Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A plea to pro-life voters

I have friends who plan to vote for McCain-Palin because of Governor Palin's strong pro-life stance. They admire her for welcoming a child with Down syndrome, and they are pleased that her pregnant teenage daughter plans to give birth and get married. This blog is for those friends.

I too admire Sarah Palin for living out her beliefs. I admire the courage and compassion she has shown in her family. I agree that the abortion rate in the United States is tragically high, and I would like Americans to agree on the high value of human life, born and unborn. Also, she gave a terrific speech last night.

Nevertheless, I suspect that a McCain-Palin administration would not be nearly as pro-life as my friends--and Governor Palin herself--hope.
  • Historically, Republicans have done no better than Democrats at reducing the abortion rate. The U.S. abortion rate has been declining quite steadily since 1980, when there were 29.3 induced abortions per 1000 women between ages 15 and 44. By contrast, there were only 19.4 such abortions in 2005, the most recent year studied. This may simply reflect a changing demographic as Baby Boomers age (women under 25 get half of all abortions, and the under-25 segment has gotten proportionately smaller during the years studied). Still, Republican administrations have been no more likely than Democratic administrations to stem the tide. In fact, the largest drop occurred during President Clinton's first term.
Republican enthusiasts hope that a McCain-Palin ticket would be different from other administrations because of Palin's personal pro-life commitment. But would it?
  • McCain is unlikely to try to overturn Roe v Wade. As he famously said in 1999, "I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. ... But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations." Even if, as some Democrats fear, his Supreme Court nominees did overturn the landmark legislation, the result would not be to outlaw abortions but rather to return the decision to individual states.
  • If Palin tried to outlaw abortion, most Americans would oppose her. A public opinion poll last year indicates that 34% of Americans are in favor of generally available abortion ("abortion on demand"), 41% would like abortion to be legal but with more restrictions (few are in favor of late-term abortions, for example), and 23% would like abortion to be outlawed. As long as 75% of Americans favor legal abortion, it will not be outlawed.
Ironically, McCain and Palin's policies could have the net effect of increasing rather than decreasing the number of abortions in the United States. For example,
  • McCain and Palin oppose sex-education classes that teach about contraception, even though abstinence-only classes appear to be less effective in preventing pregnancy. Earlier this year, University of Washington researchers concluded that "students who'd had comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to report a pregnancy than those without any sex education and 50 percent less likely than the abstinence-only group." Interestingly, teen pregnancy rates in Europe, where sex education is the norm, are much lower than those of the U.S. "Likewise, the U.S. abortion rates are disproportionately high," Nancy Gibbs wrote in Time magazine last January. "Rates in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are less than half that in the U.S."
  • McCain's tax proposals will benefit low-income people significantly less than Obama's (check out this article and chart from CNN Money). If you are a pro-lifer who truly believes that Republican economic policy is more effective than Democratic policy at reducing poverty, then vote for McCain, because abortion and poverty go hand-in-hand. According to the Guttmacher Institute, "The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women)." If, however, you like McCain's view on abortion but prefer Obama's view on the economy, then vote for Obama-- economic policies that benefit the poor could have a greater effect on the abortion rate than McCain's dislike of Roe v Wade.
But, some of my friends say, this isn't just about policy. This is about the value of the unborn child. This is about speaking up for the voiceless. This is a justice issue. I agree, and I wish everyone else did too. Beware, though. The Republican team may be less pro-life than you'd wish.
  • Abortion is not the only pro-life issue. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was known for his "seamless garment" philosophy, his belief that life must be protected at all stages. According to his consistent pro-life ethic, Christians must be concerned about abortion, and also about health care, poverty, euthanasia, capital punishment, military involvement, and every other arena in which human life may be devalued or unnecessarily cut short. According to Bernardin, "A consistent ethic does not say everyone in the Church must do all things, but it does say that as individuals and groups pursue one issue, whether it is opposing abortion or capital punishment, the way we oppose one threat should be related to support for a systemic vision of life.
  • McCain-Palin are long-term supporters of the war in Iraq. They believe it was right for the United States to invade, and they believe a military victory is in sight. Obama, by contrast, believes it is an ill-advised war whose repercussions have made the U.S. more, not less, susceptible to terrorism. Whatever your views, over 4,000 American military have died in Iraq since 2003--and, less often reported in the U.S. media, approximately 90,000 Iraquis have also been victims of violent death.
  • According to an article on an NRA web page, "Gov. Sarah Palin would be one of the most pro-gun vice-presidents in American history, and Joe Biden would definitely be the most anti-gun." The NRA thinks that's a plus for Palin. It likes the fact that she and McCain opposed banning handguns in the District of Columbia, whose death rate from firearm injuries is higher (23.8 per 100,000 in 2005) than that of any of the fifty states (Louisiana is next, at 18.8, followed by Alaska, at 17.4).
Here is my plea to people who are considering voting for McCain-Palin mostly because they are opposed to abortion. (I realize that some of you sincerely believe McCain-Palin would be better for the country, and for the world, than Obama-Biden. I disagree, but I'm not writing to you. I'm writing to single-issue voters who, apart from the abortion issue, would probably vote Democratic this year. Though if ardent Republicans want to take my advice, that's OK with me too.)
  • First, tell the Obama-Biden team you are concerned. (You can e-mail them here.) Encourage them to speak up in favor of the unborn, even if they believe Roe v Wade is here to stay. Tell them you're looking for a team with a consistent pro-life ethic. Tell them you'd love to vote for them, if only they would not ignore this important issue. They just might listen.
  • Second, don't let your ideals dazzle your judgment. Consider the possibility that a McCain-Palin administration would result in more war, more guns, and more poverty--resulting in arguably more deaths-by-abortion, and certainly more deaths overall--than an Obama-Biden administration.
Think carefully about the big picture. Vote for the team whose policies will best favor life, even if that's not the team with the best pro-life slogans. And God have mercy on us all.


