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I Endorse This Message: A Clergyman Comments on Abortion, Romney & the Election

by Carson T. Clark on October 12, 2012

As a hardlining moderate and a Christian, I seldom find myself agreeing with people on abortion. It’s as fascinating as it is troubling that the exact same comments often result in simultaneous accusations of being a baby killer and a misogynist. This issue, perhaps more than any other, is dominated by ideologues. These individuals, who reflect the full breadth of the socio-political spectrum, consistently appear wholly incapable of simultaneously holding to principled positions and being charitable toward those who disagree, carefully weighing the complex political realities and sensitively reflecting upon the intrinsic difficulties. It often seems that impassioned, over-simplistic rhetoric is not only the dominant methodology, but the only viable methodology. I’ve found the whole thing thoroughly disheartening, which is why I’ve grown increasingly quiet on this issue. Yesterday morning, however, I experienced a glimmer of hope. A clergyman and scholar who shall remain anonymous wrote up his perspective on abortion, Mitt Romney, and the 2012 presidential election. It was the first time since I ceased to be an angry, illogical fundamentalist seven long years ago that I didn’t feel profoundly alone in my perspective on this issue. The following paragraphs were what I read. Regular readers know I seldom do this, but I heartily endorse each and every sentence:

Assuming here that the question of abortion is a settled issue for the church (and has explicitly been going at least back to the Didache), there remain two big moving parts in the question of abortion at present.

The first is that abortion is a huge wedge issue so that both parties have a vested interest in the irresolution of the question legally. As long as abortion is a live issue, people can raise money and automatically gain the allegiance of particular constituencies of single-issue voters. Romney is nothing if not opportunistic here (as he is everywhere else). Being pro-choice benefited him tremendously early in his Massachusetts career and his self-presentation as stridently pro-life (even in the case of rape and incest) benefited him in the primaries this past year. Coming out now as “pro-life but not really motivated to do anything about it” allays fears of socially-liberal independents who might side with him on economic issues. So the question pro-life voters have to ask is not whether, but how pro-life do you expect him to be. I’d guess that a President Romney, like a President Bush would re-institute the Mexico City policy as a token and then spend his real political capital elsewhere. I don’t think abortion is even in the same hemisphere as his list of priorities and his actual priorities (deregulation, tax cuts, and collapsing the social safety net) may actually create and worsen economic conditions among the poor and middle class wherein abortion tends to flourish.

Second, there is a live tactical question for Christians as abortion goes. The “welcomed in life, protected by law” line works well for bumper stickers, but it seems fairly quixotic as an attainable goal. A constitutional amendment isn’t in the cards and Roe vs. Wade isn’t going away any time soon. I’d suspect that there are few pro-life Christians who would outlaw abortion in cases where the life and health of the mother are at stake. Only slightly more would deny incest/rape restrictions and only slightly more than that would advocate the prosecution-for-murder of mothers who secure illegal covert abortions by a physician or who self-abort by other means (medicinally or manually). Beyond that, I’m not sure how you’d enforce such legislation. Would the small government ideologues (as most pro-lifers are) really tolerate, much-less advocate-for, a system where pregnant women would have to register their pregnancies with the government and suffer official inquiry if they involuntarily miscarry? Put simply, I wonder if attacking this problem from the supply-side is really the most effective course in leavening a culture of life. Perhaps attacking it from the demand-side, with the goal being that abortion remains de-criminalized while becoming increasingly unnecessary and unpopular as an elective procedure, is a better place to aim. Of course that would implicate us in the advocacy of increased education, increased access to contraception, and in the pursuit of economic justice for populations most likely to experience unwanted pregnancies, so this option is not a panacea.

A wise Jesuit priest once conceded to me (in whispered tones, of course) that legal-or-not, on this side of the final resurrection, women will for many reasons end their pregnancies and kill their unborn children. Negotiating that reality and all its moral, legal, and social consequence is far more complex than single-issue slogan-voting tends to recognize. As a pro-life [clergyman], I’m clear on what I believe about the ontological status of unborn children and equally clear on what I may preach and offer as counsel to individuals as I come across them, but I’ll also confess that I find the social and legal and electoral side of this to be labyrinthine and overwhelming. At the end, I think that the goal should be fewer abortions tomorrow than there are today and fewer the day after than there will be tomorrow. Whether that is best achieved under a regime where abortion is absolutely outlawed or legal-but-economically disincentivized isn’t completely clear to me and there are plenty of collateral concerns that open up either way.

