By Kevin Howell
I don’t envy politicians. It’s not that I see them all as power-hungry and corrupt, it’s just that they have the difficult job of — in America’s democracy at least — representing a segment of people with differing values, ideologies and persuasions. In short, politicians must be adept at “straddling the fence,” often dancing around issues, and being politically correct in efforts not to offend anyone.
Never is that job more difficult than when facing what I call moral dilemmas. You know what they are, those hot-button political issues, such as abortion. Abortion is a relatively long-standing debate that has spanned four decades in the political arena. In the 35 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, the debate continues to heat up. It’s been in the forefront even recently, as is usually the case when a new Supreme Court justice is nominated. The nation has particularly felt the tension of the issue as we have transitioned from a pro-life presidential administration to a pro-choice one. Although President Obama has nimbly treaded on this topic, trying to remain sensitive to the opposing view, both sides remain just as passionate and unrelenting. Middle ground is not easily reached when the debate pits core values against each other: a civil right vs. a moral responsibility.
So which is more important: The civil right of a woman to choose, or the moral responsibility to protect the life of a child, albeit an unborn one? For that matter, do moral arguments even matter in a nation that clamors for separation of government from religion? Well, yeah. Even those with more liberal political views use moral arguments to support their agenda. President Obama, in his campaign and call for universal health coverage called it a moral responsibility for a nation to make affordable health care available. In stumping for his tax cuts, he cited moral reasons for his plan to have wealthier Americans shoulder more of the tax burden in order to elevate those living in poverty. In my home state of New Jersey, our Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, signed a law abolishing the death penalty saying it “undermines the sanctity of life.” So evidently, moral ground is sufficient to stand on, even in the political arena.
President Obama, speaking on the topic at his controversial visit to the University of Notre Dame for the commencement address, said that the government must “make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics…” Yet, the topic is no easier for the medical field to decipher. I read a comment from a health professional that said science is too advanced to deny that life begins at conception. Health professionals recognize unborn children in all stages of development as alive. The debate is the right of the mother to end that life. Well, Mr. President, science has spoken, it’s those ethics — or moral responsibility — we have to clear up now.
A May poll by Gallup shows that Americans are narrowly split on the issue, though there has been a significant increase in those opposed to abortion. For the first time since Gallup began tracking public opinion on abortion rights, the majority of the country is pro-life (51 percent) while 42 percent is pro-choice. As someone who is pro-life, I celebrate those figures, however I realize that they don’t necessarily trigger that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. America has a long history of cultural wars, from the abolition movement to the temperance movement to the Civil Rights Movement to the ‘60s sexual revolution to Proposition 8. These types of battles have always presented the nation with a moral dilemma. And ultimately, the side or ideology that wins doesn’t prevail solely by political or legislative means. Take for example the temperance movement, which gained steam in the 1800s and led to 1920s prohibition laws, banning the sale and consumption of alcohol. Though the motives for the law may have been noble, the movement was unsuccessful primarily because it forced temperance on people. There was temperance on paper, but there was no temperance in people’s hearts.
The Civil Rights Movement didn’t depend on legislative action to make change, but rather new laws were enacted as a result of the movement’s success in changing people’s views of racial segregation and discrimination.
The point is, though we should continue the fight to end abortion in court, we also must work to get it out of people’s hearts because one of the best ways to protect the unborn is to reach out to those bearing them.
THE LOVE MOVEMENT
The non-legislative approach to the pro-life movement isn’t that exciting. There are no protests outside abortion clinics and no political rhetoric on talk radio or Fox News. It’s more of a grassroots approach…that’s right, the revolution will not be televised. But it will take just as much effort, involvement, resources, patience and prayer as the present strategy, and maybe more. Changing hearts and minds isn’t easy; it requires education, intervention, empathy, and ultimately, the love of God.
To employ this method we have to first face the facts: Abortion is disproportionately prevalent in poor and minority communities. Black women are 4.8 times more likely than white women to have an abortion and Hispanic women are 2.7 times more likely; black women account for 38 percent of all abortions; there are 770 abortions per 1,000 live births in New York City. The point is economic status, environment and culture play huge roles in abortion. Age is also an important factor, as 50 percent of all abortions are performed on women under 25, and 17 percent are teenagers. Pregnancy is always a life-altering experience, particularly for girls and young women who feel they can’t afford a child, don’t have time to raise one and lack the support at home to be a single mother. This is where the education, intervention and empathy come in. Though abortion is a difficult and heart-wrenching decision for most, it is seen as the easiest and most logical choice. Young women, particularly in inner-city and minority communities, need to be educated and counseled about the alternative of adoption. This is not properly considered because young women often don’t completely understand the process of adoption and the options therein, nor do they ever see this alternative exercised in their environment.
Women contemplating abortion also need our intervention. Since 3 out of 4 women choose abortion because of lack of money or lack of support, there must be a resource structure in communities to support young mothers with childcare, jobs, training and finances. If women know they are not alone, that their fears formed from an unplanned pregnancy can be quelled from the support of a loving, giving, pro-life community, then many more will choose to give their child a chance at life.
Most of all, we must be empathetic to the plight of young women facing this decision. We may not persuade all of them to give birth, but we cannot abandon those who decide to have an abortion. If we are going to change hearts, we can’t demonize those who disagree with us, especially the young mothers making the decision. The same love, counsel and support must be extended to those who have terminated their pregnancy, not to condone the action, but to show them that they are still loved, hoping to change their choice for a possible future pregnancy (47 percent of women who have abortions had at least one previous abortion).
This approach isn’t easy; it must involve the entire movement, particularly the help of the church to be the center of support in the community. If we are passionate about preserving life, protecting the unborn and not adding to the 45 million-plus who have already been aborted in the U.S., then we’ll give all we have, do whatever we can and care as much as possible to save the unborn, support potential mothers, change hearts and challenge this nation with a new type of movement.
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