Color me confused: Abortion politics in 2012

I take umbrage when people call me pro-abortion. Personally, those are fighting words. I, and no person I know, is “pro” abortion. Such a charge is little more than invective meant to cast an aspersion upon those who are pro-choice: You are pro murder, this charge intimates. You wantonly take life and think nothing of it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But I also find the moniker pro-life to be equally problematic. Believe me, I understand the issues people have with abortion. It is not a pleasant topic, and it is one that elicits a great deal of emotion. From the very terminology–fetus versus baby; mother versus pregnant woman–we find ourselves engaging in coded speech that, by its very nature, is meant to engender a response. But more and more, I wonder how “pro-life” are many of the opponents of reproductive choice. Take, for example, the most recent bill that passed the Arizona Senate by a vote of 20-9. According to the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/wrongful-birth-bill-arizona-senate-abortion-bill_n_1335117.html), this bill will allow for a doctor to withhold information from a pregnant mother and not face future lawsuits if/when a child is born with disabilities or birth defects. Indeed, similar bills are already law in nine states, and are known as “wrongful birth” or “wrongful life” laws. These laws allow for an individual doctor to place his or her personal opinions regarding abortion at the forefront, and thereby color the medical information that is provided to the pregnant woman. This doctor may not know the financial situation in which the woman finds herself; this doctor may not know the way in which the woman came to be impregnated (by rape or incest, for example); and this doctor may not know if the woman is emotionally capable of caring for a child with severe developmental issues. None of these factors need to be taken into account. Nope. If the doctor is “pro-life,” then this doctor can withhold whatever he or she decides is worth withholding, especially if it means that the fetus will be brought to term.

How does this support the life of the mother? Or of the child, once it is delivered and is no longer in the sanctity of the womb?

Color me confused, though, as to what is going on nationally. With the most recent law in Virginia, women who are seeking an abortion must submit to a medically unnecessary ultrasound (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57392796-503544/virginia-gov-bob-mcdonnell-signs-virginia-ultrasound-bill/). While the doctor cannot force the woman to look at the results, one wonders: if the ultrasound reveals that the fetus will develop certain problems, will said information be withheld from the pregnant woman? Let’s suppose that there emerges a perfect storm in which the Virginia legislation and a “wrongful birth” law both pass in the same state. A woman comes in for a legal abortion and is forced to submit to an ultrasound; she views the ultrasound image and decides that she will carry the fetus to term. Unbeknownst to her, the fetus will develop a myriad of developmental problems that will require tens of thousands of dollars a year to treat, and around the clock care. This woman has no insurance, no support system, and works a minimum wage job. My questions is: Who will be willing to help her? Where are the programs that have adequate funding to provide consistent, dependable care for both the child and the mother? Where are the pro-life groups when this woman loses her job because she is caring for a child who will never mentally develop past the age of three? While I do not mean to say that there is not nuance to the pro-life position, and I know that there are good groups out there which do provide some assistance after the child has been delivered, the fact is there are not enough such groups. Many organizations focus on seeing that the child is brought to term, and then abandon the mother in order to “save” other babies.  Most often, the mother who has delivered a child with developmental disabilities finds herself alone, having to fend for herself (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13857062/ns/health-childrens_health/t/more-disabled-kids-living-single-women/#.T1p9F3mcySo).

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT advocating that all fetuses that are identified with developmental issues be aborted. While respecting the privacy of my friends, I will say that two of my lifelong friends have a child who has a severe developmental disability. This child is one of the most beautiful, energetic, amazing human beings I have ever met. This child brings a smile to the face of everyone. It is difficult to imagine the world without this wonderful, amazing little girl. But I see how they struggle, and the challenge it has been for them, the strain it has put on them both financially and emotionally. Luckily, they are surrounded by love and support. I have other friends who also parent children with disabilities, and I cherish these children as well. In all cases, though, the parents were provided information about their situation. It was not hidden from them, so they were able to go about preparing themselves. Not knowing, one parent told me, until the day of delivery would have been so much worse than finding out beforehand.

To me, being pro-life is about respecting both the quality and quantity of life. It is about respecting how the lives of the parents and those close to them will be changed by the reality of a disabled child. It is not about eugenics; it is not about wanting to do away with those who are not “normal.” Yet, I do not see how keeping vital information from a pregnant woman is the right of a doctor, and I fail to see how a government can have the ability to reach into an examining room and allow for a trained professional to use his or her own personal feelings as a measuring stick for administering medical advice. How is that being “pro-life”?

In the end, I see this onslaught of laws concerning women’s health to be paternalistic, condescending, and hypocritical. A person who supports the Virginia legislation on the basis that it “provides the greatest deal of information” cannot logically support the Arizona bill, which allows for information to be withheld (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0223/Abortion-wars-Virginia-retreats-on-invasive-probe-in-ultrasound-bill-video). Despite what talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Rielly say, I do see a war on women being unleashed. More to the point, though, if we want to be a society that values lives, why not be honest about the needs of the children and families that live with the challenges presented by severe disabilities? Even Rick Santorum, who has a child with a disability, acknowledges how expensive it is to care for such a child (http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-santorum-explains-his-low-rate-of-charitable-giving-70799/). Mr. Santorum has been blessed to make a very good living and can provide for his family; a vast majority of Americans who have disabled children do not have the financial or family resources available to the former senator. Is that an argument for abortion? Not necessarily. I believe that it is the right of each mother (and father, where applicable) to make that decision, but we should have a serious conversation about how insurance companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations need to provide cradle to grave assistance (financial, emotional, services-based, etc) if we really want to advance “pro-life” values in this country.

