I am entering dangerous territory.
The time has come for this Curmudgeon to test the waters of the third rail of American friendship: Abortion. There is little that divides Americans with a passion the equal of that held for this topic. I proceed with more than a little trepidation, because I can foresee the possibility of posts going back and forth with some rather ugly epithets. This fear has kept me from this topic thus far, but it is my hope to bring a little sobriety and decorum to the discussion. May God grant us all the wisdom and forbearance to make it so.
Now, if you bother to ask me, you will find out that I am very concerned about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Heck, I even care about men’s bodies too. I am a civil libertarian to my very core but you might not know this if you listen solely to what those that support abortion ‘rights’ say about those of us who are opposed. We are not a monolithic whole.
What genuinely keeps this civil libertarian awake at night is the tragic reality that outside of Christian circles, there seems to be little concern on this issue for anything other than a woman’s right to choose. No apparent concern about what must be the possibility, even in the minds of even the most ardent abortion rights proponent, that lives are being ended by abortion procedures. And there is a reciprocal lack of sympathy from within the Christian community for the honest quest for what seems to many to be a simple and straightforward Liberty to decide one’s own fate.
This lamentable gap in mutual understanding on the issue is evident in the very words by which the belligerents choose to label themselves. The rhetorical chasm that separate the “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” factions really needs no further elaboration beyond stating those labels. If IT is Life, then IT has the basic human right to life; if IT is not life, then IT is but tissue that would be clearly within a women’s right to make decisions regarding.
Aye, there’s the rub: defining life.
In ancient English common law, life legally began at the first breath. It could be properly argued that this was a sensible view for the law of the day. The law endeavors to be nothing if not pragmatic and the complications of a then common place still-born birth could, in that age of hereditary rights, be of staggering proportion.
But “modern” medicine is on the march and the ancient bright line defining Life does not seem so bright and narrow in a day when a fetus is potentially viable as early as the twentieth week of pregnancy. Many, including myself, question whether the viability test offers a reasonable and logically defensible check on uninhibited abortion practice. The obvious point is that we have seen the viability threshold retreat from birth at the time of the Norman Conquest, to twenty-eight weeks at the time of Roe v. Wade, to twenty weeks today. The viability threshold is destined to retreat further and further until viability occurs at the time of conception.
Clearly, we should hope for a definition of Life that does not vary with the available technology.
It is easy to see that viability as a test was never very viable to begin with even were it not for its relativistic nature. It has been pointed out by countless others that a newborn baby isn’t viable without the constant care of a parent and many elderly and handicapped are no better able to care for themselves than a twenty-eight week old fetus. Viability only makes sense as a legal test, not a moral test.
But of course, we can’t legislate morals, can we?
The intriguing thing to me has been for some time that there is a logical definition of life that does not rely on esoteric argument, uncertain science or the Word of God. A molecular biologist I know would tell you that in biological terms, life logically begins at conception-the completed genome, in their view, defines our human being in scientific terms. Science thus provides an obvious and reasonable bright line that gets discounted, I am convinced, because it also happens to map perfectly to the line set out in the Bible.
That standing for conception as the beginning of Life is consistently reduced in popular discourse to being solely a “religious belief” is nearly enough to make my head explode.
As heart wrenching as the arbitrary viability test is to me, more wrenching still is the plain truth that we can not even as a society agree that some abortion practices clearly are on the wrong side of any reasonable Life definition. That we as a society tolerate late term abortions-abortions well after the hypothetical point of viability-is enough to make this Curmudgeon cry often and profusely.
This whole matter hits closer to home for me in the last year: try telling my friends, whose beautiful little girl I was able to hold in my arms, all one pound of her, six weeks before she was “supposed” to be born, that a 38 week gestation does not produce a human being. I suspect that Miss Parker will not agree with the radical pro-abortion camp either when she gets a bit older.
But when the tears dry and I reflect on our situation, I ask myself what are we to do? A society which evidently supports a return to the ancient definition of Life is not likely soon to adopt the definition which in my view science and reason compels. And there is a corollary question that haunts me: why is it primarily the Christian community that is sensitive to this particular issue?
The reason this corollary is haunting to me is a product of very recent history. It is not so odd that the issue of abortion is closely tied to the Christian Church-Christians have long been at the forefront of human rights. The best and most obvious example is the Abolition movement of the nineteenth century which was most unsurprisingly a phenomenon of the Christian Church. I would expect that Christians, based on the historical record, would be the first of our society to point out a profound social ill such as this.
But we live in a often self-contradictory world and the juxtaposition of the Christian Right’s outlook on the human rights of the unborn with that of their outlook on the human rights of homosexuals and resident aliens can not be passed over without scrutiny.
I, for one, stand for human rights without regard to one’s personal viability, color of skin, religious creed, level of intelligence or unrepentant sinfulness. It is clear to this Curmudgeon that the disease that infects us is not intellectual per se, though as I’ve written, a lack of critical thinking skills in our citizenry exacerbates the problem. The primary disease affecting us is selfishness. We want people to have rights as long as they agree with us. We want babies to be human when it is convenient for the mother and society. We want quality education as long as it doesn’t cost too much, run afoul of other parts of our political ideology or interfere with having a first class football program.
“I want what I want, when I want it.”
My five year old said that, but it is virtually a slogan for our me-centric society. And when I look coldly and objectively at America, I do not see much reason to hope for better. America has slid very far, very fast and nobody is reaching for the brake. Worse yet, those of us who suggest the brake be thrown are labeled wackos by our friends and traitors by the Attorney General.
I am inevitably drawn back to my recent theme of the Christian’s proper role in politics by what can only be described as my rather bleak assessment of social trends: they say you can’t legislate morality, but “they” are wrong. We can certainly encapsulate morality into legislation: just ask the citizens of the states who passed the anti-gay marriage amendments.
Those of you who count themselves as one among a Moral Majority can legislate volume after volume and fulfill all of your statutory desires. A Majority can apparently do as it pleases in the Brave New America. But the conundrum faced by a Moral Majority is that a stack of laws that would fill the expanse of the US Code and Federal Register are of no avail if the larger society does not subscribe to values reflected therein.
In quiet moments, after you are spent from striving against widespread adversity to moral legislation, realize that until you change the hearts of men, you haven’t created a better society. Realize that rather than a moral society, you have created a society of the cowed and criminal.
And when you get to that truth, it becomes time to put down the red, white and blue campaign signs and pick up a Bible. And this time, rather than thumping the cover of the Good Book, open it and read it. There are hearts that need to be changed. There is Truth that Christians are commissioned to share.
And realize then that the hearts that perhaps need to be changed first, beat inside our own chests.