Saturday, November 15, 2008

Abortion again, and again, and again

Maybe you saw the news last week about a Catholic priest who demanded that any of his parishioners who voted for Barack Obama should exclude themselves from Holy Communion.  Or that the Catholic Bishops of America are going to hold Obama's feet to the fire on abortion.


For some reason, this has become the cause celebre of Roman Catholicism.  The same church that doesn't allow its people to practice birth control also won't allow anyone to have an abortion.  As if that will stop them.

This little dust-up raises several issues.

1.  Why do people remain Roman Catholic?  You've seen the bumper stickers that say, "You can't be both Catholic and Pro-Choice."  Yet, a recent survey showed that 58% of Roman Catholics think abortion should be legal.  Hmmm.  After the recent complaints about Obama sitting in a pew for 20 years listening to someone he didn't agree with, you'd think that these folks would be running from the church -- and that the church would be kicking them out.  But they don't go, and the church keeps accepting their money.  I'm telling you, just this week about the 18th person told me they can't stand what they hear in the Catholic pulpits but just can't leave because, as one told me, "well, you just can't."

2.  Abortion is not a scriptural issue.  It's not condemned by the bible.  I know, they say it's murder, but the bible doesn't say so.  Yes, I know scripture condemns murder, but the evidence for abortion being considered murder is weak.  In fact, scriptural evidence for fetuses being considered human is nearly non-existent.  Although there are several references to doing things "from my mother's womb" these almost universally mean, "from infancy" or "from early childhood."  It's clear they don't mean pre-birth.  The best anyone can offer is Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you. Before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."

But think about it.  First of all, this refers to one specific person, Jeremiah.  You can extend it to all people, of course, but that's not what the text says.  More importantly, this verse talks about the soul, not the body.  God knew Jeremiah presumably even before conception ("before I formed you in the belly").  But note that it is only "before you came forth out of the womb" that he is sanctified.  That could easily and justifiably indicate that the soul does not enter the body until much later.   Either way, this and other scripture citations do not offer anything definitive about when the person becomes a person.  Traditionally, the time of quickening -- when the mother can feel the child move -- is the time when you can consider the fetus to be a person.

3. Abortion distracts us from Justice issues -- It's a funny thing how we can get all worked up about one issue -- abortion -- and ignore everything else even when the other issues are more important.  Take, for example, care for the poor.  Or domestic abuse.  Or pedophilia.  Or war.  I will admit that the Roman Catholic Church does speak out on some of these issues and does act on a lot of justice issues, but I did not see Rome threatening to excommunicate anyone voting for a war it called unjust.  

We have a lot of work -- and are not doing a very good job of -- taking care of those who are already born.  How is it that this church spends so much energy trying to force the unwilling to have more children so that they too can be abused by a harsh world?  If a person feels they are not capable of caring for a child -- and let's face it, adoption simply isn't a viable option for many -- it seems immoral to force their hand.  Let us focus on the justice issues where we can actually make the world better.

4.  The move to prohibit abortion is bad theology -- I do not mean that abortion is a good that must be protected.  Ideally, the best thing to do is minimize the number as much as possible.  But a punitive approach is not that of Christ.  He looked upon those who were scared and up against a wall with compassion.  He looked upon those who sincerely tried to help others not as villains but as Samaritans.  If we want to simply punish people, then by all means make it illegal.  But again, this was not Jesus' way.  

5. Prohibiting abortion is not practical-- it doesn't work!  You can make abortion as illegal as you want, but you won't stop it.  You won't even significantly reduce the number of abortions.  All you will do is increase the number of botched abortions resulting in death and disfigurement of young women  (mostly poor) who could not face the possibility of caring for another person (or telling their parents or suffering physically).  All you will do is increase the number of back ally abortions.

Again, if you want to reduce the number of abortions, legislation is not the answer.  Social justice is.  The best antidote to teen pregnancy is education and empowerment.  Studies have showed that even helping young girls open and manage their own bank accounts helps reduce the number of teen pregnancies.  Making birth control available and teaching kids about sex -- what it is and how it works and what the consequences are -- will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions.

Do those things, and abortions will go down.  Notice that the countries with the lowest percentage of abortions are also those with the most permissive abortion laws.  Countries with draconian laws generally have high abortion rates and high death rates.  So, is that what the Roman Catholic Church wants?  I hope not.