Some of you read this post from yesterday.
A condensed version of this post appeared today as an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Here is a taste:
One day about seven months ago, I was standing in a dark room in a hospital not far from Tel Aviv, performing an ultrasound on the taut belly of a woman well into her third trimester. She was 35 weeks pregnant, due in about a month. She and I felt the fetus kick, right under the ultrasound probe. “Strong one!” I said in Hebrew. She smiled. I managed to freeze a sweet picture of the bow-shaped fetal upper lip, and pressed “Print,” to give to her later.
Then I measured the fetal head, snug against her pelvic bone. The numbers on-screen suggested that it was too small. I measured it again. Still small. So I measured it again, and again, and again. Everything else in this pregnancy looked healthy: the volume of amniotic fluid, the general size of the fetus, the structure of the heart and brain. According to the woman’s chart, everything had been fine, all the way through.
At that point, I needed to tell her about that small head and what it might mean for her future child’s development. This is not uncommon; it’s a situation I’m used to dealing with easily. But in that room, I was overcome with a strong urge not to tell her what I’d observed, because I feared where that discussion might lead. I am an American ob-gyn. In most states in my native country, third-trimester abortions are illegal or nearly inaccessible. In practice, only a handful of facilities in the entire United States perform abortions after 26 weeks for nonlethal anomalies. But here in Israel, abortion is widely available and can be offered until delivery. A subtle abnormality, such as the one I saw in that ultrasound room outside Tel Aviv, can prompt a discussion of pregnancy termination. Even at 35 weeks.
Within the American abortion debate, I am pro-choice in a concrete way. Giving women information about their pregnancies and helping them assess their options, including termination, is part of my life’s work. When state legislatures in Georgia, Louisiana, and a host of other states have taken up bills to limit abortion rights, I have always known which side I am on.
But in that dark room so far from home, I was deeply uncomfortable discussing abortion with a woman 35 weeks into her pregnancy, when that fetus had no clearly lethal or debilitating problem. By then, I’d been living in Israel for about a year, and practicing medicine at a local hospital for about six months. In Israel, everything was different—perhaps including me. In that dark room, I felt lost, as I confronted the outer borders of my pro-choice beliefs.
Read the rest here.
In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, conservative evangelicals are offering lots of thoughts and prayers. Many of them are saying that we need to solve the problem of mass shootings through a spiritual reformation. The real problem, they preach, is the moral degradation of our culture. Guns don’t kill people, mentally disturbed and sinful people kill people.
Here are a few recent tweets:
Just like Bonhoeffer, who said “let’s not point fingers, perhaps God is allowing the rise of the Nazi Party so that we will return to him in prayer & repentance.” 🤦♂️
— Punk God (@the_punk_god) August 6, 2019
The tragic shootings we’ve seen in El Paso and Dayton prove the reality of evil. Laws are important to help regulate evil but they can never eliminate evil—only Christ can transform a person’s heart 2 Cor. 5:17.
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) August 4, 2019
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) August 5, 2019
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) August 5, 2019
R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, says that the problem is not guns, but marijuana, out-of-wedlock births, relativism, multiculturalism, progressivism, and a general “cultural collapse.” In a strange turn in his piece, he randomly defends the late Southern Baptist segregationalist W.A. Criswell.
In some ways, these conservative pundits are correct. We do live in a coarse culture. I imagine future historians, if they are good, will see the rise of violent video-games, toxic social media, unprecedented access to unhealthy material online, intense political partisanship, and the presidency of Donald Trump as contributing to a culture that might lead to mass shootings. David Brooks is correct when he says that we have a culture problem. And let’s not forget that the renewal of white supremacy and racism is also part of this cultural decline, something that Reno and most court evangelicals do not mention.
I agree that prayers are important. We Christians have a spiritual responsibility to pray for those suffering in the wake of these horrendous shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I am not entirely sure that calls for prayer and spiritual renewal will bring deep change in the culture (I am with James Davison Hunter on this point), but I do think that these things are important and our churches and pastors should be encouraging them. I am enough of an evangelical to believe that anything is possible with God.
