolina, perhaps?) and others allowing anything and everything to go (California, perhaps?). This creates all kinds of problems for young women who find themselves in these desperate situations. Parents who can’t even say the word “sex” around their children will now have their pregnant teens fleeing to states where abortion is legal. We’re already seeing this among girls who live in states where parental notification is mandatory — crossing state lines, etc. It will certainly happen in even greater numbers if the states are left to decide how to regulate (or not regulate) abortion.

    I guess I feel this is a national issue that requires a national solution, and that solution (in my mind) is to remain legal and regulated. While the partial-birth abortion ban is a good thing, I would personally support a late-term abortion ban, covering other methods, such as the one you described.

    I know you and others in the pro-life movement are doing wonderful things to help women and young girls in these situations, but the dominant narrative right now, in my opinion, is simply one of fear that suggests the only/best solution is to get conservative judges on the Supreme Court so that they can legislate from the bench. I’d just like to challenge you and others who are in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade to continue articulating (and in stronger, better ways) what real, concrete assistance is being given to women and girls who are caught up cycles of poverty and desperation. Those are the stories that need to be told. Those are the stories that will impact the hearts and minds of people and cultivate a culture of life in this country.

    Thank you for respectfully engaging in this dialogue with me here. All of this is ultimately in God’s hands, and God is the one who allows leaders to come into power (or not). I’m going to close the comments here on this post, but I’ll have at least one follow-up post on this subject so please come back and continue the discussion with me there.

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