Monday, September 08, 2008

One Issue Voting and Abortion vs Slavery

As is normal in an election year, many fundamentalist and evangelicals are spreading very strong talk about how you have to vote for McCain if you really believe the Bible/are a true Christian/care about what God cares about/have a brain and on and on. I had really hoped that we were beginning to move past all this, but apparently we are not. I think voting is good and that voters should have good, well thought out reasons for voting the way they vote. I have no problem with blogs talking about the issues and discussing reasons (Biblical or otherwise) for taking a certain stance on a certain issue. The problem comes when people crusade against anyone who disagrees with them.

But I'm getting a bit off track. There are pretty much two major critiques that come from the right wing conservative evangelical/fundamentalist camp at those supporting Obama/Biden (or any Democrat for that matter). These issues are abortion and gay unions (though it is often reduced to just abortion). Obama is for upholding Roe v. Wade and for civil unions. McCain is for overturning Roe v. Wade and, though he had been for civil unions in the past, he says on his website that he will protect marriage between one man and one woman, but does not weigh in on civil unions. He may be wording it in the way he is as to not upset his conservative base. But maybe not.

Again, getting a bit off track. Usually the Christians on the right critique the Christians on the left by saying "how could you vote for a candidate that does not want to make abortion illegal?" The response by the Christian could be a number of things (after 6 years of Bush and Republican house and senate nothing has been done, outlawing it is not going to solve the problem, protecting a woman's right to choose etc.). The most common critique from the left back to the right is to say "I'm not a one issue voter." The right sometimes responds by saying that a 150 years ago one issue voters ended slavery because that issue was so obvious. They reason that the modern day situation is the same, that we simply need to stand once and for all and get Roe v. Wade overturned, just like Lincoln and the north did with slavery.

But I think it is important to draw a clear distinction between slavery 150 years ago and abortion today. I can think of at least two pretty important reasons.

1. There is no ambiguity when it comes to slavery.

When we talk about slavery, there are some pretty clear cut realities. There is a slave owner, owning and mistreating another human being as property. There was of course talk in the day that people of a different color were not as valuable as white people (and horrifyingly, some Christian denominations even used scriptural support to defend this idea). But, pretty soon it became clear to the majority that a human being owning and torturing another was wrong.

Compare that with today. In the mind of a fundamentalist/evangelical on the right, there is no ambiguity in abortion. A mother is torturing and murdering her own child. But to a non biased person who is taking an honest look at the issue, it is not so clear. It was Augustine who first said that the soul is created at conception. But, in the case with twins, the zygote separates after conception. In this case, do the twins share a soul? Or does one twin have a soul and the other not? At what point does the fetus become a full person? Is the morning after pill as bad as partial birth abortions? If abortion became illegal, should women who have abortions be punished as severely as people who murder children or adults? If a lab caught on fire, and you had the choice to save an infant or a petri dish with five fertilized embryos, which should you save? To what extent should the government make these decisions as opposed to letting each woman decide for herself?

Whereas slavery is very clear, the abortion issue raises a whole host of questions that may not have clear cut, obvious answers. It doesn't seem right, then, to equate the two.

2. Unlike abortion, slavery does not effect the health and body of the mother/owner

This is the lesser of the two points, but the fact remains: the domain of the issue we are discussing is inside a woman's body. That is not true for slavery. There are some very real questions that we need to ask about what rights a woman has over what to do with her body and what goes on inside her body. Regardless of how we decide this plays into the abortion issue, the fact remains that this clearly distinguishes this issue from slavery.

I will post more about this tomorrow, but until then, may we continue to think deeply on these issues and be fair and loving to those who disagree with us.


Andrew Walker said...

Regarding your statement, "There is no ambiguity when it comes to slavery," are you then implying that with abortion there is ambiguity? If you are at all current with the philosophical/scientific debates surrounding personhood, you will find that even popular science is willing to grant that personhood begins at conception. Your statement regarding Augustine does not represent the clearest picture of Christian approaches to abortion. The earliest Christian sources to date, while ignorant of the debate surrounding personhood, are unashamedly against the rampant abortion that took place in the Roman Empire.

Also, why, of all people, are you even willing to defend abortion? You may insist that you are not doing so, but you implicitly are. Why is it that Christians on the left are quick to defend the orphan and the widow, but yet see the unborn as outside their realm of cultural obligation. Is it because the issue of abortion doesn't carry with it the acceptability and popularity that poverty does?

No offense, but you are drinking very deeply from the well of Campolo, Wallis, and the rest.

