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