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What Would People Think?

Monday, January 16, 2006

How Pro-Lifers Should Act

I believe abortion is murder.

But I also believe that many pro-lifers like myself have tunnel vision. We see the unborn child, and only the unborn child. We ignore the woman, often because we are too busy self-righteously accusing her of infanticide. We ignore the traumatic effects that abortions often have on women. We ignore the harsh situations that lead many women to believe abortion is their only choice.

We also ignore the children once they're born. Most people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to generous government aid for struggling single mothers. Most never bother to offer even so much as a pack of diapers to such mothers. Most people who fight to protect children from a quick murder inside the womb are content to leave them to the slow "murder" of despair and poverty outside the womb.

And for all the shouting that we call "the politics of abortion", it seems there is nary a quiet voice offering comfort and practical support to mothers and children in difficult situations.

That's why I was happy to read in the NY Times about crisis pregnancy centers:

[These centers] are far from the public battles over abortion laws and the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. But in their quiet way, they represent a dimension of the anti-abortion movement that is just as passionate and far-reaching, consisting not of protesters or political activists but of Christian therapy groups, crisis pregnancy centers, adoption ministries, and support programs for single mothers and their children.

This is what pro-lifers, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians, should be doing. (Yeah, and I'm not doing anything. So I should be doing more.) We should be loving. We should try to convince mothers not to have abortions, but not by yelling at them and condemning them when they are already overwhelmed and frightened. If they choose not to have an abortion, we shouldn't make them regret that choice; we should help them to raise the child. If they choose to have an abortion.....well, Jesus was big on forgiveness. Women who have an abortion may still need help dealing with the after-effects of such a choice. The Christian Thing To Do would be to welcome them back with open arms and help them in the midst of their pain.

And all that is what crisis pregnancy centers do.

Now I'm not certain what to make of some of the more questionable methods these centers engage in. (i.e. taking calls from women wanting an abortion and inviting them in for an appointment without revealing their agenda) Those practices make me uneasy.

But overall, I'm thrilled to see people being consistent and compassionate in their beliefs. Pro-life means more than opposing abortion. Pro-life does not end at birth.

[Note: I must credit bumper stickers I have seen for the last 2 sentences. The first is actually on my car now.]


  • As the ubiquitous they have often said, what unites us is stronger than what divides us.

    Though we have always differed in our views on this subject, I think you hit a lot of nails on the head here. One of the things that infuriates me most about the most visible aspects of the pro-life movement is that it only seems to want to act up until the child is born. In fact, part of the many issues that inform my pro-choice beliefs is the idea that many children, once born, will not receive the proper nurturing that they need.

    I like to think that you have touched on something that most pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on. With a combination of education and support for potential mothers, I believe we can truly make abortion a much rarer occurrence. Which is pretty much what most of us want anyway.

    Amazing that no one has thought of this before. :-P

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/16/2006 1:08 PM  

  • I'm glad to hear more people voice this idea. Growing up as a pro-life democrat, the idea that we needed to take care of people both inside and outside of the womb always just seemed intuitive to me. I think for most pro-lifers it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they're equally passionate about both battles - or more accurately, about fighting both fronts of the same battle. But a lack of equal passion is far from a lack of caring and action. I know lots of pro-lifers out there helping women through these immensely difficult situations.

    I'd also point out that a large part of the perception problem comes from the pro-choice movement, which can only really advance it's cause by looking at the after-birth effects, and point out how horribly they might be. In a world where people are better taken care of, abortion makes less sense. So to make abortion seem more sensible, they need to make it look like the world is this awful place where people aren't cared for. I agree we need to do more to care for mother and child, but that's a finger we can - and should if we're serious about helping people - point at everyone.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 1/16/2006 1:54 PM  

  • Matt - The goal of pro-choicers is not to "make abortion seem more sensible." I know I personally would be quite pleased if there were never another abortion.

    Many pro-choicers are also concerned with the health of the woman and the baby. This is why organizations like Planned Parenthood exist. (Note: it's a common misconception among pro-lifers that PP is mostly about abortion. Allow me to relieve you of that flawed viewpoint now. In reality, abortion is a VERY small part of what PP actually does.)

