Recently I got into a surprisingly civil discussion about abortion on Facebook.
Because of my beliefs I find these debates easier to navigate than most people probably do, since I can find common ground with both sides. The downside is of course that finding common ground with both sides means that I’m not perfectly aligned with either of them.
As I see it, we need a solution to the abortion issue that gives both sides something they want. Odds are my ideas will make both sides more unhappy than not. But this is my Quixotic attempt at finding a compromise.
Full confession up front: I am pro-choice. But i do think that the pro-choice side is on the losing side of the moral debate over the viability and humanity of the fetus. And as science improves, there will be more opportunities for treating infant disabilities and maternal health concerns in utero, which are two of the reasons women may choose abortion. In other words, over time science will shrink the number of cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Medical research will eventually reduce the number of cases where the child is irreversibly severely or fatally disabled.
I’ll address my moral reasoning on abortion in a future post. I want to spend this post on the policy solutions I have come up with. I presented these ideas to my pro-life friends, so much of this is skewed towards meeting their concerns. I hope that tucked within these solutions are ideas that will appeal to pro-choice people as well. I confess that most of these solutions play down my belief that a woman’s right to do what she wishes with her body outweighs the fetus’ life. However, since I geared these solutions towards my pro-life audience, the language here will mainly address their concerns.
First, the context. The conversation arose when a Christian friend of mine made the statement that he would be willing to go along with any politician or policy if it meant saving children from abortion. I was impressed with the flexibility within his statement.
You can parse whether you thought he really meant it, but I decided to treat his statement as if he did. It’s rare to get someone from the pro-life position make such a statement, so I leaped on the opportunity to get on my soapbox.
I began with presenting him with some rough date. The demand for adoption isn’t high enough to meet the number of abortions. Every year there are roughly 1 million abortions and 100,000 adoptions. I knew that in recent years the number of abortions has declined in the neighborhood of 700,00, but since most past years it has hovered around 1 million, I decided to go with it rather than debate data specifics.
While in an ideal world I’d love to see the the number of abortions go to zero and have all women give birth to babies who are healthy and loved and have no impact on overpopulation concerns, that’s not reality. We have to deal with the world we live in.
So to begin with, if we are going to fulfill my friend’s goal and save a million babies per year from abortion (or as close to that number as can be achieved), there has to be a place for those babies per year to go. I will assume her that Roe V Wade will not be turned ove. Again,I’m setting aside the debate over whether the Supreme Court might overturn it or the awful ways states are denying women access to health care and abortion.
So let’s look at some of the key reasons why women choose abortion. Among the most common reasons are: health of the mother or child; ignorance about birth control; inability to access birth control; concerns over quality of life for the child; and concerns over career or losing a job to care for the child. I know that there are a lot of other reasons, and I think that all of these are good reasons to have an abortion. But I think there are ways we can address them to reduce the number of them.
As I see it, adoption is a persuasive alternativs because many mothers are concerned about their child’s prospective quality of life. For a variety of reasons they may be financially unable to care for the child or fear they wil be unfit mothers. Adoption helps assuage some of these concerns.
The problem with adoption is twofold: the demand isn’t high enough to meet the number of abortions per year, and the process takes too long and is too strict and costly for many prospective adoptive parents to endure. Again, keep in mind that my language in these solutions was skewed towards a pro-life audience. My ideas are sincere, but I avoided making apologies or defending the pro-choice position in order get my ideas across:
So my first suggestion would be to make adoption as easy as having a child by pregnancy. Drop all fees related to the process. The only people who should be screened out are people with a criminal record related to abuse of children. Accept the fact that this will mean lots of abuse cases and awful stories. Since they believe that a live child with bad parents is better off than a dead child, let’s respect one of their primary solutions and expand it.
