Sunday, October 9, 2016

False Paradigms of the Abortion Battle

Like many of us, I've been watching the Trump candidacy implode after the recent revelation of his lewd comments. It's not surprising but it's still scandalous. It strips away all illusions that this man could be worthy of the Oval Office.

And yet, some people continue to insist that Trump is the only hope of the pro-life movement, because "abortion is the only issue that matters." It's the defining issue for a presidency, some say, for it sets the moral character of the nation. So they put all their hope in a pro-life candidate because they believe that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn the tide on the culture of death. These are the people who say, "Focus on the platform, not on the person." As in, don't pay attention to Trump's character or personality or anything he says, even though he will be the face of America to the whole world and also to our children. Just think about the things that the conservative movement will be able to achieve with him, whereas the pro-life movement and religion in general will be squashed under Hillary.

This is short-sighted and wrong-headed. And here's why.

There is an assumption embedded into all of this, and that assumption is that the hinge for turning abortion around is to be found in the legal system, in the exercise of power from the top. I don't deny that laws carry pedagogical weight, and that they are an important lever of power. But I think the true lever for overturning Roe vs. Wade is not going to come through the law or through the exercise of power. Legal decisions are completely sterile and impermanent if there is no change of heart, or change of mind paving the way. The real power is not to impose something on an unwilling and unconvinced population, but to persuade and to win hearts so that the law expresses something that many people already fervently believe to be right.

Case in point: we witnessed a tipping point last year with the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the Supreme Court decision was preceded by cultural sea change, a widespread acceptance of something that had been immensely unpopular just ten years before. In May 2015, a Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. So for most people, the court only confirmed something they already stood behind.

This is a lesson in how change happens. You can't force something on people who don't agree with it and expect to get by with no backlash. Some pro-lifers expect that an authoritarian Trump presidency and a future conservative Supreme Court will force the issue. This is an unlikely scenario for two reasons: first, how exactly would America's most unpopular president in history -- presiding over the most polarized (and probably increasingly Democratic) Congress in history -- ever get his nominees appointed? And second, the next president, guaranteed to be a Democrat, would simply reverse as much as he could. And let's not forget the grassroots backlash from an angry populace. We would end up worse off than before. Forced gains are unstable gains.

But it's a different story if a sufficient majority -- not necessarily an absolute majority -- already wants it. The law is more likely to stick if the prevailing sentiment supports it. So instead of looking for the outward victories of laws and restrictions, we should be focusing on the Kulturkampf, the culture war. Hearts and minds, baby, hearts and minds!

How? I think there is a way, but there is also an obstacle that prevents us from seeing it clearly.

The obstacle is that we are stuck inside a false paradigm. The pro-choice vs. pro-life divide is structured around two compelling values that are set into an artificial opposition. Pro-lifers uphold the value of the babies, the most innocent of us all, the little heartbeats that can be heard as early as five weeks. And pro-choicers uphold the value of women, particularly of their self-determination as a keystone of their dignity and freedom. Pro-life is about babies. Pro-choice is about women. How terribly ironic that the closest embrace in nature -- between a mother and her child -- has become such a battleground of false oppositions.

In my opinion, only the pro-life movement has the power to break this false paradigm. How? By reaching out to the positive values that have made the pro-choice movement resonate with so many people. Pro-lifers need to continue being champions for unborn babies, but they also need to be the greatest champions of women the world has ever seen. Certainly, many pro-lifers already are! But the rest of us need to follow suit.

There is a special opportunity here. Think about it: the pro-choice side cannot coopt the value of babies. It would negate its own platform to give extra value to the baby, which is already referred to in reductive language as a fetus or a ball of tissue. But the pro-life side can certainly reach out to the value of women without negating our deep concern for the baby. We can do so much if we widen our embrace to help women more, to give them a greater sense of freedom and self-determination, to give them more options than just abortion. The pro-life side has to empower women and trust women like never before.

Like it or not, it looks like Hillary Clinton will be president come November. And probably many decisions will be made over the coming years to make it easier for women to get and pay for abortions. Perhaps taxpayer funding of abortion will make us all complicit, like it or not. But aren't we already all complicit insofar as we have been complacent?

My problem is I've been waiting for someone else to do the work of changing the law... when what really needs to be changed are hearts. It seems to me that most women get abortions because they are overcome with fear and anxiety; they don't feel ready, they have no money, they can't handle a special needs baby's many time-consuming requirements, they don't have a supportive partner or family, or they just weren't planning on this happening right now. Perhaps some were victims of race or incest.

Our question should be: what can we do to help take away that fear and replace it with confidence and hope? I think it can only happen when there are enough caring people to support each woman in need that she can breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Okay, maybe I can do this after all" or "I trust that my baby will be well cared for in an adoptive family." I think most women want to love their babies. They are just so afraid. And helping them win that quiet, interior victory over fear can save a life.

And of course prayer is essential -- prayer and grace also help love and trust to overcome fear -- but it has to work in tandem with real, effective support. We can't just pray for people to be courageous and accept their baby, but then not do anything to help them. Perhaps even just a little support would be enough to tip the balance. Another point as well: I think we have to be careful to pray in places and in ways that are not going to be perceived as an attack on women. Praying outside abortion clinics might seem like the right thing to do, but I think most women -- the ones you are trying to win over, right? -- experience it as a condemnation or even sometimes as an attack. And that only reinforces the fear.

The upshot: Roe vs. Wade isn't going to change until our culture changes, and our culture isn't going to change until we roll up our sleeves and get involved. Love, not law, is the most powerful lever of change. Love for babies, and also love for women. We won't win until we widen our embrace to make room for both, and until we empower women to overcome fear with love and hope.


JoAnna Wahlund said...

Yes! Exactly! Spot on!

Unknown said...

this argument while half right is wrong headed for 2 reasons. 1 the evidence for abortion suggests at least as many see it as needing to no illegal as legal so from a numbersingle perspective it should already be illegal. second there is a huge difference between participation in a intrinsic evil when there is a choice and any other political decision. if you have trouble seeing that re-read the above article and substitute rape and murder or rape and slavery in wherever you see the term abortion and see if the proposal still makes sense.