Whatever Romney believes personally, I’m absolutely certain that he’ll put no muscle into this issue. It’s a political loser for him and he’s nothing if not keenly and precisely aware of which way the wind blows. Expecting him to expend any personal or political capital here is past naive and on the way to irresponsible. A vote is too precious a thing to throw away on that expectation.

  • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

    This is why I think Simone Campbell’s approach is the best one. When you take away the partisan single-issue cynicism, you take away a lot of opposition to the pro-life position. What’s beyond abominable is to be in solidarity with poor kids UNTIL they leave the womb and then to vote to defund every social safety net that helps them to have an equal opportunity to succeed. If abortion is murder, then cutting Medicaid is genocide. http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/sister-simone-the-pro-life-movements-best-witness/

    • SamHamilton

      If abortion is murder, then cutting Medicaid is genocide.

      Speaking of a line that works well for bumper stickers… Medicaid didn’t even exist until 1965. As far as I know, there was no genocide going on prior to that.

  • Pat68

    “…attacking it from the demand-side, with the goal being that abortion remains de-criminalized while becoming increasingly unnecessary and unpopular as an elective procedure, is a better place to aim.”

    This is exactly where I believe we need to aim.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Agreed.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    One huge, glaring gap in this guy’s analysis (among other littler ones): Supreme Court picks.

    As Joe Biden pointed out last night, the next president will probably get one to two SCOTUS picks. This is big stuff. Sure, maybe Roe v. Wade isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Still, very important cases related to the abortion issue will come up in the next 10 or 20 years that these Supreme Court justices will be deciding. Whatever Romney’s inconsistencies, you know that someone with Obama’s clear and firm pro-”choice” stance will continue to stack the court with like-minded justices. (For reference, consult the President’s Illinois born-alive protection votes.)

    As for the rest of it, I think tackling the problem from both ends is the best option. I’ll be honest, I’ve moderated on a lot of issues in my day, but abortion is one of those deal-breakers for me. I’ve heard all the “single-issue voting” blather before. At nearly a million infants aborted a year, I’m okay with the label.

    • Stephen

      But, as the statement implies, it’s a multifaceted issue. For instance, a candidate who is pro-abortion might be really big on attacking poverty, which is a major factor in abortions. His opponent ma be anti-abortion, but may take positions that will not help the poorer lot at all, thus causing many more of them to want to get abortions. I agree that it’s a travesty that that amount of babies are aborted each year, but I also think it’s a little too simplistic to decide what a candidates effect on abortion statistics will be by simply looking at whether they are pro or anti-abortion as far as the legality of the thing is concerned. I think you have to change the hearts of the people before you change the laws.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Very, very few people are “pro-abortion.” Even amidst profound disagreement, please represent them as they’d represent themselves.

    • Stephen

      Very well. The only reason I do so is because I dislike euphemisms.

    • SamHamilton

      Try to look at it from the perspective of someone who thinks abortion is actually the taking a human life and therefore should be outlawed.

      Here’s an example using slavery:

      Candidate A’s position: I think slaveholders have the right to own slaves because African Americans are sub-human and therefore don’t have human rights, but I also believe that slaves feel pain and are abused so I support efforts to find alternatives to slavery so that slaveholders can continue managing profitable plantations rather than using slaves.

      Candidate B’s position: Slavery is immoral and should be outlawed. Finding alternatives to slavery so that slaveholders can remain profitable is important, but a much more secondary issue.

      Can you blame an abolitionist for supporting B over A every time?

      Though I do agree with you that changing hearts and minds is important. But laws are one of many tools we can use to change hearts and minds.

    • Stephen

      Can you blame an abolitionist for supporting B over A every time?

      No. If it were as simple as overturning legislation, I would support candidate B. But I question whether a full-on repeal of Roe vs. Wade is actually doable at the moment, which is why seeking alternatives would not go amiss.

