Friday, January 18, 2019

"I know you've got a little life in you yet"

Dear God in heaven, are we really more than half-way through the first month of 2019? Is it really Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day weekend? Yes! Tempus fugit!

One feature of this weekend is the annual March for Life, which seeks to bring an end to abortion in the United States. While it seems fortuitous to march for the most fundamental of all human rights on this weekend, the march also falls within proximity of the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case of Roe v. Wade: 21 January 1973.

Even for someone who has read as much Orwell as I have, one of the strangest conflations ever is the conflation, at least in the political discourse of the United States, that not only reduces "pro-life" to mean "opposed to abortion" but restricting it even further to mean being in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. And so, for many people, especially many professing Christians, being "pro-life" means having a singular focus. This is not what it means to be wholly pro-life.

At least for Catholics, Church teaching is clear that opposing the death penalty is a pro-life issue (see "State your piece tonight"). It's difficult for me to think of an issue more pro-life than guaranteed healthcare coverage for everyone. I could easily provide other examples of what it means to be wholly pro-life, including the deep-seated issues of racism and sexism. One might say that a commitment to reducing or even eliminating elective abortions (i.e., a physically healthy mother aborting a healthy child) is necessary for being pro-life but it is far from sufficient.

Just as supply-side economics has proven disastrous for the United States, the exclusive focus on reducing the supply of abortion "services" results in almost the complete neglect of reducing demand. To provide just a hint of what I mean, an empirically proven way of reducing abortions is by enacting social policies that make it easier for a woman who is pregnant and in difficult circumstances not only to give birth but to keep and raise her child.

Now, before you get too carried away, I realize some pro-life Christians do things along these lines. But let's face it, Pregnancy Resource Centers are underfunded and under-resourced. If people were as interested in constructive engagement and loving their distressed pregnant neighbor as much as they seem to love engaging in occasional (annual) political action, which hasn't yielded much by way of success and for which many Christians have sold their votes, along with a piece of their souls, we'd be doing much more to support the sanctity of all human life, something I believe in with every fiber of my being.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, courtesy of America magazine


Early last month, I listened to an episode of the Can I Say This At Church? podcast. Seth Price's guest for this episode was Dr. David Gushee, a Christian ethicist. Shortly after it was published in 2017, I read Gushee's spiritual memoir: Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. It's a book I highly recommend, especially for those who are feeling a little let-down and uncertain about what it means to follow Christ in our present moment.

In their discussion Price and Gushee spend some time discussing what it means to be pro-life and how reducing being pro-life not only to one issue but to one goal (i.e., overturning Roe) is ethically problematic. Rightly, Price begins by stating that he thinks those dedicated to overturning Roe are not ready for all the implications such an immediate and dramatic change would have. Most are not because they mistakenly believe that that overturning Roe would quickly bring about an end to abortion in the U.S.

Price goes on to observe that he doesn't think most Christians are pro-life, "at least they don't act that way." He provides support for this assertion by pointing out that among Christians there seems to be little concern for feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, ensuring access to healthcare, etc. Picking up on this, Gushee notes that the U.S. (this would be true of other developed Western nations too), has grown culturally dependent on abortion. This is the result of the nearly complete uncoupling of sex from marriage. Non-judgmentally, he states that because of this uncoupling people tend to rely heavily on contraception. When contraception fails (this happens with a frequency that would surprise most people) or is not used and pregnancy results, recourse is often made to abortion. This analysis goes some distance towards explaining why currently one out of 5 or 6 pregnancies in this country ends in elective abortion.

After objectively pointing out how heavily the U.S. has come to rely on abortion, Gushee then notes that in a free society it is extremely rare for something that has been established and exercised as a right, especially for so long, to be rolled back. He then states that unless there is sea-change in our sexual mores, the result of overturning Roe and the near-total elimination of abortion in a number of states (not all, some would no doubt have even more permissive abortion laws) would be catastrophic for women's health. It would do nothing to decrease the demand for abortions. Gushee acknowledges that such a sea-change is not likely anytime soon, if ever. It certainly won't result from a resurgence of moralistic harping. While raised Roman Catholic, Gushee became a Baptist as a teen and still teaches at Baptist university and a Baptist seminary. Hence, he does not support legal action to make contraception less accessible.

Far from accepting elective abortion as morally permissible, those of us who are pro-life, need to engage and vote more constructively. Rather than taking a moralistic stance vis-à-vis the cultural situation in which we find ourselves and in which most (if not all) of us are complicit to some degree or another, Gushee's approach strikes me as far more Christian. In other words, his solution is not to roll back the clock to some imagined golden age of "societal consensus" on matters of sexual morality but to engage constructively for love of neighbor. While some might deem me misguided for saying so, there are some aspects of the sexual revolution that represent true progress.

What prompted this entire post was listening to the most recent episode of the Jesuitical podcast while I was at the gym this morning. The guest for his episode is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. Herndon-De La Rosa is the founder of New Wave Feminists. She is a pro-life feminist and a self-described agnostic. Her analysis of what currently passes for the pro-life movement (right-wing and ridiculous, my words, not hers - she is very kind and constructive while being very honest in her remarks) versus what a true pro-life movement could and should be is a breath of fresh air. If the pro-life movement has a future it looks a lot like Destiny (sorry, I couldn't resist).

To seal the deal, when asked the standard question the podcast hosts ask each guest at the end of the interview- "What person, living or dead, Catholic or non-Catholic do you think should be canonized?"- Destiny answered, "David Sedaris."

Oh yeah, our Friday traditio ... I think Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work," which I first heard while watching John Hughes's still outstanding 1988 movie, She's Having a Baby, is perfect:

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