Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Elections and Abortions

Just another one of those conversation posts that originated at Street Prophets. I think Pastordan is probably correct - the Foley scandal may just be the last straw to end the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and perhaps the U.S. Senate.

I linked this post by Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost where he agrees that this is the apparent case

Poll after poll shows that voters are dissatisfied with the GOP. For months conservative pundits have been listing the reasons why the Republicans deserve to lose. Then the Foley scandal broke, revealing that the House leadership is either more corrupt or incompetent than we had imagined. Congressional Republicans appear to be headed for a fall this fall.
except, in the end, abortion will doom the Democrats
Once the dust settles, though, the result will be the same as it’s been for a decade: the Republicans will still be in control of the House and Senate and the Democrat’s will wonder how they managed to blow it yet again. There will be the inevitable stream of books and op-eds to explain “What Went Wrong” but they’ll be missing the two words that consistently kill the hopes for a Democratic-controlled legislature: Roe and Doe.
A pretty good discussion ensued in this thread. The key comment in this thread that led to this post, after me saying abortion really isn't a "single-issue":
Well, For JCH it is more than a simple single issue. He posted the other day that if you banned abortion (and that's the big IF), you'd also need other things, reform the adoption system, better pre and post natal care, etc.

That really does take it above the mantra of "single-issue".

However, I don't think that's the stance of most of these anti-abortion voters, at least the ones I've met.

Most of these people are looking for a very simplistic...and to be honest morally safe*.. black and white view of the world. And this issue seems to give it to them.

*And by morally safe, I mean that it's in an area that they won't "trip" themselves, so they. and others can see them in those pristine pure white terms.

Needless to say, a lot of those people I've met I personally would say are quite morally challenged, so to speak.
I like Karmakin a lot actually, considering how different we are. He is struggling mightily to come up with a moral "language" that both secular and religious folks can unite around in a common framework. Since I believe in a version of natural law, and the actual existence of common moral beliefs stretching across all cultures and religions, I like his style - a lot.

The comment by me that he mentions in that last quote is here and the applicable section to this post is this:

Abortion: I think abortion is immoral, but shouldn't be outlawed.
  • If on the national level, they tell me they will work to pass any constitutional amendment on abortion, pro or con, they are probably done. I might support one that bans but allows exceptions for life and health of mother, and severe health issues for child, plus rape and incest. They better, however, also support complete medical coverage and financial support (paid medical leave) for all pregnancies, and adoption reform - or they should just leave it to the states
  • On the national level, if they say they will get judges to overturn Roe, they are done.
  • On any level, if they oppose parental notification, they are done
Now, my response to my abortion stance not being "single-issue" because I wanted to include social and material support for women (with some modification)

* * * * *

I wish I could say that is what I meant by "single issue". For many in my church, say, those 1,200,000+ abortions a year are just as real a lost life as a soldier or civilian killed in Iraq or an earthquake victim in Pakistan. Period. All the deaths in Iraq are a drop in the abortion bucket. All of the AIDS deaths in sub-Sahara Africa in 2005 is only about 700,000 more than the abortion deaths in the US alone. The exceptions for life and health of the mother, health of the child, rape and incest only amount to about 10% of that 1,200,000 - leaving over a 1,000,000 that are the taking of innocent life without excuse.

Frankly, while I am more politically-wired and looking for compromises that can do something, I agree. If you believe that, all other issues pall - and the defenders of abortion, in justifying abortion, really are justifying a degradation of all American culture. Everything good and moral begins to sink into the abyss with this immorality.

We are created imago dei: in the image of God. Our value is defined not by what "we can do" (our value to others), but "what we are"(our intrinsic value). In justifying abortion, different folks have different standards on what abilities constitute a person they have to hold in regard: sentience, cognition, self-awareness, sociality, the capacity to make plans, or their mother believing they have that regard. All of these are measures not of "what we are" but "what we can do" - they all ignore imago dei and that we have an inherent nature that is worthy of respect and that makes us a "rights bearer" regardless of the narrow definitions of "personhood" our society may hold. Once we start defining which "images of God" are not "persons" with adequate sentience, cognition, self-awareness, sociality, capacity to make plans, etc. - then we justify infanticide, mercy killing, and active euthanasia (which I actually support in Oregon) - not to mention just good old fashion racism, sexism, murder and genocide.