    • SamHamilton

      Yes, getting Roe overturned is more difficult than repealing or passing a law, but it is not insurmountable. It’s conceivable that Justice Ginsburg or others will leave the Court in the next four years and, obviously, whether you have a pro-life or pro-choice President will matter. But in the end, your point is merely about practicality (and it’s debatable how much President Obama’s minor alterations to social anti-poverty programs would actually reduce the abortion rate).

      But the point I’m trying to make is an ethical one. Pro-life voters have a choice between voting for someone who promises to support the legality of an unethical, immoral practice vs. voting for someone who supports getting rid of the major obstacle to making it illegal.

    • Stephen

      The ethical issue is not far from my heart – I should mention that I am anti-abortion.

      in the end, your point is merely about practicality

      I concede that. But, if you can’t take a full victory, I say take the ones that we can get. Do it in increments.

    • SamHamilton

      I don’t see any significant incremental victory in supporting pro-abortion rights politicians who also support increasing spending on anti-poverty programs (which necessitates abandoning pro-life politicians). That’s just waiving a white flag in my mind. Now if we could start getting some candidates who supported stronger, effective anti-poverty programs who are also pro-life, then you might have a point, but they’re few and far between.

    • tylerbrainerd

      But even then, even with heavy pro life Supreme courts in the past, nothing has happened on the matter. It is simply not an issue that is going to see significant change.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Precisely.

    • SamHamilton

      tyler – when has there been a “heavy pro life Supreme court” since the Roe v. Wade decision?

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      Probably my biggest problem with voting for supposedly anti-abortion cantidates is that *without exception that i have found* they all also support policies which actually correlate with increased abortion rates, and vociferously oppose policies which correlate with actually reduced abortion rates, like sex education, availability of contraceptives and birth control, and anti-poverty measures like welfare.

      Please, forgive me for this, but i can’t help calling BS on someone for claiming to be anti-abortion when their actions demonstrate that they don’t care about reducing abortions; they only care about feeling like they’re making a stand for something important. That’s why i stopped being “pro-life” politically- I actually care about implementing policies that will actually reduce the number of abortions on a large scale.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      The other final straw thing i realized was that if you really believe that these millions of innocent people are being murdered around you and you don’t take up arms to fight them, you’re a pathetic coward. sitting back as a “holocaust every year” happens, doing nothing but making impractical voting choices… yeah, you either don’t actually believe that what’s happening is murder, or you’re a coward, cowed by the state into submission to (what you regard as) unjust laws. I try so hard to emulate Carson and his even handed moderation, but I cannot see any middle ground alternative between those two.

      I try to see everyone in as possible a light as i can, so I don’t assume cowardice; rather, i assume people regard their beliefs about abortion to be so precious to them and tied to their faith that they suppress the cognitive dissonance from being utterly convinced of something they don’t actually believe.

    • SamHamilton

      Was Martin Luther King Jr. a “pathetic coward” for not taking up arms against people who were killing and abusing African Americans?

      Is the man who shot and killed George Tiller courageous in your mind? Is he the only true believer? Is this what you’d have pro-life folks do in order to prove to you that they truly believe that abortion is the taking of a human life?

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      So, what, besides cowardice and cognitive dissonance do you think can justify or explain the lack of violent aggression against this holocaust?

    • SamHamilton

      “So what” isn’t really a response to my questions.

      I cannot imagine a scenario where walking into an abortion clinic and shooting the people who work there would redound to the pro-life cause’s benefit or reduce the abortion rate. Violence rarely solves problems. But perhaps you had a different violent strategy in mind that would work…

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      I wasn’t asking “so what?”.

      I was asking, “so, what… do you think can justify or explain…”

      Did violence solve the problem of the holocaust? or do you think we should have attempted to make laws prohibiting them from doing what they wanted to do to the Jews?

    • SamHamilton

      To some degree, violence “solved” the problem of the Holocaust, but that doesn’t mean it’ll solve everything. And it doesn’t mean that it’s the morally right thing to do in every situation.

      You still haven’t answered any of my questions… Again, what kind of violence would you advocate pro-lifers engage in that would help their cause? Was MLK a “pathetic coward” for not taking up arms against people who were killing and abusing African Americans? Is the man who shot and killed George Tiller courageous in your mind? Is he the only true believer?