But I also worry that appeals to thoughts, prayers, and spiritual revival are often an excuse for not doing anything real and practical about guns in America.
Many Christian nationalists like to claim that our rights come from God. They jump from Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration of Independence about our rights coming from our “Creator” (1776) straight to the Bill of Rights (1791). They assume that because Jefferson said it, it must be true for both founding documents. But does the Bible really affirm a “right” to bear assault style rifles? Did James Madison write the Second Amendment to reflect some kind of biblical mandate about self-defense, or was it written in the context of the colonial militia system practiced in eighteenth-century America, as historian Saul Cornell has argued? (For the record, it is the latter).
The idea that the Constitution is a sacred document, ordained by God and informed by biblical principles, is popular among many American evangelicals. As a result, sensible reforms in the area of gun control pose a threat to what is affirmed in a document that, for many God and country patriots, carries a level of cultural authority that is barely one notch below the Bible. We can’t let those liberals take our guns! Our right to bear arms comes from God and we must defend the document that makes us a Christian nation! (See Carol Kuruvilla’s recent piece at HuffPost. I was happy to contribute to it).
So we offer thoughts and prayers and calls for spiritual awakenings. The problem is not guns, it is the people who use them. Legislation will not solve the problem, so why bother with it? Let a thousand assault rifles bloom. It is our right to have them. What did Charlton Heston say about his “cold, dead hands?”
I think most Christian nationalists would say that human life is valuable. If this is true, then mass shootings are a “life issue.” Christians of all stripes believe that life is precious because God created us in His image. This idea is at the heart of the anti-abortion crusade in America, but it has not gained any traction in the area of gun control. When babies are aborted the Christian Right rarely talks about praying for the mothers who have the abortion or the families who have suffered through the decision. Instead, they seek to solve the problem of abortion by trying to legislate morality through political organization, proposing bills, and voting for the right political candidates who will appoint the right justices who share their sacred (and borderline idolatrous) view of the Constitution. (I have critiqued some of this approach in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).
In other words, when it comes to abortion, conservative evangelicals act. But when it comes to gun control, we just get thoughts, prayers, and calls for revival.
Over 600,000 babies were aborted in 2015. What if evangelicals took the same approach to this large number of abortions that they do with mass shootings? If they took this route they would cease thinking creatively (and perhaps even legislatively) about this moral problem and retire to their prayer closets. Why take the fight for the dignity of human life to the public square when you can just ask God to send another Great Awakening?
As Christians we must pray for God’s presence in our lives and culture. May He heal our land and give us a glimpse of a coming Kingdom defined by love, peace, and justice. But American history teaches us that reform usually happens when Christians act. The two are not mutually exclusive. Let’s pass sensible gun laws.
ADDENDUM: A shorter version of this post appeared, with a different title, on August 7, 2019 at The Washington Post.
When it comes to abortion politics, Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and member of Obama’s faith-based initiative team, is one of our most important voices. His piece in today’s New York Times is one of the best things I have read on the subject. Here is a taste:
According to some progressives, Democrats need to learn from Mr. Trump’s style of politics and name enemies, draw harder lines and callously stoke the animosities that roil Americans’ lives for partisan advantage.
This emulation of Mr. Trump’s flattening of our political discourse to its extremes is evident in many areas, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than on abortion. There were several examples of this just in the last month.
In the first presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked if there was any restriction on abortion she supported; she could not name one, and no other candidate on the stage tried to either. Joe Biden was berated by his Democratic competitors and others for his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, and announced that he would now oppose it. And yet a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June showed that slightly more Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment (at 41 percent) than oppose it (at 39 percent). Overall, 49 percent of registered voters support Hyde, compared with 32 percent who oppose it. It is not so much that Mr. Biden was out of step with the Democratic electorate, but that the 2020 Democratic candidates are out of step with American voters, even Democratic voters, on the issue of abortion.
