Letters on Abortion, 3

Dear Pastor,

I believe the locus of the difference between us is your statement here:

“There are mothers who choose to risk their lives and even die to preserve the fetus, there are those who wouldn’t. There are the circumstances of the individual, family, income, community, illness, risk factors, etc.. to consider. I do believe it is wrong for me to or anyone to impose my beliefs on the rest of the nation. You point out that is resulting in many deaths of fetuses. Hopefully, I do have hope that the hard work of good people, education and the improvement of the standard of living, the decrease of the effects of racism and sexism and all kinds of factors that lead our community as well as the individual to be guilty of these deaths, will result in making abortions rare. I hope for a world where all children are loved and wanted and where women make their own moral decisions based upon conscience and faith. I believe the current laws on abortion and reproductive rights are working in this direction and that going back to a ban on all abortions will just push everything to do with sexuality and abortion back under the carpet and in the back alley.”

I do not believe that current laws on abortion and reproductive rights are working in such a direction. Just the opposite. The legalization of abortion was supposed to have solved a whole passel of moral and ethical difficulties for us. But it has not. It has increased them.

It, very centrally, was supposed to have done away with unwantedness, but instead, it has only magnified the problem. Children are not a consumer article that people can be bribed or advertised into wanting. Wantedness is a moral decision, and requires sacrifice and suffering. But unlimited availability of abortion has created an enormous amount of new moral lassitude, and made it much more difficult to foster wantedness than ever before.

Let’s change the venue a little bit. Let’s say that we have the laudable goal of wanting every old person to be a wanted person. Now this sounds good. But our rest homes are filled with unwanted old people. So let’s go through our roster of old people, and mercifully euthanize all the unwanted people, so that only those who are truly wanted and cared for by someone who loves them will be left. What a wonderful world we will create! We will have no unwantedness!

But alas, we will find the day after the euthanizing that it has not solved the problem. Wantedness amongst the old requires considerable sacrifice, and sometimes even suffering. There will have been a certain number of people who were only marginally wanted. Now, the relative who in the past who had exercised the difficult decision of caring and wanting the aged relative, will find that they can be freed from this burden, and that sacrifice is no longer necessary. Hence, there will be more euthanizing. And over a period of time, it will be forgotten that wantedness is a moral decision at all, and it will become increasingly a consumer decision.

Wantedness is not supposed to hurt. It is suppose to be fun, easy, and to my benefit. Alas, in time all the old traditions that fostered the training necessary to create any kind of community that is multi-generational will be forgotten. In the end, in our Brave New World, wantedness will be entirely forgotten as a moral requirement that is difficult and requires discipline and sacrifice. Some old people will be very charming and viewed rather as interesting pets that add to daily pleasure, and hence will be wanted. But many who are incontinent, or grouchy, and who lack beauty and charm will be incapable of exercising any consumer magnetism on the young and the healthy.

Now oddly, a number of these same young, healthy, people will go out and protest things like the WTO and Globalization, and will oppose Walmarts coming to their town, because they find western consumerism to be so repulsive. By this time however, the fact that people have a dozen contradictions floating about in their heads, and the fact that they have become the ultimate consumerists themselves, won’t make any difference or cause any cognitive dissonance, because people will have entirely forgotten how to think.

The above scenario is largely true of abortion. We have not done away with unwantedness. If anything, we have made wantedness far more difficult and rare, because we have forgotten that wantedness is a moral choice, and that moral choices require discipline and sacrifice.

And, even more seriously in terms of long-term consequences, these qualities cannot be inculcated in individuals apart from long standing community traditions and structures. Everything in the last forty years has moved in the opposite direction, and what is amazing is to see these legal, communal, traditional, and religious destructions now embraced as positive wonders and advances. After all, absolute individual autonomy has been advanced, and that is always a good. What we have really succeeded in teaching very broadly is, “Why sacrifice anything, unless I am sure I am having the perfect designer child under perfect and affluent conditions? The purpose of children is obviously to enhance my life.”

Abortion was supposed to do away with child abuse. But why should it? If I could have killed the kid at the outset, why should I have to put up with him now? And, this is what we are training people to believe with our current public policy, no matter what the intentions are. People are smart and they still get the message that is really being sent. And the message is “children (and hence, people) are expendable; have one if it fits with your current ‘life style,’ ” (a phrase I loathe). I keep hearing about things like the “epidemic of child abuse.” Well duh, What did we expect????

You place the locus of difficulty in poverty, lack of education, racism, and sexism. However real these problems are, I find this untenable. I found it fascinating that a number of years ago Germaine Greer came into real crisis. She visited India, one of the poorest nations on earth. And what she discovered, to her dismay, was that “unwanted children” simply did not exist. How could this be when there was so much poverty, want, and physical deprivation? It moved against every western liberal certainty and dogma. She was quite undone.