2. Guarantee that a woman can keep her job at full salary if she gets pregnant. Set up a government fund where the employer can apply for financial aid and temp assistance if needed. Make the employer rather than the pregnant woman obligated to apply for aid, because the goal is to eliminate areas of concern that might lead a woman to abortion.3. Treat sexual politics the way we treat other facets of political life. In my view, most Christians recognize that good foreign policy and good economic policy often results in actions that are inconsistent with scripture. My friend is a Republican so I knew I had a different set of moral inconsistencies in mind than he has. But aside from pacifists, even most liberal Christians agree that going to war against Hitler and Al Quaeda were justifiable actions even though they violated Jesus’ teachings. Heck, a good case can be made that the Revolutionary War was unbiblical. But consciously or not, almost all Christians accept that there are times when our worldly concerns supersede Biblical edicts against violence, deception, or loving our international neighbors.
(I don’t personally equate abortion with Hitler, by the way. But pro-lifers do. And if you’re going to persuade them to see the unfeasibility of their political positions on sex, then you have to point to an example they may be willing to concede. I know plenty of conservative Christians who will admit that killing Bin Laden doesn’t line up with the Bible, but they justify in secular terms. That’s an opening that allows for my analogy as a path into their thinking.)
But more than any other topic, Christians tend to want to have “everything” with sexual politics: abstinence, patriarchy (obviously I didn’t bring up that one!) and a culture that has a conservative Christian outlook towards sexuality and life. Waiting for that to happen is like waiting for all of the terrorists to drop their weapons and accept Christ. As I see it, to meet their goal of saving babies from abortion, the pro-life movement has to accept that their values (especially their conservative Christian values) are not values shared by most people who live in this country. Even those who self-identify as conservative Christians tend to prefer a secular society over a Theocratic one. So they need to meet the interests of people who would never seek out a church or a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or anyone else who might judge them for their pregnancy.
Currently studies show that usage of birth control prevents more pregnancy than abstinence education does. Abstinence education will persuade a percentage of women, so keep it for those families who will support abstinence values. Yes, I know that currently many states insist on abstinence only. That needs to change.
But I think we have to be realistic about the values at home. A teenager who gets an abstinence education but shares none of the values intrinsic towards abstinence education will end up being a person with a poor or misleading sexual education and no moral inclination to wait for sex until marriage. Studies show that teen pregnancy is most common in Red States, so obviously many teenagers aren’t on board with abstinence education. That said, I think we should give pro-lifers abstinence as an option for their child . It’s naive to believe that a “secular” sexual education wil get support in a conservative Christian home. These parents will nullify the benefits of a good sexual education by giving them alternative views that cause their kids to distrust and reject their “secular” sexual education.
4. In terms of pro-life interests, the people who don’t accept abstinence values are the ones they need to be reach if they want to lower the number of abortions. (By “reaching” I mean options that do not include their pro-life intervention or their sexual values.)
So make it very easy for women (even teens) to gain access to contraception. No screening or judgement. Put the proverbial condom machine in the school if necessary. Since their primary goal is to lower the number of abortions as much as possible, they must sacrifice other related concerns. They can still teach their kids the value of abstinence, but they have to drop the push for getting other people to live they way they want them to. An atheist teen won’t see any point in waiting for sex until marriage, so they have to stop pretending that they can persuade them. Denying them contraception just raises the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore the number of abortions.
Finally, I think we should invest a huge amount of money into foster homes, prenatal care, and childcare. There should be almost as much money invested in supplying pregnant and new mothers with care and support as there is the elderly. Personally I would go for universal healthcare (even socialist health care). But we’ll never win them over on that cause.
The point here is if women live in a society where they can’t afford a child, then create a society where all women can afford one. Conservative Christians can continue their ministry services for pregnant women as they always have, but their goal should be to reach those women who would never walk into a Crisis Pregnancy Center. In other towards, forget the humiliating ultrasounds, denying access to Planned Parenthood clinics, and the “slut shaming’ they love to engage in. Accept that women will make sexual choices they disagree with in the same way they accept that women will make religious choices. (Despite what it may seem, most Christians- even fundamentalists -care more about the culture wars than they do evangelizing.)
I don’t pretend that all of this jibes with scripture or addresses every issue related to abortion. I realize that most of my solutions address teen pregnancy, but for now that’s where most of my ideas are. But if the goal is to lower the number of abortions as much as possible, then conservative Christians have to give up on a large cross-section of the culture wars.