Read the entire piece here.
I still stand by my belief that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020. He is going to get hammered in these Democratic debates and the coming primaries, but if he can survive, and not screw things up, he can be the next president.
I was not overly impressed by anyone in last night’s debate. Elizabeth Warren won the first half of the debate, but she seemed to fade toward the end. Nevertheless, I think she controlled the stage and was clearly the overall winner. Julian Castro did very well. His team can build on his performance. As I said to my daughter last night, I still don’t understand why Cory Booker is not polling higher. I felt bad for Beto O’Rourke. He did not look well last night. I was wondering if he had the flu. He looked pale and his eyes were very red and watery. I like Amy Klobuchar, but Biden will take all of her potential votes.
I was struck by the question on abortion. Every candidate on the stage upheld the Party line. Here is Emma Green at The Atlantic:
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.
The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.
Green correctly concludes: “Democrats are clearly willing to promote their party’s support for abortion rights; none of the nearly two dozen candidates has tried to use moderation on abortion to his or her advantage.”
Read her entire piece here.
Let’s see what happens tonight. As many know, Biden has raised serious questions about federal funding for abortion, but he caves whenever he is pressured by other candidates. What if Biden takes the opportunity tonight to provide a nuanced view on abortion by saying something about how he wants to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? He can do this without flip-flopping again on the Hyde Amendment or undermining Roe v. Wade. If Biden takes this route, he will probably be the only candidate willing to make a break–however subtle–with the Party line. I am not optimistic that Biden and his team will go this route, but I do know that most Democrats here in Pennsylvania would welcome such a move.
All pro-lifers need to read John Medaille’s piece at the Front Porch Republic. Here is a taste:
The most inflammatory debates about abortion concern pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or those which endanger the life of the mother. But as serious as these cases are, they are a tiny portion of the abortion market (and it is a market, a business), and if it were limited to that, it would be a very limited market indeed. The wider market has other causes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor or low-income. Twenty-six percent of patients had incomes of 100–199% of the federal poverty level, and 49% had incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($15,730 for a family of two.)” That would seem to make it an economic issue, and of course that is a large part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The Institute goes on to say, “The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.”
Again, this would seem to make it an economic problem. But I am going to make a leap here and assert that behind the economic problem lay a cultural problem, or rather three interrelated cultural problems: individualism, hedonism, and capitalism. Individualism means that we have only such responsibilities as we choose to have. But this works against women; men can easily walk away from their natural responsibilities without penalty, but women cannot. “Saddled” with children, she is no longer an “individual,” but a little community, and one that depends on support from the wider community, support that is frequently not forthcoming. In the same way, hedonism is also not an equal opportunity employer; it favors the male of the species. When men are encouraged to take their pleasures when they want and leave them when they will, contraception and abortion work as defense mechanisms.
And behind these two stands capitalism, their greatest champion and defender. For the logic of mass production flourishes best in a culture of consumerism—that is, hedonism—and it sends us messages 24/7 encouraging and normalizing the idea that we are what we consume. When a sandwich company can get away with screaming at us (literally), “I do what the ____ I like,” you know that they are not selling sandwiches, but a particular lifestyle and frame of mind, one which is destructive of community and family life by being supportive of individualism and hedonism. And capitalists feel no obligation to support the family through wages, but only to pay the lowest possible rate for labor, even if they have to go to Bangladesh to do it.
Hence the “pro-life” movement, by tying itself to the Republican Party, ties itself to the aggressive support of capitalism and to the party least likely to impose any controls or obligations on the system. Like the Fox channels, they have bracketed off the moral and cultural issues, so that they support with one hand what they oppose with the other. They oppose the culture of abortion while supporting the culture that practically demands it. This cultural/political schizophrenia lends credence to the caricature of the “pro-life” movement as supportive of pregnancy and birth but not of motherhood. After giving birth, she should get a job like everybody else and not be a drag on the body politic. The movement can help elect the slimiest president possible under the naïve belief that he will lift us from the slime. Understood this way, it is really no surprise that the most radical expression of the anti-abortion movement occurs in states like Alabama, a state with the lowest levels of support for mothers and the highest level of support for big business, a state that is ranked near the bottom in public support for healthcare, education, infrastructure, and many other things.