In discussing the five furies of conscience, J. Budziszewski used abortion in every example. When I discussed the Five Furies, I removed abortion from the examples, because I frankly did not want to be accused of back-dooring an anti-abortion rant by means of a philosophy discussion - just as Joe Carter was accused of running Karl Rove's "wedge issue play sheet" by one of his commenter's in his post linke above. I wanted to discuss conscience without a pie-fight on abortion. J. Bud's reason for using abortion throughout this discussion:

All the furies collude. Each reinforces the others, not only in individuals but in the social group. Perhaps you and I connive in displaced reconciliation by becoming comrades in guilty deeds. Or perhaps my compulsion to confess feeds your compulsion to justify yourself. In such ways entire groups, entire societies may drive themselves downhill, as the revenge of the conscience grows more and more terrible.

My examples focus on abortion, which is both the chief means by which our is losing our moral sanity and the greatest symptom of its loss
I am still not interested in a pie-fight on abortion - I just want to make you understand that this isn't a "wedge issue", or a "distraction from the real moral issues", or a "single-issue" for a large number of US voters. Committed pro-life folk weigh other issues; and if you want to "balance their view" then you have to place "values" greater than a million lives on the other side of the scale. That is not really very easy to accomplish. If you thought fetuses were imago dei and rights bearers, just like you, because they have intrinsic worth based on what they are rather than what they can do, it would be hard to distract you from this issue as well. A million lives is a million lives.

The other solution is to "lower the weight" of the million lives so that it is easier to balance that weight on the other side. However, the more

  • they are called "believers in forced childbirth" without any discussion of who "forces" women to get pregnant
  • they hear fetuses called clumps of cells
  • Democrats "support" the continuation of procedures like Intact D&X's
  • Democrats oppose parental notification (supported by 80% of the population);
- then the more they believe that the Democratic Party is incapable of compromising on abortion on demand. They believe, as sometimes I feel, that the Democratic Party has never met an abortion they didn't like - and certainly none they deeply despise.

I doubt if many expect (even if they hope for) the repeal of Roe (I don't - I think the SC appointments were made for that not to happen) but what they expect is to nibble away and restrict abortion, both nationally and at the state level: they want to get it to the point where it is only available in cases of risk to the life of the mother, rape and incest. I think health of the child will be added to that list. Health of the mother may be added if it isn't used to create to large a loophole. Keep in mind: two-thirds of Amercans want abortion restricted from its current levels. They also want abortion unchosen, even if they are not committed, as many are, to making it illegal. Do folks who want to see abortion severely lowered have reason to believe the Democratic Party is going to lead this fight?

I am not trying to change your view of abortion (although that would be nice), just make you understand the passion underlying this issue - and the way folks see it connected to the moral health and life of the whole culture. This is not a "single issue" for these folks; but a nearly impossible to balance "life and death" issue.

Now, if I believe it is this wrong then why do I not support efforts to make it illegal? J. Budziszewski:

To the question "Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?" the biblical answer is, "Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?" The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them.

It is not even true that all of God's commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder. That is why I may be confident in condemning the legalization of abortion.
J. Bud may be confident, but regretfully there is no common view that abortion is not a justified taking of life, or even the taking of a "life" at all - which means legal solutions do not exist. We must "win hearts and minds" and make it unchosen - even if we cannot make it illegal.


  1. You are so right. Abortion in not a single issue but it is a crucial one. Here is South Dakota there is a vote to ban abortion on the ballot. Please pray it passes but to be honest SD won't be the first state or nation to ban abortion. Pine Ridge Reservation already did so. They fired their chief and banned abortion. Several prominant chiefs have also become Christians. Things are changing here in the midwest! Hallelujah!

  2. For many in my church, say, those 1,200,000+ abortions a year are just as real a lost life as a soldier or civilian killed in Iraq or an earthquake victim in Pakistan. Period.

