Thursday, May 10, 2007


There has been a lot of coverage on the news this week about the issue of abortion, most notably because Rudy Giuliani is attempting to become the GOP presidential nominee as a pro-choice candidate in a pro-life party, and also because one of his rivals, Mitt Romney, recently changed his position from pro-choice to pro-life. I have a few thoughts on the topic--some of which may not be quite what you would expect.

Let us stipulate, for starters, that this is a difficult issue. Those who think it is simple probably have never been forced to think about it very deeply. I have always been pro-life, and in a theoretical sense, I had always just figured that Jefferson's formulation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was listed in descending order of importance--that the right to life trumped the liberty to choose. Case closed. But a little over 10 years ago, a student-athlete of mine got pregnant. Of course, she shouldn't have, and saying "no" was an option she should have exercised from the outset. But Joanne (not her real name) was not an average student. She was an orphan, and lived at a local orphanage. To say she wasn't getting the best of advice from her parents was a real understatement. You can even see without a psychology major why she might have been starved enough for affection to not refuse the advances of some teenage boy. Worse, she was right on the verge of being accepted into a program for orphans about to graduate from high school, which would have set her up in a sort of halfway house program, with a checkbook, an apartment, and a job (I should say, a better job. She already worked, and I was often her ride from track practice to the store where she ran a register). Trick is, the program was not open to unwed mothers. All the input she was getting from the adults (and other kids) in her life, was to get an abortion. And you can see why--this baby was going to cost her the greatest opportunity to "get out" of her situation she had ever been offered. She came to me, her coach, who had taken her to church, for my opinion. All of a sudden, a lifetime of seeing abortion as a cop-out for immature middle-class kids who couldn't keep their pants up went fleeing out the window.

That's not to say that I joined the chorus of pro-choicers. I told her that I believed that she was carrying a genuine, living, baby, and that to kill it, for any reason, was morally wrong. I offered to help her work on the option of adoption. (And, over the next couple of weeks, I even found a family that would have been willing to adopt her child). Most importantly, I told her that I loved her, and God loved her. In the end, she chose the abortion. And I still think that what she chose was wrong. But I don't think she was just being selfish, or immature, or any of the other adjectives I used to associate with the pro-choice position.

An extreme case? Yes. Typical of most abortions in America? Certainly not. And it goes without saying, as so many of us learned in our childhood, that two wrongs don't make a right. That said, I do believe that there are difficult situations in some cases--the standard, "rape, incest, or life of the mother" formula, to name a few. But let me make a suggestion here. What if, just for argument, I was to say that I, a 100% absolutist on the immorality of abortion, would give in on all of those "hard" cases. Not that I'll change my moral viewpoint; I'll still think that life is life, killing is killing, sin is sin. But for the sake of practicality, I would give up on every single case of rape, incest, or where the mother's life was threatened. I might even allow a very strict scrutiny of some sort to allow cases like Joanne's to be heard fairly. How many millions of unborn lives would be saved if we could all agree, just to that? Most estimates say that over 95% of abortions are NOT the "hard cases."

But here's the rub. The "pro-choice" side, all the while mouthing the party line that they "hate" abortion, that it should be "safe, legal, and rare" would, for the most part, never take that deal. This is what I find so very striking about the legal side of the abortion debate: the first amendment, explicitly enshrined in the Constitution, is subject to reasonable restrictions (you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater, and if John McCain has his way, you can't even mention a candidate's name in a political ad 60 days out from an election). The second amendment, which again, explicity states that the right to keep and bear arms "shall not be infringed" is restricted in dozens of ways (you can't have a bazooka, there are instant background checks, minors can't own guns, you can't have them near schools). But Roe v. Wade, in finding the "right" to an abortion implicit--not ever mentioned--in the Constitution, cannot be restricted in ANY way without threatening our fundamental liberties. Whether Planned Parenthood, or NARAL, or any of the other pro-abortion lobbying groups, the line is always the same--no parental notification is OK (even though your teen daughter can't get a Tylenol without your consent, she can choose major surgery). No limitations on term are allowed, right up to the moment of conception, even if the baby is viable (The Supreme Court just recently ruled that "partial birth" abortion could be restricted, and you would have thought from the rhetoric that followed that Sharia Law had been imposed on the country). "Protecting a woman's right to choose" trumps even near-infanticide.