A principled stance against abortion makes sense only within a matrix that ties together the economic and social ordering of society. Apart from a social order that welcomes children and an economic order that supports families, the prohibition of abortion appears to be just an arbitrary denominational stricture, like fasting on Fridays or wearing a yarmulke. This lends credence to the charge that we are merely trying to enforce our religion on others. By treating it as a “single-issue” that overrides all other issues, the pro-life movement divorced the issue from the moral matrix which harmonizes it, thus making it appear self-contradictory. We have bracketed the issue from the very things that make it part of an intelligible whole. What Fox does in the name of profits, we do in the name of power.
Read the entire piece here.
HT: John Haas
Princeton’s Robert George was right:
Joe Biden will cave on the Hyde Amendment. Progressive ideology is a fundamentalist faith and abortion at any time for any reason paid for by taxpayers is a central dogma. Dissent by a Democratic presidential aspirant is disqualifying. Biden will not sacrifice his ambitions.
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) June 6, 2019
Biden, in a speech tonight in Atlanta, claimed that he is opposed to the Hyde Amendment.
Here is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday he no longer supports a controversial ban that blocked the use of federal funds for some abortions, reversing a position that put him at odds with many Democrats.
The White House hopeful said at a national party fundraiser in Atlanta that anti-abortion measures adopted in Georgia and other states are a sign that Republicans are going to continue to push for more aggressive restrictions.
Read the entire piece here.
Emma Green is back with a piece on Joe Biden’s view on abortion. He supports the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortions through Medicaid. Yet last night one of his campaign directors claimed that he was supportive of Roe v. Wade. As I tweeted:
I’m watching the National Co-Chairman of the Biden Campaign trying to explain Biden’s position on abortion. The campaign is going to have to work harder at clarifying this position because this interview is not going well. @ChrisCuomo #Biden @JoeBiden #HydeAmendment #RoeVWade
— John Fea (@JohnFea1) June 6, 2019
Here is a taste of Green’s piece at The Atlantic:
…he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old ban on federal funding for most abortions through programs such as Medicaid. As a senator, Biden voted repeatedly to keep this ban in place; in the 1990s, as NBC reported, he wrote a letter to constituents affirming that Americans who oppose abortions should not have to pay for them. The other leading 2020 Democratic candidates have taken the opposite stance, calling for Hyde to be repealed, along with other expansions of abortion rights. Perhaps in response to the Democratic field’s move to the left, Biden has recently indicated that he might be willing to protect abortion rights with federal legislation.
While most voters likely do not recognize the term “Hyde Amendment,” the issue of using tax dollars to pay for abortion is fairly clear-cut. Even people who support legal abortion, including Democrats, may not believe the federal government should be paying for it. Biden’s continued support for a ban on federal funding for abortion sends a different message: This is the moderate Democrat who voters have known for decades. Abortion-rights advocacy groups are already calling out Biden’s position on Hyde, but unlike other 2020 Democrats, he is not prioritizing to those groups’ causes. In part by emphasizing his fight for “the soul of the nation,” as he has put it, over and above divisive social issues, Biden is making a bet that he can appeal to the widest range of voters in a 2020 general election.
Frankly, I would like to see Biden define himself as a pro-life Democrat. As I have argued before, it is the most consistent position for a party that claims to care about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings in society.
And by the way, it is also possible to be pro-life and pro-women’s rights. I am with Jimmy Carter on this.
Recently New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand claimed that laws against abortion are “against Christian faith?” This should raise a host of red flags for people who know something about Christianity. Most American evangelicals, who the last time I checked were Christians, oppose abortion. Roman Catholics also oppose abortion. The Orthodox Church also opposes the practice. So do many mainline Protestants.
