Illegal or Unthinkable: One Pro-Life Catholic’s Perspective on How to End Abortion

Confession: I really don’t want to write this post.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t court controversy and don’t enjoy being bombarded by people from both sides of our country’s political divide. And so I’ve been uncomfortable but quiet over the past few weeks as many of my pro-life friends celebrated and most of my pro-choice friends decried the latest laws limiting abortion.

Then I attended my 30-year Georgetown Reunion, and took part in a workshop on Social Justice.  One of the takeaways was that although the need for change can seem overwhelming, and we may wonder what–if any–impact an individual can have, we all have spheres of influence where we can hope to make a difference.  And we were charged with committing to doing what we could within those spheres.

So here I am, y’all.  A blog (and its associated social media) seems like a pretty obvious sphere.  And not writing about the controversy surrounding the new abortion laws is starting to feel like cowardice.  After all, I have a history of writing at the intersection of the Catholic faith and social justice, and even though I have been keeping quiet, it’s not as though I have nothing to say.  So here goes.

The Goal of the Pro-Life Movement

Let’s start with a question: what is the goal of the pro-life movement? I suspect if you asked a pro-choice person, he’d say it’s to make abortion illegal.  On the other hand, if you asked a pro-life person, I’d hope her answer would be that it’s to END abortion.

By itself, outlawing abortion won’t END abortion, because women with means will procure safe illegal abortions while poor women resort to unsafe ones.  Babies–and some mothers–will continue to die.

What we should really want is to make abortion UNTHINKABLE.

Tell me, why don’t you beat your children? Until 1875, there were no laws in the United States to protect them from abuse.  But is that why you don’t beat them, because you are afraid of being caught and arrested? No, you don’t beat them because it is abhorrent and you would never dream of doing such a thing.  That’s how we should want everyone to feel about abortion in the future.

If you think all of the above means that I don’t think abortion should be illegal, you’d be wrong.  If an unborn baby is a human person, then it deserves the same protections as any other human person.  We cannot allow killing an innocent human person to be legal.

The “Heartbeat Laws”

So why am I not enthusiastic about the “Heartbeat Laws” virtually banning abortions (because most women would not find out they were pregnant in time to get one)?  There are a number of reasons and I am here to break them down for you.

These laws have not yet gone into effect and I doubt they ever will.  They were drafted with one goal in mind–and it wasn’t to make abortion  unthinkable.  Rather it was to force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision, gambling that the latest conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices will seize this opportunity to overturn it.  AND I DON’T THINK THEY WILL.

These laws are going to be challenged and overturned, as they are currently unconstitutional, as they were designed to be.  Babies will continue to be aborted as the laws make their way through the courts.  If the Supreme Court chooses to take them up–and remember, they can refuse to–I believe they are so extreme (not including the rape and incest exceptions that most Americans–NOT ME–favor) that the justices will uphold Roe v. Wade as settled law.

I might be 100% wrong.  I hope I am.  But remember, even if Roe v. Wade goes away, that leaves many states where abortions will continue to be legal, and where those pro-abortion laws will no doubt become even more entrenched in response.

An Incremental Approach

The legislative approach I prefer is an incremental one.  For example, it’s perfectly licit for a Catholic legislator to vote for an abortion-limiting law that contains exceptions for rape and incest, not because those babies ought to have any fewer rights, but because it is still better than the current situation and such bills have a better chance of passing into law and being upheld by the courts.  In the same vein, there are other laws that could be proposed to limit abortions that the majority of Americans find reasonable.  Laws that limit abortions after a fetus can feel pain, laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital, laws regulating abortion clinics in the same manner that other free-standing medical clinics are regulated, laws requiring parental consent:  these are measures that the majority of Americans who are in the mushy middle on abortion can understand and support.

The Mushy Middle

And that’s most Americans.  Most Americans don’t embrace the extreme positions represented in our online debates.  They think abortion is wrong and should be limited but not prohibited before a certain point.  Most Americans would be perfectly happy with unlimited abortion in the first trimester and increasing regulations thereafter, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the mother’s life.

