Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama, Health Care, Abortion, and the Right's Credibility Gap

One of the Right's talking points against the White House health care plan is that it will allow government-funded abortions. President Obama dealt forcefully with that issue in his speech, specifically: "And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place."

Predictably, if depressingly, the Right doesn't believe Obama. For instance, Bill Donohue of the pro-life group, Catholic League, said before the speech that there "wasn't a chance" the President would mention abortion. Afterward? Donohue accused Obama of deception.

This obtuse approach to reality has worked for the Right... to a degree. The relentless bashing apparently has eroded support for Obama among Americans overall. But it has also backfired -- Republican unpopularity remains constant.

As a pro-life Democrat I would like to point out a few things.

1. Obama isn't an idiot. His promise to exclude abortion from government funding (as is done in most cases with Medicare, following Hyde Amendment guidelines) is a promise which was made to a huge viewing audience. All he had to do was leave out one or two sentences, and the issue wouldn't have been there. Yes, pro-lifers should keep the pressure on. But they serve their cause badly by accusations of bad faith against a man who apparently has heard them. Why is this? Ah...

2. The pro-life movement has been co-opted by the Right. There are various reasons for that, many understandable. Liberals often (though not always) have been tone-deaf on the right to life for the unborn. But that said, the Right has cynically used pro-lifers (esp. committed Catholics and Evangelicals) to over and over again elect Presidents who did relatively little for the pro-life cause. (Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush both appointed pro-choice justices to the Supreme Court, and it was a Republican -- Harry Blackmun -- who authored Roe v Wade).

3. Right-wing pundits claim that the Health Care bill in its various present forms does allow abortion, despite Obama's express claim that in final form it will not. Again, this is where a bit of civility and dialogue goes so far... yet is not happening. I think pro-lifers should publicly praise the President for what he said, then ask him sincerely to make sure language is included in the final bill establishing his assertion as law. Why not work with the White House instead of -- again -- working on the assumption that everything Barack Obama says is said in bad faith?

Why Pro-lifers Are Acting in Bad Faith

I believe it is our movement, the pro-life movement, which is acting and speaking in bad faith. As a pro-lifer who is also a feminist, I have to bring up uncomfortable realities my Right Wing friends won't like.

Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told The New York Times Magazine [quoted in Salon]:

"There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often."

Yes, Ginsberg is pro-choice. But her point deserves careful consideration. This is one reason why, as a pro-life advocate, I cannot be a conservative.

My wife, Carol, and I live full-time in an intentional community of Christians called Jesus People USA (JPUSA). Part of JPUSA's outreach to the wider inner-city Uptown Chicago community we live in is our Cornerstone Community Outreach system of shelters for homeless women, children, and men. We are now, and have always been, pro-life. We are now, and have always been, supportive of both private and government programs aimed at creating a safety net for the women we serve.

Right Wing politics are caught on the horns of a dilemma. They overtly disavow responsiblity to via government programs aid the poor. They proclaim their belief in small government, non-intrusive government. YET.... they proclaim the government's right and even responsibility to intrude between a woman and her unborn fetus.

Barry Goldwater, who in many ways founded the modern conservative movement, was pro-choice. And he based that position on the fact that a woman's right to choose what happened to her own body was the ONLY consistent position for a conservative to take.

I agree with him... that it is the only position for a consistent conservative to take. I disagree with him that it is a good position.

I believe that the government does have the responsibility to intervene, with the exceptions of rape/incest or in the case of a mother's life being endangered. This is being a consistent liberal and pro-lifer.

But there's another layer. The woman's right is a right. If we are going to require protection for the unborn, we must also go to extraordinary lengths to support, empower, and safeguard not just the pre-born child but also the woman and born child from birth through all her or his childhood.

Wait! That's socialism! I can hear it already. But I don't much care for the name calling. I'm just looking for some sort of consistently pro-life ethic, one which forgets about political labeling and focuses on human beings -- both mother AND child.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg's words should haunt us. We say we want life... but what do we mean? I look at the women in our Cornerstone Community Outreach programs, hear my wife talk about how hard it is for them once they leave CCO to find jobs, housing, or even basic health care for themselves or their children.

I've always thought it strange that liberalism became the champion of abortion. But perhaps stranger still is the marriage of the pro-life movement with the political Right.