So why does Gillibrand believe that a pro-life position on abortion is anti-Christian? She claims that Christianity teaches “free will” and, as a result, laws preventing a women’s choice to abort a baby are not Christian.
Wow. I just read a draft of this post to my eighteen-year-old daughter and she gave me a puzzled look before saying, “Wait, that’s not how it works.”
Most of the Christian bodies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post also believe in free will. Yet they oppose the practice of abortion because a person’s free will is always understood in the context of other principles–like the common good, the preservation of life, and duties to others, including the unborn. When one becomes a Christian they are called to deny self for the life of others. There are times when individual choice must be subordinated to larger moral issues.
Please note that this post is not an endorsement of the Alabama bill. I have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions. Rather, this post is a plea to politicians to stop doing theology.
Steven Waldman, author of a new book titled Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, makes a fascinating argument in a recent op-ed at Newsweek. What happens when a pro-life position on abortion clashes with religious liberty? Jews believe life begins at birth, not conception. Muslims believe that life begins around the fourth month of gestation. Are these deeply-held religious beliefs?
On the Christian Right, where anti-abortion legislation and religious liberty drive the political agenda of its members, heads are exploding. What happens when religious liberty clashes with anti-abortion laws?
Here is a taste of Waldman’s piece “Alabama Abortion Law: Should Jewish and Muslim Doctors and Women Get Exemptions For Religious Freedom?:
There may be a strange, implied loophole in the Alabama anti-abortion law—that abortions can be performed … if the doctor is Jewish or Muslim.
Here’s the logic. We are in a moment of history when the courts are leaning in the direction of providing religious exemptions to secular laws. This was the thrust of the Sisters of the Poor case, when a group of nuns said they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraception coverage. They argued that the rule violated their religious beliefs so they shouldn’t have to participate. The “Bakers of Conscience” have made a similar argument—that they should be allowed to avoid making a cake for a same-sex wedding without being prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws—because their beliefs are grounded in religion.
The drafters of the law were at least partly motivated by their faith. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,” said Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill.
So the question becomes: does the law infringe on the religious beliefs of the woman or the doctor?
Though there are many interpretations in the Jewish tradition, the most common is that life begins at birth, not conception. Reform Rabbis have decreed that abortion is permitted if there is a “strong preponderance of medical opinion that the child will be born imperfect physically, and even mentally.” If you’re a Jewish woman, you could argue that this law forces you to abide by a different definition of life (with roots in Roman Catholicism).
If you’re a Jewish doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath—to perform medically appropriate procedures without discrimination—then it may be your religious belief that you have a duty to provide a Biblically-sanctioned abortion. By blocking you from offering that service, the law is forcing you to violate your Hippocratic oath and the guidance from your religion.
Read the rest here.
Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan. He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law. Here is his report:
A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.
“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”
Read the entire piece here.
I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Charles Camosy‘s new book Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can United a Fractured People. Camosy offers us a small glimpse of his argument in a recent piece at Religion News Service. Here is a taste:
A revitalized Consistent Life Ethic [CLE] — especially as understood and articulated in the Roman Catholic tradition by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and (especially) Pope Francis — could provide a path to unifying a fractured culture around a vision of the good.
Through the church’s CLE, rightly understood, a new generation can not only challenge our impoverished and incoherent political imagination but also can begin the hard work of laying out the foundational goods and principles upon which whatever comes next can be built.
To many, the CLE is equated simply with a pro-life or anti-abortion stance. But in the encyclical “Caritas in veritate,” Benedict said that it is false to distinguish between “pro-life” issues (where the church is thought to have more conservative views) and “social justice” issues (where the church is thought to have more liberal views).
Abortion, euthanasia and embryo-destructive research are to be understood as social justice issues — just as global consumerism, ecological concern and care for the poor are to be understood as life issues.
What the CLE really opposes is what Pope Francis calls “throwaway culture” — a mentality in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.
