Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Response to DanielR - major political issues

I've been in conversation with DanielR at the Daily Episcopalian regarding the different perspectives of liberal and conservative Christians on major political issues. For some reason I've been unable to post my latest response to him on that site, so I'm putting it up here for him to see if he's interested:

Daniel, I'm impressed. I was thinking that there wasn't much more we were going to be able to say to each other, but you substantially altered the tone of the discussion and now there's lots of room to keep talking.

I think that a large part of our disagreement stems from different perspectives on the unborn child and what is done when a woman has an abortion. You say abortion is a tragedy. How big a tragedy is it? What would you honestly compare it to, and what would you say is the magnitude of the loss resulting from having an abortion? When we have clearly answered this question, it will be easier to say what Jesus would do when presented with the option of having a young girl have an abortion.

Regarding your concern for the woman who's been raped, it is also worth looking at the side of the child conceived by the rape. Here's a story of one at least who's glad she wasn't aborted: http://www.righttoliferoch.org/nforgotten.htm, and here's the organization she founded: http://www.stigmatized.org/information.htm

You say that you are not for unlimited unrestricted on-demand abortion, but that is in fact what the courts have required since Roe v. Wade. Would you be willing to see the Supreme Court rescinded Roe v. Wade and turn the responsibility for this decision back to the states? This would allow those states where public opinion runs strongly against abortion to pass laws like those of South Dakota, while permitting those states which support the current status quo to pass laws allowing minors to have abortions without their parents' knowledge or consent. As you've noted, this may not completely please the absolutists, but they would certainly be happier than they are now and they'd be free if they wished to continue the battle for the hearts and minds of individuals at the state level.

Your concern about children being unwanted or unloved has long been a standard argument for abortion, but there is no evidence that the children born since Roe v. Wade have felt more wanted or loved than they did before. If anything the trend appears to be in the opposite direction, with the evidence being that children are valued less than they were before. In some places, families with more than three children are now called "breeders" and are the objects of either pity or scorn. Under such circumstances we will certainly find it more difficult both to encourage women to keep children they would otherwise have aborted or to find people who are willing to adopt the children women cannot raise on their own. This is another reason why decisions on what laws to pass regarding abortion should be left to the states rather than enforced nationally. Those states whose people place a higher value on children will be the more likely to restrict abortion, but will also have a better environment into which children can be adopted.

Regarding evolution, I would teach something like the following: "The generally accepted view among scientists today is that life arose as a result of the random combination of non-living materials and that living creatures evolved to their current level of diversity by a process of natural selection from variations caused by the random mutation of the genes of previously existing creatures. While there is no doubt that the process of evolution caused by random mutation and natural selection (RM&NS) can cause variations among organisms, some scientists are not convinced that life could have spontaneously originated from non-living materials or that it could have acquired its more complex characteristics through RM&NS alone. Some who have expressed this doubt have suggested that it is only through the intervention of some kind of intelligence that life with the kind of complexity that we now see could have come into existence." Unfortunately, efforts to include statements like this in state curricula have so far been struck down as violations of the separation of church and state.

Regarding care for the poor, my wife and I support a small denominationally based organization located in downtown Los Angeles called "Hope Again" that does case management and counselling for people who want to get off the street and learn to take care of themselves. For a fraction of the cost of welfare, they have helped thousands of people get homes, get jobs and get their lives together again. Federal support of such organizations would doubtless be ruled a violation of the separation of church and state (and they might not want it anyhow if it meant the intrusion of federal supervision and regulation), but if I had my choice, I'd rather put my money into organizations like these than into federal programs any day. If the churches mobilize to form more organizations like these, I suspect we could do a lot more to combat systemic poverty than any number of federal programs could.

Laws like the South Dakota law against doctors performing abortions are not an intrusion into "our bedrooms and private lives," they are simply a restatement of the Hippocratic Oath (not, by the way, either a Christian or a Republican document), by which doctors have sworn for over 2000 years that they would "not give to a woman an abortive remedy" (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/doctors/oath_classical.html). You can do what you want in your bedroom in South Dakota, but if you don't like the results, you can't go to a doctor to "fix it."

