Many years ago, I used to write a political blog. At the time, I was working for two lovely (and I do mean genuinely wonderful) men who were each very politically active, one in foreign policy and the other in matters of science, education, and local government. Ideologically, they were on the other side of the American political divide from me – I was (and am) a Christian conservative, and they were both Jewish liberals. We had some lively, engaging, and very thought-provoking conversations, none of which (I’m grateful to say) ever diminished our mutual respect and regard for one another. That’s how it should be but, too often, is not.
I gave up writing the blog because, frankly, my blood pressure couldn’t handle it. I have a very low tolerance for intellectual laziness or rigidity, and – as I’ve said publicly – there are some things that just strike me as so gob-smackingly obvious I tend to lose patience with people who would be better served by a conversation with someone more willing to educate them (assuming they’re willing to be educated). And I got tired of the “trolls” whose “arguments” consisted of “OMG, ur So [expletive deleted] stupid!!11!!!”
So when I started writing again, I was determined not to be a political writer. My allegiance is first to Christ, and the things that are important to me now are different and (I hope) more mature than they were then. Life experience and the things that God has walked me through has given me a different focus. But last night, I was literally awakened out of a deep sleep at 3:00 in the morning with this blog post on my mind. I opened my iPad and typed out a few thoughts so I wouldn’t lose them, and then couldn’t go back to sleep for a long time because of my grief over this subject. When something is laid so forcefully on my heart, I feel obligated to explore it and to express it – so while this isn’t a political blog, this is going to be a political post. And it’s going to be longer than usual. (Feel free to run screaming for the hills now if you just can’t stand it.)
I’ll start by saying that that I am going to set aside the religious arguments this time, for a couple of reasons. First, I think the gob-smackingly obvious arguments are so compelling and the straw man arguments being substituted for them so offensive that this already-long post would be too long to include them. Second, I recognize that not everyone embraces the same religious perspectives on this subject, and I don’t want to give anyone an “easy out.” Anyone who knows me knows that I am a passionate Christian with conservative views on culture and politics. I won’t be arguing those today.
So now to the point. There are a lot of well-meaning people out there arguing the pro-life position in a death-match political season and doing a really, really bad job of it. I was appalled and frustrated by Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape,” not only because they demonstrated a shocking callousness and lack of education about the female body (Sir, you are an adult and you sit on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, for heaven’s sake!) but because they reinforced the ludicrous “war on women” narrative pro-abortion politicos like to use against conservatives. (And I mean this literally – MSNBC’s page of video clips is titled “Akin’s Comments Reignite War on Women.”) To his credit, I think Akins (and VP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, with his “forcible rape” legislative language) was trying to make the difficult and unpopular point that there is a difference between a rape that occurs at knifepoint and one that occurs as a result of drinking too much at a college party. They’re both ugly and they’re both devastating, but if we’re being intellectually honest, those two circumstances are just not the same, since one is arguably the result of risky choices and behavior. But while that may be a point worthy of lengthier discussion in another context, it isn’t THE point in the abortion debate and it doesn’t advance the pro-life argument one inch. It is just amazing to me that professional politicians fall into this trap time and time again, that they cannot clearly articulate their position, dismantle the ad hominem attacks against them, and take a straight-forward, principled stand for life.
So here is the answer I wish Akin and other conservative politicians would give the next time they’re asked “the abortion question.” Think of it as the shovel and hip-waders necessary to get rid of the “war on women” garbage and initiate a real, serious conversation about abortion – a conversation that needs to take into consideration the emotionally charged nature of the debate at the same time that it unapologetically shines a light on the truth.
I think reasonable people can agree that pregnancies arising out of rape and incest are tragic and complicated – and good, well-meaning people on both sides of the abortion debate are conflicted about the best way to address them. But according to the latest data we have available, they account for less than 3% of all abortions performed in the United States each year. Abortions performed because of risk to the life of the mother account for another 1%. If we’re really conservative and double those numbers to account for under-reporting, we still have 1.1 million babies being aborted – 92% of abortions each year – for other reasons, many of which are arguably reasons of convenience and personal preference. Fully half of those abortions are provided to women who have already had one or more abortions in the past. What this tells us is that in spite of increasingly explicit and graphic sex education in our schools, offered to younger and younger children, and in spite of widely available and inexpensive contraception, abortion in this country is overwhelmingly used as a form of birth control. That’s the conversation we should be having – how do we stop killing babies when pregnancy is a foreseeable consequence of a sexually active lifestyle? How do we need to change our approach to education and have meaningful conversations about personal responsibility so we can save those 1.1 million lives every year? I’d rather address those questions than focus on issues that, while painful and complicated, are statistically insignificant when talking about the larger issue.
Some additional “shovels” to help move the garbage:
- Women should have the right to say what happens to their bodies. I completely agree. That includes taking personal responsibility for what happens as a result of voluntarily using them sexually. Since pregnancy is a foreseeable consequence of sexual activity, women who believe they should have the right to say what happens to their bodies should take it upon themselves to be proactive about preventing unwanted pregnancies, even if that means providing condoms for their partners. And it means that if a pregnancy occurs in spite of their best efforts to prevent one, they should go into their sexual activity willing to accept the consequence of pregnancy without murdering the innocent life that had no say in how it was conceived. The alternative is to stay celibate.
