How to Make Progress In Our Half Life Nation
Something strange is happening all across America. Like volleys in a great battle, states on opposite sides of the abortion divide are passing laws to defend their positions and — it seems — to provoke their opponents.
Louisiana just passed a measure banning abortion once the child’s heartbeat can be detected. As he signed the bill, Gov. John Bel Edwards — a Democrat — vowed to “build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us.”
Yet in Illinois, the legislature has passed legislation eliminating prohibitions on late-term abortions and removing requirements for spousal consent and mandatory waiting periods; creating a “fundamental right” to abortion; and declaring that “a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus does not have independent rights.”
Yet in Missouri, the state has passed a law banning abortion later than the eighth week of pregnancy. Plus, state lawmakers and regulators are trying to shut down the state’s only remaining abortion clinic due to a record of safety violations, patient-care issues and botched abortions, as reported here at The Stream.
Yet the governors of California, Oregon and Washington recently issued a joint statement announcing that their states are open for business when it comes to abortion.
Yet Georgia passed legislation in May — and Mississippi in March and Ohio in April — similar to Louisiana’s “heartbeat bill.” Kentucky is fighting in federal court to defend its own version of the “heartbeat bill.”
Yet new legislation is coming into force in Oregon “that assures public or private insurance funding for abortion, even for undocumented immigrants,” as the Chicago Tribune reports.
Yet Utah has passed a measure banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy.
Yet New York passed a law in January that radically expands Roe’s reach by loosening regulations on who can perform abortions and legalizing abortion anytime during pregnancy. As the state’s senate approved the bill, someone in the gallery cried out, “May Almighty God have mercy on the state of New York.”
A Country Divided on Life
The list goes on and on.
Half of the list — the reports of governors and lawmakers and regulatory agencies standing up to protect the unborn — is wonderful to me. The other half — the stories about lawmakers erasing any sort of limitation on abortion and cheering for what amounts to infanticide — seems downright awful.
Of course, those on the other side of this divide see the very opposite. Roe’s supporters view abortion as evidence of America’s progress toward equal treatment of the sexes. Abortion is about freedom, choice, independence and equality. This elevates abortion to a sacramental kind of importance in their eyes. Thus, overturning Roe is unacceptable, and preserving the right to abortion is non-negotiable.
Those of us who oppose Roe, on the other hand, see abortion as the taking of innocent life. As such, we view abortion as a grievous collective sin, evidence of societal collapse and the very opposite of progress, an aberration in American history. It’s something that, like slavery, was granted legal sanction but was never legitimate. For us, the struggle against Roe is about protecting life and securing the last frontier of civil rights: equality and opportunity for the very weakest among us. Thus, the abortion status quo is unacceptable, and Roe must be terminated.
The stark, widening and deepening divide revealed by all those state laws calls to mind something Lincoln said. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he intoned, echoing the words of Jesus. “I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
Just as America could not go on perpetually divided into slave and free states, one wonders how long it can go on divided into pro-abortion and pro-life states. Our country simply cannot limp along in this half-life status forever. But how can we break through this us-and-them divide?
First, we should pray for help. As The Message wonderfully rephrases Christ’s promise about impossible causes, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”
We should pray for wisdom and discernment — the ability to be both shrewd and gentle. Perhaps in this way, we can convince more Americans with science, with moral suasion, with reason, with truth wrapped in love that the right to life is the fundamental right from which all others flow.
We should pray for our hearts and motives to be right. We should pray for those who disagree with us.
We should pray for endurance. Slavery’s foes fought against America’s original sin for almost a century. We should pray it doesn’t take that long to end Roe’s scourge.
We should pray daily for the unborn and their families, for mothers on the edge, for selfish fathers, for embarrassed grandparents. We should ask God to change the hearts of lawmakers and judges, doctors and clinic workers.
Pray for Pro-Life Democrats
And we should pray for more Democrats like Gov. John Bel Edwards. Once there were lots of high-profile pro-life Democrats — Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt and scores of others. Jackson eloquently argued, “I think that whenever human life ceases to represent the highest value in the human sphere, the society is in trouble.” And here we are. President Jimmy Carter has observed, “I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions.” He has called on his party to reconsider its stance on abortion.