This, for me (like millions of others), is a completely untenable position. And so much of the rhetoric is intended to mislead. We're told all the time that Roe only legalized early abortion. And we're told that pro-choicers would gladly accept restriction, if only there was an exception for the "health of the mother." Yet the companion Doe case we never hear about allowed an exception for "health" reasons, which the Supreme Court agreed included anything up to and including mental discomfort. So "health" just means "anything goes, right up to partially born." Hogwash. Again, I'll be reasonable. If you got an MD (a real Ob-Gyn, not a "doc" who only does abortions at a mill) to swear an affadavit that an abortion was necessary because it would leave a woman sterile, or otherwise physically damaged, I'd lump that one with the "hard cases." But a little good-faith effort on the other side... just a little. That would be nice.

And this has major party implications, as well. I really don't consider myself a Republican. I am socially conservative, and traditionally (but not always) think that conservatives get the better of most economic arguments. Again, I'm not comparing the GOP of the 1880s or 1930s with their Democratic counterparts--I'm talking post-1980 Republicans and post-1968 Democrats. But I could buy in to a centrist Democrat who shared my values over a Republican who didn't (hence my disdain for Giuliani). However, so long as the Democrats remain the vehemently pro-abortion party (and that includes making disingenuous statements about "health" when they know better), then I just cannot go there. More than the war, more than the "gay marriage" issue, this, to me, seems one of the areas where I cannot just say "good, smart people disagree on this one," or, "if I accepted your premise I might reach the same conclusions." We're talking about a crime. With an innocent victim. And so, even as much as I might hate to defend George W. Bush when it's so easy to join the chorus of bashers and get the approving looks around the faculty table, I still have not been able to find it within myself to wish that John Kerry or Al Gore had appointed the last two Supreme Court judges.

One last point, and I'll put this over-long post out of its misery. What if Roe were overturned, today? To hear the rhetoric, you'd think that abortion as a procedure would instantly be outlawed nationwide. But, in reality, nothing would change. It would just open the door to states making their own rules. Some would keep the on-demand system we have now. Certain others (I think most) would adopt some varying levels of restriction. A couple might try to outlaw the procedure entirely, but I'll bet they'd have a hard time, at least on what I called the "hard cases." It would just take this very difficult issue and put it in the hands of the voters, instead of 9 judges. It's not like the court is always right. Obviously, Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that slavery was OK, was a bad decision. To insist that because Roe is "settled law" and therefore can't be revisited is just ludicrous. Although, as I have said, I wouldn't mind overturning the Doe case first, and working on the hard stuff later.


bekster said...

I wonder what the other side would think about the euthanizing of elderly people who are an inconvenience to their families. I mean, once they get old & sick enough, their "quality of life" has got to be pretty low. Their children certainly don't want their lives infringed on (I mean, they didn't ask for their parents to get sick), so why shouldn't they be humanely taken out of the picture? That's murder, you say? Oh, right... But, they do it to the unborn babies all the time... I thought it was OK...

I think a lot more people would be inclined to believe what is really right if politics were not involved--not that I know of a way to separate these issues from politics, but the influential people are so caught up in how they look to the public that I don't think they really know what they think anymore (some of them, at least). Some say that they personally wouldn't be for abortion, but they don't feel that they could take that "right" away from others. I would want to ask these people WHY they would not personally be for abortion. If they wouldn't do it because it is wrong, then isn't it just wrong across the board? Why would it not be wrong for someone else? Do these people have no integrity AT ALL? (I guess not.)

Even if, like you said, our side let them have the "hard cases" it wouldn't do any good because this is such a politically charged issue. I don't believe that the politicians (or the general public, for that matter) are thinking clearly. They have gotten so far away from thinking about things in "right and wrong" terms that it is all muddled up in their heads. What's "right" for them is whatever gets them the vote, and even for the average ignorant American, what's "right" is whatever the most hip famous person thinks.

