Monday, October 06, 2008

Getting Personal: Why this Pro-lifer is voting for Barack Obama, Part 2

I have given (in part 1) some of my history regarding both the pro-life movement and my journey toward what I would call a pro-life feminism. The journey is ongoing, but here are some reasons I feel no guilt at all as a pro-lifer for supporting Barack Obama in this election.

* First point, regardless of your supported candidate for President: I can give Evangelical Christians the formula for stopping abortion on demand right here, right now. But virtually none of you really care enough about this issue to stand up and be counted. You'd rather be part of a Republican / Evangelical nexus that has killed thousands of adults and children -- they don't count because they aren't Americans -- in a manifestly unprovoked war in Iraq. A war manufactured by Dick Cheney and George Bush... You'd rather be part of a political nexus that ignores Matthew 25 and the warnings of judgment against those who do not remember the poor, imprisoned, and oppressed. You'd rather be part of a nexus which rewards the wealthy and punishes the working poor, directly contradicting James' warnings about the rich man...

Oh, sorry. You want the formula I offered? Why? You won't do it. You really don't care about the unborn all that much, except when the Republicans yank your chain, say "Country First," and remind you it is time to vote for the usual suspect one more election cycle. The usual suspects being murderers and liars...

Here it is, though... the formula: This Saturday, nation wide, virtually every Evangelical Church in America gathers in front of their local abortion clinic. Prayerfully, silently, without any screaming at people or hostile actions or signs with dead babies on them or any other outward signifier, entire congregations simply sit down in front and in back of abortion clinic doors. Then, in a spirit of broken repentance, the Christians pray to their God for forgiveness for not really caring about either the unborn or the mothers of the unborn or even the doctors inside those abortion clinics. This takes place nation wide. This doesn't stop. Each congregation cycles church members in and out of the protests. Police may arrest people at first, but quickly jails will be overfilled, the earnest integrity and peaceful demeanor of the protest / repentance movement will capture the imagination of many Americans previously unsympathetic to the pro-life movement or unaware of just what abortion is.

But you see, we already did do this. Or tried. Sure, we had no Martin Luther King figure to lead our movement. But on one level, do we need a great leader to do a great thing? If every church did this, nation-wide, wouldn't we all be leaders? Operation Rescue died for a number of reasons. Randall Terry sold it down the river when here in Chicago in 1988 he aligned O.R. with the Republicans (an event I was personally present at, and where I, in a moment either surreal or prophetic, warned Randall to his face not to do it -- then watched him ignore me to do it anway). OR also died because it betrayed its non-violent roots and became a movement too close with those who murdered abortion doctors in the name of Jesus Christ. That horror and shame is unerased.

But mostly, OR in its initial form failed because Evangelicals are all about lip service. We don't really believe our own words about the unborn. We really think that voting for a President, solely with the hope that he might possibly get to nominate a Supreme Court Justice who is pro-life and would vote down Roe v. Wade, makes more sense than to use the one tool that will almost certainly work. Civil rights didn't happen for blacks primarily because of the Supreme Court rulings such as Brown v. Board of Education. Civil Rights came as the result of a mass movement -- a populist movement -- in America which was fueled by moral certainty aligned with non-violence.

So... there you are. And yes, I was arrested and jailed for participating in Operation Rescue. I've also been arrested for participating in an illegal occupation, along with our Alderwoman Helen Shiller and around 100 or more homeless people, of a vacant lot slated for public housing. Today, that housing is there. But -- unlike the homeless and my alderperson in that situation -- Evangelicals are overall not willing to ante up.

And yes, that does tic me off... so onward to points that non-involved Evangelicals deem "pro-life" whilst refusing to be pro-life themselves...

* What do we mean when we say "pro-life"? I'm not talking philosophy or theology. I'm talking pragmatic goals. Almost all pro-lifers would define "victory" in their cause as the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Thus, we keep voting in pro-life presidential candidates in hopes that we can get from it a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court. Very few pro-lifers seem to really know what is likely to happen afterward if such a thing occurred. Most, I suspect, think that abortion on demand would simply go away once Roe was overturned.

