Monday, April 9, 2012

where i'm at on abortion

I want to address the subject of abortion again because I've been trying for quite some time to gain some clarity in my own mind and I've found that my views are evolving in surprising ways. Whoever you are, whatever your take on the issue, you're likely to be disappointed with what I write, as I haven't been able to find much company for my views.

First, I think it is vital for those of us who are pro-life to acknowledge the difficult choices that sometimes need to be made. Women who never would have imagined having an abortion find themselves making that choice, perhaps because of severe deformities in the fetus that would prevent life outside of the womb, for example. That being said, all too often abortions are performed by voluntary choice rather than medical need. That is and always will be a monstrous injustice. That millions of people are sanguine about this is one of the greatest stains on our society.

It seems to me that many who are not bothered by abortion arrive at their viewpoint through blatantly unchristian moral reasoning. Their view of rights and how something ought to be treated is based on the development and capacities of that thing. Thus you have people putting great stock in whether or not a fetus can feel pain, for example. But from a Christian perspective, how we ought to be treated has nothing to do with our capacities and everything to do with the sort of creatures we are: created in the image of God. The severely retarded little boy and the Nobel prize winning genius are entirely equal before God and deserve equal treatment. But the logic of capacities-based rights leads to horrific ideas. In a similar way as the fetus can be terminated because it has not yet assumed all the qualities of being human, one might just as well argue that it is less evil to kill the mentally retarded boy than the Nobel Prize winner, because the boy is less cognizant of what is happening. The implications are sickening.

Thus I cannot imagine taking it upon myself to terminate a potential human life. Those who think that it is reasonable to do so owe it to their pro-life opponents to at least acknowledge that it is a profound moral decision, and there is no way for them to know they are in the right. Sadly, we're too often denied even this basic acknowledgment, as many pro-choice people pretend their view is the only reasonable one to have. I hope I have made clear that I understand that the decision to have an abortion is not an entirely one-sided affair in which no moral factors weigh in favor of it. Pro-choice people should extend the same courtesy.

That being said, I've grown increasingly perplexed about what the endgame is for the pro-life movement. What are we hoping to accomplish? I no longer favor outlawing abortion. I used to think this was a cop out. How could one be personally against abortion, I asked, but not favor legislating against it? But I no longer think it's a cop out. In fact, I think an abortion ban would ultimately lead to more abortions than ever before. For starters, many hundreds of thousands of abortions were taking place in this country well before abortion was legalized. In the late 1960s for example, before Roe v. Wade, Time magazine estimated that over 1 million abortions occurred in a single year.

These abortions would not disappear simply because of a law on a piece of paper. To put it in crudely economic terms, it seems likely that the demand for abortions is relatively inelastic. People who really want them are going to get them, one way or another. And what would that mean but a more dangerous, more secretive environment for abortions, in which respect for both the law and the pro-life position would be undermined by widespread opposition, and more women would die? There simply is not a popular majority for an abortion ban, nor is there one on the horizon. Indeed, if the pro-life movement got what it wanted today, the backlash would be so severe that abortion would probably quickly become more widely available and socially acceptable.

So here's what I think the pro-life movement should pursue. It is so far from current goals as to be fantasy, but I don't believe anyone could seriously argue that the following agenda would not dramatically reduce abortions and gain support for the pro-life cause:

1) Go all in on adoption. Make this the number one goal of the pro-life movement. For every mention of abortion, mention adoption ten times. Activate thousands of local churches, get pastors excited about subsidizing costs for church members who want to adopt, and don't stop until the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system in the United States have a home. Don't stop until there are thousands of Christian families waiting in line to adopt, rather than kids waiting in line to be adopted.

2) Promote universal health care, including free contraceptive coverage and free pre- and post-natal care, as well as more funding for WIC and early childhood education.

3) Only after doing the first two, begin to place reasonable restrictions on the availability of abortion services, being careful not to pursue radical measures for which there is not public support.

I don't think you can tell me with a straight face that this agenda wouldn't work to reduce abortions far below their current level. But for the pro-life movement to pursue it we would need to drop our ideological commitments about small government and focus on what we claim to care the most about: the lives of unborn children.


  1. Jesse -- this is a great post. I totally agree with you. To think that abortion is going to be outlawed this far into the game is a pipe dream, in my opinion. I love the idea of mobilizing churches to adopt, though to be fair, I think that there are large numbers of Christians who adopt, but of course there could always be more.

  2. Thanks Kindra, it's encouraging to know I'm on the same page with someone. I agree that adoption is already important for many Christians, though I think church leaders could emphasize it much more.