I think what our country needs is for some really major thing to happen, something that leaves everyone so dumbfounded that all of these political issues are shown for what they really are. Whatever the grand (and very likely devastating) event would be would have to be so awesome that every other issue pales in comparison. Maybe if we all had a common enemy that was just that bad, we would re-discover our priorities and would have to fall back on what really is "right" or "wrong." I don't know... I'm just rambling at this point, but it would be nice if somehow we could get a clean slate and start over without politics getting in the way, although, unfortunately I don't expect it to happen any time soon.

mbellison said...

Here's my view from the "other side." First, in the case of Joanne, I don't know that it's correct to say that Joanne's situation isn't typical of most abortions in America. I'm not sure where you get your 95% statistic from, but I think the further you go down into it, you find that just about every case can be seen as "hard."

That being said, I, although I am pro-choice, would have given Joanne the same advice you did. Being pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. I am pro-choice, but you could also call me pro-life in that I think that the number of abortions should be reduced. I just don't think outlawing abortions is the most effective way to do it considering all factors involved. One way I think we should try to limit the number of unwanted pregnancies is to have comprehensive sex education, which is shown in study after study to do a better job in preventing pregnancy. Unfortunately, most pro-lifers oppose that measure that would, without a doubt, reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. Also, Republicans support outlawing abortions, but then they cut welfare, food stamps, and other social programs that help poor mothers raise children. If you're going to be pro-life in the womb, you need to be pro-life outside of the womb. Giving young mothers ways to be able to afford to raise childen while continuing to get an education is another way to reduce the number of abortions. But "pro-lifers" oppose it.

As for the late term abortion ban and Supreme Court decision (partial birth abortion is not a medical term, so I won't use it here), there are legitimate health reasons that women have late term abortions. And I think they could be incorporated into legislation. And in reality, late term abortions only happen in cases where the health of the mother is at risk. Furthermore, the law does not prevent one single abortion. It just requires doctors (real doctors, not ones who "do abortions at the mill," whatever that means) to perform another procedure in which the fetus is aborted while still in the womb, which can be riskier. And another thing, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will more than likely be outlawed in South Carolina, and "abortions by the mill" will become much more common.

I actually found it really interesting that you wrote that abortion is one issue you can't agree to disagree on. For me, I've always considered abortion an issue where I have more sympathy for the opposing viewpoint that I do for, say, gay marriage. Where you feel most strongly, I understand your viewpoint, and where I feel most strongly, you understand my viewpoint. Interesting.

Bekster's post is making me want to change the subject briefly. First, on the issue of euthanasia, it should be up to the person in question, and, if that person in question is incapacitated with no hope of recovery, it should be up to a living will. If a clear-thinking, dying person wants to die with dignity and end the misery but isn't physically capable of removing the feeding tube (or whatever), that person's wishes should be honored.

But bringing up the situation with an elderly sick person brings up a new issue. What if you had a chance of lengthening and improving the quality of life of that person by doing research on clumps of human cells that have absolutely no potential of ever becoming a human? In Dick Cheney's terms, for me that's a "no-brainer." Why won't the pro-life side agree that the sanctity of life is better upheld by working to lengthen the lives of real, living, breathing, thinking, loving people?

That's all. If I made any dumb typos or said anything dumb or offensive, forgive me, but I am lazy, need to study, and don't feel like proofreading.

bekster said...

The point is, mbellison, people can only be "real, living, breathing, thinking, loving" people if God wills them to be. It is not up to us to decide who should have the chance to live or die, even for ourselves. I have known too many people who should have died but didn't and people who should be alive but aren't to think that we can take life and death into our own hands.

However, as a pro-lifer, I agree with you that kids should get better sex education, especially if they are being taught abstinence. I also have to admit that you make a good point about being pro-life outside of the womb. In general, I am against using government money to enable low-income people to continue to be low-income (if they use it as a tool for a while and move on with their lives, that's fine), but I can see how taking away these programs would maybe cause them to see abortion as the better option. I honestly hadn't thought about that before. HOWEVER, I still don't think it should be the government's job to feed these people, it should be in the hands of non-profit organizations and churches. In fact, I am a pro-lifer who helps to hand out food to low-income people through my church, so I know things like this are being done.

mbellison said...