What is far more likely to happen is that defining abortion laws would go to the states. Some of them, I suspect few, would outlaw abortion. Others would allow it, but with more strings attached than Roe contains. And still others would pass state laws not differing much from Roe. In short, abortions would be lessened but certainly not stopped. Further, and we do have to admit the reality here, there would also come into being a covert illegal abortion industry.

I'm not saying overturning Roe is a bad idea from a protect-the-unborn point of view. But if anyone thinks abortion is going to go away if Roe does, think again. Hard.

* And... Is it likely that Roe v. Wade will in fact be overturned, even if we keep on electing allegedly pro-life Presidents? As Joe Biden says, "History is prologue." So let's review:

Since 1973, when Roe became law, how many years were spent under Republican Administrations?

Richard Nixon (left office in 1974); Gerald Ford (1974-76); Jimmy Carter (1976-80); Ronald Reagan (1980-1988); George Herbert Walker Bush (1988-1992); Bill Clinton (1992-2000); George W. Bush (2000-2008).

That comes out to:
Republicans: 23 years
Democrats: 12 years
Total: 35 years

Now, from 1980 to the present, when being pro-life turned into a major presidential election issue, the totals are even more striking:

Republicans: 20 years (Reagan 8, GHW Bush 4, W Bush 8)
Democrats: 8 years (Clinton 8)

Let's take this even further. What Supreme Court Justices did the pro-life folk put on the court? Seven of the nine Justices were appointed by Republicans. Does that startle anyone? Further, Justices appointed by Ronald Reagan (Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) participated in voting down challenges to Roe v. Wade -- two such cases being Planned Parenthood vs. Casey and Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services.

George Herbert Walker Bush appointee David Souter also participated in defending Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, writing that to overturn Roe would have been "a surrender to political pressure... So to overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to re-examine a watershed decision would subvert the Court's legitimacy beyond any serious question."

What's my point here? Simple. If we think for a second that electing a self-proclaimed "pro-life" president will result in the overturn of Roe v. Wade, we are ignoring history. Much of the time, the Justices appointed are in fact not pro-life enough to vote against Roe v. Wade.

Further, we are using the wrong tool for the wrong job. Again, we have the tool to end Roe if we want to end it badly enough. But.... we don't want it badly enough.

* Roe v. Wade has become nearly overwhelming "legal precedent." That is, laws are a little bit like plants in a yard. My Dearling and I, for instance, planted a very small pine tree in our front yard. Puny, really. That tree at present is over ten feet tall and has a trunk at least a foot in diameter near the base. Its roots are, plant folks say, as deep underground as the top of the tree is above ground. In short, though I could have plucked that tree up within the first few months of planting it, causing minimal damage to surrounding growth or the yard itself, to yank it out now (requiring a tractor!) would leave a gaping hole in the lawn and almost certainly kill other plants in the yard.

A law is like that. Its roots sink deeply into the legal soil, and as it comes into relationship with older and newer laws -- even begetting laws requiring it as their basis -- to tear it out means reshaping the landscape.

All sorts of newer laws -- some likely far afield from the issue of abortion directly -- have shared root systems with Roe v. Wade. Pull up Roe v. Wade and one will also yank on various other laws -- many, many of them -- which rely on for their own existence. At present, I'm not defending those laws (as a non-lawyer/non-legislator, I don't even know which laws they are). What I am doing is pointing out that the bigger a legal "tree" gets, the more unlikely it is that any Supreme Court will actually tear the tree out by its roots. Trim it, yes... and in fairness, some of the Republican appointees did trim Roe v. Wade. But that is all. And truthfully, from a legal or legislative standpoint, it is unlikely to see that "precedent" of 35 years successfully undermined.

As pointed out in the preceding point, history itself lends some credence to these assertions.