    Another thing that needs to be done is to liberalize the adoption laws. Honestly, there are some women who get pregnant and get "cold feet" - they decide that they just don't want to be mothers. And there are many people out there who desperately DO want to be parents. But they can't. Why? Because they're single, or they're gay, or they belong to some other group that certain states (like NC) have deemed unworthy of child-rearing. A lot of abortions could be stopped by letting single people and gay couples adopt.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/16/2006 2:18 PM  

  • Ben - excellent post

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/16/2006 2:21 PM  

  • I realize that fewer abortions is an almost universally recognized good. Sorry if I implied that pro-choice folks are only focused on justifying abortions. Really I was aimed at understanding the misperceptions surrounding pro-lifers. Here's how I see it:

    In the actual debate/discourse between pro-life and pro-choice the argument frequently strays from the common ground of wanting to care for women and children. Instead, pro-lifers say "abortion is bad", and to counter this pro-choicers say "but there are times when the choice to have an abortion seems understandable, given the lack of care available." These statements obscure the fact that pro-lifers do care about education and helping people in these dire situations. At the same time, they don't obscure the parallel concern the pro-choice folks have. In making their counter-argument, pro-choicers make it seem like pro-lifers don't care about the harsh realities facing people. That simply isn't the case most of the time.

    And for the record, I'm well aware of Planned Parenthood's other activities. In fact, whenever I want to make the argument for the effectiveness of NFP I point to Planned Parenthood's studies and statistics.

    And I'd agree that there are lots of ways to help alieviate the problems, including liberalized adoption laws. I'd also suggest right-to-know bills, increased aid through programs like WIC, parent and spousal notification laws, in-school education, and a host of other things. We should do all we can to eliminate all the awful conditions which lead to abortions.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 1/16/2006 4:17 PM  

  • For some reason I'm not getting the comments in e-mail. Usually blogger sends me your comments via e-mail. But this time I only got Matt's comments and Jeff's comment that this is a good post.


    Matt, at some point you and I should actually meet in person.

    At this point in the conversation I could stoke the flames by saying I don't think ANY degree of poverty justifies abortion. No more than poverty justifies a desparate son in killing an elderly parent who is too expensive to care for.

    BUT that would be divisive. In the spirit of the unity of this post, let me counter myself by saying that I must recognize reality. Poverty and despair lead people to make terrible choices. It will save far more unborn children if we (a) alleviate poverty and (b) compassionately give people reason for hope, not despair.

    I do have this question for Jeff: you say you'd be happy if there's never another abortion again. Why?

    By Blogger Ben, at 1/16/2006 4:37 PM  

  • Personally I see abortion as morally repugnant. There are far better ways to deal with unwanted pregnancies than by depriving someone of a chance at life.

    Of course, I overstate somewhat, since rape victims can't help their unwanted pregnancies and so probably should be entitled to an abortion if they so choose. I just occasionally like to pretend that I'm a black-and-white-world kind of person, while in reality, I'm keeping with the Jewish average of 1.5 opinions/person. (That's why my blog is so long.)

    Matt - yeah, I kinda got the wrong impression from your first comment. Sorry about that. All your suggestions for helping out are certainly good ones.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/17/2006 12:35 AM  

  • Hey, Ben. I STILL have your bag from last year's Music Midtown. Would you like it, or is it OK to throw it out?

    With respect to your excellent post and the excellent discussion that follows it -- I've been wrestling with the question of whether or not it is possible to be both pro-choice and anti-abortion. As you all have illuminated, I think it is possible -- but not in the traditional sense of either word.

    I like to think of it as "re-envisioning" dogma. In other words, we're not necessarily rejecting all dogma, but putting some serious realistic and compassionate understanding behind it.

    In a related note, I continue to marvel that typical economic and religious conservative ideologies are often found together; this is just one of the many examples in which they don't go together.

    By Blogger teh forg of zen, at 1/18/2006 2:35 PM  

  • Ben, I agree with your comment that a big part of cutting down the abortion rates is alleviating poverty. Two interesting stats that I learned in the past 2 days:
    1. 52% of single-parent homes headed by women with children under 6 are living under the poverty line.
    2. 82% of abortions are performed on single women.

    I got these two stats from very different sources (the first from the liberal teacher in my Poverty Law class, the second from a very conservative speaker at a Federalist Society presentation).

    However, it seems clear to me that they must be correlated. Lots of single women get abortions, and lots of single women who choose to have kids live below the poverty line. If we (as a country) provided better job opportunities for women, more affordable childcare options, and more financial / emotional / spiritual support (from churches, the government, non-profits, family members, whoever), the abortion rate would certain go down drastically.

    By Anonymous Erin, at 1/19/2006 3:52 PM  

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