On euthanasia, if it's not up to us and we shouldn't take life into our own hands, then why do we put people on ventilators and feeding tubes in the first place? Why can't we let people die naturally if they want to do so? Also, if your religious beliefs lead you to that view on euthanasia, you are perfectly entitled to those views, and I respect your views and your right to hold them. But if I don't share your religious beliefs, why should I have to live in pain by artificial means when I would rather die a painless death that I see as dignified? (I use "I" impersonally here; I'm 18 and in perfect health.)

On abortion and poverty, I agree with you, to use Bill Clinton's words, that "welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life." And I also agree that churches and nonprofits have a role to play in fighting poverty and play that role tirelessly and thanklessly. But poverty remains a huge problem, and the fact is that government has the ability to do something about it. We should throw all of our resources, government included, at the problem.

A clarification: by comprehensive sex education, I meant not just abstinence only. Study after study shows that programs that teach safe sex in addition to abstinence have a significantly greater success rate in preventing pregnancies and therefore abortions than abstinence only programs.

super Hubby said...

The doctors told my parents that my mom should abort me. They informed her that I would never walk or talk and I would be a vegetative state for my entire life. i am 39 married and have two awesome sons. sometmes the "experts" aren't always right.

bekster said...

You're right, my whole point hinges on the fact that I believe God to be in control. If you are not coming from this position, I can see where you would disagree with me on a myriad of issues, which is your prerogative. However, religion aside, there is a law enforced by the U.S. Government that says murder is illegal. I guess if you want to commit suicide, no one can really punish you for it if you are already dead, but, going back to abortion, the Constitution gives us the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Aborting babies completely violates their right to life. EVEN IF you want to say that life does not begin until outside the womb (which I would disagree with, but that is not my point at the moment), no one can deny that there is the potential for life there. What right does anyone have to take away that right from the child? How is killing the fetus any different from killing the child when they are 13? Even in the "hard cases," you just can't KNOW for sure what would happen if you gave the situation to God. (Thanks, superhubby, for your perfect example! That is pretty awesome.) Anyway, I would believe taking away even the POTENTIAL for life to be murder, which is already illegal, regardless of religion.

Coach Sal said...

Wow! For the first time ever, I get comments on a "real" topic--not some bad joke about how my nose hairs are turning gray. Thanks!

Matthew, meet Becky, my sister-in-law. Becky, meet Matthew, the best student I ever had (and obviously a guy who learned "how to think" rather than "what to think.") Also, for clarity, superhubby is the blog-famous brother-in-law who I mentioned as my training partner.

All that said, here's the thing, from my point of view. Call it religion, call it philosophy, call it first principles. For me, of course, the key is my Christian faith. But I believe that there really is a universal moral code of right and wrong that is transcendant over our personal opinions. One of the absolutes on that list is that the taking of human life is just plain wrong. Since I also believe that a fetus, from day one of conception, IS a human life, there is really no wiggle room there. That's why I cannot be as "tolerant" over this issue as I can over others (like the "gay marriage" issue, a "crime" if you will, with no "victim" save morality itself, or society as a whole, or the "instutution of marriage." Note all the quote marks--I'm not looking to change the subject or pick a fight, just to explain the qualitative difference in my opinions).

All that said, I am trying to be reasonable. I understand it is a free country, and that there is a wide variety of opinion on this. I also understand that not everyine shares my belief of when life begins. I further understand that, while morality doesn't change, situations give us various shades of grey in which the perfect can be the enemy of the good. So by pinpointing a few cases in which I would give in (not on the moral issue, but on the practical application), I am trying to establish by extension that there should be some proportion (maybe a very large one) of abortions where the pro-choice side, if they believe their own rhetoric, could similarly give ground, and therefore be willing to eliminate at least SOME abortions. I'll even go a step further and suggest that the original 1st-trimester formula of Roe might be a good (although arbitrary) marker for distinguishing between an unprotected fetus and a protected very small baby. As I WAS a preemie (like superhubby), and as I personally know a beautiful child who was born at 15 weeks gestation, I can't go much further than that.