* There is an increasing sense of disbelief among my Evangelical friends regarding the sincerity of the Republican Party regarding abortion. That's a nice way of saying we're very cynical toward the McBush folk on abortion, and frankly most other things. Some of this was fostered by the transparently manipulative and fear-mongering use of gay marriage during the 2004 election. In Ohio, the Republicans used the concept of a "marriage amendment" to rally Evangelicals to vote for George Bush. It worked. This same strategy, we realized, was being used on us regarding abortion. Even Ronald Reagan, for all his pro-life rhetoric, appointed non-pro-life Justices (as noted earlier) to the Supreme Court. Perhaps he couldn't have done differently, but the end result was the same. And today, with an avowed Evangelical in office who's lied to us and committed our troops in a horribly mistaken war (while all but ignoring the actual 9/11 offenders in Afghanistan), we Christians aren't quite a naive as we used to be. At least, I sure hope we aren't.

If we still insist on being naive, perhaps a good long hard look at Dick Cheney and the effect of Atheist Leo Strauss on the Neocons' worldview is in order. Google it.

* Are we really for the Republicans because of Roe v Wade (a decision made under a Republican administration and written by Nixon appointee and life-long Republican Harry Blackmun), or are we for the Republicans because our own values are screwed up and unbiblical? Consider the present economic crisis, which though complex and rooted in many mistakes as well as downright greed, has as its central issue the "deregulation" of real estate investment done by banks. In spite of warnings from many (including Democratic nominee Barack Obama), this Republican-led deregulation allowed banks to gamble with home mortages, selling and buying them in multi-million-dollar bundles with little or no regard to what would happen if real estate markets got depressed. Well, the market did get depressed, and the loans began failing, and the banks began foreclosures and everyone -- but most poignantly the homeowners who'd naively believed their bankers -- lost big. We Evangelicals, who are supposed to be defenders of the poor, the widows, and the prisoners, are instead found supporting a party which is big on defending wealthy corporations and corporate executives while tone-deaf to the cries of the poor most damaged by deregulatory policies.

Another example. In the early 1980s I was shocked to hear Cal Thomas of the Moral Majority outline in detail why good Christians had to in biblical principle support the idea of an ever-strengthening American military. This theme continues through today, with John McCain using his own military background to claim a greater ability to protect America. Even my own candidate, Barack Obama, makes me nervous on this point, as his platform is also far more militarily-based than I find either biblical or ethical. But it falls to the Christian Right to sacralize -- make sacred -- the concept of an ever-stronger military. It makes my cynical soul wish there was a Mark Twain around to scream his "War Prayer" into the ears of these violence-in-the-name-of-gawd people.

And just how the above is pro-life escapes me... unless we're talking about American life being more precious than anyone else's, even countries who've had nothing to do with attacks made upon us. Adding the word "Christian" in front of military policies favoring more guns, more bombs, more soldiers dying and being killed seems highly dubious theologically to me. Admit, without super-spiritualizing it, that a nation needs a military. But don't sacralize it with a Jesus sticker unless you want some serious theological push-back. N. T. Wright's comments on Empire come to mind... (see end of article for a few links).

* Barack Obama will continue supporting Roe v. Wade. Yet Obama's overall policies may even lead (as one pro-life, pro-Obama site suggests) to fewer abortions than under a McCain/Palin administration which has already pledged to massively cut spending (but not from the military). Where, then, will those cuts come from? We know from experience. I watched what happened when Ronald Reagan's economic programs kicked in during the early 1980s. Our homeless neighbor programs saw an exponential rise in both individuals and -- especially -- entire families. That's how Republicans cut spending.

Further, unlike some of his Democratic predicessors (both unsucessful and successful), Senator Obama sees significant value in making abortion an issue for bridge-building. Or, to quote him directly and at length from an interview done with Relevant magazine:

Strang: Based on emails we received, another issue of deep importance to our readers is a candidate’s stance on abortion. We largely know your platform, but there seems to be some real confusion about your position on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions. Can you clarify your stance for us?

I absolutely can, so please don’t believe the emails. I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The other email rumor that’s been floating around is that somehow I’m unwilling to see doctors offer life-saving care to children who were born as a result of an induced abortion. That’s just false. There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the “Born Alive” bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill. The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn’t think it was going to pass constitutional muster.