The reason pro-life people can oppose abortion and support the death penalty at the same time is that we can tell the difference between innocent and guilty life. The unborn child is innocent of any crime, some people are guilty of crimes that are severe enough to warrant their being put to death. To say that someone could torture and murder a dozen people and not deserve the death penalty is to be guilty of an irreverance towards the lives of the victims.


Daniel said...

OK, here goes. Let’s talk about abortion, we can hit the other issues later. I’ll say it again, I’m against abortion. I think it’s a tragedy that happens far too often. But I don’t think we, as Christians, should be able to make it illegal for everyone else. That smacks of Dominionism to me. I think the decision should be up to the individuals involved, within appropriate limits of course. And I applaud Christians who work to help women find other alternatives; responsible birth control is a better option than abortion. For some women adoption may be a better option than abortion, assuming the child can be adopted, which is not always the case as evidenced by the numbers of children in the system who are not getting adopted and will never be adopted. I’m open to compromise, meaning reasonable limits and restrictions on abortion without outlawing it completely.

It seems to be the anti-abortion people who are not willing to compromise. Most people I’ve talked to who support a woman’s right to choose say some limits and restrictions are fine. After that it’s a matter of what limits are acceptable. Should abortion to determine the sex of a child be legal? I think the vast majority would say no. Should a woman be able to abort a fetus that is grossly malformed and not likely to live? I think a higher percentage would say yes to that. Should a 16 year-old girl who’s pregnant from incest be able to have an abortion? How about a 12 year-old? Or a 9 year-old? It seems to be only the anti-abortion advocates who are unwilling to compromise and want to say the 9 year-old who’s pregnant from incest or the woman who’s been raped shouldn’t be able to have an abortion.

How big a tragedy is it? I think that depends on the circumstances. As an example take a 12 year-old girl who’s been raped by her father, is it a bigger tragedy for her to have an abortion or for you to force her to carry that child to term and give birth when her little body is not ready for that, and then to have to decide whether to keep and raise a child when she herself is still a child? What do you think would be the bigger tragedy? Of course, in my opinion it doesn’t matter what you think, because the decision should be up to the individual and, in the case of a minor, her parents or guardians. Why should you be able to decide for them?

As for the woman who was conceived of rape and the organization she founded, I applaud her for following her convictions. I would assume that anyone who is born is glad they weren’t aborted no matter what the circumstances of their conception. As far as I see it her case has no bearing on whether another woman who is raped should have the option of having an abortion.

As for leaving it up to the individual states, that’s a bad idea. Making it illegal in some states and legal in others restricts abortion to those who live in a state where it’s legal and those who are wealthy enough to travel to a state where it is legal. Sure, that would reduce the number of abortions, mainly for the poor who can’t afford to travel to another state where it’s legal. Hardly an equitable system.

The Supreme Court decision was based on a principle of law that had been established in cases prior to the Roe decision; a principle of law which interprets the Constitution as guaranteeing a “fundamental right to privacy” , i.e. issues the govt. has no business regulating, not because the Justices like abortion.

The Roe decision was made in 1973 but that principle of law had been evolving for a while. In the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case the Supreme Court recognized a "right of privacy" which inheres in the various provisions of the Bill of Rights, primarily the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Due Process clause had long been held to have a "substantive" component, providing protection for certain fundamental rights. The ruling in Griswold recognized constitutional protection for the possession of birth control as part of an intimate sphere of marital privacy, and the reasoning of that case had been extended to protect the possession of birth control by non-married couples in 1972's Eisenstadt v. Baird.

To reverse the Roe decision the court would have to hold that individuals have no right to privacy in any form from government intrusion. In the Griswold case the law in question prohibited the use of "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception." By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy." In his dissenting opinion Justice Potter Stewart called the Connecticut statute "an uncommonly silly law," but stated that he thought it was nevertheless constitutional.

