Monday, September 04, 2006


The rhetorical labyrinth of abortion

Ramesh Ponnuru, resident National Review geek, has a new book out, "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life." Essentially, it's a "pro-life" treatise. I put the term pro-life in quotes because I fail to see how conservatives can call themselves that with their worldview of war as solution to all world conflicts, their sense of bloodlust satisfied via capital punishment, their belief that America would be more peaceful if all her citizens packed heat, their unwavering support of the tobacco lobby and their seeming lack of concern that 1/4 of the American children who weren't aborted live in poverty. But I digress once again into territory covered a million times before.

I must say, I'm a little disappointed by the bombastic title and premise of Ponnuru's book. He's been filling in recently on PBS' "NewsHour" as a foil to liberal Mark Shields while conservative David Brooks is off following the kinds of eggheaded pursuits that make Brooks a lovable nerd. Ponnuru, on the "NewsHour," comes off as reasonable and thoughtful, the kind of guy that actually makes guys like me reconsider and re-evaluate our liberal ways. In spite of this ridiculous book title, worthy of an Anne Coulter screed, I hold out hope that I'm still right about him.

And the New York Times Book Review suggests that I am indeed right to assume that Ponnuru shows himself in this book to be several cuts above, say, Michael Savage. Essentially, he skewers the twisted logic of those who support abortion rights. For example: I think abortion is horrible and tantamount to murder, but I don't believe I should impose my beliefs on others. How crazy is that?

For as long as I've had political and social opinions, I've steadfastly held to the view that abortion is a terrible wrong and that it should be illegal, that Roe v. Wade should be reversed. I've lambasted the Democratic party and fellow liberals for their equally unwavering view that choice trumps life. Furthermore, I've been a strong supporter of the consistent pro-life creed, largely promoted by the Catholic church, not the cheap right-wing, evangelical creed of bleeding hearts for the unborn but indifferent hearts toward everyone else.

So it may surprise some of you to learn that my views on abortion have been evolving somewhat over the past several months. I can thank South Dakota legislators for spurring my reconsideration. You may recall that earlier this year, they passed a law in open defiance of Roe that banned abortion in their state. In essence they forced us all up to the precipice that divides reality from theory. Until now, I found my hard-line beliefs quite tenable in the comfortable knowledge that Roe probably wouldn't be overturned anytime soon. Now that a ban on abortion might be a real deal, I've been forced to consider how that might really affect our society.

In response to South Dakota's new law, The New York Times Magazine examined life in El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and law enforcement works aggressively to stamp it out. In El Salvador, doctors are legally obligated to report evidence of past abortions that turns up during an annual exam to authorities. Once evidence is reported, authorities can obtain a court order insisting that a woman show up at a certain time and place for a pelvic exam. Further evidence can be used to prosecute and imprison women and their doctors. Is this the kind of society we want? I don't see any other way to enforce anti-abortion laws other than what goes on in El Salvador.

Ponnuru is right in his questioning of the pro-choice crowd. But now I have questions of him, and of other pro-lifers, myself included:

1) Isn't it hypocritical to stand up for the sanctity of life for the unborn, then draw numerous exceptions under which abortion is permissable? Is life less valuable when conceived under rape or incest? Obviously, not to allow these exceptions would show true heartlessness, but still doesn't it point out a huge trap in our pro-life rhetoric?

2) Do we really want a return to unsafe, clandestine "back-alley" abortions? This stands as the cornerstone of most pro-choicers' arguments. Isn't there validity to this argument? Do we really think all abortion will stop? Do women who seek an abortion get what they deserve if they bleed to death or are otherwise butchered in unsafe unregulated procedures?

3) If abortion really is murder, then should women who seek abortions and doctors who provide them be prosecuted as murderers? In most states, killing a baby constitutes a capital offense. Should we execute these folks? If we truly believe our own rhetoric, then the answer is yes.

4) Don't we pro-lifers often look a little foolish in our rhetoric? Are doctors who provide abortions really greedy and sinister, or do they sincerely think they're taking great risks to do the right thing? Do most folks who favor legalized abortion really do so as a celebration of liberating choice? Do most of them see abortion as a legitimate form of birth control? I doubt it. Does any thoughtful pro-choicer really think a fetus is a neutral piece of tissue? I think not.