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      Question 1:
      If I saw the government killing thousands of people around me every day, I would probably join a militia to fight back in as organized and effective a way as possible. Failure to do that would make me a coward. (unless i were committed to non-violence for other reasons)That’s about all I know. I’m not going to lay out what level of violence would count.

      Question 2:
      Let’s compare and contrast the pro-life movement and the civil rights movement (from their own perspectives), and see what we come up with

      Deaths:
      Civil Rights movement: the number of people dying or being killed by demanding a civil rights law was very, VERY low, but there were some; and most of them stood as willful martyrs

      Pro-Life-Movement: the number of people dying every year is in the millions, equaling the holocaust every few years.

      End Goal:
      Civil Rights Movement: Change public perception and social norms

      Pro-Life-Movement: Put a stop to the murder of all the people being killed by abortion.

      Method:
      Civil Rights Movement: because the primary, and basically only end goal was to change the public perception and the social norms, fighting back with violence would have been completely counter, at every step of the way, to the end goal. Plus, (comparatively) there wasn’t much urgency- people were not being murdered indiscriminately by the thousands. There’s no need to use violence to save lives because almost no one is being killed (and news of those who were functioned as fuel for their cause, making them Martyrs!)

      Pro-Life Movement: um… 1. ignore factors which lead to increased abortion rates (like poverty, low education, and no access to contraception), in favor of relentlessly trying to make it illegal. 2. ignore the present reality that as we speak, thousands of poor innocent people are being murdered every day, in favor of picketing every once in a while, and arguing on the internet.

      MLK had different goals which could only ever be hurt by the use of violence. The Pro-Life Movement has goals which are… different, but strangely, takes very strange methodology going about it.

      ———

      question 3,4

      Scott Roeder stopped the mass murderer, George Tiller, in his tracks, did he not? What is man’s law to God’s law? How can you condemn him for ignoring the laws of the big oppressive government of the USA in order to stop a mass murderer?

      If George Tiller was a mass murderer, I cannot escape the conclusion that Scott Roeder is to be praised for his courage. I don’t know how anyone being logically consistent CAN. George Tiller was NOT a mass murderer though.

      Please, feel free to answer my questions, partucularly the last set of questions there.

    • SamHamilton

      Thanks for the detailed responses. I think you’d have a better case if you were arguing that the lack of a massive non-violent protest against abortion on par with the civil rights movement is evidence the pro-life movement doesn’t have the courage of their convictions. (But what cause couldn’t you make that argument about? For example, if poverty or child sex slavery or incarceration rates or whatever else are as much an injustice as people make them out to be, why aren’t there protests in the streets and massive civil disobediance?) However, you haven’t provided any evidence that violence (particularly violence against the government) would actually end abortion or even reduce the abortion rate. Violence would just lead to a lot of blood getting spilled. I don’t see how that would redound to the pro-life cause’s benefit. It’s simply not an effective tool. Not to mention, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, doesn’t call us to kill people.

      Yes, Scott Roeder did stop George Tiller. But did he prevent even one more abortion from taking place? Obviously, we don’t know, but I’m guessing he didn’t. He turned Tiller into a martyr. I don’t condemn Roeder for ignoring U.S. laws; I condemn him for killing another human being beloved by God. What is man’s law to God’s law? Both Roeder and Tiller broke God’s law, in my mind.

      As for your depiction of the pro-life movement in comparison to the civil rights movement… The pro-life movement’s objective is both to change laws so that abortion rates will be drastically reduced and change public perception and norms. Your description of the “method” of the pro-life movement is laughable. I don’t know how you can say that the pro-life movement is ignoring the “factors that lead to increased abortion rates” when the number one reason that we’ve seen such an increase in the abortion rate in this country is because it’s now legal to get an abortion at any time during pregnancy. Sure, poverty has effects, but let’s not be naïve; it’s a lot more complicated than simply a lack of money. (I also don’t think it makes sense to say that lack of access to contraception is a cause of the increase in the abortion rate; has there been a time in our nation’s history when affordable contraception has been more widely available than today?) It’s also ridiculous to say that the pro-life movement’s methods are merely occasional picketing and arguing on the Internet. This is what Helen Alvaré calls the “lazy slander of the pro-life cause.” http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2380/

      In the end, you can say the exact same thing about the pro-life movement you said about the civil rights movement: It has goals that could only ever be hurt by the use of violence.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Personally, I prefer to keep the term and imbue it with new meaning.

