UPDATED Nov. 24, 2019. We now have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, where reversing Roe v Wade is an eventuality. And, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has just released their voting guide naming abortion the “preeminent priority” when voting. I agree 100%. And that is why I vote Democrat.
I am a proud Democrat. And I believe we need to work at making abortion unnecessary.
I will not become a Republican because of the single issue of abortion. I will not leave the Democratic Party because of the single issue of abortion. The Republicans want to restrict access to abortion. The Democrats want to increase access to abortion.
Many of my pro-life friends want to make abortion illegal. Many of my pro-choice friends want to make it unrestricted.
I want neither. There is a common ground: Let’s make it unnecessary.
At the Inauguration, surely there will be plenty of platitudes about the Supreme Court appointee that will reverse Roe vs Wade… (Too narrow a focus for me.)
At the Women’s March, surely there will be plenty of platitudes about the need to support Planned Parenthood… (There are so many women’s issue beyond this one that I hope the March highlights.)
At the Right-to-Life March there will be little talk of anything beyond abortion… (For years this March has become an anti-abortion march much more so than a ‘pro-life’ march.)
Too bad. Too bad… There is really little ‘space’ for those of us who simply do not feel comfortable in any of these ‘tight boxes’… (Though I will be participating in the Women’s March, passionately supporting all but one of their unity principles.)
Below is a piece I co-authored* back in the days when Obama was running for President for the first time. It has been updated to reflect some more recent developments, but it is still quite potent.
(*My co-author was a ‘sister in the struggle’. As I man I feel inadequate in addressing this issue, though I understand that no group has sole ownership of any issue.)
Disclaimer One: For the person that is vehemently anti-abortion and for which abortion is the only issue they care about regardless of any other discussion or rationale, then this thesis is worthless and this article meaningless… I commend your commitment and would never try to dissuade you. However, don’t bother reading any further, this is not for you. But, for the person that is pro-life in the broadest sense of the word, including being anti-abortion – and yes, within the Catholic Church’s teaching – please read on.
Disclaimer Two: This article is not the place where you will find the definitive theological argument for/against abortion… Many other people that know much more than I do have developed the theological argument much more deeply than I ever could. Let it suffice to say that I am confident the position set forth below is within the Catholic Faith.
Being Democrat will unequivocally support the broader “life” issues…
AND: The path to less abortions is not to criminalize it further, but rather to create a culture of love, compassion, and understanding where abortions would no longer be an ethical option for the vast majority of the population.
Being “For-Life” goes well beyond the anti-abortion rhetoric of the pro-life movement.
Being “For-Life” includes saying NO to:
LATE TERM ABORTION
UNREGULATED STEM CELL RESEARCH
However, being “For-Life” is also saying YES to:
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
In today’s political climate, the pro-life movement (mostly Republicans) is focused pretty exclusively on being anti-abortion. They have had very little patience – and are simply not welcoming – of any attempt to broaden the spectrum from “anti-abortion” to “For-Life”. (To the credit of a few, some segment of the pro-life movement are engaged in regulating stem research advocacy; some have been instrumental end-of-life debate; and others are aggressively active in the pro-adoption movement.)
The pro-life movement is also perceived to be dogmatic, condemning of different views, and generally antagonistic to any discussion with those that differ with them. They have opted for a course that abortions must be eliminated by criminalizing the act. They have shown very little patience for the approach to ‘change hearts, not laws’.
The Republicans – the party that wants ‘less government’ – has chosen to concentrate their strategy on issues where government must act forcefully to enforce laws against those things many want to say “NO” to (except – for some inexplicable reason – capital punishment.) It is the Democrats – as might be expected – that generally support government programs that promote – and indeed, codify entitlement benefits for – those things many want to say “YES” to. It is also the Democrats, however, that have less than a stellar record on support for the issues in the “NO” list. It seems to be a matter of emphasis: Though obviously not absolute, the Republicans emphasize the legal path to the “NO” list; the Democrats emphasize the programmatic path to the “YES” list.
This artificial division of the full “For-Life” issues into ‘Republican’ or ‘Democratic’ camps has made it very difficult for someone committed to ALL “For-Life” issues to totally agree with one or the other political party… So, compromise is in order… By “compromise” I mean the acknowledgement of the political reality we live in and choosing a path for maximum impact. I fully know that to some no ‘compromise’ in the abortion issue is possible – and I respect that… I also recognize that abortion is “first among equals” in many people’s list.
Life is sparked at conception. Any other position is neither scientifically, ethically, or philosophically defensible. Some may wish it to be different, but it simply is not. Abortion terminates a life a life in the making – not a ‘potential’ life. I am a practicing Catholic and that is what I believe.
Women that choose to have an abortion are – more often than not – very thoughtful, prayerful, and totally torn by the decision. Most women that choose abortion do not do so lightly. Rather, it is a wrenching, difficult decision. A decision that oftentimes leaves the woman scarred for life. Women that choose abortion should not be demonized. They need our compassion, empathy, love, and prayers. That too is what I believe.
No one “likes” to have an abortion. For most women that have an abortion, the act is perceived less of a choice and more of the ‘least worst’ of all alternatives. Many people may firmly believe that the act of an abortion destroys a life and condemns another. Most women that have an abortion believe neither.