Unable to answer these questions in a satisfactory manner, I regretfully find myself retreating from my hardline stance. Increasingly, I stand in the safe-legal-but-extremely-rare camp, which itself has many logical and moral problems. I can never really be OK with a stance that permits taking an unborn life. Yet, this is exactly where I find myself standing. I'm afraid that once we opened the Pandora's box of Roe, we put ourselves past the point of no return, and ultimately any stance on abortion these days is unsatisfactory and frankly tragic.

Still, the best we can do is ensure that as few women as possible desire abortions, that they're not terribly convenient to those who want them, that other pro-life options are made more desirable, but in the end, that they remain safe and available for the undaunted. I really see no other way. So does this stand forever banish me from the ranks of the pro-life? Many would say yes. On the other hand, perhaps I now join the ranks of most Americans who see this as a nuanced, truly difficult issue.

On the one side of this issue are the Gloria Steinems and Molly Yards of the world. On the other are the Randall Terrys and Phyllis Schlaflys. In between lies a vast spectrum for the truly thoughtful, reflective souls of this world.

The religious Right speaks on public education

If you'll recall, I blogged several weeks ago on the hositility to public education shown by many extremists on the Right. Yesterday's Post-Dispatch carried an Associated Press story on how fundamentalists are increasingly pulling kids out of public schools based on their perceptions of what goes on at the school down the street. Here are some quotes:

"Humanism and evolution are taught, but everything I believe is disallowed."
- Roger Moran, member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee

"Home-schoolers avoid harmful school environments where God is mocked, where destructive peer influence is the norm, where drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and homosexuality are promoted."
- from the California-based Considering Home-schooling Ministry

"The infusion of an atheistic, amoral, evolutionary, socialistic, one-world, anti-American system of education in our public schools has indeed become such that if it had been done by an enemy, it would be considered an act of war."
- Florida-based evangelist D. James Kennedy

How many of you out there truly believe that we public school teachers spend our time indoctrinating children to hate America, God and all that's good? Promoting drugs and alcohol? That's news to the thousands of schools, mine included, that spend a great deal of instructional time educatingagainst these dangers. Promoting promiscuity and homosexuality? We teachers aren't going near those issues. Amoral? Humanistic? That's a big surprise to schools like mine that actively teach character education. Anti-American? Is the Pledge of Allegiance, recited every morning in schools across America, anti-American? God is mocked? That's a true shocker to the millions of American schoolteachers who happen to be church-going Christians.

I believe that people should provide their children with the kind of education they believe is best, whether it be at a public, private, charter or home school. I also believe that parents should have a solid command of the facts before they make such decisions. Self-serving and ignorant demogogues such as the ones quoted above do nothing to enlighten parents and help them make the best choices for their children.

Dear South,

Boy, you got us, we conservatives love to kill people, desire children to live in poverty, and hope that everyone has a gun to kill even more people....oh, and you didn't mention that we can't wait to destroy the environment - I rev my car up a few extra times every time I drive it just to get us there faster...

Now, that is the usuall, cheap rhetoric aimed at the part of the American public without a brain, so It would hardly be worth my time or yours for me to respond.

However...your comment "the cheap right-wing, evangelical creed of bleeding hearts for the unborn but indifferent hearts toward everyone else" demands a response.

I am a right wing evangelical, and go to one of the largest evangelical churches in the country, where, I expect, that most of the members are "right wing." While I will be the first to say that a sizable % of the members may not be Christians at all, and an even larger % are babies in their faith, saying that they have "indiffernt hearts towards everyone else" is just absurd.

According to Wesley K. Willmer, author of “Evangelicals: Linking Fervency of Faith and Generosity of Giving,” evangelicals give twice as much to charity as Protestants, three times more than Catholics, and four times more than the general population. They give primarily to faith-based charitable causes and to organizations that directly meet human needs. Support goes to missionaries, Bible colleges, human welfare organizations, and para-church organizations (which supplement the work of churches).

O.k. you say, that's giving money, but what about actually doing something?

Well here are some more statistics from The Barna Group, a non-demoninational, non-partisan religious polling company:

Of the five faith segments (evangelicals, non-evangelical born again Christians, notional Christians, adherents of non-Christian faiths, and atheists/agnostics), evangelicals were the most likely to do each of the following:

*discuss spiritual matters with other people.
* volunteer at a church or non-profit organization.
* discuss political matters with other people.
* discuss moral issues and conditions with others.
* stop watching a television program because of its values or viewpoints.
* go out of their way to encourage or compliment someone.

For more information about Evangelicals, see:

The rest of your post seemed genuine and well thought out, although I can't say that I agree with it, so I'll respond soon I hope, and possibly keep you from joining the dark side..
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