Anonymous said...

Well said, LaVonne. I once read an article that traced the actual number of abortions in the US since 1973, and it demonstrated that abortions have actually crept up slightly during most Republican administrations. I was fascinated by this and by the fact that no one was talking about the actual numbers. Are we so swayed by rhetoric that we ignore fact? This article argued that a rise in abortions is caused by cuts to social programs for the poor--when women lack health insurance, jobs, child care options, etc., they are more likely to have abortions regardless of the rhetoric of "pro-life" politicians. Those who claim they believe in ending abortion should make life easier for single mothers with children. Here endeth the lesson. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well thought out, LaVonne. It's clear you put quite a bit of energy into this blog, and presented the best case possible. I have to admit, I feel warmer toward McCain since Palin rolled into town. However, as a pro-life dem, I can't in good conscience vote this way. Too many other important issues at stake.

Conversely, casting a vote for Obama is equally unconscionable in my mind. The guy spoke out against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act! Dehumanizing and devaluing the most vulnerable among us is a slippery slope to killing all sorts of individuals deemed unworthy of life.

All of us should feel grieved that on so many levels -- whether abortion, captial punishment, war, violent media, pornography etc.. --we have marred God's image beyond recognition.

Anyway, as you know, I have friends voting both ways -- and everyone seems pretty committed. On my end, I'll either be writing in a candidate or skipping altogether.

Miss you, babe ...

Anonymous said...

I'll be fascinated to see the responses from on-the-fence folk; I already agree with you, so I find your line of argument particularly persuasive. On the whole, I wish we could persuade those on the right to care as much about life after birth as they do before birth, and vice versa that we could persuade those on the left to care as much about life before birth as they do about life after. Now that would be a great coalition!

I'm delighted that you pointed out and provided a link to the CNN report on tax policy. Every major news magazine last year--right, center and left--reported on the deepening concern over the growing divide between rich and poor--although that concern seems to have disappeared from the political discussion. Newsweek, Time, Economist, Atlantic. all had reports on this issue in the past 15 months. Republicans used to think such a divide was a threat to democracy; today the leadership of the Republican Party seems to think everyone should be allowed to be as greedy as they like.

I'm encouraged, however, when I learn that someone like Warren Buffett actually thinks it is outrageous that his effective tax rate is lower than that of his secretary. He seems to recognize at least two key things: (1) he benefits as much or more than others from the nature of our society that allows him to make so much money (he doesn't really earn it all by himself) and (2) that he owes something back that is best taken care of by a fair, progressive tax system, one that provides for education, health-care and infrastructure as well as national defense.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, wonderful post. One of the few times I've read someone articulating some of my thoughts and concerns about abortion as a political issue.

I haven't decided yet whom I'll vote for, but as much as Obama is appealing to me, I think his record on abortion is rather alarming. The vote against Born Alive Infant Protection Act, his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, the fact that right now he's using abortion in his ads against McCain (falsely saying that McCain would take away the right to choose--as you point out, constitutionally impossible) ... Obama seems more militantly in support of abortion rights (and removing any restrictions) than many candidates.

I'm skeptical that Obama and Biden would give two hoots that I want them to be pro-life. If he would support the status quo, that would be more tolerable (leave Roe v. Wade with various state restrictions, etc). I'm just not convinced that an Obama administration would do that.