Such a culture reduces everything — including people — into mere things, whose worth consists in being bought, sold, or used, and which are then discarded when their market value has been exhausted. Francis insists that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” applies clearly to our culture’s “economy of exclusion.” In the pope’s view, “Such an economy kills.”
In a throwaway culture, a primary value is maintaining a consumerist lifestyle. To cease caring about who is being discarded, most of us must find a way to no longer acknowledge their inherent dignity. Instead of language that affirms and highlights the value of every human being, throwaway culture requires language that deadens our capacity for moral concern toward those who most need it.
The values of the CLE, in other words, are the irreducible dignity of the person, nonviolence, hospitality, encounter, mercy, conservation of the ecological world and giving priority to the most vulnerable.
Read the entire piece here.
I hate the term “right side” and “wrong side” of history. No historian should use these phrases. They are moral, not historical, phrases. When people use them they are usually saying more about their own politics or religion than the patterns of history. When Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was making a theological statement. It is a theological statement that I affirm because I am a Christian who hopes in a coming Kingdom where justice will prevail, and not because I wholeheartedly embrace the Enlightenment idea of progress.
Historians know that the story of humanity does not always bend toward justice. Usually those who reference the right and wrong sides of history have a political axe to grind. Historians, of course, are not prophets. We cannot predict the direction history will move. Christian historians should have eschatological hope, but we cannot pretend to claim that we know all that God is doing. This is why we talk about humility and mystery. We see through a glass darkly.
In her recent piece on abortion at VOX, evangelical feminist Karen Swallow Prior does not use the phrase “right side of history” or “wrong side of history,” but she does invoke a kind of ethical trajectory–a teleology if you will– that is born out of her Christian convictions and her belief in moral progress. As a historian, I am trained to treat her predictions with caution. As a Christian who believes we must reduce the number of abortions in the United States, I say let’s hope she is correct.
Here is a taste of her piece, “Abortion Will Be Considered Unthinkable 50 Years from Now.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that abortion hit its lowest rate since Roe v. Wade: 11.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a dramatic decline from a peak in the early 1980s that approached 30 per 1,000 women. It’s unclear whether this decrease is owing to increased use of contraceptives; delayed sexual activity among young people; the declining number of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a growing inability to deny — thanks to ultrasound technology, prenatal surgical interventions, and extravagant gender reveal parties — the insuppressible personality of the child in the womb; or a combination of all these factors.
Whatever the cause, however, abortion is becoming less necessary and less desirable. Recent attempts in several states to expand access to late-term abortions in anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe not only violate the view of the majority (who support greater restrictions after the first trimester) but will be seen by future generations as a last, desperate show of stubbornness in the face of human progress.
Every age has its blinders, constructed, usually, through a combination of ignorance and self-interest. Many things such as bloodletting and wet nurses that are seen as good or indispensable in one age are unthinkable in another.
Our modern-day willingness to settle for sex apart from commitment, to accept the dereliction of duty by men who impregnate women (for men are the primary beneficiaries of liberal abortion laws), and to uphold the systematic suppression of sex’s creative energy and function are practices that people of other ages would have considered bizarre. As we enter late modernity and recognize the limits of the radical autonomy and individualism which have defined it, the pendulum will correct itself with a swing toward more communitarian and humane values that recognize the interdependency of all humans.
When we do, we will look back at elective abortion and wonder — as we do now with polluting and smoking — why we so wholeheartedly embraced it. We will look at those ultrasound images of 11-week old fetuses somersaulting in the waters of the womb and lack words to explain to our grandchildren why we ever defended their willful destruction in the name of personal choice and why we harmed so many women to do so.
Read the entire piece here.
This reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that the Democratic Party change its views on abortion:
I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:
Jimmy Carter appeared on radio show of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham recently. Here is what he said about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion:
“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children for instance who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”
“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”
Life News has context.