We can not legislate beliefs. We can certainly legislate norms and we can certainly legislate cultural consensus – we do that all the time. An adult killing another adult without provocation is called murder; it is wrong; and we as a society see this as heinous act and punish the culprit.
However, for a variety of complex reasons, in 21st Century America, there is simply no cultural consensus that abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy is ethically unacceptable, that it is ‘wrong’. While many wish that the cultural norm would be ‘abortion is wrong always’, that consensus simply does not exist in any culture in the world…
It is this “cultural consensus” – not laws – that we need to work to change.
Some will point to slavery as the fallacy of this argument. After all, slavery was declared illegal while there was still a cultural consensus – at least in part of the country – that it was ethically acceptable. But slavery is an act visible to society; i.e.: “I know if you have slaves”. Thus, we were able to make it illegal, fight to enforce the law, and eventually change the cultural consensus. Abortion, however, is relatively a private act; i.e.: it can be performed by a willing woman and a willing abortionist (be it a doctor or a coat-hanger.) No one else needs to know it happened. The parallels between slavery and abortion have serious limitations.
Abortion does have a critical economic component that is seldom discussed – and important to the debate. In the harshest of terms, abortion is an economic ‘plus’ for the woman having the abortion – and arguably for society as well. One less mouth to feed; one less child to raise. Indeed, China has led the way in institutionalizing abortions to support its one-child policy. In the USA, few are so against abortion that they have offered to pay for the cost of the pregnancy, the cost of rearing the child, and compensation to the mother for carrying the child to term. If these offers were widespread, abortions would be drastically reduced.
While the above sounds crass, it is a cultural reality. We have not come far from the days that the first child were sacrificed by the Mayans to ensure longevity and economic wellbeing… Abortion is all too often an expedient solution to meet a personal rationale; or the decision is oftentimes disguised in the illogical argument that “it is best for the child not to be brought into this earth” – a common argument to abort down-syndrome babies. These arguments cannot be reversed by simply changing laws. We have to create a cultural consensus that abortion makes no economic sense. We have to create a culture where having child is seen as an investment in the human race… We cannot put a cost on human life.
Yet, in today’s America, not everyone is on board with this rationale; with this line of thinking…. The cultural consensus is that it is simply not the place of government to legislate against an act that is seen by many as a deplorable, but not deviant; illogical, but not illegal. We seem to have gotten to the point that there is an uneasy consensus regarding the current law: During the first trimester, abortion is acceptable and legal. Beyond that, it is not.
Additionally, there also seems to be a growing consensus that many actions to lower the number of abortions are universally supported. While there remains real differences of opinions – and beliefs – regarding contraceptives, there is definitively a sense that ‘the less abortions the better’.
None of this makes abortion any less wrong or any more palatable. Yet, there just does not seem to be the cultural will – or the economic incentive – to change the status quo…. And, no legal shift, no new law, not even the reversal of Roe vs. Wade is going to change this cultural consensus… Indeed, the legal path to less abortion may very well lead to increasing the guilt, the dehumanization, of those choosing abortion – and it is even questionable whether it would truly lead to less abortions.
Let there be no doubt, though, that a Republican administration will make abortions increasingly difficult to get through restrictive regulatory means; and a Democratic push back will do the opposite… It remains debatable however, that either path will lead to less abortions.
It could very well be that the fight to have less abortions stands a much better chance to succeed if we concentrate on changing hearts rather than changing laws or criminalizing it. It might be good also if we sweeten the heart by providing a real economic incentive not to have an abortion.
We can’t just tell a woman: “Don’t get an abortion! It is murder! Just don’t do it!”
We must provide alternatives to abortion. There are charities that successfully do this… But, a few token private charities is not sufficient; it will take cultural will matched by corresponding government support.
Let’s share with the woman – and her companion – considering an abortion:
“We’ll be with you and support you during your pregnancy. You’ll have health insurance that will cover prenatal care and once you give birth, if you decide to keep the baby, know that we’ll be there with you as well. We’ll provide support for food, shelter, childcare, and medical attention…. And, if you choose to give your baby up for adoption, rest assured that the baby will go to a safe, loving home where he or she will have access to quality education.”
Which political party will most likely speak this language? Which political party will go beyond the simple, harsh, unattainable legal slap: “Just don’t have an abortion!”? Which political party will promote a culture where woman choosing to give birth can feel they have society’s support?
The Democratic Party is the political party that promotes programs we can say “YES” to… And, it is the political party that is open to continued conversations regarding what we must legislate to say “NO” to.
The Republican Party, in the other hand, remains dogmatic about one key “NO”: abortion… But, the Republican Party is sorely lacking in the support for the programs we must say “YES” to; and is not willing to even talk about possible broader support for women choosing life.
Let’s work on changing hearts, not just changing laws… Let’s support a true “For-Life” agenda…
And thus in the meantime, I proudly remain in the Democratic Party.
Postscript: National Catholic Review recently (Jan. 2020) did a very good article on that – while it is not exclusively about abortion – is spot on: “Trump seals his Catholic deal“.