One final note that I don't hear many people discussing: I believe the latest CDC numbers I saw indicated that 55% of abortions are African-American. Your point about the connection between poverty and abortion is sound--but why is the African-American church silent on the absence of some half million babies each year? I think part of the reason is that abortion has been so linked to the Republican party, and until we figure out some way to change the political nature of abortion, those Christians most affected will likely remain largely silent.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the thought you put into making your argument, LaVonne. My only disagreement with you is that I did not think Palin's speech was "terrific". In terms of style, she speaks well. But what she said was disrespectful, mocking, dismissive and smug. She lowered the level of civility in our political discourse and made it about personal attacks and sniping one liners. I know Republicans like to make fun of Obama's lofty rhetoric, but he also has the highest ideals and standards to back it up, and he expects nothing less from the people around him.

Your readers may be interested to read the book "What's The Matter With Kansas?", where Thomas Frank makes the argument that not only will the neocon Republicans NOT deliver on the pro-life agenda, but that they use such "values issues" and disparaging spin about "latte liberals" to get the religious right to vote them into office. After they're in office, the social agenda is shelved and they go about making things better for corporate America. He made this argument in 2004 and its hard to escape its truth, when one looks at what's happened over the past 8 years of Bush--corporate profits through the roof, the ever increasing disparity between the very rich and the middle class, and virtually no action on the religious right's social agenda, despite Republicans controlling all branches of government for 6 years. Food for thought to all those who think the present GOP is looking out for them or their one issue.

Anonymous said...

Edited to correct my earlier statistical assertion -- african-american women are not the majority of abortion seekers in the US. But a far higher percentage of african-american pregnancies end in abortion compared to caucasian pregnancies.

LaVonne Neff said...

A note in response to "Anonymous," who points out that Palin's speech was not terrific (as I had said) but rather "disrespectful, mocking, dismissive and smug"--indeed. Even as I was amazed by Palin's skill at holding her audience, I was troubled by her tone and her carelessness with facts. I was speaking about form, not content.

Matt Gunter said...

Good post, LaVonne.

As a proponent of a consistent ethic of life I have sometimes exercised the freedom not to vote given the usual choices. But, you rightly point out that opposing abortion is only one part of a calculation of how to vote if one wants to promote a culture of life. If one is concerned about the actual number of abortions as opposed to being satisfied with anti-abortion rhetoric and believes that being pro-life is more than that alone, voting for Obama is a plausible pro-life vote.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with this article or any other or the tired excuses by people claiming to be Christians to put Obama in office. Obama thinks it is ok to terminate human life at any stage in the womb. Period. This is wrong. Period. It is absolute, black and white and the character of such a person is not one I want in the white house. Not to mention what kind of justices he would appoint to the supreme court. My conscience will never let me vote for Obama, and its time Christians quit trying to be like the world and letting themselves be deceived by smooth talkers who bring false promises and see it for what it really is. And quit ignoring your conscience. The Iraq war is not the same in any way, shape , or form as the abortion issue, although it is sad when innocents lose their lives.

Anonymous said...

LaVonne, this was brilliant.
I am encouraged about conversation that considers the "systemic view of life".

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your passion for life. However, you (and the Roman Catholic Church) are wrong to equate being in favor of the death penalty, or just war, with being anti-life. Abortion murders a human being because there is no judicial finding of guilt of a capital crime. When an individual has been found guilty of a capital offense, he is justly put to death.

Likewise, when a just war is properly conducted, it will result in many deaths (on both sides), but those who killed or otherwise caused the deaths are not guilty of murder. The Old Testament is full of examples.

Finally, even if a McCain Administration might not argue for not only the overturing of Roe v. Wade, but a "Human Life Amendment" to the Constitution, its ability to block legislation that would statutorily enshrine abortion rights, and its ability to nominate judges and justices who will interpret the Constitution and the laws, not create new law where none exists will protect against expansion of any legal right to abortion.

The hollowness of Sen. Obama's claim to want to reduce the number of abortions, and to "reach across the aisle" to evangelicals is demonstrated by the advertisements his campaign is now airing on radio, and I believe, on TV, featuring a nurse-prectitioner who is identified as an employee of Planned Parenthood. She is warning us that if Sen. McCain is elected, he will repeal Roe v. Wade (silly, you "repeal" a law; you "overrule" an otherwise final court decision), and otherwise restrict a woman's right to have an abortion. I assume that he believes that his gaffe at the Saddleback Civil Forum (determining when life begins is "above my pay grade")so turned evangelicals aginst him (because there is general agreement that life begins at conception) that any further pursuit of them would be futile.

Anonymous said...