I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:
Rev. Mitchell Hescox is the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. In his recent piece at The York Daily Record, Hescox argues that pro-life evangelicals should be concerned about the bad air emanating from fracking sites and natural gas facilities in Pennsylvania. Here is a taste of his piece:
As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn. We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution. The Bible calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82: 3-4 NIV). Certainly, preborn and new-born children are the most vulnerable among us. They deserve a quality of life that can only be assured when we uphold both our Christian beliefs and our Commonwealth’s Constitution:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
We’re not alone. This year over 15,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians wrote to Governor Wolf and asked him to create sensible fugitive methane standards. Another 5,000 Pennsylvania pro-life Christians added their comments against the EPA’s ill-fated attempt to cancel new source methane standards nationally.
Read the entire piece here.
The abortion rate has declined by more than 25% between 2006 and 2015. This is certainly good news for the pro-life community.
According to Sara Kliff’s piece at VOX, the decline in abortions can be explained by several things:
Read the entire piece here.
Earlier this month, New York Times religion reporter Elizabeth Dias did a story on evangelical women who are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race. One of the women quoted in that piece said “I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb.”
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is a pro-life feminist and founder of an organization called New Wave Feminists. In an op-ed in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News she explains why she just voted for Beto, a pro-choice candidate. Here is a taste of her piece:
I run a large pro-life feminist group, not just a pro-life group. We were the ones removed as sponsors from the Women’s March back in 2017 because of our stance against abortion rights. And that was a real shame because while I am 100 percent pro-life, I’m also 100 percent feminist, and I saw the way Trump treated women as an absolute deal-breaker. Sadly, we were one of the few pro-life groups that took this position.
However, during that election I started to see, as an independent, just how deep the GOP had its hooks in the pro-life movement. I saw the way these politicians used unborn children’s lives to get out the vote but then oftentimes forgot about those lives soon after. I saw the way pro-lifers compromised so many of their own upstanding ethics and morals to elect a man thrice married, who bragged about his infidelities and predatory behavior. And why? So they could get their Supreme Court seats.
And then I watched as they got two of those seats, and how they boasted that all of their compromise had been worth it because we now have a “pro-life” advantage on the Supreme Court and could possibly overturn Roe vs. Wade. All the while, Sen. Susan Collins was explaining that she voted yes to Kavanaugh only because he assured her Roe was “settled law.”
This was the last straw for me. That’s when the blinders came all the way off. This idea of eliminating abortion by simply making it illegal is far too low of a bar to set. Abortion must become unthinkable and unnecessary if we want to eradicate it from our culture. And the only way that will happen is by creating a post-Roe culture while Roe still stands.
Read the entire piece here.
In 1979, the progressive/democratic socialist magazine In These Times ran an anti-abortion essay. It was written by Elizabeth Moore, a Catholic right-to-life advocate, and Karen Mulhauser, a leader of NARAL.
Yesterday, the current deputy editor of In This Times wrote that the magazine was “wrong” for publishing the piece. Here is a taste of Jessica Stites’s piece “Why Did We Run an Anti-Abortion Piece in 1979?“:
In February 1979, In These Times published the debate, “Pro and Con: Does free abortion hurt the poor and minorities?” The then-newspaper was flooded with letters to the editor from a who’s who of feminists objecting to both the framing of the debate and its participants—Elizabeth Moore, a Catholic right-to-life advocate, and Karen Mulhauser, a leader of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
The editorial decision-making process is lost to history, but this much we know: The Catholic Left held sway with ITT in the 1970s. A July 1977 editorial called for “serious dialogue with sincere ‘right-to-life’ advocates [who oppose abortion] out of genuine religious or moral concern for the sanctity of life.” ITT ran pieces by Juli Loesch, a major force in the Catholic “consistent life” movement, which wedded anti-nuclear, antiwar and anti-abortion politics. Loesch and other Catholic feminists were eventually pushed out of anti-abortion leadership by patriarchal evangelicals, who kept the Catholic leftists’ direct action tactics of clinic pickets and harassment, which escalated into murder.
Read the entire piece here.
