I walked out of my house this morning and thought I was getting hit with eighty knives that had been dunked in water and thrown in a deep freezer for a week. It was that cold here in the St. Louis area (negative 17 wind chill, to be exact), and as I sipped my free Starbucks coffee on the way in to school, I mused on the irony that on such a cold day I should write on a heated topic.
I recognize that wading into the issue of abortion can erupt heat more than shed light. To do so is not my aim. I fully get that as a 43-year old male who cannot have an abortion or face such a decision, it seems to some the heights of stupidity that I would say something (although it you look at the best polls, more females tend to be pro-life than males…interesting).
I simply want to rezone the debate with some salient points that will give us stuff on which we chew. Rather than yelling at the other side, I want people of genuine sanity to listen to each other.
So here goes…
1. To my pro-life friends: Pro-choice does not equal pro-death. You need to carefully follow up and ask questions about one's views on abortion before leveling anyone with that charge. There is a massive difference between what I call pro-choice and pro-abortion. The pro-abortionist believes in abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy (and this would include those who favor partial-birth abortion) with no restrictions whatsoever and see no immorality whatsoever in aborting an unborn child. The pro-choice person (at least 99% of those I know) does not like abortion, finds it distasteful and wrong, would never have one of their own, and believe it should not be used as a method of birth control. Yes, someone who is pro-choice upholds the centrality of individual choice; a pro-choice advocate would not interfere with another woman's decision to have an abortion; pro-choice folks--out of respect for individual liberty--want abortion, when it occurs, to be safe, legal, and rare. Pro-lifers may disagree with that mantra, but let's not forget there's a significant amount of common ground between P-C and P-L, more than one might admit.
2. To my pro-choice friends: Please do not paint us pro-lifers with a broad brush, either. The pro-life community does not equal mere anti-abortion, single-issue attitudes. True pro-life people advocate for the unborn children in the womb, but they also want the rights of the elderly and the disabled protected, for all of life has value. They want people to have access to health care and the chance to live as well as possible. Some (for example, Democrats for Life of America) also call for the prohibition of capital punishment (though not all do). Pro-life folks are not abortionist-shooting, clinic-bombing anarchists; people who do those evils I classify as anti-abortionists. There's a huge divide between the two.
3. Abortion is not necessarily a religious issue: There are a number of religious people and secular people who are pro-choice. There are, of course, many people of faith who are pro-life but there are a rising number of atheists and secularists who are pro-life as well (See, for example, the atheist Doris Gordon of Libertarians for Life and the many involved with the unique community known as Secular Pro-Life). Before you say it's just a matter of faith, realize there are secular arguments on both sides of this issue. Seriously.
4. Laws do not do the trick! I will say this…whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision forty-one years ago was--in the words of Charles Krauthammer (who happens to be a pro-choice man himself)--"politically poisonous". To take the settlement of this matter away from individual states in our republic through representative democracy is a sham. Even liberal SCOTUS justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says the same. However, pro-lifers should recognize that even if Roe v. Wade (actually, the more liberalizing decision was Doe v. Bolton later the same day) is overturned, abortion does not go away. Abortion is eliminated step by step through the patient convincing and persuading of individual hearts.
5. We live in a murderous culture, but….we need to think twice before calling abortion "murder". Look up the definition for murder. Done? Good. Okay, I agree that twenty-first century North America is shot full of a frivolous view of life, that we do a crappy job of promoting healthy living, and that we consume so much visual violence that we don't think much of life-and-death issues. And yes, I think that abortionists like Kermit Gosnell know better and recognize fully what they are doing in the interest of making a buck. But would you look in the eyes of a fifteen-year old high school girl, one whose boyfriend has gotten her pregnant and then dumped her, one who is wondering what her life is going to be like from now on, one who is frightened beyond belief about telling her parents and this pregnancy becoming public--and then she makes a decision to abort in the midst of this conundrum. Yes, it's a choice I believe constitutes the taking of an innocent human life. But I would never tell that girl--in that situation--that what she did was murder. That was not her motive. Pro-lifers, you need to tread very carefully here.
6. The culture of self-interest and irresponsibility doesn't help, either: I'm simply going to lean over and take one for the team and say that if you are wanting to engage in risky behavior, you shouldn't engage in weaseling out of the consequences. If you smoke five packs a day, don't expect to evade lung cancer. If you default on ten different credit cards, then don't expect an agency to wipe your credit slate clean. If you get pregnant or get someone pregnant, then bow up and square your shoulders in facing up to that. Your life has changed for awhile, but it is not ruined. And there are thousands of folks willing to adopt the child you can give up to them upon delivery. Just saying…take it for what it's worth.
7. Pro-life minimalism is distasteful, as well: Listen, my pro-life compatriots…Marches and organized rallies do their part. The patient, piecemeal advances in state legislatures recently that have helped the pro-life movement have their place. Certainly, pastors should speak on moral issues (without endorsing or crapping on individual candidates). But if all you are going to do is squawk about it, you've failed. It is not enough to say what you are against. Demonstrate what you are for. Condemning abortion does no good if you will not help or minister to women dealing with unplanned pregnancies. Will you take in a high school junior thrown out of her house by angry parents over her pregnancy, and will you show her God's love? Will you help take such ladies to their OB/GYN appointments? Will you help them in locating employment during this time, if needed? Will you do whatever it takes to put flesh and muscle on the bones of a culture of life? If all you ant to do is talk, then don't be surprised if I'm not impressed. My wife and I have been there for women going through those moments. Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world.
8. Finally, remember the central question: No matter where you land on this issue's spectrum, one of the most helpful books you can read is Peter Kreeft's The Unaborted Socrates, which demonstrates what may be the best non-theological approach to a pro-life view. And the reason Kreeft does it so well is because he comes back to the main thing: When does life begin? At birth? When the unborn child is viable? When organs are present? At conception?
All the arguments and rhetoric in the world on abortion are just that…arguments and rhetoric…unless we face up to that one clear query: When does life begin? I do believe there are good scientific and logical ways to show that it begins at conception, but that's not my main point here.
Always come back to the main question. And debate and discuss that main thing respectfully. The issue of human life in our human civilization must still be conducted humanely and in a civilized manner.
May that spirit be with us all.