    I get that this is a big part of why pro-life conservatives view things the way they do, but I don't understand it. I simply can't connect with it on either an emotional level or an intellectual one.

    I know we're supposed to say that we value all lives equally, but in practice, we simply don't. Most human embryos, as many as 78% according to some studies, wind up aborting by natural causes, without the woman ever even knowing she was pregnant. Yet we do not mourn these millions of losses, nor do we call for grand action to cure this horrible ill. Indeed, given that roughly 25% of known pregnancies are medically or surgically aborted, and given that only roughly 22% of all pregnancies last long enough for the woman to know about it, as many as 18.4 million pregnancies each year -- souls, in your terminology -- die before they ever had a shot at life, with no one knowing about it or mourning the loss. Compared to this, the roughly 1 million avoidable abortions you cite become the drop in the bucket. Yet no one seems to care much about this much more pervasive problem.

    Similarly, a woman who miscarries at four or five months pregnant mourns the loss, but is generally nowhere near as devastated as one who loses a newborn, never mind one who loses an older child.

    So, when I read the argument that "aborted fetus = killed soldier," this seems like an odd calculus to me, with no grounding in actual human emotion. I won't pretend to assign "value," but there's no doubt that the soldier had an identity, self awareness, and almost certainly friends and family who knew them well and cared deeply about them. Generally speaking, aborted fetuses have none, or to be very generous, at most one, of these attributes.

    Finally, I think a review of the history of the religious perspective on abortion is in order. As it turns out, religious objection to abortion is fairly recent. The Catholic Church is arguably the most consistent pro-life force in religion (they even apply the pro-life approach to concepts like capital punishment, which many conservative pro-life Christians do not). Yet prior to 1869, the Church held that ensoulment did not take place until "quickening" -- the point at which a woman can feel her baby moving -- and that abortion prior to that point was not problematic.

    This isn't to say that traditional views on abortion were right, and that current views are wrong; only that religious opposition to abortion is quite new in the grand scheme of things. God Himself, in His infinite wisdom, didn't see fit to address it at all in His holy book, never mind including a specific prohibition.

    Thus, I remain somewhat puzzled as to what all the hub-bub is about.

  3. We must "win hearts and minds" and make it unchosen - even if we cannot make it illegal.

    I should add that this is almost exactly right. I'd take it a step further and say that making it "unchosen" should be an even higher priority than making it illegal. Because if people don't choose to do it, it doesn't matter whether or not it's legal.

  4. Hi Tom

    It is great to see you come by.

    The bulk of this was written for a liberal faith (not Christianity per se) and politics site - and one of the reasons was trying to help people get into other peoples heads and perhaps "see through their eyes". One of the amazing things to me is that the opposing camps just do not "get each other"

    This leads to the idea I originally responded to: this cannot be a real issue so it must be a wedge issue, or a distraction, from the real moral issues Republicans want to avoid.

    BTW: I never talked about ensoulment, or when somebody has a soul. No one has a clue - including the Catholic church. Your analysis on that is correct - although we now know through ultrasound that there is directed movement much earlier than it can be felt. I just think ensoulement is another one of those "what we do" ways to reduce folks from being an imago dei to a "person" by our definition.

    The death of embryos is a non-starter issue to me; just as the death by natural causes of people who have been born is outside the realm of what constitutes killing: they failed to progress for natural reasons. So what? If they had souls, they are in heaven. If not, it still is not us deciding who is valuable and who is not as a rationalization for killing who is not. Finally, grief is not a measure: of course we are more attached to children we have bounced on our knee. We are also more attached to ours than the ones in Iraq. Does that mean our lack of deep grief for each death in Iraq means their life is less important?

    Anyway, great questions and it is great to talk to you again. Take care.

  5. Good post, which I found through the Christian Carnival.

    Most conservative Christians seem to ignore the alternate reading of Exodus 21:22-3, given in the NIV, and some other versions, which indicates, if it is the correct reading, that an unborn fetus was not the moral equivalent of an adult. Even if the correct reading, I don't think it justifies wide-spread abortion, although it would mean that abortion isn't murder, but, nonetheless, as I say, most conservative Christians write as if there was no such possibility.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly