Saturday, September 10, 2005

Choosing Life: Thanks to Roe v. Wade

Having the right to choose doesn't
tell you which is the right choice.

I love Charles Colson. Not only is he a human being and a child of God (distinctions that he and I share in common with Osama bin Laden, Mother Teresa, and Charles Manson), but his columns are always a great inspiration to read between the lines. Consider his Breaklines piece, "Getting Wise to the Lies: Why Young Women are Choosing Life." It is a wonderful thing to choose life. Colson has identified a very important trend in our national culture, but he has totally missed out on why and how it is happening.

Colson cites surveys which show that "Twelve years ago, 49 percent of all women between age 18 and 29 thought unrestricted abortion should be the law of the land. Today, just 28 percent of young women hold this view." Very few women, or men, have ever favored "unrestricted abortion," but take these statistics at face value: since 1973, women have had the right to choose, and as a result they are choosing life.

Unfortunately, Colson still views everything about abortion through the dark glass of a "war" that has to be "won." To be fair, so do NARAL and Planned Parenthood. These two fanatical viewpoints, each more concerned with "winning the war" than with allowing women to make healthy choices, have fed on each other for at least 20 years. Both fail to recognize that our culture is moving toward greater reverence for life precisely because of Roe v. Wade.

Pro-Choice women have daughters,
and Pro-Life women have abortions

I am old enough to remember when abortion was a criminal offense in most states. Some had begun to loosen their laws – Ronald Reagan signed a bill legalizing first trimester abortions in California. Where there were severe criminal penalties, women went to back alleys for abortions, with clothes hangers and caustic chemicals. That often killed both fetus and mother. The images were just as graphic, and just as horrible, as any photos of aborted fetuses. Oh, and rich women flew to Switzerland, even women who had said they would never have an abortion, even devout churchwomen, even women whose fathers and husbands were demanding everyone else suffer criminal penalties.

However sincere he may be, Colson can't expect to be taken seriously when he says that "since pro-choice women aborted their daughters, those daughters didn’t grow up to advocate for abortion rights." I don't remember the last time I talked to a pro-choice woman who did not have one or more daughters. Most pro-choice women have never had an abortion at all. Most of those I've met were either Roman Catholic or evangelical Protestant. They don't advocate abortion. They support a government of limited powers, one that doesn't reach into every intimate aspect of our lives. In fact, many of the young women who are pro-life are themselves the daughters of pro-choice mothers. Somehow they made it through the birth canal and all the way to 18.

Roe v. Wade never said that abortion is a good, wise or commendable course of action. It simply said, the first trimester of pregnancy is too intimate, too personal, to impose criminal penalties on the woman concerned. The Supreme Court properly interposed itself to remind Congress and the state legislatures that their authority has limits – just as Alexander Hamilton envisioned in The Federalist Papers. The seven justices who made the ruling also were clear that by the third trimester, removing a viable baby from a healthy mother is not an abortion, it is a delivery. If, and only if, the mother's life is in danger, the state may not require her to risk her own life for that of her child. She does, however, have the right to make that choice, and some women have.

Abortion is not a virtue

I am glad to see those who have made a virtue of abortion losing ground. Of course the director of Planned Parenthood finds that the "enthusiasm" is down. Abortion is nothing to be enthusiastic about. It is hazardous, it is often painful. Abortion carries considerable emotional scars, even when a woman is certain it is the right choice. It is the interruption of the natural process for bringing a new life into the world. The more free women are to make their own choice, without the long arm of the law around their neck, the more women are choosing life.

It is only the prospect of women dying, with coat hangers perforating their uteruses, that turns abortion into a "cause" anyone could be enthusiastic about. If our prisons were filling up with women who had abortions, that might whip up some passion also. If women and doctors were being hung from makeshift gallows in front of clinics, 80% of women and 60% of men would demand repeal of all criminal penalties. But they wouldn't all line up to have abortions.

We need to deal with new information on the real harms and hazards of abortion without setting off knee-jerk reflexes. One "side" of this misbegotten "war" immediately cries "so we must overturn Roe v. Wade." The other "side" therefore denounces the new information as untrue. Truth is not the property of political campaigns, to be wielded or denied according to the prejudices of each. We need a political atmosphere that allows the truth to speak for itself. This information, if true, provides sound rational reasons why a woman should choose to carry her pregnancy to term, unless there are compelling reasons to terminate it.

