Friday, November 9, 2012

Pro-choice? Pro Life? How about, "Choose Life!"?

This is a post-election follow-up to my recent post entitled Friedman: Why I am Pro-life.

In his recent, "Why I am Pro-life" piece, Thomas Friedman wrote about being Pro-life in the broader sense of the sanctity of life. Of course, American politics being what it is, "sanctity of life" has boiled down to the distorted Democrat-Pro-Choice vs. Republican-Pro-Life debate.

Which brings up a good question: Pro-choice? Pro Life? How about, "Choose Life!"?

And while we're at it, Republican? Democrat? How about, "Forget who wins or which side controls policy! Let's focus instead on cooperatively solving problems which enable people to make the best choices for themselves and pursue happy lives in liberty!"?

The Pro-choice and pro-life labels are about as useless to me as are the party labels. How about, "Forget party affiliation! Which candidate has the better prospects for cooperative problem solving? Who best represents me and my values, and who is accountable to me rather than special interests?"?

Maybe it's time to unite under a revised and revitalized "Choose Life!" banner.

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In 1985, my then 12-year old brother came to visit me for a 4th of July in DC. I took him to the National Mall. I was wearing one of those billboard-sized t-shirts popularized by George Michael of Wham!


Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. We were soon accosted by a small but angry and vocal group of women my age (mid-20s at the time). They were highly agitated by the anti-choice implications of my ginormous t-shirt. They felt my shirt was an affront to their freedom, and they made their agitation abundantly clear to me.

So somewhere between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, in front of my younger brother and a semi-circle of hostile women, I explained that the shirt promotes an anti-drug, anti-suicide, anti-hate, anti-despair message. I went on to say that I support a woman's right to determine her own reproductive destiny. Being outnumbered, I stopped short of saying that I consider killing babies an immoral choice. The bottom line, abortion may be the lesser of two evils in some circumstances, and the choice ought to remain with the mother. In my view, a compassionate person would not limit the mother's options. Rather, compassion ensures the mother has all the support and information she needs to make the best choice.

There you have it. My kid brother got a little more than he bargained for when he came to visit our Nation's capitol. He got first-hand experience with the political nature of life in DC. And hopefully he appreciated the value of living to argue another day by deftly defusing a volatile situation. Maybe all he really learned is to spend an extra second thinking about what to wear....

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Fast forward to the Presidential election of 2012. Michael George, the one-time CHOOSE LIFE poster boy, is now most famous for tabloid stories of his penchant for using drugs and cruising for anonymous sex. The public perception of Congress is at an all-time low. Partisan rancor is at an all-time high. The Nation is lost without a moral compass. The choice between Big Government and Big Business does nothing to satisfy the longing most people have for a sense of vision for health, happiness, and prosperity. Some have seized on the single issue of abortion as a proxy for moral values.

Why has the Democrat party under President Obama lost the support of many conservative Christians? Is it because of his handling of the economy, our biggest political issue? Or because of his administration's handling of the attack on our Consulate in Benghazi? No. Polls show that these issues have not caused President Obama's support among Catholic voters to droop. The swing issue? Abortion, a matter which has been settled in law since Roe v Wade in 1973.

That's right, abortion. Not overall quality of life, not eliminating hunger, poverty, illiteracy, crime, or disease, but the question of whether a woman has the right to control her own sexual productivity.

Said another way, it's about whether a group of mostly conservative white male politicians has any right to tell a pregnant woman how to she should deal with the life inside of her.

As I have said and repeated, it doesn't help matters that a few vocal "right-wing nut jobs" have sullied the pro-life (or shall we say, anti-abortion?) movement with horrendously insensitive comments about rape. Also unfortunate is America's short attention span, and our tendency to think in terms of soundbites and bumper stickers.

Policy and morality are different. Morality must be taught and modeled at the lowest levels: families, neighborhoods, churches, school. Morality must not be legislated from on high, or we cease to be a free country. On the other hand, public policy is meant to reflect public values. However, at ever higher levels of policy-setting, it becomes harder to represent the values of all constituents.

Abortion is an immoral, yet legal choice. The way to end abortion is to prevent it, one mother at a time. In my view, a compassionate person would not limit the mother's options, but ensure the mother has all the support and information she needs to make the best choice.

Are Republicans really Pro-Life? If so, are only Republicans Pro-Life? As Christians and compassionate people, can we think holistically about the sanctity of life from conception all the way to the natural end of the cycle?

Supporting a woman's right to choose is not tantamount to promoting disregard for life in the form of abortion on demand. People who feel strongly that abortion is a horrible solution can still protect a woman's right to make that choice, and to live with the soul-wrenching consequences. By the same token, claiming a pro-life label on the basis of an anti-abortion stance does not confer moral superiority  particularly if the pro-life stance focuses exclusively on the unborn.

Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. I don't personally know anyone who is pro-abortion. Abortion stops a beating heart, and for that reason I am morally opposed. Yet at the same time, I dispute any man's right to hold forth on the issue. No man has ever become pregnant after getting raped. No man has ever been forced to carry a rapist's spawn to full term inside his body. No man has  ever been expected to bear the pain of childbirth for someone else's sake.

No wonder the late great Florynce Kennedy said: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Men condemn women for getting pregnant, but if the roles were reversed I am quite sure many men would go to a sports bar and thoughtlessly chug a morning after cocktail over a cigar with friends.

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Richard Mourdock lost to Democratic nominee Joe Donnelly in the general election, greatly hampered by his comment that pregnancies resulting from rape were "a gift from God" and shouldn't be terminated. Christian apologists and Mourdock defenders have pointed out that a raped woman cannot be un-raped; therefore, the resulting pregnancy is a separate issue. Why visit the violence of abortion on top of the violence of rape? Two wrongs don't make a right. right?

Even if one looks beyond the soundbite to the carefully considered moral underpinnings of Mourdock's conservative point of view, one must admit that no man has ever been forced to bear the pain of childbirth on top of the pain of violation. And so I conclude that even Mr Mourdock's words are shockingly insensitive. When are these so-called Pro-lifer's going to look at the bigger picture?

Pro-life? No! Pro-choice? Maybe. CHOOSE LIFE? Yes... YES!

Health, happiness, and prosperity for all!