Abortion: Defusing the Bomb

Warning: if you are incapable of maintaining composure and levelheadedness when exposed to viewpoints that differ radically from your own, do not read this blog. I am 100% serious. Go look at pictures of kittens. In fact, even if you plan to read this, may as well open a new tab with kitten pictures just in case. Or, better yet, momongas. Or red panda cubs. Now then…

I missed the deadline to register to vote. I’m not particularly upset about that. As a New Yorker, I already know which candidate my state’s electoral votes are going towards (and as for local elections, I wasn’t well informed enough to responsibly vote anyway). Whoever wins this presidential election will inevitably bring good and bad, and I guess it’s our inability to agree on who will bring what that leads to such divisiveness. For what it’s worth, I think socialism is the greatest danger to economic prosperity and true social justice, and as Obama’s policies tend toward that extreme I fear for the economic impact he will have. I also fear for the rights of religious institutions to freely practice what they feel convicted to practice. Already church-funded institutions are being asked to provide medical care they have moral problems with. How long before church-based charitable organizations have their tax-free status completely revoked on the basis of their unwillingness to compromise on certain doctrinal issues?

Romney is hardly a knight in shining armor either. While his business practices will likely lead to better economic recovery there is sure to be a cost, and I’m honestly not sure what that cost will be. Many have already noted that they’re not voting on the basis of things like guns, homosexuality, or the environment, because jobs and the economy are more important. And while that’s good, if Romney wins many of these people will likely find themselves in an America in which they have a job but have taken a hit on the other fronts about which they care.

There is one issue, however, which I really would like to address, because I have seen far too many rallying cries from my more liberal friends and it has gotten to the point where I honestly cannot remain silent. I am sick of being painted black, and sicker still of the many with whom I agree who have done nothing to address this problem. I speak, as it were, about abortion.

A great many people seem to be under the impression that this is a women’s rights issue. They couch their platform in language that conveys that abortion is about a woman deciding what happens within her own body. On the basis that some women do not have a choice about becoming pregnant — that some are forced to have sex, which is the natural process leading to pregnancy — they argue that for a woman to truly have “choice,” she must be able to terminate a pregnancy regardless of whether the conception was consensually brought to term.

This of course brings up a great many other issues which are also trumpeted as women’s rights: contraceptives and morning after pills are considered critical and necessary healthcare for which advocates of this position want the government to pay (using, of course, the tax dollars of plenty of people whose moral and religious convictions expressly forbid such things). Nevermind the fact that sexual intercourse is (with rare exception) a completely optional part of life, and that any healthcare which addresses its consequences must also be considered optional. While I won’t stoop to the depth of one infamous radio host, I can sympathize with his point: the only women who can honestly say they need these services are those who refuse to stop having sex until they are ready to have a pregnancy.

I’ll allow for the possibility of oversimplification. Contraceptives aren’t my point here, and to be honest I’ve never really given much thought to the ethics of using them. I don’t subscribe to a religious doctrine that has a hard and fast law (of which I’m aware, at any rate) regarding their use, and even if I did I’m neither a woman nor a husband and so am currently indifferent.

What is my point, however, is the sort of thinking that has led many Americans to argue for optional consequence-dampeners as fundamental entitlements to be paid for out of my pockets. It’s the sort of thinking that says that anyone who disagrees with such practices “hates women,” “will take away women’s rights,” “will set us back a hundred years” and all the other ways in which you can say that a man who has a problem with funding contraception is a troglodyte.

Contraception is as much an economic issue as it is a moral one, but it’s been painted as a civil liberties case and thus opponents of its flag bearers are set as enemies to freedom. And so with abortion. Time and again I’m told that my stance against the practice means I am trying to limit the fundamental rights of a free and equal woman. Our dialogue brings that nomenclature to bear: I call myself “pro-life,” but you call me “anti-choice.” I say “the choice was to have sex,” you say “not all women have that choice.” I say “not the point,” you say “Agreed. The point is it’s my body, and the government needs to get their hands off of it.” I say the government needs to intercede and you say screw off.

The problem here is that abortion is not a civil liberties issue, and it’s not a women’s rights issue. Perhaps, more accurately, the problem is that people like me don’t view it as a civil liberties issue, and our entire position is framed from a completely different conceptual universe from those who support it. The same evil you see in those ostensibly trying to keep women in an inferior position to men is an evil I see in you, for something arguably far more pernicious than chauvinism: murder.