What is a compelling reason? Pastors, doctors, medical ethicists, concerned citizens, have a right to advocate on that point. It is called freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has never exempted speech about the dangers or evils of abortion from First Amendment protection. During the first trimester, the woman who is pregnant, without whom the fetus could not come to term, must be the ultimate arbiter. Like it or not, none of us can take the morning sickness, the pains and labor, on ourselves. God may well have something to say, but He can speak for himself, directly to the woman concerned.

Fund the babies, not lobbying campaigns

Two pre-teen young ladies at my church asked me one Sunday if I would sign a petition to Congress about abortion. It was a spontaneous, hand-written petition, and it wasn't specific as to what Congress should do. I carefully explained that I could not sign it, because the only thing that Congress, or any state legislature, seems able to do about abortion is to adopt criminal penalties, or try to.

In the absence of criminal laws, right to life advocates have to put their time and money where their mouth is. What if all the millions of dollars now going into political campaigns, lobbying, perverted attempts to "swing" the Supreme Court, were put to more effective use? These funds should be available so that women considering abortion can be told

Whatever you need so you can bring this baby to term, we will provide it to you. We know that it takes a village to raise a child, or at least an extended family. Some mothers don't even have a family to provide support. We are willing to BE that village/family for you. Pre-natal care, top quality delivery, diapers, clothes, furniture, food, taking care of the baby one or two days a week so you can get a break... We have the heart, the mind, the time, the funds, the sense of priority, to work through this with you.
Perhaps churches could begin by taking the money many now contribute to political campaigns, and devote the same funds locally to this very purpose. Individual church members might do the same. (This suggestion will make Colson and every "right-to-life" lobbying group howl. When they do, it will certainly be very revealing about their own moral relativism on life, politics, and fundraising.)

Of course it is better if women do not run any risk of pregnancy, until they have established a covenant that will provide a stable, two-parent home to raise the children. We should not compensate for our collective failure to realize that vision, by threatening pregnant women with prison sentences. Likewise, it is very good if a pregnant woman has a supportive husband who is doing his part, concerned parents looking forward to the birth of their grandchild, brothers and sisters who will help, a strong church home, and all the other things that help make raising a child a little easier, and even more of a joy. But if a pregnant woman doesn't have those, it doesn't help much to say "keep it woman, or we'll lock you up."

Remember, the number of abortions performed in the United States was higher during the Reagan and Bush years than the Clinton years, because 1993-2000, more women were more optimistic about being able to deal with having and raising a child. The highest abortion rates in the world are in Latin American nations where the procedure is prohibited by law. Congress can't help resolve this one. Lobbying for new laws isn't going to improve anything. Only people willing to show how much they care, by reaching out to help with the overwhelming responsibilities of bringing a child into the world, can bring the number of abortions down. Women have the right to choose. Reach out to help a troubled woman make the right choice.


MightyMighty said...

I agree that it's wonderful when people protect and nurture their children, from conception until adulthood. But they don't need to be lauded for "choosing life" as though there is another morally valid choice. That's like lauding for someone to "choose to look both ways before crossing the street," as though the alternative is just as valid.

Where did you get the rates about Latin American abortion rates? 42% of all babies conceived in New York are killed by abortion, 2/3 of black Americans conceived are killed by abortions, it's hard to imagine the rates being much higher than that in a place where it isn't widely available, and no data would be recorded.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

My point was not to give special praise to those who carry their pregnancies to term - most pregnant women do, and it is an essential natural process. My point was that Roe v. Wade protects the right of a woman to CHOOSE to do exactly that. It's a good legal framework for government jurisdiction and who decides.

I wrote that post six years ago, but its started to get some renewed attention. So I looked again. I'm sure you would dismiss any stats from the Guttmacher Institute, but they do provide some detail on where their numbers come from. One estimate is 37 abortions per 1000 women in the Latin American population, and 27 per 100 known pregnancies.

Here's another source:

Now, where do YOU get 2/3 of "black Americans conceived" are aborted??? The highest claim I've seen in that misguided billboard appeal is 40%. And I haven't seen anything clear on 40% of what, or where they got their data. Further, the comparison for Latin America as a whole would be to the USA as a whole, or perhaps the USA and Canada.