    • SamHamilton

      Goods points Derek. I don’t know how the author of this could have failed to even mention the Court.

  • Kacie Mann

    I just wrote about this too. Three part series. My audience was actually surprisingly congenial despite their wide range of pro-life opinions.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      A small miracle of which I’m glad to hear.

  • SamHamilton

    (Sorry, this post got to be a little long)

    I’ll make a few points:

    1) Here’s what I agree with. Overall, I think the guy is correct about abortion being used at times as a wedge issue, more so by Republicans than by Democrats (although I was amazed to see how much Democrats seemed to actually want to talk about it, thinking it would give them an edge a few months ago over the “extreme” position of Romney and Ryan).

    I agree that Romney probably won’t do much more than reverse the Mexico City policy. But what else can the executive do other than talk? Even legislative action is pretty pointless considering the huge impediment of Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions.

    And this is a big blind spot in the writer’s analysis: Supreme Court appointments. If any progress is to be made towards outlawing at least some abortions Roe must be overturned, and to do that at least one, if not more Justices who are supportive of the current regime will have to be replaced with Justices who belief the best place to decide this issue is in legislatures, not the courts. Supreme Court appointments are the one issue that might force me to hold my nose and vote for Romney rather than voting third party.

    2) The other problem is the belief that because the issue of abortion is “labyrinthine and overwhelming” and prosecuting women who have abortions for murder would be difficult means we should abandon legal solutions and work on the issue of poverty instead.

    On the first issue involving how to structure a legal system where at least some abortions are illegal:

    a) Other countries do it, so there are ways to do it. The U.S. has some of the most liberal abortion laws in, not just the world, but industrialized nations. Other westernized countries have found ways to outlaw abortion after certain periods of time. Surely they provide at least a starting point on how to begin.

    b) Almost all issues of criminal justice are “labyrinthine and overwhelming.” Lots of people steal or commit other crimes because of the circumstances in which they find themselves – desperately in need of money, bad choices, falling in with the wrong crowd, etc. yet we don’t shy from even thinking about prosecution. Some people who commit crimes are sympathetic and deserve some sort of leniency. In sum, we have an imperfect justice system, but we muddle through and try to do the best we can (or sometimes we don’t), but still, we don’t shy away from attempting to outlaw certain behavior we find destructive to life, liberty and a well-functioning society. We don’t throw our hands up on the air and say “it can’t be done!” Why is abortion any different?

    c) We don’t need to prosecute women for murder to outlaw abortion. I’m not a lawyer, but I know we have different “degrees” of murder under the law. Some get a lot more leniency than others. Also, there could be other punishments than jail time. We could go after the doctors rather than the mothers. I’m sure there are other options I’m not thinking of. The point is, if we keep the objective in mind (not punishment of mothers, but minimizing the number of abortions), I’ll bet we could do this in a way that is somewhat compassionate.

    And this is where Supreme Court picks come in. The Court has said that we can’t even try to hash this out legislatively. This is ridiculous.

    On the second issue of working to address poverty: Does anyone actually know how many abortions take place solely for financial reasons? How many women say, “I’m ready to have a baby right now, but I simply can’t afford it.”? How many of the million+ abortions that take place each year would not take place if we, for example, funded all social welfare programs at the levels recommended by the Obama Administration’s budget? Would this even put more than a dent in the number of abortions?

    All this said, I think the best case against this man’s way of thinking is if we truly value the nascent life growing in the womb how can we not make a societal statement with our laws that this is life worthy of protecting? I understand the viewpoint of people who don’t view life as beginning until birth, but if you believe that this is human life that shouldn’t be destroyed, how can you sit by and say we shouldn’t even attempt to protect it under the law? I can’t think of any other issue where it would be morally responsible to say such a thing.

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