- It isn’t reasonable to expect people/teenagers to stay celibate – we’re sexual beings. This is maybe the most offensive argument in the pro-abortion arsenal, and is – frankly – the real war on women. The idea that we are all helpless slaves to our physical drives is a profound insult to the extraordinary potential of the human race. (Oh crap – another political post in the making.) Humans are complex beings, to be sure, and we have been given tremendously powerful urges – physically, emotionally, and intellectually. But learning a measure of self-control is part and parcel of being an adult and a member of society – we don’t tell someone who is inclined to explosive outbursts of anger that it’s ok to just go off on the spouse and kids. We don’t tell someone with a tendency to alcoholism or drug addiction that it’s ok to operate in a destructive stupor for the rest of his or her life. We certainly don’t tell our kids that they are helpless against the snotty attitude that seems to infect a lot of teenagers once they reach puberty. And we don’t tell ourselves it’s ok to just eat anything and everything we like whenever we like; we promote healthy eating and suggest that hunger – certainly the most primal and basic urge of all – is something we can channel and control. No, in all those cases we hold them – and ourselves – to a higher standard, one that says we are responsible for our behavior and the consequences of that behavior, both good and bad. I am completely mystified by the argument that sex is somehow different. We all have sexual urges, but we can learn to control them, to act on them when we choose to act on them. I think it says something sinister about our culture that more than half of all U.S. abortions are obtained by women in their 20’s, and 45% of all abortions are provided to women who have never married and are not cohabiting with a partner. If we are really serious about empowering women, let’s help them see themselves as complex, unique individuals of tremendous value who can choose to harness and take control of their own sexuality and don’t need to be defined by it.
- Abortion isn’t really the taking of a life/It’s just a blob of tissue. Again, this is one of those mystifying arguments to me. For decades, scientists have talked about finding life on other planets – and by “life” have frequently meant microbes, bacteria, and single-celled organisms. Yet many will argue that a multi-celled human child isn’t life at six weeks – despite a beating heart, a spinal column, and internal organs. Under a microscope, the cells of aborted “products of conception” are recognizably human – no one could mistake them for something else. And while scientists argue over how to define life, a three-day-old fetus has rapidly multiplying cells, each of which carry human DNA – even in a petri dish. It’s human life, by any intellectually-honest measure. Clearly, not everyone values that life in the same way, but that doesn’t change what it is, so don’t let language get hijacked, especially when it’s key to the debate. Words mean what words mean – and abortion isn’t health care, it’s the end of a human life, plainly spoken. There’s no intellectually honest way around that.
It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I feel strongly about this. I’m privileged to be a (peripheral) part of a ministry at my church for women who have had abortions and who struggle with the pain and grief and devastation those choices caused them. I can testify that there is indeed a war being waged against women in this country, but it isn’t being waged by people who support the sanctity of life – increasingly we are the ones binding their wounds and helping them to find a place of wholeness and healing after the devastation of abortion. No, the war being waged against them uses their womanhood as its primary weapon – and the most revolting part of it is that it is most frequently and stridently waged by other woman, who wield the lies of the pro-abortion lobby that abortion is “just a choice” and one with no consequence. The real war on women is the one that says we must march in lockstep with the ideological definition of liberal womanhood or risk the derisive question, “What kind of woman are you?” And lest you think I’m being extreme, I’m speaking from personal experience. As a very young woman in my early 20’s, I found myself in a conversation with some long-time family friends about John Irving’s Cider House Rules, a book I found disturbing because of its perspective on and portrayal of abortion – and I said so. Having been raised in a very liberal household (my parents were staunch Democrats and my father did some modest fund-raising for Hillary Clinton in her NY senate runs), these long-time family friends were horrified, and I found myself literally being shouted at by not one but two of these women. Both were women I had loved and admired from childhood, and one of them actually asked me, horrified, “What kind of woman are you?” One of them had a later conversation with my mother, with whom I had an already complicated relationship, and she made a point of telling me how embarrassed she’d been to hear that I had taken such an extreme view on the subject.
That incident left me feeling shamed and uncertain – and silent, which was obviously the desired result. More and more, I recognize those tactics in the current discourse, but I’m no longer in my early 20’s and I’m no longer ashamed of what I believe and think. So if you believe that abortion is wrong, most especially wrong when it is employed as a form of contraception, then take a stand. Learn the facts and employ them – consistently, steadily, plainly, and without attacking anyone personally. Confront these straw-man arguments whenever you encounter them; write to your representatives and beg them to do the same. Feel free to copy shamelessly from this blog post if it’s helpful, or read from a script if that’s what it takes. Because in the end, the facts are clear and they tell a compelling story, even if pro-abortion advocates want to change the narrative. Don’t let them. Millions of lives depend on it.
(I am genuinely eager to hear thoughtful comments on this subject, perhaps especially from people who have another viewpoint. However, while I am a fan of plain speaking, I have been brutally honest about my lack of patience for uncivil discourse. First time commenters are always moderated on this blog, and anyone posting comments of the insulting or demeaning variety will be blocked and their comments deleted.)