We know what President Obama has already done respecting abortion. On his 4th day in office, he signed an executive order restoring federal funds to groups overseas who provide abortion alongside “family planning” methods like contraception. (You will hear some correctly refer to this as his “reversing the Mexico City policy,” named after the 1984 Mexico City conference during which the Reagan administration first announced a freeze on U.S. funding of overseas abortion providers).
We also know what Obama has promised to do respecting abortion, via the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, (“FOCA” S. 1173, 2007), legislation he has pledged to sign if it reaches his desk. With this legislation, he would effectively undo 36 years worth of democratically enacted regulations on abortion. Not restrictions, mind you, just regulations. Following the Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania decisions, all abortions in the U.S. go forward if the mother wants them. But citizens in the 50 states have managed to pass widely popular, common-sense and quite incremental “conditions,” on abortion. For example, “informed consent” laws mean that women are entitled to full informed consent about the medical processes of abortion, and sometimes about the help available to them if they decide to give birth to their child. “Conscience clauses” allow religious health care providers to avoid performing or assisting with abortions. Parents of minor girls are usually entitled to notification before their daughters obtain abortions, unless a judge who is a stranger to the girl decides she can go forward anyway. And abortionists cannot kill infants who are partially delivered outside their mothers, or fully delivered, even if the mother and the doctor contracted for an “abortion.” Under FOCA, all of these regulations would likely fall; the law prohibits all laws which “deny or interfere with” a woman’s decision to obtain an abortion, or which “discriminate against the exercise of the rights [to bear a child, or to terminate a pregnancy before or after the child is viable] in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”
What can we conclude about the reasoning process that could lead to such an extreme agenda? Is it an obsession with abortion? Are such laws the price that supporters have to pay to repay the extremists among their constituents, the very people and institutions who made their victories possible? Here I am referring to groups like the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Organization of Women. Or perhaps it is simply easier for politicians to “deliver” to their political base a pro-legal-abortion executive order, or piece of legislation, than it is to deliver things like an economic stimulus package, renewable energy, or peace in the Gulf.
It’s unrealistic to conclude that political calculations of these types play no role in decision making about abortion. But it seems reductionist, and maybe even disrespectful to conclude that politics tells the entire story here. How could persons make decisions about abortion without any reference to a set of values that go beyond politics? Especially today, when the genetic and embryologic sciences make it more clear than ever how very human and alive is the human person in his or her mother’s womb? I think that there is a particular set of values or a “world view,” underlying such abortion decision making. It is not, however, a view which is congenial to average Americans. By “average,” I mean the more than 80% of Americans who subscribe to a religion involving a personal God ( See, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, at religions.pewforum.org/reports). In a 2004 interview by reporter Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun Times, now-President Obama gave the outline of this world view. On the subject of “prayer” for example, Obama stated that it’s an “ongoing conversation with God,” which he interpreted to mean that he’s “constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it,” and that he’s “measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible.” When asked “Do you believe in sin?” he answered in the affirmative, thereafter defining sin as “ being out of alignment with my values.” (blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/11/obamas-interview-with-cathleen.html  , emphasis added)
What we are hearing here is a description of a world-view which does not appear to include a creator-God. It does not appear either to include a God who made every human person to be equally in his image and likeness, or a God who authors truth or a plan for human beings which can be glimpsed in the world, or an authoritative God who determines good and evil. An embrace of nearly unlimited abortion is very very likely to be found in such a world view because it is an issue on which one side holds the opinion — against millennia of religious and moral tradition, and even against the evidence of our own senses – that it’s legitimate, even an affirmative good in some instances, to kill another human being. In fact, we are speaking of a human being who happens to be intrinsically vulnerable, and utterly dependent upon the care of others, first and foremost his or her mother. (See for example Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) in which she posits abortion as the linchpin of women’s modern freedoms. See also NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website on which they encourage supporters to “celebrate” the Roe v. Wade anniversary, www.naral.org.). You will have to think hard (save for euthanasia and assisted suicide) to find another issue on which people actually take such a stance. A 1990 Wirthlin study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and studies since, have shown that it is far more likely for those who eschew the regular practice of a faith to take such a position.
Furthermore, it is not hard to see how this world view would not only lead to support for abortion, but also to blindness toward other human rights – via FOCA or another law — that most people would hold to be “God-given.” It’s also not hard to see how such a perspective might be willing to employ dishonest or degrading arguments in order to achieve its ends. For example FOCA’s preamble posits that women’s ability to abort their children is a necessary precondition for their equal participation in modern “economic and social life.” (S. 1173, Sec. 2(7)). This is a world view that is imprisoned within the limits of its own “reason.” Faced with rape, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, poverty, teen sex, and even conflicts between work and family, it cannot see any “rational” answer but destroying the life it can only see as a burden. It cannot see that life as a “gift,” or grasp humans’ need to love and care for others as the very path to our full realization or salvation. Where nothing is “given” by an authoritative, transcendent figure, “reason” will tend to supply only pragmatic, and often short-sighted, responses to difficult questions.
Such a world view would not understand parents’ pre-eminent rights to educate and care for their children, and would easily topple parental notification laws. It would not understand the human right to practice a religion as deserving of any particular respect, and would easily quash the conscience rights of those whose loyalty to a higher authority precludes them from becoming involved in destroying life. The “givens” of our physical bodies are out too. They don’t mean or indicate anything. They are not “ God – given” but rather eminently manipulable by superior intellects. Partial-birth or born alive “abortion” is therefore “in.” All of this “makes sense” in the context of a world view in which one’s own limited reason is king and a higher authority is out.
What are we do when faced with power which does not appeal to a higher authority even when the subject is life or death. Power which, in the words of the head of the Pontifical Council for Life, “arrogan[tly]” “believes they are right, in signing a decree which will open the door to abortion and thus to the destruction of human life." (See, www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=14884  ).
Prayers for conversion come to mind, immediately. I think these are indispensable at this time. What more can be done? Resubmit the increasingly detailed and impressive scientific evidence about the humanity of the unborn child. Or point to the building evidence (especially the European studies) about women’s suffering after abortion. At the least, perhaps we could ask our newly elected President and like-minded members of Congress supportive of FOCA, to respect the democratic majorities of every single state who have for 36 years, labored to pass the laws we have today which do the little we can do, post-Roe, to express our respect for nascent, vulnerable human life.
(c) 2009 Culture of Life Foundation. Reproduction granted with attribution required.