President Obama presents us with an opportunity. We can, as pro-lifers, support his health care proposals while gently pressuring him to make sure his promise is explicitly contained in the language of the bill itself.

And on a deeper level, we can also allow ourselves to imagine a new pro-life movement, one not rooted ideologically in an anti-womanist, anti-liberal, and therefore self-contradictory soil. Imagine it. Look for it. Help to create it. Talk with pro-choice advocates as though they are human beings rather than demonic entities. Admit that the pro-choice movement's roots are not entirely flawed, especially when it comes to their feminist interpretation of history.

We need to re-conceptualize politics because politics isn't just rhetoric and tea parties and talking heads (left and right) demeaning one another while making private fortunes. Politics is about human lives.

Jesus said "As you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me." That is a very political statement. And, I suggest, it is also both pro-life and liberal.


10plus said...

Outstanding. I wish more people who identify as pro-life had your honesty and humility. Thank you.

david thurman said...

Interesting stuff Jon, I like your take on stuff by and large. I'm neither pro nor con on abortion, it's symptomatic of some deeper issues and that is never really addressed either in the Secular nor Spiritual contexts that it exists in. I might say that Christianity is most directly responsible for Abortion, but carrying that into a deeper context is impossible in a blog post. I would say though that our cultural heritage in Christianity has been one of detachment, domination over the environment, a separation from the environment and a theological framework that is completely detached from it's own text. So when you have a spiritual community that creates an internal/external duality as being divine, abortion eventually is simply a manifestation of that view, regardless of it's context. You might say I find Body/mind/spirit and body/mind/independent observer the same views and both of them are shared in a secular and religious framework that we have today. Christianity is slowly moving away from this and that is encouraging but abortion is complex and it's not an easy right or wrong in 3 easy steps, or it simply manifests up as a desire to control and dominate. This whole issue was started by Francis Schaffer who I met in 1978 before the whole issue grew out of proportion. His concern was the cheapening of our lives and that I think is really at the core and a problem that is never discussed to it's fullest implications.

Phil said...

I just came across this blog now, and see it hasn't been updated in a while. I hope you take a look every once in a while.

I am deeply pro-life, but also a libertarian, and my fellow libertarians often wonder how I am able to reconcile being pro-life with a belief that the government shouldn't interfere with individuals and their personal choices. I answer them by saying that individual liberties should be protected at all times, only so far as they don't infringe on others' liberties.

It is criminal to murder someone, because in that act you are robbing the victim of the right to life. Since I have no way of knowing or ever knowing, at what point a fetus gains those same rights that we have, out of caution I purposely set that point at conception. Within this framework, any abortion is robbing the baby of its right to life. If you accept the framework (and it is certainly open to debate) you are compelled to do everything you can to stop it from taking place.

I agree with much of your analysis about how we should try to put pressure on the government to make sure abortion is not funded with public money, but I disagree that being against abortion is inconsistent with belief in limited government.

Even the hardest core libertarians still think that Government should regulate criminal activity to some degree. If abortion is viewed as robbing the life of an individual who had a right to life, it should therefore be criminalized.

Brendan Payne said...

I saw your post on the Christianity Today, really agree with a lot of what you're saying, and am likewise disappointed by the unreasoning resistance of the Religious Right to the Healthcare Bill even though it's the biggest victory for the pro-life movement in a generation. I'm following your blog; feel free to check out mine at your leisure. Peace!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Genial dispatch and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I just ran across your site mere moments ago, and am relieved to find that I'm not crazy after all (or at least I'm not alone in my insanity).

I have despaired over the fact that, in this country, one is presented with two falsely dichotomous and equally distasteful choices - 1) be pro-abortion, but otherwise stand for all the rights that humans are entitled to, or 2), be anti-abortion but opposed to anything that would impede big business.

I wonder if you are familiar with the "seamless garment" theory of life, as outlined by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Simply summarized, it says that if you are pro-life, it means you are pro-ALL-life. It means you reject not only abortion, but euthanasia and capital punishment as well.

Perhaps when you update again (*cough* HINT HINT *cough*), you might want to say something about it.

Jonathan Elliot said...

Hi Jon. Completely unrelated to this post, just wondering if you'll be updating this blog anytime soon. Or are you only writing on Facebook now?



Jon Trott said...

I spend way too much time on face book these days... but will at some point try to revive this blog. Maybe the next election cycle will force my hand? ;-)