A Final Word (for Now) on Abortion

I just finished working on a package of stories for our school’s alumni magazine about integration – a profile of the two men who integrated our college 50 years ago, as well as a sidebar about white students who pushed for integration years before it happened and one about race relations are like on campus now. The whole time I was writing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, I have no idea what it’s like – and never will – to be black.”

This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s made more painfully clear when I write about people in minority groups that I am in no way a member of any minority group. I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m male. And so I try to make it clear when I interview or when I advocate for racial and sexual minorities that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes, so they’re going to need to help me out.

It’s not an overwhelming feeling, just a little tug – a healthy reminder that whatever I write, I’m doing it for others, people whose experiences I can’t ever truly know.

That tug has more recently shown up when I write, as I did last week, about abortion. Because while I often call abortion a human rights issue, it is also an issue that affects women far more than men. After all, who is actually pregnant? And who is going to be caring for the child, more likely than not? The old line is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would no longer be a controversial issue.

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Changing How We Approach Abortion

The political world is all atwitter (pun intended) this week with the comments of Senate candidate Richard Mourdock from Indiana, who made the mistake of saying what he really thought on the topic of abortion. Secifically, Mourdock was asked about any cases in which he would allow abortion, and he responded only in the case of the mother’s life being in danger, but not in the case of rape:

I struggled with it myself for a long time. But I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Ensue kerfuffle.

There have been a lot of crazy things said about abortion and rape in this election cycle, but this really isn’t one of them. Mourdock’s belief that God “intended” for life to arise out of a horrific event like rape may not be theologically sound, but it’s not something we should be terribly surprised at hearing.

Amy Sullivan, like myself a former conservative evangelical who now has a not-so-passing interest in progressive politics, agrees:

Despite the assertions of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious and insensitive and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I think most don’t particularly care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body. But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about.

That last sentence is especially significant for this conversation; Mourdock simply is outspoken and consistent about the natural ramifications of his belief that abortion ends an innocent human life.

But the reaction to this impresses on me that perhaps we need a few more Christians, conservative and progressive, to do on abortion what people like Justin Lee and Rachel Held Evans are doing around the issues of homosexuality and women’s roles in church, respectively – that is, speaking out for a renewed effort to understand each other and foster constructive dialogue.

Because it should be clear by now that our national conversation about abortion is toxic. Both sides are to blame, though one side more than the other, and it’s not helping foster a constructive dialogue about how to fix what both sides agree needs to be solved – the fact that abortions are necessary in the first place.

Here’s how I see the current dialogue failing us. Continue reading

If You Read One Thing This Week …

… make it this Q&A with Dianna Anderson on Rachel Held Evans’ blog as part of Rachel’s “Ask a …” series. Dianna answered questions as a feminist. Allow me to pull an excerpt, from her answer about the compatibility of feminism with opposition to abortion:

I believe it is possible to be a feminist and pro-life, as long as that pro-life ethic does not come with rhetoric that shames, ignores, or vilifies women for the choices that they may make about a legal procedure. Don’t use your pro-life stance to treat women like morons. Don’t use it to shame women for their sexual choices, because, honestly, you don’t know what led to those choices. Instead, use your pro-life stance to attempt to make a difference in the lives of the women surrounding you by supporting them, by letting them know that you will be there for them if they do have an unwanted pregnancy (and then actually being there for them!), and by working to lower the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies in the first place – which means better sexual health education in schools, funding for birth control measures and education about using that birth control, promoting research into methods of safe male birth control, and creating an environment where the women in your life can come to you to discuss safe sexual choices.

Nothing will turn you into a feminist faster than having daughters. The more I think about what I want them to know about the world and about themselves, the less tenable I find anything but true equality in all aspects of life – including the church. We’ve discussed here before the radical femininity of Christ in response to the erroneous notion that Christianity has “a masculine feel” and shape. Go there if you want an example or two of how Jesus subtly subverted the patriarchal gender norms of his day. Anderson adds another one:

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A Thought Experiment on Abortion

A good friend of mine is an ethics professor, and he recently delivered both sides in a debate about whether Christians should push for stricter anti-abortion legislation. Yes, both sides. It’s part of a weekly forum in which a person takes a controversial topic, advocates one side, then walks across the stage to another podium and advocates the other.

Previous topics have included gay marriage is an abomination/gay marriage glorifies God, women should keep silent/women should lead in church and swearing is forbidden/allowed in scripture. Richard Beck has done a couple of them, but this was the first I’d attended, and I wish I had done it sooner.

I think the anti-abortion side would be familiar to most of you; abortion is morally wrong because it deprives an individual – aside from whether or not a fetus is technically a person – the right to a future, and therefore laws should be in place restricting it. But coming back and arguing for the pro-abortion side, my friend began with a thought experiment.

Suppose, he said, a group of people breaks into your house, drugs you and kidnaps you. You wake up in a hospital room, hooked up via machines to an unconscious man next to you. One of the people who kidnapped you comes in and apologizes for the inconvenience but explains the man beside you is a world-famous violinist at death’s door. You are keeping him alive, and they need you to continue to do so for the next nine months, after which he will be well, and you can go on with your life.

The question is: Do you have a moral duty to remain connected to this person?

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When Christians Pray for the Death of Thousands

Yesterday, I touched briefly on groups of Christians whose choices seem out of touch with their pro-life mantra, and wondered why they don’t receive the tough questions pro-abortion or pacifistic Christians would receive. Not to say they wouldn’t have good answers, but to give good answers, one must be asked hard questions.

Minutes after posting that, I heard on my way to work an NPR report from outside of the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments this week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Sonari Glinton interviewed some of the people protesting and standing in line.

GLINTON: Mike Crowder is a minister from the suburbs of Salt Lake City. He opposes the health care law and he’s come to pray for the justices.

MIKE CROWDER: This whole mandate, regardless of how people have perceived it, it has awakened the people of faith all across this country. People are beginning to see, whoa, wait a minute. Maybe these things that I think aren’t that important, don’t deal with me on a day-to-day – maybe they will come in and deal with me and my church and how I live my life.

Mike Crowder – who I’m sure would identify himself as pro-life – needs to answer some hard questions.

A mix of emotional, hard-hitting and practical questions such as these: Continue reading

If Trayvon Martin Were a Fetus, Christians Would Be a Whole Lot More Upset

Man still has one belief, one decree that stands alone:

The laying down of arms is like cancer to [his] bones.

— The great philosopher Dave Mustaine

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

— Luke 10:25-29, Common English Bible

Who is my neighbor?

Is my neighbor the unborn child no one will ever meet, killed by her mother before ever seeing God’s sun?

Are my neighbors the parents down the street, struggling to pay bills, postponing doctor’s visits because they cannot afford health insurance, which is not provided by the employers who provide them the part-time jobs with which they can barely stay afloat?

Is my neighbor Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other victims of gun violence, slain in a nation with the highest rate of guns per capita in the world?

To which Jesus replies, “Yes, my child. But the real question is: Are you their neighbor?”

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‘Struggling to Find Our Way’ on Abortion

I’ve discussed before that I am finding even that most polarizing of subjects, abortion, to be less and less clear cut.

As a further example, I offer Emily Rapp’s poignant and powerful piece for Slate this week – in which she argues that had she known of her son’s genetic disorder, she would have aborted him:

If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.

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