But pro-life Democrats are an endangered species. As Politico reports, “Shortly after Democrats for Life’s founding nearly two decades ago, its website listed as many as 43 House Democrats in the group’s coalition. Today, Democrats for Life endorses two sitting House members and three senators.”
For there to be lasting social change on this issue, there needs to be political consensus. That means there must be support for life from both parties — and that the party most connected to Roe may need to lead the way. The “only Nixon could go to China” principle applies here. It was said that only Nixon could make the opening to China because his anti-communist credentials — built up over years in the Senate and as vice president — were beyond debate or dispute. In the same way, it seems that a Democratic leader might be better positioned than a Republican leader to make the case against Roe and lead us back toward a culture of life.
Next, we must define terms for this confused age. Words like progress and choice have been twisted beyond recognition. That trend needs to be challenged.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to make Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to standing up for women’s reproductive rights.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his state’s anytime-anywhere-anyone-anyway abortion law will “shine a bright light forward for the rest of the nation to follow.”
But how is it progressive, in any sense of the word, to advocate or legalize “partial-birth” or “post-birth” abortion? How is it progressive, in any sense of the word, to grant state sanction to abortions later and later in pregnancy, even as science reveals the wonder and uniqueness and viability of the unborn child, earlier and earlier in pregnancy? Science is telling us what the psalmist understood without the advantage of ultrasound imaging or Fetal Doppler devices: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. … Your eyes saw my unformed body.” That’s the way forward.
“We all want progress,” C.S. Lewis observed, “but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
Real progress comes when a nation protects its weakest and most vulnerable — what Louisiana’s governor calls “the least among us.” Real progress today means securing that final frontier of human rights and civil rights: the right to life for the unborn. Imagine Gov. Cuomo or President Obama using their rhetorical gifts to make that case.
No matter how many times we whitewash and euphemize abortion with pleasant words like “choice,” we cannot escape what abortion is and what it does. Even in Roe, it pays to recall, Justice Blackmun used phrases like “outside the mother’s womb” and “health of the mother” — a striking, albeit unintended, admission that we are talking about the life of a child. After all, there can be no mother without a child.
Stand for Life
Finally, as the Proverbs instruct, we need to act when it is in our power to act.
We need to support moms who are contemplating abortion by caring as much about them after their baby is born as before. Crisis pregnancy groups need money, diapers, baby food and clothes. They need people to show God’s love to women in crisis. And heaven knows America’s unborn children need these groups to rescue them from Roe.
We need to stand up at work. I know a talented medical-supply salesman. When he found out that his company was selling an instrument that had but one, awful purpose — to aid the work of abortionists — he told his boss he wouldn’t sell the instrument, and then he told his boss the company shouldn’t sell it, either.
That’s a bold and courageous step. Imagine if other people of courage in other vocations — health professionals and pharmacists, accountants and bankers, judges and lawyers, fundraisers and foundation executives — took a similar stand for life.
Of course, we also can take baby steps for life. Many of our employers allow a percentage of each paycheck to be donated to designated charities. We should make sure those charitable organizations don’t give a dime of their/our resources to Planned Parenthood or other groups that use euphemism to cloak what they do.
One Baby Step at a Time
Our inability to pull the plug on Roe rapidly or painlessly does not give us license to give up. Jesus’ example is instructive.
During His time on earth, as in our own, terrible injustice reigned. And we know He didn’t put a stop to all of it. That was not His mission during His first coming. But we also know that He acted against injustice and brokenness whenever He encountered them. For instance, demons tormented people long before Jesus cast them out; the blind and mute struggled long before His path crossed theirs; Lazarus died before Jesus arrived; the masses were hungry before His mountainside miracle; the thirsty woman and her town needed water long before He told them about the abundant life.
In a breathtaking expression of His humanity, Jesus pushed back against this brokenness — not with a sweep of His hand across time, but one person at a time.
In the same way, the fact that we cannot end abortion with a snap of our fingers does not absolve us from working toward that goal. One state, one day, one prayer, one baby step, one life at a time.
Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.