I define life as beginning at conception.

That is as simple as I can make it, but people seem to miss the point. I earnestly, and deeply, and beyond any shadow of doubt believe that. And with that belief there are certain intractable conclusions by which I stand and stake my position. If life begins at conception, then termination of that life must be considered the same regardless of whether it is done at 10 years, 10 months, or 10 days from its start. We have legal and ethical frameworks for defining what the termination of a human life is. We call it murder.

I see abortion as the termination of human life.
I see abortion, therefore, as murder.
I see those who have and provide abortions as murderers, or accomplices to murder.
I see those who support abortion the same way I would see a person who candidly and with unwavering conviction told me that they thought shooting or stabbing other people was a perfectly acceptable practice if that person inconvenienced or endangered you, or infringed on your wants and needs in any way.

The question of whether the murderer is a man or a woman never enters the equation. I do not believe anyone has a “right to murder.” To the extent that abortion is a civil liberties issue, it is a matter of the right to life for the unborn — not a right to choice for the woman who, I daresay in most cases, at least had a choice when it came to the intercourse. And while I will never, ever justify rape or make excuses for a rapist, two wrongs have never been considered the path to righteousness. Committing murder because you’re a victim of rape does not paint you in a sympathetic light, and I’m not sure why anyone would think it would.

I do not hate women. In fact, I generally prefer them to men. I get along with them better, I feel more comfortable with them. I would rather talk with a woman, learn from a woman, be cared for by a woman, work with a woman, play games with a woman. And whenever I see a woman treated as inferior — be it receiving unequal pay, slander, coarse joking, or any of the myriad ways in which men mistreat the fairer sex — it bothers me greatly.

But when it comes to abortion, this is not that. Don’t kid yourself into thinking my position is as simple as feeble-minded bigotry, and don’t shame yourself by disregarding me as another woman-hating white man with antediluvian ethics. I stand against something that has always been wrong and defy those who would redefine the limitations on the inalienable right of all humans to life. And in our discourse, I think it’s critical to treat one another with the respect to which we claim to believe all people are entitled.

Stop calling me anti-choice; give me the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume I believe what I do because I don’t like women having freedom. Likewise, I’ll assume you don’t support murder, and I won’t do you the indignity of calling you anti-life. Our disagreement lies in our definition of where human life begins, and that is the only battlefield worth fighting on because all the other fights are distractions from that one, simple point. Argue elsewhere on either side and you slip into the stereotypes of the other side’s framing. A person who believes life begins at conception had better not be supporting abortion in any circumstances whatsoever. A person who believes otherwise has no basis for limiting who has access to the abortions he or she believes acceptable. I see no margin for exception that cannot rightly be defined as hypocrisy.

This political season has brought out the worst in so many of us, and frankly I’m glad I can’t vote, because I’ve been relieved of the burden of responsibility temporarily. It’s replaced with a guilt that I did not do all I could to ensure that the way I view things is the way our nation is run; but then this issue, like so many others, isn’t won with a ballot. Electing a “pro-life” candidate won’t convince people that life begins at conception anymore than electing a “pro-choice” candidate will convince people it doesn’t.

I’ve used strong language here, partly because I’m naturally aggressive and partly because I wanted to leave no room for the typical equivocations and qualifications I tend to use to hash up so much of the conviction from which I write. I don’t want to start fights and I don’t want to offend and make people hate one another. If I have offended you because I’ve called you a murderer or murder sympathizer, perhaps it will help to consider that you’ve been calling me a woman-hating bigot for years and that hasn’t stopped me from getting along with you. All I hope to have accomplished is to diffuse things a little bit with clarification, and give you — whichever side of this divide you’re on — a reason to take pause next time you’re about to share or post some partisan blog or slogan and consider the terms in which we phrase this delicate, heated discussion. We both believe that people are equal and important; in our endeavors to defend those truths, let us not make the mistake of dehumanizing those who oppose us. It may be inconvenient, it may be hard, but in the end we’ll all be better off for showing our enemies just a little love.