Matthew, I know you are more thoughtful than most NARAL absolutists. What ground would you give? And, while not trying to make light of your points regarding welfare, sex ed, and the like, please don't answer that we cannot restrict any abortions until our society reaches some utopia.

Please keep theradin' along--I get an email every time someone posts, and it does my heart good.

mbellison said...

I would be willing to accept a ban on third trimester abortions as long as there was a legitimate health exception.

Coach Sal said...

I'm sorry. That's not good enough. Unless you want to at the very least accept that "legitimate health exception" is a radical departure from what Blackmun wrote in Doe, what you have basically just done is said that if a pro-lifer like me wraps all his most deeply held principles in knots and gives away pretty much the whole store, you'll respond by offering that you are somewhat against infanticide, unless of course it really bothers the mom, in which case all bets are off. That was one of the main points of my original post.

Not that our side doesn't have plenty who also negotiate in bad faith, mind you. But this is supposed to be a gathering of the thoughtful people. It's OK to deviate from the party line just a little. Try it--it's liberating. :-)

mbellison said...

A personal story in my defense. Actually, let me depersonalize it. When the mother of a guy I know was pregnant with his sister, she had serious complications. An ovary twisted, it got infected, she was put on bedrest for many weeks, she couldn't take care of her young toddler, it was bad. She told the doctors, if my health is at risk, and aborting this baby will improve the situation, I will do it. There could have been a situation where, although her life may have not been at risk, keeping the baby would have meant that she was risking her health and her ability to care for her 1-year-old at home to carry a fetus that was unlikely to survive anyway. Fortunately, the doctors told her that whether or not she kept the baby wouldn't affect her health. The baby and mother both ended up being fine. But it could have happened differently. And in situations like that, there needs to be a health acception. This isn't a cold, and this isn't some "doc doing abortions at the mill." This was a serious health issue at one of the nation's best hospitals. In circumstances like that (and in all decisions), health decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not by the government.

A point about bekster's point that she considers taking away the potential for life to be murder. If this logic is extended, then one could argue that it is murder to fail to conceive with every single egg cell and sperm cell that is produced, as they have the potential for life. Obviously, this would be ridiculous.

The line of what is a life obviously has to be drawn somewhere. And I have no problem if, for yourself, if you choose to draw it at conception. If this is where life begins for you, then don't have an abortion and advise others not to have abortions. But the idea that life in the nonbiological sense begins at conception is by no means universal. This concept in Judaism, for instance, is much less black and white. Abortion should not be viewed as birth control, but there are circumstances in Judaism where having an abortion is acceptable. Interestingly, newborn infants aren't even considered full persons in Judaism, and when a less than 30-day-old baby dies, Jews don't go through the same period of mourning as they normally would. I bring this up not to say we should allow infanticide, but to say that in society, many people have very different views when it comes to the moral issues around abortion, and in situations of where value pluralism exists, the values and choices of others should be respected. I was about to say that "the values and choices of others should be respected when there is no victim," but I know that pro-lifers consider a fetus, even in the first trimester, to be a victim. That's what makes this issue so tough, but considering the wide range of moral differences throughout society and the negative societal consequences that would result from illegalizing abortion (the abortions that do happen will be unsafe, unwanted children will have no place to turn, etc.), I fall down on the side of giving people the right to make these intensely personal decisions based on their own values and circumstances.

15 weeks? Is that possible? I thought 24 weeks was the earliest a baby has even lived.

Coach Sal said...