Whatever you think of her argument (or the argument of Moore and Mulhauser in 1979), Stites’s piece reveals that the Christian Right did not have a monopoly on the anti-abortion movement in the 1970s.
Here’s a question: Can you be a socialist today and be pro-life on abortion? I once indirectly asked Bernie Sanders this question.
As many of you know, Pope Francis has changed the official teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment. The Church now opposes capital punishment in all cases. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life reflects on this change in his recent piece at the New York Daily News. Here is a taste:
If Pope Francis’ effort to abolish the death penalty is simply cheered by those who agree with him and ignored by more than half of American Catholics who support capital punishment, we’ve missed a rare opportunity to have a more expansive dialogue about what it means to protect human life in all cases. Conservative Catholic politicians — and Christian evangelicals who rally behind President Trump — too often get a free pass in declaring themselves “pro-life” if they oppose abortion, while supporting a policy agenda that perpetuates extreme inequality, environmental degradation, and that tears immigrant children from the arms of their parents.
A few months ago, Francis described the lives of migrants as “equally sacred” as the lives of the unborn in the womb. Some Catholics think immigration is a “lesser issue” compared to abortion and euthanasia, the pope acknowledged, a position Francis said might be understandable for a politician fishing for votes, but never acceptable for a Christian who claims to follow the Gospel.
Pope Francis inconveniently reminds us that the sacred image of God is in everyone: the unborn, the undocumented immigrant, and even the death row prisoner. It’s time for our political leaders to play catch up.
Read the entire piece here.
Check out Terry Gross’s NPR interview with evangelical minister Rob Schenck. I first learned about Schenck through the documentary “Armor of Light.” The film featured his attempts to convince his fellow evangelicals that being “pro-life” and “pro-gun” were morally incompatible positions.
Schenck has also changed his views on abortion. Once an ardent anti-abortion activist, Schenk has now softened his position. Here is a taste of the summary of his interview with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”:
On becoming an anti-abortion activist in 1988
There was a very close identification with the civil rights struggle, and I came to see this as a kind of civil rights struggle for the most vulnerable of human beings, those in the womb. And so as time went on, I embraced that. It took me a little while to become totally convinced of the rightness of that cause and I would take that into more than 20 years, actually 25 years, of activism.
On ways he and his fellow anti-abortion activists made it difficult for women seeking abortion
We engaged in mass blockades. Sometimes, we would have a dozen people in front of the doorways to a clinic. Other times, it would be hundreds. On occasion, we actually had thousands. And so we created human obstacles for those coming and going, whether they were the abortion providers themselves, their staff members, of course, women and sometimes men accompanying them that would come to the clinics. And it created a very intimidating encounter.
There were, of course, exceptions. There were women who would later thank us for being there. There were adoptions arranged where women would go through with their pregnancy, deliver their child, the child would be adopted through the pro-life network, but that was a relatively rare exception to the rule.
On reflecting on how his rhetoric while protesting abortion clinics and doctors may have contributed to the violence toward abortion providers, such as Dr. David Gunn, who was murdered in 1993; Dr. George Tiller, who was was wounded in 1993 and murdered in 2009; and Dr. Barnett Slepian, who was murdered in 1998
This became more about us, about me, about our need to win, to win the argument, to win on legislation, to win in the courts. I will tell you that my acceptance of that responsibility had to come only after a long period of reflective prayer, of listening deeply to those who were gravely affected by those murders, in therapy with my own — I will be careful to say — Christian therapist, who helped me come to terms with what really happened and how I may have contributed to those acts of violence through my rhetoric, and eventually in a confrontation, a very loving one but nonetheless an encounter, a very strong, very powerful encounter, with the relative of one of the doctors shot and stabbed. … And it was … actually at a Passover Seder table when I was confronted very gently and very lovingly by a relative who happened to be a rabbi of that one abortion provider. In that moment, I realized my own culpability in those in those terrible, terrible events.
Read or listen to the entire interview here. He also discusses evangelicals and support for Donald Trump.