One last question: How would you, hypothetically speaking, as a person alive during the 1950's, respond to the plea to merely reduce the number of lynchings, because the "ambiguity" surrounding the issue is very confusing or because incriminating those participating in lynching seems insensitive. Or, should we merely "educate" our people that lynching is wrong, providing all schools unlimited access to "safe lynching" material? You would agree, you don't reduce the number of lynchings, you outlaw it.

C'mon bro. Your position is duplicitous.

Tim said...

Hey Nick,

I have more catching up to do on my Google Reader from your blog, but this was at the top today, so I'll start here. I'm going to post my pro-life manifesto of sorts, but here is a sample for you and other readers.

I am pro-life, but I'm tiring of pro-life being limited to abortion alone. For that reason, I am not a one-issue voter because for me pro-life has 4 parts and has the overall goal of preserving life and minimizing violence. Those 4 parts are:

1.) life of the unborn
2.) life and health of the mother
3.) life of the imprisoned (i.e. no death penalty
4.) life of our enemies (i.e. no war)

While the Republican platform is big on #1, it is terrible on #3 and #4. So I cannot be a one-issue voter for either party. Instead, I need to look at which candidate meets me in all four of these.

And to go even further, I'm going indie in my party registration, and I wrote about that here:


Tim said...

Hey Andrew,

I was wondering if you could define what you mean by cultural obligation? I'm curious about examples of this for you. Then I'll probably comment, as I think it might be a good conversation.


Nick said...


I appreciate your pro-life manifesto. That is awesome! Thanks you for your balance in this area!

As for the phrase "cultural obligation", I'm not sure I use it in this post. Could you point it out to me?


Andrew said...

Regarding "Cultural Obligation" I am referring to the culture's exclusivity at "setting the agenda." People (Media), not the issues themselves, set the agenda in America. Thus, from my perspective, people, out of committment to either a party, religion, or any other association often fail to give full breadth to the issues at hand. Now, to be honest, I am by no means leaving myself out in my indictment. This is a reality we all fall short of. Specifically, I find it laughable that McLaren and his cohorts start a group called "Red Letter Christians" or "Matthew 25" and yet undermine their very desires by attempting to lessen the controversy around abortion, as though making it strictly an issue of economic reform (which, admittedly, economics are a factor in the abortion debate).

Andrew said...

I also agree that "pro-life" needs to be extended beyond the arenas of abortion, but should by no means exclude abortion.

Nick said...

Hi Andrew,

Long time, no see.

...are you then implying that with abortion there is ambiguity?

Yes, I absolutely am. That is clear from the post. What is also clear is that there are a lot of questions that surround the issue of abortion, as I think I made clear in the post. That ambiguity does not exist when we talk about slavery. That is the point, Andrew, to draw a distinction between the issue of slavery and the issue of abortion.

Also, why, of all people, are you even willing to defend abortion?

I am against abortion. What I'm also against is not being able to vote my conscience without being crucified by right wing fundamentalists. If I wanted to play that game back at you guys, I could. But, I feel that it is loving to engage in meaningful dialogue without the vilification and demonization that so often comes with it.

No offense, but you are drinking very deeply from the well of Campolo, Wallis, and the rest.

None taken. i love Campolo. I'm not as familiar with Wallis, but what I know of him I love. I love McLaren and company as well.

How would you, hypothetically speaking, as a person alive during the 1950's, respond to the plea to merely reduce the number of lynchings, because the "ambiguity" surrounding the issue is very confusing or because incriminating those participating in lynching seems insensitive.

Andrew, you are both making my point and missing my point. You are making it in the sense that you are comparing abortion to race killings (and by association, slavery) but you are missing the entire point of my blog post: to draw a distinction between those two things.

Frankly, you come across as mocking and insulting. You are better than that, brother. Try to get to the heart of what your opponents are saying rather than jumping to vilification.


Nick said...


I didnt read your post well enough. You were referring to Andrew's use of "cultural obligation", not mine.

My mistake.


Tim said...

Nick and Andrew,

Thanks for your comments and replies to my comment.

Andrew, I also agree that pro-life should not exclude abortion, but even in that, we need to include the life of the mother just as equal as the wife of the baby.

As for cultural obligation, I think part of Obama's response to Rick Warren's question on when a fetus is given human rights is spot on. Yes, he danced around a defining point of when a fetus becomes life, but his response that regardless of the scientific, religious, or legal arguments we can make, we, as a nation, should be working to reduce the number of abortions. That includes everything from sex ed to available contraception to providing health care to ensure every opportunity for women to carry their babies full-term to adoption.

