05 May 2022

Abortion and the cost of rhetoric (repost) ... and goodbye to the Atlantic for now.

In the straits of Gibraltar ... lights of the North African coast are discernible off starboard side of ship.
First port after Atlantic crossing: Málaga, Spain. This evening I'm writing from Madrid.

I first published this post, Abortion and the cost of rhetoric, back at the time of the first round of intentionally provocative anti-abortion legislation in several states. It may be coming to pass that more recent state legislation is now making those legislators' dreams come true, as at least part of the U.S. Supreme Court appears to be drooling over the political bait represented by those new laws.

The preamble of the original post seems out of date, but my personal struggle with the issue itself has not changed, so it seems worth posting my arguments again. For me, the whole thing is made more pointed by the fact that so many people with whom I usually agree seem to be eager to find political gold in the draft Supreme Court opinion that is drawing so much attention. And I agree that it is urgent to find anything that serves as genuine warning of the authoritarian, white-nationalist future that awaits us if the Supreme Court becomes totally politicized. I just don't like the convenient assumption that being anti-abortion automatically correlates with support for that dismal future.

Here's most of that original post:

For much of my adult life, I've been in the perverse position of opposing abortion while at the same time opposing most anti-abortion rhetoric. Right now, as the controversy swirls around the Alabama law and similar attempts elsewhere, there are three reckless inconsistencies that gnaw at me:

First: the new "heartbeat laws" are far more extreme than most anti-abortion advocates have advanced in the past. The new laws seem to represent a calculated tactic: their dramatic clash with the relatively moderate U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision would (they hope) inevitably lead to a chance to reverse it. According to polls, even Americans who oppose abortion still wish to reserve that option for rape and incest cases, but in Alabama's case, the law could punish abortion providers more severely than rapists....

In any case, tactical extremism just adds to the impression that brass-knuckle politics will, once again, make dialogue all but impossible. It makes me see double: are the bill's supporters being truly idealistic in their maximalist stance, or are they cynically exaggerating their true positions for a political gain?

Second: while both pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates count many women among their participants, a large percentage of anti-abortion legislators are men. For example, every Alabama state senator who voted for their new law was male; the state's four women senators opposed the bill. It seems beyond strange that so much veto power over women's health decisions is still exercised by men -- and those men seem, as a group, to be unembarrassed by this discrepancy and unenthusiastic about working for a more representative politics.

Third: both sides exploit the Bible. This is also an old story -- abortion opponents have one way of looking at Scripture; pro-choice advocates have another. The cost of this proof-texting approach: the secular observer concludes, in the words of the ancient cliche, "You can make the Bible say whatever you want." The "orthodox" and "progressives" of James Davison Hunter, or George Lakoff's "strict fathers" and "nurturant parents" -- all can find what they pragmatically need in the Bible to bash opponents and thereby gratify their main audiences.

The actual Bible is achingly ambiguous about the "sanctity" of life. My serious summary: life is precious, except when it isn't. Babies are precious, except when they're not. My opposition to abortion is not based on any specific Bible verse, but on the whole tradition that is summed up by the "consistent life ethic" -- which opposes abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, militarism, social and economic injustice, violence in all its devious and addictive forms. Are there other traditions of biblical interpretation? Yes, of course. Can I prove that the "consistent life" interpretation is more correct? No! Does it even command the respect of most Christians? I doubt it.

However, for me there's a persuasive consistency of this "seamless garment" approach to following the Prince of Peace. It's internally consistent: the unborn life is important, but its survival is no more guaranteed than that of the life that has emerged into the world. Just as we ask for sacrifices and communal responses in situations where conception was unanticipated, we ask for sacrificial and communal responses to injustice. We ought to be just as diligent in caring for the born as for the unborn, knowing that all our outward fortunes are uncertain, all of us require care and mercy. It's consistent with the loving kindness and mercy of the God of the Bible. And, just as Jesus and Paul demand, it rejects the hypocrisy of forms for the countercultural reality of the Good News.

This persuasive consistency, I think, would go a long way toward subverting the rigid categories of anti-abortion and pro-choice campaign mentalities. As a first practical step of mercy, we could gain the capacity to describe those we disagree with in terms that they themselves would recognize. (See Katelyn Beaty's "The Abortion Conversation Needs New Language.") And while we slowly build friendships around the complex shared challenge of reducing abortions, we may also find new allies for those other consistent life challenges: injustice, militarism, and all other threats to life.

Some time after this original post, I wondered whether women were not considered capable of making their own ethical decisions. Does your morality measure up?

Forgive yet another male evangelical writer weighing in on abortion, but Chris Gehrz's ability to keep the real-life complexity of the concern front and center, and be skeptical about quick legal fixes, is very welcome.

Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) hold their annual meeting in three online sessions, starting in two days: Saturday, May 7. The schedule is here; the registration form is here. I will be part of a panel of bloggers on the third day of the meeting, May 21.

Nina Belyaeva, a legislator on Semiluk District Council, Voronezh region, Russia, may be the first person investigated for opposition to Russia's war on Ukraine on religious grounds.

Nancy Thomas on old romance: The trees talk...

Kim Wilson, Kid Andersen, and a great band: "High and Lonesome."

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