Back in high school, I was quite the “song” writer, though in truth they were more like poems since I didn’t write any music to them and kept the tunes in my head. I wrote hundreds of them, and each was of course awesome and destined for greatness in the tiny world of Christian-themed thrash metal.
They were very high-school – angsty and self-assured. I knew what was wrong with the world, and I knew how to fix it, Metallica-style. It may not surprise you to learn they were intensely political and judgmental. Only two of them ever got set to real music. We had a little garage band (in truth, a church-sanctuary band because that’s where the sound system and drums were) called Distortion X, and our big song, other than the copious Metallica and Creed (yes, Creed) covers, was “I’m Not an American,” words by … me.
I’m not going to regale you with the whole song, but the chorus can give you an idea of what it was like:
An American I’m not
‘Cause America’s forgot
Where she came from
In God we trust
Not anymore she must
‘Cause it’s politically incorrect
An America with equality for all men
Even for those who haven’t been born yet
That’s the U.S. to which I am a citizen
So for now I’m not an American
A lot has changed since those days; frankly, a lot of those songs I wrote, including this one, are pretty embarrassing to read a decade later. I’ve thought of throwing them away, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. They remind me of a simpler time, and many of them were written at specific moments and in certain places I’m not quite ready to forget.
The main thrust of “I’m Not an American” – which my former bandmates, who kept the band going for a while after I left for college, dropped from their rotation after 9/11 for some reason – is obviously pro-life (opening line: “What is the American creed? ‘Kill the unborn, watch them bleed.’” Burn!). And of the many changes I’ve undergone in the past decade, I have not – and don’t expect to – change this one.
I am still firmly pro-life, though my definition of what that means has changed over the years.
For those who most frequently use the term, it seems their definition gets pretty small, applying only to babies before they are born. I apply it to all life – including the lives of babies post-birth, adults and even convicted criminals. As a society, the less we can kill our fellow human beings, even if we think they can deserve it, the better off we are. I feel strongly about this.
But I also feel strongly that issues aren’t so black and white as we’d like. Abortion as a general rule remains a blot on our national conscience, but of course there are exceptions that can and must be made. Likewise, what to do about it is a difficult question. Simply outlawing it pushes those seeking abortions – usually poor and desperate to begin with – into back alleys, where black-market abortions risk their lives, too.
And those politicians who are pro-choice but personally opposed to abortion – such as President Obama – generally have better ideas for reducing the number of children killed through abortion than do those politicians who are pro-life (funding for low-income family-planning centers, sex education that includes the use of contraceptives, etc.), so I also reject the pro-life movement’s general abortion litmus test.
Finally, there’s the question of faith and science, embodied in today’s Personhood Amendment vote in Mississippi.
If you haven’t heard about it, Mississippi residents today will vote on an amendment to their state constitution that would define a person as existing from conception, thus effectively outlawing any action that would terminate a fertilized egg, including abortion.
But it raises some difficult questions. For example, most forms of birth control, including the pill, carry the “risk” that a fertilized egg will essentially be “aborted” by failing to implant into the uterine wall. Fertility treatments often involve the freezing of fertilized eggs for future use. This raises uncomfortable questions: Are parents who want so desperately to bring life into the world actually guilty of mass murder under this proposal? Will early-term mothers who miscarry be subject to criminal investigation to ensure they did not end the pregnancy intentionally?
And although the amendment’s proponents argue the amendment would not prevent a doctor from saving the life of a mother during a potentially fatal pregnancy or delivery, there’s no language in the amendment providing such an exception.
Finally, there’s the scientific question. Despite the numerous pro-life blogs and websites arguing otherwise, there is not a scientific consensus on when life begins – in part because, even if everyone could agree fertilization was that moment, fertilization itself does not necessarily occur at a specific moment. It can take as long as four days. The embryo isn’t personalized until two weeks after conception. With death defined as the stopping of brain activity, should life be defined at its start (24-27 weeks)? Other biologists argue life is a continuum, and that since the sperm and egg were both alive, it’s impossible to say life “began” at any point after the first single-cell organisms developed on earth. And even if we could agree on a seminal moment for life, is this the same as the seminal moment of personhood, deserving full protection as such? Biologists seem to say no.
One final question this all prompts: If pro-life evangelical Christians (and others) are so adamant about life beginning at conception, why don’t they adopt the Catholic prohibition against all forms of birth control, given most of them contain the risk of “aborting” a fertilized egg? (In fairness, I do know pro-life evangelicals who are consistent on this issue, but most are not.)
After all these questions, I feel like I should wrap this up with a strongly worded conclusion. But I can’t. I’m still learning on many things, and this is one of them. I remain firm in my conviction that unborn children deserve the same protection from our government as live ones – and that our government doesn’t do enough to protect the live ones. But what does that protection look like in reality? It seems the answer isn’t as clear as I thought it was 10 years ago.