For practicing Catholics (and other pro-life supporters) and extreme pro-choice supporters alike that position doesn’t make any logical sense.  To be clear, if abortion is killing a human being, it is always gravely wrong; and on the opposite end of the argument, if it’s ever acceptable it must be always acceptable.  These are the facts that underlie the entrenched positions of those of us doing most of the arguing, that we cannot ever really get past.  But the position of most Americans on abortion–the folks I call the “mushy middle”–is not rooted in logic.  It’s rooted in their feelings–their feelings of distaste for the procedure AND their feelings of compassion for women in difficult circumstances.

Making Abortion Unthinkable

Those people in the mushy middle are the ones we have to win over if we really want to end abortion.  And we are not winning them over by passing extreme laws.  They are horrified by diagrams of partial-birth abortion, but they are equally horrified at the prospect of twelve-year-old incest victims forced to bear their rapists’ children.  Never mind that both of those scenarios are rare compared to the total number of abortions; they are what we both sides trot out to to try to swat opinions and they end up canceling each other out.

I fear these new laws will take those moderate folks and turn them radical, that they will be more moved by the “my body my choice” argument as they see abortions becoming illegal without the exceptions they largely favor.  And that would be a shame because we have been making progress with them!  Millennials are a more pro-life generation.  People with disabilities are becoming more visible, many of them advocating themselves for their right to be here.  We’ve succeeded in some states at passing more moderate laws limiting abortions.  Clinics have been closing.  Abortion rates have slowed.

So how do we continue the progress we have made?  By helping women.

Respecting All Life

Look, I know that there are lots of folks active in the pro-life movement who are also providing assistance to women and their unborn babies and caring for babies after they are born.  I know all about Catholic Charities.  And I know that I’m not the only pro-life “social justice warrior” in the state of Tennessee, not even close!  I also know that some people who oppose legislation to help the poor are very generous on a personal level.  And while it’s true that people of good will can disagree about the best way to help these women, it’s hard to ignore the statistics in articles like this one demonstrating that abortion rates go down during Democratic administrations.

But this is the reality: women are aborting babies because they don’t have affordable day care, because they don’t have maternity leave, because they don’t have affordable housing, because they are desperate.  Until we fix some of this, abortion will remain the first thought for many desperate women, and the people in the mushy middle will want them to have access to it, thinking that is compassionate.  If every pregnant woman had the support she needed, the perceived need for most abortions would disappear and most Americans wouldn’t see any reason for it anymore.  In time we could look back on the past 40 years and wonder how this ever could have happened and why on earth it took so long to fix it.

I know that most pro-life people really do care about babies, but I also understand why many Americans don’t believe that.   When we vote to end abortion but for caging migrant children,  against health care reform,  for removing welfare funds, and against family leave, we don’t seem pro-life.  We don’t look consistent.  We really make it look like “controlling women’s bodies” is all that we care about.  If we can demonstrate through common-sense, compassionate legislation that we really love them both and that our opposition to abortion is rooted in our respect for ALL life, I believe that’s when we will start to change hearts and minds.

And while legislation may make accessing abortion more difficult, it’s changed hearts and minds that will make abortion unthinkable.

September 11: Remember the Love

Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how we shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

september-11-remember-the-love

 

After the Flag Comes Down, Then What?

Featured on BlogHer.com
Let’s get one thing straight up front–it’s time for the flag to come down.  It’s divisive, it’s hurtful, and whatever you or I or anyone might have meant by keeping or displaying it just doesn’t matter now that the Dylann Roofs of this world have chosen it as their banner.
BUT . . .
Let’s not kid ourselves, people.  Can’t y’all see what’s going on here?  Why is all the news suddenly about the flag?  Why are we letting ourselves be distracted so easily?
The flag didn’t make Dylann Roof a racist; he embraced the flag because he was ALREADY a racist.  And he didn’t whack those people over the head with a flag.  He shot them.  With a gun that was easily available to him, instantly, without any kind of waiting period, despite pending drug charges.  A gun that was small enough to easily conceal as he entered the church.  A lethal weapon that he bought with the express purpose of killing black people.
Racism motivated Dylann Roof.  But all his hatefulness would have been impotent were it not backed up with a Glock .45.
And as a country, how are we going to respond to this tragedy, this butchery in God’s house?  How are we going to make things better?  We are going to get rid of all the Confederate flags, by golly!  That will guarantee this kind of thing will never happen again!
Y’all, in the face of such horror, this is a feel-good gesture at best.  And I hope that it DOES make African-American people feel good:  make them feel heard, make them feel respected, make them feel that more change is possible.
But what I fear is really going to happen is a bunch of nothing.  The flags will come down, we will all congratulate ourselves, and we will go back to our usual way of doing things.
So what if Wal-Mart stops selling Confederate battle flags?  If they announced they were going to stop selling guns, THAT would be a step in the right direction.
It's not a flag problem (1)This post has been featured on BlogHer.  Please visit there and share it if you enjoyed it!