All that aside, abortion is not likely to be a major issue in this election, and what I’m about to say is not meant to be associated with what I just said:

If you, unlike me, are registered, I encourage you to go and vote tomorrow for a candidate you can honestly say you believe in, and I truly, truly mean that. I do not care who you vote for. I think there are extremely valid reasons for supporting either of the main candidates. I also think there are reasons to vote for neither of them. So if you can’t honestly say you believe in any candidate, I encourage you not to vote. Because there’s no sense betraying your own conscience to support a platform officially with which you emotionally or psychologically disagree, particularly if they win and you find yourself in years to come regretting having done so. So many people will tell you that there’s no such thing as a vote that “doesn’t count.” If you believe that, then act on it: value your suffrage, and use it with conviction and intent. The right to vote entails the right to withhold a vote.

May your decision tomorrow — whether Obama, Romney, Other, or none — be calculated and honest, and may our nation’s future be one of hope, however the ballots fall.

Regarding North Carolina

It’s fair to say that I’m writing against my better judgment, because no matter how I say what I’m about to I’m guaranteed to really bother some of you, and since when is generating ill feeling ever advisable? It isn’t, really. But sadly, the generation of ill feeling wasn’t begun by me — it has been more or less a torrent ever since the news of Amendment 1’s passage. Seeing what North Carolina did has made a lot of people angry; and in their anger, they’ve angered me. This isn’t an angry blog, though. I wrote it (and I hope you’ll read it) in a very calm, mild mood. I’d like to keep this purely political — of course it can’t be — but I figure getting the politics out first will hopefully establish a bit of common ground before the religious earthquake that follows.

I am, and have openly been for a couple years now, a libertarian. For me at least, this means that I distrust large government — any major nexus of political clout, really. Moreover, even if I did trust the government to do The Right Thing, I would question its right to do so and its means. I’ve written in the past (and said more frequently) that, for example, I think Social Security and most forms of Welfare need to go away. That’s not because I hate old people or poor people. It’s not even because I don’t think they have a legitimate need for money (and the things for which money is necessary).

It’s because I see the helping of the disenfranchised as a personal responsibility that neither can nor ought to be forced or enacted by bureaucracy. And the money used to run those programs is money that ought to be ours to do with as we choose. I’ve called Ayn Rand brilliant, maintaining that without knowing it she created the perfect Christian theory in objectivism — at the core, it is the belief that those who create wealth are the only ones who have a right to decide what’s done with it. The only difference between Rand and I is that I see the wealth of men as created by God — and thus His commands (to be charitable, for example) cannot be superseded.

I read recently that Jesus did not tell us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked only insomuch as doing so did not interfere with free market economics. And while it’s true that our politics should never hinder our adherence to the faith, it’s also true that Jesus told his followers to do those things. He did not tell us to force other people to do them. He did not tell us to form organizations which steal people’s income and use it for causes we consider optimal. While many nonbelievers no doubt will and do act equally (or, sadly, far more) charitably than believers, the fact remains that that ought to be a free choice.

Perhaps worse than the mere act of compulsory “charity” via tax-funded welfare is the effect it has no doubt had on Americans: by taking more money, the government leaves less in our hands, thus lessening our capacity to be personally charitable. And as anyone who recognizes the name Kitty Genovese will know, we have a natural tendency to see problems and assume someone else will take care of them. When we see a homeless person on the side of the road (and if we’re not so cynical that we assume he’s scamming us), we are conditioned to think that someone else — Uncle Sam, in particular — is going to take care of them eventually. If no welfare program existed, perhaps our response would be like that of the fabled Samaritan: if I don’t help that person now, who will?

That all may be tangential, but I think it’s important. Even when the influence of government results in things which I wholeheartedly think need to be done, I disagree on principal: the government should interfere as little as possible with people’s lives. Barring the rare situations where life is actually endangered, legislation about the life choices of individuals has no place in a society comprised of “free” men and women.

My issue with Amendment 1 goes a bit deeper than libertarian politics, but those are a fair part of it. Thankfully this is a state mandate and not a federal one — and therefore, if one actually likes democracy, a lot closer to the way lawmaking ought to be done — but something tells me even if it were a local government’s decision people would be getting up in arms. Our Constitution allows for increasingly small groups of people to lay out the rules by which their community will live, but apparently there are some rules that are unacceptable regardless of how many people agree on them.

The seemingly obvious parallel (and many are taking it) is the race issue of the last century. There are enough problems with that line of thinking that I’d prefer to avoid it, though I appreciate why people have said what they have. Suffice to say there are still a lot of people who feel that people back then “had it right.” There are still shocking displays of racism in this country, but by and large those who hold to such views have become the exception rather than the rule and no longer have dominance over politics in this country.