Ever since that time, emails have been sent out suggesting that, somehow, I would be in favor of letting an infant die in a hospital because of this particular vote. That’s not a fair characterization, and that’s not an honest characterization. It defies common sense to think that a hospital wouldn't provide life-saving treatment to an infant that was alive and had a chance of survival.

You’ve said you’re personally against abortion and would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration. So, as president, how would do you propose accomplishing that?

I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way. I think the proper role of government. So there are ways that we can make a difference, and those are going to be things I focus on when I am president.

* Finally, one more personal note here... I do think that as Christians we have to remember that a vote for a candidate is not an unqualified endorsement of that candidate. We are salt, not sugar. If we do not bring God's Word and Heart to humankind (the prophetic) and also human words and hearts to God (the priestly) we fail our role as salty preservative.

I fully expect to be a critic of President Obama and Vice President Biden, as well as obeying the Word and praying for them. But I will not view them as leaders of a Christian nation. I view any leader of America as a leader in a multi-cultural nation of thousands (millions?) of differing beliefs. My function is not to bring about a Christian America, either of the mythical past (there never was such a past) or of the mythical future (such a future will not arrive). America is a great nation, and I'm glad to be a part of the whole. But I refuse to confuse a worldly nation which will pass away when that which Eternal arrives with the Kingdom of God, which is now being established and one day will be made Eternally Manifest. Neither will I participate in a world where the "good" people are us and the "bad" people are "them" -- however "them" is defined. In God's eyes, we are all lost, yet he seeks each of us to find us. That is the truth of love.

And going beyond even my own cynicism for a moment, imagine voting for Barack Obama as an act of faith. He will not bring God's Kingdom. But he might bring a better America, and I for one certainly think he'll bring a far better America than that we've experienced these past eight years.

A brief apology at article's end... I admit fully that I am still in flux on many of these issues. I continue to try and construct (we all construct, so get over it) a biblical feminism and biblical prolife vision. The tensions involved are real even for this white male, and felt more deeply the longer I continue in the task. I claim nothing for myself but a continued and total need for the power of Christ to be made manifest in this human sarx of mine.

Links on N. T. Wright and Empire:


david lee king said...

Hey - thanks for thinking out loud, and sharing. I appreciate it!

@bdul muHib said...

I liked that- We are salt, not sugar.

BigMama said...

Thanks for such well formed thoughts (not that I would expect otherwise). Frank Schaeffer recently posted a message along these lines and these certainly echo my own thoughts on the issue.

Jon Trott said...

Thanks to all of you. I've since noticed some great blogging elsewhere on pro-life Obamans... just have to get around to blogging on it or at least linking to it.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had the insight to write this!

Maureen said...

Ya know, I usually think conspiracy theorists are a bit loopy, but I have my own theory and the more I think about it the more I think I am on to something. This seems as good a place as any to throw it out and see if anyone swings at it. I have always wondered why the Repubs and Pro-Life types (I am prolife but not Repub) propose bills that can't possibly pass. They are always extreme, don't include an exception for rape, incest or even the life of the mother. It seems like they almost don't want the bill to pass, just something they can use to say, He voted against this, babykiller! Then it occurred to me, the day Roe v Wade is overturned will be a very dark day for the Republican Party. There are a whole lot of people who only vote Republican because of abortion. If Roe v Wade is gone, they will be free to think-and vote!-for themselves. Roe v Wade is the Republican hook, and I suspect The Powers That BE in the GOP really don't want it to be overturned.
So, whatcha think? Have we got a conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

yes. i think you are on to something!

Sally said...

