If you want a reason why an abortion compromise isn’t possible, try this contrast: My idea of a plausible middle ground on the issue requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade, followed by a move toward a system in which abortion is legal but discouraged in, say, the first ten weeks of pregnancy, and basically illegal thereafter. Whereas Will Saletan and Freddie De Boer, both serious-minded pro-choicers, are convinced that a plausible middle ground would involve pragmatic pro-lifers throwing their support (and tax dollars) behind America’s largest abortion provider, on the grounds that its commitment to preventing unplanned pregnancy makes Planned Parenthood “the most effective pro-life organization in the history of the world.”
I realize that many of my good friends, Roman Catholic, Anglican, evangelical, and others will not understand why I have chosen to try to find common ground with our President-Elect Barack Obama given his views on Roe v. Wade. Let me say very clearly that I disagree with Obamaâ€™s support of Roe v. Wade and his pro-choice position; however, I find disturbing the way in which Obamaâ€™s views on abortion have been misrepresented by well-meaning Christians. For example, the complexities of Obamaâ€™s reasoning for choosing to sign or not to sign Born Alive legislation have been flattened and presented in a way that paints his position in the worst possible light. If you examine Obamaâ€™s vote on this legislation, what you find is that the Illinois and Federal â€œBorn Aliveâ€ legislation had different clauses added and that the two bills were not the same legislation, which is why e.g., NARAL did not oppose the federal legislation.
When I taught the marriage course at Notre Dame, the parents of my students wanted me to teach their kids what the parents did not want them to do. The kids, on the other hand, approached the course from the perspective of whether or not they should feel guilty for what they had already done. Not wanting to privilege either approach, I started the course with the question, What reason would you give for you or someone else wanting to have a child?” And you would get answers like, “Well, children are fun.” In that case I would ask them to think about their brothers and/or sisters. Another answer was, Children are a hedge against loneliness Then I recommended getting a dog. Also I would note that if they really wanted to feel lonely, they should think about someone they raised turning out to be a stranger. Another student reply was, Kids are a manifestation of our love.” “Well,” I responded, “what happens when your love changes and you are still stuck with them” I would get all kinds of answers like these from my students. But, in effect, these answers show that people today do not know why they are having children.
It happened three or four times that someone in the class, usually a young woman, would raise her hand and say, “I do not want to talk about this anymore.” What this means is that they know that they are going to have children, and yet they do not have the slightest idea why. And they do not want it examined. You can talk in your classes about whether God exists all semester and no one cares, because it does not seem to make any difference. But having children makes a difference, and the students are frightened that they do not know about these matters.
Then they would come up with that one big answer that sounds good. They would say, “We want to have children in order to make the world a better place.” And by that, they think that they ought to have a perfect child. And then you get into the notion that you can have a child only if you have everything set–that is, if you are in a good “relationship,” if you have your finances in good shape, the house, and so on. As a result, of course, we absolutely destroy our children, so to speak, because we do not know how to appreciate their differences.
Now who knows what we could possibly want when we “want a child”? The idea of want in that context is about as silly as the idea that we can marry the right person. That just does not happen. Wanting a child is particularly troubling as it finally results in a deep distrust of mentally and physically handicapped children. The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.
Despite all the buzz in the Christian world–or more appropriately in the secular press about the Christian world–about no longer voting based on single issues (for most folks, that single issue would be or would have been abortion), there is no doubt that which direction many Christians go at the polls in November will fundamentally hinge upon their answer to the question of which party has greater respect for human life. For some, the answer is still obviously the Republican party, while for others, the movement of the Democratic party on issues that relate to the demand for abortion, as well as the policies of the Republican party on the environment and war have led them to the conclusion that it is the Democratic party that supports a more broad-based pro-life agenda. Â While many want to deny the continued importance of abortion as a political issue, I don’t believe it is becoming less important. If anything it is becoming more important as it now seems as though some Democrats at least, want to make their party safe for pro-life people.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting write up of the Democrats rightward (or middle-ward) creep on this issue entitled “Tiptoeing to the right on abortion,” by Suzanne Sataline. Basically, the issues raised in the article have to do with the increased prominence and voice given to some pro-life democrats and to the organization Democrats for Life. Kristen Day, the executive director of of that organization put it this way:
“In 2004, we couldn’t get a word in. This time, they reached out to us,” says Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, a six-year-old advocacy organization that sponsored a convention gathering that featured antiabortion Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee. “The big tent is opening up.”
There are those who disagree with this assessment, and believe that the party is actually moving to the left in some ways (you can read about that here). But whether the movement is real or merely perceived, the reaction is certainly real and these changes are not being happily received in some quarters, as evidenced by the response of those in pro-abortion organizations. One response in particular stood out to me, that of Marjorie Signer:
“It pains me that our party holds this pro-life view,” says Marjorie Signer, a spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national nonprofit group made up of groups from 15 denominations. “I have a big problem reducing the number” of abortions. How would that be achieved, she asks — “by cutting off access and making [abortion] impossible to get?”
Leaving aside the fact that someone would seemingly call the democratic position unequivocally pro-life despite the fact that the Democratic Party platform “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and “a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion,” I was very interested in Signer’s reaction because of the group she represents. Some of the readers of this blog may remember the fact that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church chose to affiliate our entire denomination with this group. At General Convention 06 the Diocese of Tennessee was one of several Dioceses to introduce resolutions to remove the Episcopal Church from that organization.
This is the language and position that Ms. Signer finds so objectionable:
But it asserts that the party “also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education” that “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” About 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the U.S.
“This platform, for the first time, acknowledges and supports a decision to exercise choice in a different direction, to carry a child to term,” says Michael Yaki, the national platform director for the Democratic National Committee. “The core value, a woman’s right to choose, has not been compromised at all.”
This begs the question–as though there wasn’t a question before about affiliating an entire body of Christians with a lobbying group that unabashedly takes a position contrary to historic Christian teaching, and does so in a radical way–as to whether the Episcopal Church (or any of the other 15 denominations/religious groups) ought to be affiliated with an organization that believes the position of the Democratic party on Abortion is too pro-life.
Some of us here in the Diocese of Tennessee and at least three other Dioceses of the Episcopal Church were upset enough about this to submit resolutions at General Convention 2006 to rescind our membership in the RCRC. Perhaps as their ideology is shown to be out of step with even democratic orthodoxy this subject will receive a new airing. I pray so.
Here’s the text of the original TN resolution which was tabled at GC2006:Continue reading