Is homosexuality our generation’s version of the sixties? Will people indeed look back with horror and shame on the way people like me felt about LGBTQ? Will they shake their head at the reasons for those feelings? I suppose in the interest of humility it’s worth admitting the possibility, however remote. But if I honestly thought this was the same thing, then I couldn’t very well maintain a position on the issue, could I?

As for Amendment 1, it comes down to this: technically, it was democracy how it ought to be. If enough people living in the state of North Carolina agree that they don’t want something, then far be it from anyone to tell them they have to have it. Tactless or not, the truth is that if people don’t like it, they don’t have to live in North Carolina.

Obviously, not everyone agrees with my views on federal vs. state sovereignty. I may be crazy to suggest that the founding fathers placed a premium on the independence of states, that federal mandates attempting to force states to comply to a set of beliefs they disagree with are inherently wrong. No doubt someone will try to get a federal court to reverse this amendment, and all the Americans calling the citizens of North Carolina “bullies” for forcing their beliefs on North Carolinians will ironically become the same bullies, forcing their beliefs on all Americans.

It seems to me that the only legitimate way to overturn Amendment 1 (or any of the many other laws that various states have passed to prevent homosexual marriage) is via Constitutional amendment which renders the states’ actions unconstitutional. Such an amendment requires (my grade school history’s admittedly a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure it’s something like) 75% of the country to agree, because, you know, if you’re going to force your opinions on people (while claiming that forcing opinions is wrong) then you’d best have an overwhelming majority agreeing to do so.

And there’s the system. We are the United States of America — not just “America.” Which means that the states are individual places in which people live, and not every state needs to agree with every other state. A state has every right to do whatever it pleases to do unless A, doing so breaks existing federal law or B, federal law is changed in such a way as to render that activity unacceptable.

Of course, whether or not Amendment 1 is “technically” okay doesn’t really alter anyone’s opinion on it, which brings me to my real problem with the whole “gay marriage” thing in general: the definition of marriage. Because when you want to come along and say “that’s not marriage, that doesn’t fit within my parameters for marriage” then you’ve really got to know what those parameters are. In my case I realized that the whole sanctity of marriage versus civil unions thing is part of a larger problem, and that’s the fact that government is involved with marriage at all.

I’m not an expert on law or theology. There are nuances here of which I admittedly am ignorant. But my gut reaction is to say that much of what people consider part of getting married is all to do with tradition and not much to do with the actual origins of the institution. Christians love to talk about how the Bible defines marriage as “one man and one woman” but in addition to the fact that that phrase never appears in quotations there’s the matter of a few Old Testament kings whom God adored. Lest your forget, it was God Himself who lavished upon Solomon the riches he came to possess, including a preposterous number of wives — that’s plural — and concubines. What that says about God and scripture’s actual view of women (whether equality between sexes is a Biblical reality or not) is something I’m still not positive of myself. But it’s also irrelevant, so I’ll move on.

One thing I am sure of is that Biblical marriage is a triune covenant: a man, a woman, and God. Without God as witness, a marriage isn’t a marriage, at least not according to scripture. So before we even consider who the two people at the altar are, we must consider the presence (or lack thereof) of the only officiant who actually matters.

The marvel of our society is that you don’t need to believe in God — in any god — to get married. You don’t even have to go to a church. Want to get it done in a courtroom, like a business transaction? Go for it. In Vegas you can hit up a drive-thru. As far as our government is concerned, you just tied the knot. You’re a union. Congratulations.

The sheer existence of such a thing as a drive-thru wedding presents, in my mind, two options. Either such weddings are a sham, and don’t constitute marriage at all, or else they are equal with any other marriage. In the former case, we need to do some legal revisions, because as I said the government considers them real so if we know better, we should make sure they do too. Sadly, I think most lean towards the latter case. And I’m sorry, but if a drunken night in Nevada can produce a real “marriage” then I’m afraid there’s no sanctity left to preserve in the first place.

Feelings on homosexuality aside, proponents of same-sex marriage have it right: heterosexuals have done plenty to erode the “sanctity” themselves. Our divorce rates are preposterously high. Prenups are widespread. Homosexuals may not bring improvements to the institution but they’d be hard-pressed to make it any worse. Moreover, at least for now, civil unions are so difficult to achieve that partners who fight for years to get them aren’t likely to break them off anytime soon; quite likely the legalization of gay marriage would cause the divorce rate to plummet, at least for the near future.