From an general economic standpoint, I'm for small government, but if the private organizations (and by this I mean churches) aren't going to do this (which most do not), then someone has to. Even if a candidate is "pro-choice", I'll vote for them if they want to commit to ensuring life like that.

(But let me be clear that I have still not decided who to vote for in this election.)

Chip Burkitt said...

The central argument for slavery was that Negroes were not fully human and did not deserve protection as persons. The central argument for abortion is the same. Proponents of abortion maintain that personhood is a legal construct that can be defined in an essentially arbitrary manner. In our society, birth confers personhood. Prior to birth, the fetus is not a person.
Those who oppose abortion generally maintain that conception confers personhood. They claim that personhood is not merely a legal construct but a natural right. It cannot be granted or denied by the state.
There is a degree of ambiguity in both positions, but the ambiguity lies at the extremes. You bring up the moral question, for example, of whether to rescue an infant or a petri dish containing 5 embryos. I think most people would unhesitatingly choose to rescue the baby for the simple reason that contemplating the death of the baby, who is aware and able to feel pain and express its anguish in ways that penetrate deeply into our hearts and minds, would be too horrible in comparison to allowing five microscopic beings to die. The claims of the baby on all our instincts are much greater than the claims of the embryos, no matter how many of them there are. Moreover, we have no sense of how the embryos could survive anyway. They require implantation into a receptive womb to survive whether there is a fire or not. The baby needs much less demanding nurture.
The other extreme is abortion of a fetus that would be considered premature under other circumstances. A baby that could be saved by a little time in ICU should not die simply because its mother doesn't want it.
Birth is a convenient marker for the state to recognize personhood. But it is undeniably arbitrary. Two days before birth a baby is just as much a person as two days after.

Nick said...

There is a degree of ambiguity in both positions [related to abortion]

My point exactly, Chip.

Chip Burkitt said...

I think you missed my point. There is ambiguity at the extremes, but there are many abortion scenarios that happen every day in which there is no ambiguity.

During the days when slave states defended slavery, they likewise pointed to extreme situations in which there was ambiguity. But the fact was that we were treating people as non-persons. We are doing the same today with abortion.

Nick said...

Fair enough, but I stand by my point: there is just no way that abortion is as clear cut as slavery. There is a degree of ambiguity there for abortion that just isnt there for slavery.

Chip Burkitt said...

If you mean that it's hard to regard a zygote as a person, then I agree. Nevertheless, I would argue that deliberately interfering with the development of a zygote in order to prevent it developing into an embryo and then fetus and then baby is a sin against one's own posterity. It is essentially selfish and devoid of future hope.
Historically, the expectation of a child was a matter for joy and honor. Women used to look forward to it with eager anticipation, even despite the very real risks of childbirth before the modern age of antibiotics and scientific medicine.
Today, however, children are widely regarded as encumbrances. Pregnancy is often greeted with dismay, even when the mother is healthy and able to care for a new infant. Why? Because the pregnancy was "unplanned."
Behind that word "unplanned" is the tacit assumption that sex ought not to have consequences. Sex ought to be primarily for enjoyment and only secondarily (if at all) for procreation. This false assumption is the real culprit behind the absurdly high abortion rate in America. Between one in three and one in four pregnancies end with abortion rather than a live birth.
Yet we all know quite well how to reduce the number of abortions: everyone should abstain from sex except with their own spouse. When couples marry, they should do so with the intention of starting a family. Marital faithfulness and extramarital abstinence would without any other action cause abortions to drop to almost nothing. They would also, by the way, cause the incidence of STDs to decline just as sharply. HIV/AIDS would no longer be a problem. As the number of stable, two-parent families rose, violence and poverty would decline. The social benefits of encouraging sexual restraint would be enormous.
Instead, our culture encourages every kind of sexual adventuring and expression. We tell our teens that sexual experimentation is normal and healthy and then wonder why we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. Abortion is but one expression of our culture's blindness to the connection between individual sexual freedom and a host of societal ills.

allison said...

I don't know if anyone will ever read this, but to "chip burkitt", you say that the nation's high abortion rate is due to our "sexual permissiveness", but how do you explain European countries like Sweden with much lower abortion, STD and teen pregnancy rates? They basically throw condoms at young teens and show nudity on television, yet our rates DWARF theirs.

Paul Hughes said...

Be clear. Should Abortion on demand (not ones saving a mothers life) be legal or illegal? Short one word answer please. My comments will continiue based on that answer.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

This was a very good article and i also very much enjoyed reading the responses.

I thought your views on ambiguity (or lack thereof) regarding abortion and slavery were very insightful.


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