The Markan-Buddhist Commentary is on hold

Hello, readers,

There has been a great deal of tumult in your humble narrator’s life as of late. From the death of Judas car to the on-going saga of my grandmother’s resistance to assistance in her dotage, I have found precious little time between work, seminary, church, and my personal life to dedicate to the Biblical commentary I so wish to write. I am placing it on hold as I focus on more pressing responsibilities. I hope to return to it this summer; indeed, I hope to return to my own writing at some point, as I have several books “in the works,” but none close enough to completion to get to a publisher. It has been six years since my last book, and a new one needs to come to the surface.

Until that time, I will attempt to post as I am able on matters that capture my fancy. With so much going on vis-a-vis the presidential election as it pertains to religion and theology, I imagine I will be weighing in more often than not. My apologies to those who were participating in the commentary project; part of my 2012 resolution is to realize when I have bitten off more than I can chew. I find myself in that place once again. Being a full time student as well as a full time professor is quite a challenge, and I am hoping to take on some new projects at church. However, as my church bible study group makes its way through Mark, I might blog periodically about issues that emerge in our discussion. We’ll see how it goes.

May God’s blessings be upon you all. Until next time: be well, do good works, and love one another. I’ll try to do the same.

On behalf of my people…

I am a white male. Ten years ago, I added Christian to that self-description. While not wealthy, my family is financially stable; my parents grew up in working class homes and, because of the availability of state-funded scholarships and the low price of tuition, both secured excellent educations. As a result, I grew up with food on the table and a roof over my head. To be sure, I have had a job since I was thirteen years old, but I have never known true poverty. For most of my life, I have lived paycheck to paycheck, but when the bottom has dropped out, my family has been able to swoop in with a safety net. I tell you all of this because I want to make one point crystal clear: I have never known what it is like to be in an economic, racial, or gender minority. As a white, Christian, American male, I’ve most often walked into a room and seen people who look like me; turned on the television and seen people who look like me; and, on the whole, I grew up idolizing musicians, actors, and other celebrities that look like me. I have never known that it is like to “represent” my gender, race, or faith tradition. I’ve never had the pressure of being the only white, Christian male in a classroom, or been the first white, Christian male to perform a specific job or join a particular group. And while in primary and secondary school I was bullied and teased about as much as anyone else, I was able to slink into the background because, well, there were plenty of other white males around me.

So this is new for me: I would like to apologize for my people.

This has nothing to do with liberal white male guilt. It really doesn’t. But it does have to do with the fact that white, Christian males have really been stinking up the place lately. From Representative Darrell Issa’s sham of a “hearing” on women’s health to Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting attacks on Sandra Fluke (the Georgetown law student charged with being a “slut” and a “prostitute” by El Rushbo because she had the audacity to point out that birth control pills can help prevent the development of ovarian cysts), I have found myself wanting to go up to every woman I meet and explain that not all of us are Neanderthals with no understanding of the female reproductive system. While Issa argues for smaller government, he and other white males in legislatures both State and Federal want to insert (literally) Uncle Sam’s influence into the vaginas of women across the country. Yet, many of these males—I return to his rotundity, Rush Limbaugh—seem to have a basic ignorance about the inner workings of the female anatomy. Rush and Bill O’Reilly think that a woman has to take a birth control pill every single time she has sex, as though it operates like a tablet of Viagra. To wit, Rush has screamed repeatedly into his microphone of hate: “Did it ever occur to you [women who find it difficult to pay for necessary contraceptive care] to stop having so much sex?!” Every time I hear this sound bite, I want to run up to a random woman and say, “I’m so sorry for my people. But I can assure you, I understand the difference between a Fallopian tube and a drinking straw. I paid attention in my government-funded health class, and I work hard at my church to make sure that boys are able to say vagina without giggling and that they don’t regard menstruation as ‘Satan’s doing.’”

I fight the urge to really do this, of course, because , once started, it would be impossible to stop. If I apologize for the trans-vaginal probe bills and my people’s basic ignorance of the female anatomy, I most certainly will need to apologize for the nonsense coming out the mouths of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. Only white men who have never really known persecution can, with a straight face, accuse the first African-American president (who, in the spirit of full disclosure, is a member of my Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ) of oppressing Christians. Only men who each have multiple graduate degrees can accuse a self-made man like President Obama of “being out of touch” and call him a “snob.” I can see myself, depleted of fluids, hallucinating from the sheer exertion required to continue my apologies, crawling from household to household, crying and gnashing my teeth, assuring the good people of this country that not all of us are so ridiculous. That we not only pay attention to history, but that we place it in its proper context. Assuring all who will listen that there are not vomitoriums across the country filled to overflowing because we just now read President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of Church and State.

So I apologize, America. I know a good number of white Christian males who are solid, reasonable people. And I am not trying to assume the mantel of a “minority.” I understand that I am still a white Christian male. But I do, in some way, feel like I am surrounded by a bunch of people who are so different from myself. Suddenly, individuals of the same gender and who are covered by skin of the same hue don’t look like me. I have a hard time finding myself in the Congress and on the airwaves.

So the next time you see me or one of my ilk, and our behavior is different from those other white, Christian males you see on television, I totally understand if you turn to your friends and say, Well, he’s not REALLY a white, Christian male.