But back to the triune thing. From a Christian standpoint, if any component of that trinity is missing, it’s not a Biblical marriage. That means if there’s not a man, a woman, and God, it’s not a Biblical marriage. This discounts not only homosexual unions, but the unions of any nonbeliever. You can’t have “Holy matrimony” without belief in holiness. You can have lots of other things — beautiful, loving, fulfilling relationships; commitment and perseverance; incredible sacrifice — but a Biblical marriage? No.

In fact, as far as the Bible’s concerned, marriage has almost nothing to do with love. Most relationships were, in fact, just business transactions. Women were chattel, sold to the highest bidder. And while I’m not suggesting that we regress to the customs of ancient people, I am suggesting that using caution when pointing to the Bible for how marriage ought to be is prudent. Because as I said earlier, much of what we call marriage today is really built on relatively new cultural standards and tradition that doesn’t even go back a thousand years, let alone two or four.

So love’s not the standard of whether two people are married. The only standard is the gravity of the covenant, and its sovereignty in the eyes of God. And one can neither leave God out and still have a marriage nor ignore God’s standards and expect Him to approve.

All of this really comes down to the fact that we call an incredible number of civil partnerships marriages that, at least from a Biblical standard, aren’t. Yes, there are crossovers — a marriage officiated in a courtroom can easily, and without ceremony, be a real marriage so long as God is part of the relationship — but the point is that many, many people in this country are considered married despite not meeting Biblical criteria, and never before have we gotten up in arms about nomenclature.

Because this is “a free country.” And while I personally adhere to the Bible, and I view reality according to what it says, I recognize that the laws of this land are not to be dictated by my personal convictions. And so, while I read scripture and am told that God considers homosexuality an abomination — and thus cannot accept it as a good or God-pleasing lifestyle, certainly not one that ought to be officiated and celebrated — I would no more fight to prevent gay “marriages” than fight to disband atheist “marriages” or Buddhist “marriages” or Muslim “marriages.”

The only thing I do think may be worth fighting for is the language itself, because I’ve used quotation marks far too many times in this passage around things that weren’t quotes. The truth is, no matter what the law happens to say today or fifty years from now, the word “marriage” is already useless. We fight and even people who agree on what it doesn’t mean don’t have any sense of agreement on what it does. They put up flimsy claims that their position is staked on some greater authority but they can’t prove it. Because they’ve gotten things confused. The Bible may say homosexuality is wrong, but it has no bearing on legal bonds and tax breaks and bank accounts and all the other things that American “marriages” affect. And if our government seeks to recognize people for sticking together as unique from individuals who happen to like each other temporarily, then I don’t see why it matters who those people are. It will never be a marriage the way the Bible defines it, but then precious few marriages in this country are.

And I suppose that I haven’t much more to say. A great many of you will disagree with me because you don’t agree with the Bible. And that’s fine. Like I said, it’s a free country. But at least I have an external basis for my position, and I’m not just “going with my gut.” If you have some other basis for absolute truth, then I’m glad for you. If not, well…if you don’t believe in a definite truth, then you can’t really have an interest in disproving me anyway, right?

As for those who do believe in the Bible, and moreover believe it to be infallible (for otherwise, what’s the point?), but believe that there is indeed room for scriptural acceptance of homosexuality: I’ve put a lot of time into trying to find such room in a way that isn’t merely convenient and hypocritical. I’ve read a great many people’s thoughts on it and have always found flaws. As such, while I am willing to read and consider opposing views, I find it highly unlikely that I will change my mind on the matter.

So that covers the religious aspect. As for the politics — because oftentimes those are the bigger shock — suffice to say that so long as I agree with the Declaration of Independence I will be a libertarian, and I will consider those who aren’t to be lacking in some fundamental understanding of the implications of being free and equal people. Such are, as the term is en vogue, bullies, even the most well-meaning of the bunch.

I’ve written quite a bit more than I intended and, admittedly, didn’t do the best job sticking to North Carolina. I’m leaving comments open unless they begin to drip with vitriol. But if you have pressing thoughts on anything I’ve raised here, my guess is they’re too nuanced to adequately address in a comment, and may warrant further discussion (particularly if you aren’t merely disagreeing with me but actually disproving). In such a case I welcome emails. If I get enough of a response to warrant a follow-up post, it’ll happen. But for now, I’ll shut up.

Take a deep breath.

Now if you have something to say, do.