Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pro-lifers--hope or experience?

Two months ago I wrote A plea to pro-life voters, followed by The speech I wish Mr Obama would make. Today, the day before the election, I write again to pro-life voters. Not to those who truly believe that Republicans know how to manage the economy and conduct world affairs, but to those who agree with Mr Obama on nearly everything except abortion. I urge you --when you vote, consider the record. What's important isn't what a candidate says about abortion, but what actually happens under his watch.

What has happened over the last 28 years--20 years of Republican presidents running on pro-life platforms, 8 years of a Democratic president vowing to keep abortion "safe, legal, and rare"?

Short answer: the Democrats did better.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate decreased under the Bush administration, as it has under every administration since the mid-80s. The greatest decrease in abortion rates did not happen during a Republican administration, however, but during the 90s when Mr Clinton was president. No one knows exactly why--less sex? better contraception? better sex education? aging Boomers no longer fertile? less shame about unwed motherhood? less poverty?

Unwed motherhood is certainly on the rise. In 2006, 38.5% of live births were to unmarried women, says the Centers for Disease Control, noting that "this represents a 20 percent increase from 2002, when the recent upswing in nonmarital births began." But unwed motherhood does not necessarily go up when abortion goes down. Since 1980, abortion rates have decreased and single-motherhood rates have increased during all Republican administrations. By contrast, during the Clinton years abortion rates decreased significantly while single-motherhood rates held steady. Check it out here.

Abortion aside, what about other threats to human life? Under President Bush's leadership, over 4,000 of our military personnel have died; up to 100,000 have been wounded; and nearly 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died. War too is a pro-life issue.

During the primaries, when support for Mr Obama started to gain on that for Mrs Clinton, The Economist headlined an article "The Triumph of Hope over Experience?" During the presidential campaign, journalists and bloggers have applied Dr Samuel Johnson's phrase to voters who favor Mr Obama, 47, over Mr McCain, 72. I think they have it exactly backward--especially for pro-life voters. A vote for McCain is a hope that he will reverse the experience of his pro-life predecessors.

Dr Johnson was talking about a man who, having endured an unhappy marriage, immediately remarried (Life, vol. 2, 1770). A lot of us are unhappy about rising abortion rates, rising rates of single parenthood, rising numbers of war dead. If we go ahead in spite of our experience and elect another Republican--one who expressed support for Roe v. Wade before he changed his mind in order to appeal to the Religious Right, one whose knee-jerk response to any question is to use military power--we will get what we deserve. More of the same.

Consider this definition attributed to Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Please vote sanely.


Marci Johnson said...

Thanks for this post Lavonne! It says what I've been wanting to say to my Republican friends, but wasn't sure how to say it.

carla said...

Why oh why did I not spend days upon days sitting at your feet when I had the chance?!

heather said...

I didn't vote for Obama, based precisely on your distinction between what a candidate/politician says and what actually happens. [note: nor did I vote for McCain, and I'm happy in general that Obama won. But this is to explain why Obama did not earn my vote, for the reasons in your post.]

Obama has made overtures to both the NARAL-types and the moderate evangelical-types. He has said things that might be construed as moderate about abortion. But in looking at what he actually did when confronted with votes about abortion, his record is in no way moderate.

A hypothetical: Would President Obama sign the bill banning partial-birth abortion? I strongly doubt it. His pro-life supporters would likely justify this by saying that the partial-birth procedure accounts for only a tiny fraction of abortions performed, it wouldn't make much difference in the overall scheme of abortion, etc. But I think we must be wary of letting our pragmatism (and enthusiasm about a candidate) allow us to rationalize about lost opportunities to take a stand against a procedure that is appalling (a view shared by the majority of people in the country).

I do not support a constitutional amendment banning abortion. I am not a single issue voter. I think the Dobsonesque approach to abortion has hijacked the Republican party and stifled debate. I think they often express no concern for the women involved or for alleviating real-world circumstances that might encourage them to choose abortion.

But I fear that other Christians, the perspective in your post, are in danger of sacrificing the ability to decry abortion as a moral issue. We need not desire to ban all abortions to say that abortion is a major national problem (we do this with divorce, for instance). We have some of the most expansive access to abortion in the world, more liberal even than Europe. What does this say about us as a nation, that we are characterized by such high abortion rates--especially in our minority communities?

I agree that many Christians need a more expansive "pro-life" view. I'm not a pacifist, though I opposed the Iraq invasion. That war has been devastating in many ways, not least regarding loss of life, but the numbers killed in the past 5 years in Iraq are a fraction of the numbers of abortions in the U.S. in the past 5 years.

I don't think that the numbers of abortions will drop primarily as a result of legislative or judicial action. But that does not excuse us from speaking out and seeking what steps we can--if we truly believe abortion is a problem--to change the legal and judicial stance toward abortion. It is in some ways similar to racism. You cannot legislate away racism, but you can change legislation so that racism cannot define the rules for a society. And then pray and work in other ways so that the racism in the hearts and minds will dissolve.

LaVonne Neff said...

Heather, that was very thoughtful and well stated. Christians need to continue to speak up in favor of life. We need to press for legislation that puts reasonable limits on abortion (as most European countries already do, and not even for religious reasons). And, in addition, we need to look beyond abortion itself to the moral climate that makes abortion seem necessary to so many people. Our president-elect's stance on abortion law may be too permissive, but he is happily married to his first wife, he treats her as his equal in every respect, and he is a fine father to his daughters. If every family in this country were like his, the abortion rate would plummet.