Now I hear about women seeking abortions in the third world, against the laws of their countries, as heroic. They dare to abort. But this is the very worst of western consumerism. We are teaching them this, completely against all the vaunted talk of “respecting ethnic integrity.” Nothing could be more destructive to any ethnic integrity of traditional cultures that I can even think of in my wildest imagination. But now we boast in this as an achievement and a moral advancement. We are teaching them well with this western export. We are teaching them to not want their children as much as we have learned to not want ours (and all under the banner I suppose, in Orwellian fashion, of “wantedness.”).

The absolute dogma of the autonomy of the individual is, it seems to me, the corner stone of all of your thought. I wonder if you will ever be daring enough to be a heretic and doubt this doctrine? I am willing to talk about hard cases (life of the mother for example). Nor am I ignorant of the reality of “ethical gray areas.” And, I am skeptical that ultimate heroism can be legislated, however laudable and even ethical it might be (i.e. the mother giving her life for the life of the unborn baby).

But in terms of current public policy, we are not talking about gray areas, or hard cases, but the absolute and unlimited right of the mother to terminate any pregnancy that she chooses. And this all the way up to the legality of a completely healthy child being fully delivered from a perfectly healthy mother, with one toe left in the birth canal. At that point, the doctor can stick a scalpel in the brain of that child and kill him. And, he will not be touched by the law.

I cannot believe you favor this, but I can believe that you choose not to think about this, or third, or second trimester abortions on the part of even the relatively affluent, that have no moral necessity beyond the fact that having a baby is hard and very un-ideal, and will very much change a number of lives if the child is delivered alive. Experience teaches me that generally, there is reluctance on the part of people favoring abortion to really oppose these practices even if they find them at the very lowest distasteful if not unethical, because there is great fear of a reverse slippery slope, and if momentum is got going, abortion might suffer very real legal reversals. So virtually everything is tolerated.

You say, “I do believe it is wrong for me to or anyone to impose my beliefs on the rest of the nation.” Come now. You simply don’t believe this. Was the imposition of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 immoral? It was clearly an imposition of some people’s beliefs on many others who did not agree with them. And these laws, by the way, largely had their origin in the Christian religion, and publicly so. In fact, if there is any public square at all, public policy and public law that are impositions are necessary.

You speak in your post as though a large number of abortions are for the defensible reason of preserving the life of the mother. But that is just not so. The vast majority of abortions have zero to do with this. They are done because having the child would be hard. And we are attempting to create a world where hard things are not supposed to happen to people. And that world in the end, ends up being a kind of hell. The very things we set out to prevent are the very thing that we create in spades.

You challenged me on the issue of birth control saying that I must not believe in birth control if I believe that life begins at conception. First, let me say how much I respect my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who do oppose all artificial birth control. If one reads the Catholic social theorists of the early twentieth century, they were most perceptive and prophetic. They clearly prophesied that if birth control were legalized and became widely accepted, that ultimately, a complete and total separation would arise between the procreative and the communal and pleasurable aspects of sexuality. They have been proven to be correct.  It was a “slippery slope” argument that proved to be very keen.

But I would argue, for reasons that go too far afield for a short post, that no, it is not a matter of every act of sexual intercourse, but rather the overall pattern of marital sexuality that must be examined, and that openness to life must exist within that overall pattern, and never rejected if it happens at any point. But the Catholics and I completely agree that it is within the structure of marriage that sexuality belongs. And, yes, it does seem at this point in the development of fetology (which has advanced quite a bit beyond the time of Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas), that to set the beginning of life anywhere other than conception, is quite arbitrary.

I am sure that you are right, that a number of people working for Planned Parenthood, and The Woman’s Health Center are very nice and caring persons. And indeed, anybody having any very direct contact with abortion often come to the place of wanting as little to do with it as possible, and wanting it to be rare.

It was only a year or two ago that our local abortion doctor himself despaired publicly that his generation may be the last generation of abortionists. Nobody wants to do it. It is grisly business. Dr. Bernard Nathanson was one of the three founders of NARAL, and the owner of what was at one time, the largest abortion clinic in the world on Manhattan Island. One of the first things that began to trouble him was the effect that doing abortions seemed to have on his staff. Divorces, nervous breakdowns, and just falling apart seemed par for the course. No matter what people’s formal position was, cutting to pieces little beings that have all the visible appearance of being little people with visible heads, hands, fingers, and toes, and then vacuuming out the body parts from the mother, was profoundly disturbing and destructive to his staff. When people are close to this real procedure, one would have to be very hardened to not at least want to make it rare.

Indeed, there ought to be common ground that we can have. If we want to make it rare, then surely, even if we cannot create a perfect world, there should be things we can do. It would be wonderful if there were more cooperation with the real alternatives that are out there. In the current state of affairs, if a young girl is, at the very least, reluctant to have an abortion, then it would be most desirable if there could be more connection between groups that help women if they want to offer their children out for adoption, or to keep the child. That support is available. The more of this the better. I think we can agree on this. I am glad to hear that your friends in these agencies lack evangelical zeal and enthusiasm for the procedure, and perhaps really do want as few as possible.

This will be my last post on this. But I would love to meet you. There is more to talk about than just this issue. But we could continue this as well.


Richard Bledsoe

Richard Bledsoe is a metropolitan missionary in Boulder, Colorado.

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