Thursday, September 6, 2012

How a pro-life Christian can support the Democratic platform

Yesterday, after contrasting the party platforms on abortion, I promised to comment "on how a pro-life Christian can support the Democratic platform, including its right-to-choose paragraph."
Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote "A Plea to Pro-Life Voters" on how a pro-life voter could support the Democratic platform in spite of its right-to-choose paragraph. If you are a pro-life voter, I beg you to stop right now and read that post. Everything I said then still applies now. I'm not going to repeat it here.
Nothing I say here will change your mind anyway, whether you're pro-choice or pro-life or somewhere in the middle. So before I rush in where angels fear to tread, let me make one thing clear: In this blogpost, I'm not trying to change anybody's mind about abortion. I'm simply going to give a few reasons that a Christian--Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, progressive, Mormon--might support a woman's right to choose.

1. First, let's look at the elephant in the living room. If you believe abortion, without exception, is murder, I understand why you favor the Republican platform: at least you're consistent. No need for you to read further here--though please do not get involved in any way with the medical care of my daughters or granddaughters.

Most Americans, however, accept that, however serious it might be, abortion is not murder. According to an August 27 AP news story, "Republican Mitt Romney says he is in favor of abortion in cases of rape, incest and the health and life of the mother." Though polls show Americans split right down the middle between pro-life and pro-choice camps, more than 80% agree with Governor Romney about allowing certain exceptions. I'm guessing that neither Romney nor any of the 80% would condone killing a six-month-old baby for the same reasons.

2. Americans disagree about what to call whatever is aborted. Is it a "product of conception"?  A pregnancy? A zygote? An embryo? A fetus? A potential human? An unborn child? A baby? A person under the definition of the Fourteenth Amendment? And if it is all of those things at different times, when does it pass from one stage to another, and what value does it have at each stage? Some of these questions have medical or biological answers, while others are philosophical or political or religious. Ethicists are not of one mind about abortion. When a pregnant woman's life is endangered by her unborn child, for example, Catholic theology forbids abortion whereas Jewish theology requires it.

3. "Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy," says the Democratic platform. "There is no place for politicians or government to get in the way." That's because we trust our families, doctors, and clergy--but not our lawmakers. In 2010, when the Gallup polling organization asked Americans to rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in various lines of work, 66% gave medical doctors a very high or high rating and 53% gave clergy the same. Only 9%, however, trusted members of Congress to the same extent; 57% rated their elected representatives' ethical standards as low or very low. If I needed counsel about a problem pregnancy, I would not seek out Todd Akin.

4. For me, the bottom line is this: America is a democracy where people of varying views agree to  live together in as much harmony as possible. Some things we agree about and make laws for everyone to follow: it is a crime to murder, to steal, to kidnap, to counterfeit. In other areas we differ and allow everyone to make their own decisions: the religion (if any) we practice, the work we do, the clothes we wear (though 'twas not always so--medieval societies legislated all of the above). That's why we say we're a free country.

If abortion is banned in nearly all instances, however, my choices evaporate. There's no point in discussing my situation with my family, my doctor, or my pastor or rabbi. The federal government, without knowing my circumstances, my options, my despair, or my religious beliefs, has made the choice on my behalf. Such coercion makes for bad religion and bad politics. Coercion is not the American way.

But when I have the right to choose, I can choose to be pro-life. If I want to, I can affirm nearly everything in the Republican platform's section on abortion (apart from the first two sentences, which aim to eliminate choice). I can join Republicans in valuing life, preventing abuses, sensibly regulating the practice of abortion, and making adoption more attractive. Or I can join Democrats in working to lower the abortion rate through education, affordable health care, and pre- and post-pregnancy support programs.

Yes, if we continue to allow freedom of choice, we will continue to have abortions. (We will anyway, of course, though if they go underground they'll be less safe for the mother.) But my Augustinian theology says that God gave the human race freedom of choice, even though there was an excellent chance we'd eat the apple and mess everything up; and my evangelical theology says that persuasion wins more souls than coercion; and my Anabaptist theology says there are lots of decisions the government should keep its hairy nose out of. Freedom, as our forefathers taught us, is even more important than life itself.

And that's why I think it's not only possible but desirable for a pro-life Christian to support the Democratic platform, including its right-to-choose paragraph.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. While I personally feel I couldn't in good conscience have an abortion, and I totally get why people are so against it, I also completely understand and feel ultimate compassion for the women I know who felt it was the best decision they could make at the time. It's a conundrum inside a maze, I tell you, this issue. Thanks for putting so much time into thinking and writing about this issue.

Anonymous said...

I am also basically "pro-life" and I am a Christian who voted for Obama last time and will again. When I was in college I did a research paper on a the Biblical view of abortion. First of all the Bible does not address abortion at all. However, in the Old Testament law it does describe the penalties in a situation where 2 men are fighting and one man's wife tries to intervene and is killed by the other man. The penalty is death. It also describes the penalty if a pregnant woman is struck under the same circumstances and loses the child she is carrying. The penalty is then a fine. Obviously, the Bible places greater value on the mother's life than on the life of the unborn child. I believe this is a Biblical basis supporting abortion when the mother's life is in danger.

I am also in favor of the "morning after pill" in cases of rape. I don't think I have the right to tell someone that they have to carry their rapist's baby.

There are other horrible situations such as incest where the choices are excruciating. I believe if we really value the life of the unborn child, we should continue to value its life once it is born by insuring the child has adequate health care and nutrition. We should also be providing support services to the expectant mothers who find themselves facing such a difficult choice. Perhaps if we offered them more opportunities , including housing, job training, child care while they get on their feet and emotional support, maybe there would be fewer abortions.

Finally, the best way to avoid abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. This would require teaching not only abstinence, but also about birth control in schools and making it readily available.