I looked up the Born-Alive Infants Act, curious that there has to be a special law to protect a living infant. I had figured both pro-lifers and pro-choicers agree on the basic protections for babies outside of the womb.

But I have to say that after looking into it, I can see why some politicians oppose it. The Act broadens the definition of an "infant," normally used for newborn babies, to a "member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development," and which is breathing or has a beating heart.

Given these conditions, we can be talking about a 3-week-old fetus. It’s fine for pro-lifers to propose laws that protect fetuses in the first trimester. But conjuring infants to do that can disincline pro-choice politicians from wanting to compromise. Would someone like Obama have been more amenable to sign an act that dealt with late-term born-alive chlidren only? I can only wonder. In any case, the shrewdest strategy for both parties, I think, is to be clear about definitions and reflect them in the names of the laws.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous: I can respect your decision to vote according to conscience. That is right and proper. But please, do not question the salvation of those who would vote differently than you. Comments like yours have been uttered ad nauseum by Christians who fail to take seriously Christ's command not to judge. You are welcome to judge my actions and my decisions -- in a spirit of love, mind you -- but God alone will judge my soul.

I find it especially disheartening when Christians such as yourself will not even consider a well-reasoned argument (such as LaVonne's) that is clearly seeking to uphold the values of Christ. You are free to disagree with her. Fine. But if you do, you owe it to those of us in the conversation (whom you have judged with your words) to present a rational explanation for your position. It is clear that LaVonne and others here have spent a good deal of time considering the issues at hand. Is it too much to ask you to do the same?

And finally, in the end, is it not possible that the world will listen to a Christian position on abortion more readily if they see consistency and integrity in our positions on other issues? Hypocrisy is perhaps our single biggest sin that discourages others from considering the faith. When we preach love, we sure better demonstrate it. So I'm calling on you -- and myself -- to demonstrate such love and concern for each other. A culture of life starts precisely there.

Clay Anderson

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post, Lavonne.

You have put into clear words and supported with solid research what I have been pondering during this presidential election season.

I am going to vote for Barack Obama for many reasons: his calm and collected temperament, his constitutional law background, his multicultural experience, his competence as a manager, his effectiveness as a collaborator, his excellence as a communicator, his motivational leadership, his understanding of technology, science, economics and history, his reasoned and realistic approach to international policy and world events.

As I have read Scripture myself and as I have heard it explained and interpreted by my pastors and teachers, I understand that no human government is going to fully represent either God's justice or his grace. So we are left with difficult choices between one sort of failing or another. Even so, I don't think it's a good idea to sit on the sidelines in lament or indignation. The poor and sick of this nation--not to mention those injured on its behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan--need help. The poor and sick beyond U. S. borders likewise.

I frankly think that help for all of these is more likely to come from an Obama administration than from a McCain administration. So I urge everyone to vote for Obama this year--and then to redouble their own efforts to work within churches and communities to do what government can never do--the radical work of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I find it upsetting that some people could vote on one issue...
I like Obama, he has a lot of wonderful things to say....great speeches, but his association with his own church for so many years surely has formulated many of his opinions and 'who he really is'. His pastor was a racist with hate speech which Obama listened to for more than 20 years....Obama's speech writers have done a good job to make you believe he is someone else....If he wins, be afraid.......he has seriously never accomplished 'anything'...but suddenly he'll be able to manage our country,foreign affairs, the economy, the borders, YIKES!!! Get real.....don't kid yourself!!

Anonymous said...

From the fascinating entry on about Obama vs. the born-alive legislation:

"Whether opposing 'born alive' legislation is the same as supporting 'infanticide,' however, is entirely a matter of interpretation. That could be true only for those, such as Obama's 2004 Republican opponent, Alan Keyes, who believe a fetus that doctors give no chance of surviving is an 'infant.' It is worth noting that Illinois law already provided that physicians must protect the life of a fetus when there is 'a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support.'"

See the entry for more intersting points on what it is exactly that Obama declined to vote for.

Anonymous said...

A single issue shouldn't qualify someone for office but a single issue can disqualify him. This must be examined since you can judge the character of a person by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. The dignity of human life is,in a sense, a thread that touches upon our life-connection with the poor, elderly,disabled, the prisoner, the AIDS patient, or any of life's vulnerable. To the charge that we are'SINGLE-ISSUE'VOTERS, I must point out that there are numerous single issues that disqualify a person for office(someone endorsing rape,bribery,corporate fraud,bigotry). If we have laws forbidding cruelty to animals(ask Michael Vick if it is a crime to maim,mutilate or kill even an animal),why not the same concern for unborn babies?We don't vote for a candidate simply because they uphpl the sanctity of lifr-they must be called and competent.Yet this reveals their moral fiber and ethics.