My "doc at the mill" line refers to "abortion clinics" that only churn out those procedures. I've already given lots of ground on "real" docs at real hospitals making legitimate health decisions. For the third time, though, the current legal usage of "health" is a catch-all term where we could agree that abortions of convience are routinely performed. As for the slippery slope of in vitro fertilization, etc., I am troubled by that procedure for the same reason that I am troubled by cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. Even though there are potentially very good effects (and I know some wonderful kids who were "test-tube babies"), just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD. And again, the main point of my post has not been that there are no gray areas. In fact, quite the opposite. I've been trying to be as understanding about those as I can all day. But letting the fact that there are some gray areas legitimize the system we have now--abortion, any time, on demand, to the moment of conception, for any reason or no reason--that to me makes a mockery of how serious this issue really is. If I believed that the vast majority of abortions were being performed on tearful, reluctant mothers making the very best decision from a list of hard choices with the consent of their family doctor and the counsel of wise family and friends, I might even let a few of the others slip through as the cost of doing business. But entirely too many are for convenience--whether it's the 16-year-old who doesn't want her Dad to find out to the 30-year old who doesn't want a third child, to, perhaps worst of all, the near 90% of parents who discover that their child will have Down's syndrome and choose to abort. Again, if there were no life we're talking about here, I'd say "fine. I'm against it, I won't do it." But you wouldn't have given the same advice in 1850--"if you're against slavery, don't own one. Not everybody agrees they are human, let's leave that up to the people." The innocent victim is what changes everything.

As for the 15 weeks, I could be wrong--I'm pretty sure my little buddy Gabe was 15.5. I know his fist could fit through his dad's wedding ring, and he's about the earliest preemie I've ever personally met. Becky, do you know? Even if not "viable outside the womb," I felt my three kids kick at 16 weeks. Kicking takes legs and feet.

Lori Fitzgerald said...

First let me identify myself: I am Larry's sister, wife of SuperHubby and mother of SH's 2 wonderful sons.

My husband's parents were pushed to abort him...he was allegedly a vegetable in the making. They refused, based on their religious beliefs. This child created by God for a purpose runs ultramarathons, holds black belts in 2 different styles of martial arts, has 2 great kids, and is now a minister at our church, visiting people in hospitals and families dealing with major medical issues. He was born with hydrocephalus, and has had 13 brain surgeries to date - and has recently been asked to share his story on the hydrocephalus association's website. You can't tell me he isn't here for a reason, you can't tell me that God didn't have his purpose lined up long before he was conceived, and you can't tell me that we can even fathom the plans God has for us.

When I was pregnant with our youngest son, my doctor advised I have a 3-D ultrasound, due to serious complications I had with my first pregnancy. Wanted me to know what was lurking around the corner, so we "could discuss our options." Well, we didn't have any options. God had given us a child, and he was ours to care for whether it was for 5 hours or 50 years. I finally agreed to the ultrasound only if the doctor wouldn't disclose the results - it was for his information only, so he could be prepared in the delivery room, if necessary.

My son was born perfectly healthy. At age 6, we learned that he had autism. There isn't a test for autism, but if there were, so what? He's my child. He has autism. Is it difficult? Sometimes, yes. Is it also wonderful? You bet. And I wouldn't change our circumstances for the world. Because this is the family my Lord & Savior gave me. How many times have we had people need to talk with us and we've been able to share our faith with them because of these health issues.

I'm not saying I'd choose for my husband to be hydrocephalic or that I'd choose for my son to be autistic; that would be dishonest. I am saying that it makes them who they are, and therefore shapes me as a wife and mother. And God knew THAT before I was born. How could anyone second-guess their Creator?

As for my son - guess what? He MIGHT live with us until he's 50. We don't know. It's not important. Life is important.

bekster said...

I'm not sure about Gabe. I know you're right about the wedding ring thing, but other than that I'm not sure.

Sorry to bail out of this very interesting and thought provoking discussion, but I'm about to jump in the car to go out of town (gotta get the storage closet at camp worked out). I'll try to jump back in when we get back!

P.S. - Nice to meet you Matthew. No hard feelings, eh?

mbellison said...

bekster, if discussions like this created hard feelings, I'd have stopped talking to your brother-in-law years ago
nice to meet you, if only electronically

Coach Sal said...

Matthew, Heyward is in town (home from UVA) and was in my classroom during my last free period while I was responding to your response to my response, etc. He just rolled the eyes that we were at it AGAIN. Here's hoping we get to have these debates for many, many more years.

Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann said...

Just for the record- Gabe was 23 weeks- you can read about it here-

super Hubby said...

Now about those grey nose hairs...