Today commemorates the 45th anniversary of the Roe V Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion in all 50 states. Given the fact that, thanks to the tireless activism of pro-life activists, there is only one remaining abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi, it is safe to say that Mississippi is one of the most pro-life states in the U.S. The state’s sole remaining clinic is frequently the target of protests from groups like Pro-Life Mississippi among others. Unfortunately, though, even in Mississippi there are many people who have what might be called a “compartmentalized” view about abortion—people who say they are “personally opposed” to abortion, but nevertheless very much want Roe V Wade to remain the law of the land.
A year and a half ago this position was articulated by Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate. A Roman Catholic himself, he said he was opposed to abortion, but in favor of abortion on demand remaining legal. Some object to the very notion of saying one is personally opposed to something, while wanting to take no political action to prevent it. Does this make one’s “opposition” insincere?
Speaking in general, and not about abortion specifically, opposing something as immoral while simultaneously advocating that it ought to remain legal is not necessarily intellectually dishonest. Everyone who believes in the first amendment takes this position. The first amendment permits people to say heinous things that, practically all sensible agree, ought not to be said. However, the first amendment is intended to protect people’s right to free speech, even if that means speech that is offensive to us. Whether it’s bigoted editorials in the local newspaper, or other forms of racist, sexist, or otherwise hostile speech, all of these—so long as they don’t present a “clear and imminent danger” to someone—are protected by the first amendment. We, as a society, therefore have taken the position that just because someone’s words are immoral, this doesn’t mean they should be illegal. As Moody Radio commentator Janet Parshall has said, the way to combat error isn’t to strong arm those speaking error and prevent them from talking; rather, the solution is to combat false words with true ones.
A similar example is the use of “illegal substances” and what is currently known as the War on Drugs. Some people wince at how Libertarians generally favor legalizing marijuana. The desire to see drugs—marijuana, at least—decriminalized need not spring from a lax attitude towards drug use itself. One can believe drug use to be wrong, while not believing it should be illegal, just as one can believe bigoted writings or binge drinking to be immoral, while not arguing that it should illegal.
However much some people may wish for the government to “legislate morality”, generally speaking the government stays out of moral controversies unless someone’s well being is at stake. What about the well being of a binge drinker? Well, so long as he is harming no one but himself, the government sees no need to intervene. Of course, if he gets on the highway while intoxicated, that becomes a different story.
All that said, what about the abortion issue? Does the position of people who claim to be “personally opposed” to abortion, while supporting its legality, stand up under scrutiny? People cannot use the, “I believe it’s immoral, but it should still be legal” approach regarding abortion, because with abortion, just like drinking and driving, someone’s well-being is at stake. Because with abortion unborn babies are at stake, we cannot take a “live and let live” approach as we might do in a scenario where the person committing an immoral act is hurting no one but himself.
This is why it is illogical to take a “the government should stay out of the issue” stance regarding abortion. It fails to grapple with the seriousness of the issue. The mantra, “People should be free to do whatever they feel like doing as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else” breaks down when applied to abortion because the unborn baby is being hurt. If government has any role at all, surely it at least involves keeping babies from slaughtered. Our freedom to follow our whims ends if it interferes with the freedom of another person to live in safety. Even free speech is unregulated only until or unless it poses an imminent danger—yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, for instance.
Tim Kaine was certainly not the first high profile candidate to articulate an “I’m personally against it, but I don’t believe the government should do anything about it” approach to abortion. 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, also a Catholic, gave an answer very similar to Kaine’s in a debate with George W. Bush. This kind of answer has become standard fair for Roman Catholics who are politically left-leaning. Imagine for a moment if Tim Kaine’s approach to abortion had been Abraham Lincoln’s attitude to slavery. Imagine if it had been Martin Luther King Jr.’s attitude towards segregation. When some great injustice is plaguing society, merely saying “I’m not personally in favor of it” doesn’t magically mean one isn’t culpable; failure to oppose injustice makes one complicit in injustice. Many people, not directly affected by crisis pregnancies, might consider the abortion debate to not be personally relevant in their lives. But Dr. King understood that when injustice triumphs, everyone ultimately suffers. As he famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Incidentally, when speaking of the injustice of the abortion industry, we must keep in mind that the victims are not only the babies themselves, but very often the mothers also. We wrongly alienate them is we broad brush them all as villains. Women are deceived into thinking that they can get an abortion without causing themselves physical harm. This is untrue—women who get abortions are at a greater risk of having breast cancer. They’re also told no mental/emotional harm will follow, and this is also untrue—women who get abortions do tend to wrestle with depression afterwards. They are told that, when they are in a crisis situation, abortion is their best, if not their only, option. They are deceived into believing that abortion is simply a woman doing something to her own body. They are told that what is growing inside their womb is not a unique human being endowed with personhood.
These lies can be found right here in Mississippi. In 2011 enough Mississippians apparently bought into this skewed thinking to effectively kill the proposed Personhood Amendment. I remember recently seeing a bumper sticker on a car in Jackson that read, “Pro-Family, Pro-Child, Pro-Choice”. The abortion industry, and the mainstream media, for that matter, fosters these myths about the harmlessness of abortion and women—many of them sincerely misguided—are harmed as a result. If one is a pro-woman feminist, in the best sense of that term, one must oppose the abortion industry that preys upon vulnerable women, to cash in on their crises.
Of course, some women who choose abortions are not in a crisis situation; they just prefer not to have children, or prefer to wait. For them, abortion is a preference, rather than a medical or economic necessity. If stats can be trusted, most abortions (and there are approximately 4,000 performed nationwide everyday) are “elective” abortions, not the result of medical crises. What does the fact that “elective abortion” has become so common in our society say about us as a society? It seems to say that we, as a people, have bought into the lie that children are not a blessing to be celebrated, but a burden to bear. We who identify as pro-life must show by the way we live that our children are not an interruption to our life, but rather that they are what our life is really all about. When we say other people’s babies are worth living, we must be willing to put our money where our mouth is. Pro-life activism isn’t just rhetoric; it’s willingness to get our hands dirty.
In a society where men and women understood the sacredness of marriage and the blessing of raising children, couples wouldn’t abort their babies, even if the Supreme Court had “legalized” it. As important as it is to appoint constitutionally faithful justices to the Supreme Court, the mass change of heart and mind that needs to take place in our society is not something a different Supreme Court could usher in. It is more the job of the church than it is the job of the president or Supreme Court to usher in a “culture of life”.
It is everyone’s responsibility to cultivate respect for human life at all its stages, and taking a “hands off” approach is not a defensible position. On the other hand, abortion is not merely a “political” issue, and one’s responsibility to create a culture of life extends far beyond the voting booth. In other words, while changing the law is something we should aim to do, we cannot sit back, acting as if nothing whatsoever can be done about abortion in the meantime. Elective abortion could end in this country even if Roe V Wade never officially gets overturned. How? If people’s hearts were changed so that they saw children as a blessing not a burden, if people’s thinking was changed so that they understood the sanctity of life and of marriage, and the sacred responsibility of raising a family, people wouldn’t flock to abortion clinics even if they still could legally.
Politicians who are either committed to maintaining legalized abortion on demand (or to doing nothing whatsoever) in my opinion disqualify themselves as viable candidates, whether we’re speaking of local or national elections. How we vote is not all that matters. But how we vote does matter. We need more than politicians who are willing to defend the unborn’s right to life. We don’t need anything less though.