No answer to satisfy the masses
I have been dreading writing this column, although I’ve known I had to write it eventually. My reticence stems not from an inability to sort my mind — on the contrary, I have strong and clear thoughts on the matter. But how can I respectfully write about a topic that often devolves into hateful vitriol? How can I address a subject about which most people — including me — have very strong feelings without insulting or disrespecting those who disagree with me? How can I be true to my morals without damning the other side?
I don’t know the answers. But I am going to forge bravely or foolishly ahead.
The abortion debate is one I rarely address. I have strong and simple feelings that are immutable yet I recognize others have the opposite feelings about which they’re equally passionate.
Why am I weighing in now?
I believe the debate reaches well beyond women’s health care because it asks an existential question affecting all of humankind. If it was strictly a matter of women’s health care, I’d have nothing to say.
At its root, the question of abortion has less to do with a woman’s body than it does defining the moment when a human life attains value. Although women’s health care makes for a much easier argument, the body is arguably incidental to the disagreement since part of the overarching issue asks whether that “part of a woman’s body” is in fact, a separate human life. No, the fundamental debate is establishing the moment a human life becomes a human life, worthy of the full protection of the law. Both sides know this but, since there will never be an earthly answer putting the issue to rest, the debate has shifted to something we can answer: women’s health care. It makes for heated — if pointless — back-and-forth while the real question remains answered only by current arbitrary law.
Here’s where I see disturbing logical disconnects under existing policy: What real difference exists between a fetus moments from emerging and a baby freshly born? Or two babies delivered prematurely where human worth is assigned to the one who’s wanted while the one who’s not is nothing more than waste? Or that a fetus killed by a drunk driver can earn a wrongful death charge as long as it’s wanted? Would any D.A. in his or her right mind bring charges against a drunk driver who killed a fetus destined to be aborted? Human value assigned solely based on whether a life is wanted seems to echo inhuman eugenics policies of monstrous regimes we’ve seen before. I find this deeply unsettling.
As I’ve often said, if you parsed me politically, I am about one-third liberal Democrat, one-third conservative Republican and one-third Libertarian. I am quietly proud that none of my positions conflict with any other. I am also an Anglican Catholic. My faith is a crucial component of my feelings on abortion. As a white male and member of the honorary patriarchy, I recognize many people do not want my opinion on a procedure I will never undergo.
If pro-choice people are right and I am wrong, then there really is a reasonable point when a human life gains worth and current laws might well define that. If pro-choice policy is right and I am wrong, then a fetus is no more or less than a part of a woman’s body and it’s absolutely none of my business what she elects to do with it.
If, on the other hand, I am correct and pro-choice people are wrong, bluntly speaking, we are killing our young in the name of circumstance and we will have to answer for this later.
The unexcogitable problem of this debate is we will never be able to settle this question in earthly terms to quell the issue — the debate cannot be satisfied until the God of my faith settles the matter on his terms or until human knowledge advances to the point it can prove beyond a doubt there is no god.
In the 1980s, I got tired of seeing letters to the editor smugly quoting scripture, invariably aimed at people who believe scripture is fantasy — I thought it a pointless effort, akin to putting out fire with paper. But it did pose a question I could not ignore: could I learn to debate the entire Republican platform on wholly secular terms? To my surprise, after some exploration and experimentation, I found I could defend the entire conservative platform with no religious or biblical reference, wholly secular terms. I learned to be good at it.
I cannot do that now because it’s disingenuous to pretend my faith plays no role in my position.
My faith is an integral part of my conviction. As I said a moment ago, you won’t find me addressing this issue often and you won’t hear me calling hellfire and brimstone upon those who disagree with me. I am offended when people from my party immediately and loudly label progressives “baby killers” — this tactic brings nothing useful to the conversation.
As unacceptable as I find it, abortion is not a deal-breaker issue for me. In other words, I can work politically with Democrats who support choice. In fact, I believe strongly we must work with those who disagree with us or we’ll continue down this hateful, suspicious, tribal path we’ve taken. My progressive friends and I agree on many other issues just like my conservative friends know I’m with them, too, on many issues.
But there is another reason I won’t shun my progressive friends: women close to me — people I deeply love and respect — have undergone abortions. They did so for profoundly personal reasons, agonizing over their decisions, often entangled in unspeakable circumstances. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish accompanying such situations. So I rarely speak about abortion and I do not now intend this essay to condemn them.
It makes me physically sick to my stomach to think I should have anything to say about what a woman can or can’t do with her body or that I should hold sway over her health care. If that’s what this was, the answer would be easy. But as outlined above, a debate defining the moment a human life attains value is existential, transcending a woman’s body to envelop the entirety of the human race. Put another way, if an unborn fetus had the same value as a newborn infant, most of us would be horrified if a parent sought to harm it.
I must emphasize I believe there are moral exceptions to bans on abortion. I understand there are circumstances I cannot possibly understand that would affect a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. Plus, the women I know who’ve gone through hell as they decided their only solution was termination — I am a male who will never be faced with such a decision. This, alone, usually convinces me to stay quiet on this debate even though I have deep convictions — and it is why I now take pains to weigh in quietly, with empathy and respect.
My innately sinful nature as a flawed human leads me to a dark confession: even though I believe life begins at conception, I would have a much easier time denying life to a ten-day-old cluster of cells than I would a one-term baby. I will also admit that, had I created a surprise pregnancy back in the reckless days of my youth, you can bet abortion would’ve been on the table if I had had any say in the matter.
These failings on my part aren‘t entirely in vain. They are part of the complicated equation that gives me empathy for women who are confronted with a situation I will never experience. This is another reason why I do not often declare my opposition to abortion — I, too, have had conflicted feelings, if I am brutally honest. I have questioned people who loudly decry abortion yet fail to contribute to alternatives. I’m jarred when a robust defense of the unborn goes silent once the unborn are born. I have considered the cynical argument that we’ve spared children from unspeakable poverty and abuse. I’ve pondered the equally cynical question of why it’s such a big deal from a Christian perspective if, by Christian logic, the souls of the departed get a fast pass to paradise.
Abortion is nearly always argued in stark black-and white terms. While I agree it’s a clear-cut question, no one can say it’s not surrounded by a chaos of swirling grey.
I have been labeled a left-leaning Republican, which is not entirely inaccurate. But I remain committed to many conservative ideals and my opposition to abortion is one of them. My position is based on the fundamental issue of arbitrarily assigning value to human life — to me, a baby newborn and a baby about-to-be-born should have an identical innate worth but in Oregon, they do not.
If nothing else, the disconnect is jarring.
Please note: I welcome remarks of both agreement and dissent. I took pains to use non-confrontational language in this essay but I realize some will nevertheless take offense. I see no useful point in debating an issue of this nature in a public forum.