Mr. Trott, It is so heart warming to find a Christian who shares much of the same battle I have faced in dealing with my strong Evangelical background. I blindly listened to the political stance that as a Christian I could not be a Democrat, most importantly in regards to being Pro-life. Recently, while expanding my education, I did a political science class which made me start to question these things.... I am now a strong Obama supporter.
Would like to receive more of your posts to help keep me focused on the importance of the strength of Jesus in my life and still be able to question the blind religious rhetoric that has plagued me my whole life.
I was so impressed with your statement about Apostle a young girl and growing to be a wife and mother, mature individual, I always resented Paul and felt that in some way he did not care for women much. Never did marry. Jesus Himself had close relationships with many women (not suggesting sexually here!) and I believe this reflected His deep and unconditional love for we as women just as for men.

Jon Trott said...


You've hit on one of my most oft-mentioned themes. Paul is abused by both skeptics and dogmatists, often over his (alleged) stance on women. He's postulated as a "defender" of masculine "headship" in both home and church by the patriarchalists. The atheists/agnostics/skeptics pick up not the Word itself but rather the interpretations of that Word by self-proclaimed male "leaders" of the church, using that patriarchal straw man to attack Paul himself.

I have a high view of Scripture and Paul, and a low view of hierarchalist/patriarchalist interpreters who would ram their fallacious and bigoted interpretations down our throats. I reject them. I hope you've encountered Christians for Biblical Equality, a wonderful bunch of Evangelical women and men dedicated to exploring the radical egalitarian/mutuality message of Scripture. Blessings to you. Oh, and if you want more of my feminist rantings than you can find here, see my old site, Are Men Really Human .

Jon Trott said...

Sally, sorry. Here's that CBE link again, and this time it should work:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Jon. While I agree on the feminism issues, I don't go as far as CBE or you.

Nevertheless I share your concern for the Kingdom and fully agree with your other helpful, well-expressed thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,

Thank you for offering a reasoned approach to this problem. As someone whose politics fall largely on the left, I am frequently bothered by the association of an anti-abortion stance with the radical and religious right (the article by Elliot Klein, a pro-life feminist accurately expresses my sentiments

McCain would've done dreadful damage to a lot of people, and I'm very glad he is not the American president...

But neither would I have in good conscience been able to vote for Obama. As a Canadian dating an American I recommende that my boyfriend scratch his ballot or vote for an independant party as an alternative.

Loss of human life is still loss of human life and I could never have voted for a man who has pledged to introduce the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which will result in abortions that to date have been prevented and discouraged. FOCA could force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions and will nullify all current state restrictions on abortions (including parental consent,waiting periods, and conscience clauses for pro-life doctors).

I'm all for an increase in programs to curtail the problems that lead to abortion, and pro-lifers NEED to become more pro-active in providing concrete help. But Obama's FOCA is not a good solution - because women and their children deserve better than abortion.

The following piece of writing amused me, and I think you'll be able to see the relevance to this discussion:

Thanks again for being a thinker on these matters.

Kristine Kruszelnicki

Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your reasoned voice on this matter. As someone whose politics fall primarily on the left, I’m often dismayed by the large-scale association of an anti-abortion position with the radical religious right. (Elliot Klein’s “Did I Leave the Left or Did the Left Leave Me?” accurately depicts my feelings.

You're right: "voting pro-life" doesn't yield magical results. McCain would like have done a lot of harm to a lot of people and I’m very grateful that he did not become the American president.

But neither could I have in good conscience lent my vote to Barak Obama, and as a Canadian I encouraged my American boyfriend to scratch his ballot or to vote for an independent candidate as an alternative to backing either option.

Loss of human life is loss of human life, whether it be through war or abortion. Barak Obama has pledged to introduce the Freedom of Choice Act, which will increase access to abortions currently being curtailed or prevented under current state standards. Catholic hospitals may be required to perform abortions, and deterrents like parental notification and wait-periods will be nullified – as will conscience clauses which protect pro-life doctors from actions they find morally repulsive.

I’m all for increasing programs that will reduce the desperate circumstances that lead to abortion and you’re entirely right that pro-lifers need to be more involved in concrete solutions not merely in talk. But Obama’s FOCA is not a solution, because women and their children deserve better than abortion.

The following article lends humorous perspective on the matter and I think you’ll see its relevance to our discussion:

Thanks for being a thinker.
Kristine Kruszelnicki