In the Eisenstadt case, the law criminalized the use of contraceptives by unmarried couples only, married couples were free to use contraceptives as they desired but since unmarried individuals should not be having sex in the first place they had no need of contraception and therefore were legally prohibited from using them. Yeah, that makes sense. In it’s ruling the court said "If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

The court also struck down a New York law criminalizing distribution of contraceptives to minors under 16, for privacy reasons and also because state law allowed minors under 16 to get married (with parental consent). Minors could get married but not use contraceptives? What morons thought that was a good idea?

So, am I in favor of the Supreme Court reversing it’s decision on Roe? Nope. I don’t want the government telling women of all religions and beliefs that they can’t have abortions based on your version of Christian morality. You can’t even get all Christians to agree with you.

So, how about it? Legalized abortion with appropriate limits and restrictions. Parental consent? OK, as long as there is a judicial bypass process in cases where it is appropriate. No partial birth abortion, unless for reasons I wouldn’t understand it’s necessary to save the mother’s life? Prohibitions against late term abortions unless necessary for the health of the mother? Mandatory counseling before an abortion? IQ testing for the woman to make sure she understands what she’s doing? IQ testing for the fetus to make sure we don’t abort any potential geniuses? What are appropriate limits? I’m open to compromise, are you?

Daniel said...

OK, come on, you can do better than that.

“Laws like the South Dakota law against doctors performing abortions are not an intrusion into "our bedrooms and private lives," they are simply a restatement of the Hippocratic Oath”???

So it would be OK with you if women have abortions, as long as they’re not performed by doctors?

Although mostly of historical and traditional value, the oath is considered a rite of passage for practitioners of medicine. And while the original, written in the 4th century BC, does prohibit abortion, most doctors don’t take the original Hippocratic Oath. Rather, they take the Declaration of Geneva or some similarly updated oath.

The Declaration of Geneva was adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva in 1948 and amended by the 22nd World Medical Assembly at Sydney in 1968. It is a declaration of physicians' dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine. The Declaration of Geneva was intended to update the Oath of Hippocrates, which was no longer suited to modern conditions.

In the 1970s most American medical schools abandoned the Hippocratic Oath as part of graduation ceremonies, usually substituting a version modified to something considered more politically up to date, like the Declaration of Geneva.

Not surprisingly the Declaration of Geneva, or most other updated versions of the oath, does not contain the prohibition against abortion.

I really can’t believe that part of your argument is that we should base our laws on an oath from the 4th century B.C. Do you also want adultery and homosexuality to be capital crimes in accordance with Old Testament scripture?

Daniel said...


I was so looking forward to our conversation. Not that I expect to change you mind on anything, as I hope you don't expect to change mine, but if we can explore the middle ground of compromise perhaps there are still things we both can think about.

Have you just taken a break or is conversation not possible?

Daniel said...

Well, it looks like the Democratic Party figured out that they need to represent the moderate centrist majority of the party rather than catering to the liberal fringe minority. They found some reasonable, moderate men and women of faith to stand up and run for office.

And in many/most cases the Democratic candidates won or at least did well, proving that the citizens of this country want representation they feel accurately represents who they are and what they want.

Except, of course, in Tennessee where the Republican Party made the race about race, running several racist ads in the final days of the campaign and securing the victory for their candidate Bob “Call Me” Corker. The overwhelmingly white Tennessee Baptist Convention claims a membership of 1.1 million in a state with a population of 5.7 million so the wield considerable influence and evidently the would rather vote for a religiously lukewarm white Republican who waffles on the abortion issue than a staunchly religious, pro-life Baptist who happens to be black. Corker and the RNC secured victory by running three overtly racial attack ads in the last week of the race. I guess they know the voters of Tennessee better than Ford who thought race would not be deciding factor.

The voters/citizens don’t want abortion totally outlawed, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote for Democrats and by the voters of South Dakota voting down the abortion ban pushed thru their state government by conservatives against their wishes.

Now if the Democrats can just resist nominating a left-wing liberal atheist and the Republicans can resist nominating a right-wing, hate spewing, fundamental Dominionist for the White House in 2008 it could be a good race.