Get Out There And VOTE!

vote here 2Tomorrow is Election Day!  If you are like most people you either 1) already voted early or 2) aren’t planning to vote at all.  Yes, that’s right, not even half of the people who are eligible bother to vote in midterm elections.
Not me, y’all.  I’ll be voting tomorrow, and, remembering fondly my own childhood, I’ll be bringing Lorelei along so that she can push the buttons.
Lorelei patriotic
I always feel a little excited on Election Day.  Midterm elections aren’t as exciting as Presidential elections, of course, but here in Tennessee we have some pretty important matters on the ballot.
Amendment One has certainly gotten the most press.  I’ll leave it to you to Google the exact wording if you are interested, but a yes vote on this amendment will give the legislature authority to enact laws restricting abortions and regulating clinics that perform them.  It’s been met by predictable hysteria from the pro-choice folks, many of whom have probably fallen for deceptive advertising, but I promise you this amendment will NOT ban abortions; it doesn’t overturn Roe v. Wade; and not even the most pro-life legislator is going to attempt to ban abortions in the case of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.  I will be voting YES for this amendment.
Amendment Two has gotten a lot less attention, as it’s about judges, a topic that doesn’t tend to inflame the electorate.  I’m voting NO on this one, going on the recommendation of my husband, who is an attorney and knows more about this than I do. (For the record, John and I frequently come down on opposite sides of political questions, but if I haven’t had time to do my own research I will just ask him to tell me who I would want to vote for–not who HE is voting for, mind you, but who he thinks I would want to vote for based on my beliefs–and he tells me.)
Amendment Three wants to make it part of the constitution that there never be an income tax in Tennessee.  I find that silly.  I don’t particularly want to pay more taxes, but I’d be delighted to swap the sales tax on food for an income tax–I think we’d come out ahead.  Anyway, there’s no need to amend the constitution over it, so I vote NO.
Amendment Four has to do with lotteries.  I was and remain against the lottery, but we have it now and I doubt it’s ever going away.  This one is about whether to allow veteran’s groups to raise money in this way as other non-profits already can do.  That’s another YES.
We also get to vote on selling wine in the grocery store.  Who’s going to say no to that?
See below for more information and get out tomorrow and vote your beliefs–and if you stay home,  don’t complain after the fact!
[voterinfotool]

Obamacare Revisited

I know I just updated recently but I have some things I really wanted to post about and I don’t feel like waiting!
Let’s start with the not-so-good parts, because while want people to see the enormous good in our Obamacare experience I lose credibility if I insist this new health care system is perfect.
I already told you that four out of seven of us were approved for subsidies and enrolled in a plan, while the other three were inexplicably deemed ineligible. And when I say inexplicable, I mean not only can I not understand it, neither can any of the Healthcare.gov customer service people I’ve spoken to. Anyway, I appealed this decision, through a formal process that involved submitting all sorts of paperwork. I think I had 30 days to do that, which means I probably did it in February some time. A couple of months ago I got a phone call about my appeal, and then last week I got a letter saying to expect a call at a certain date and time, and to be prepared with the information they wanted. Well, the day came and I waited and waited and they never called me. I called the next day and spoke to a very nice and very confused woman who finally figured out that they called Teddy instead of me even though it said RIGHT IN THE LETTER that they would be calling my number. So she fixed the number and said the next thing that will happen is that I will get a letter setting a formal telephone hearing. So we’ll see.
In the meantime, the Marketplace wrote me and they want MORE financial information, which is the second time since I applied that they’ve asked for more information, and I they want check stubs for everyone in the house who works, which is kind of difficult since two of us are self-employed. So there is no denying that it’s the government, and a bureaucracy, and that I (or you) could run it better. (Not that private insurance companies are any better, and that’s a moot point anyway for the many Americans who are uninsurable or can’t afford insurance–so you take the bad with the good.)
But on the bright side . . . Last week I went into the doctor’s office for a fasting blood draw, in preparation for yesterday’s checkup, which my doctor set for three months out from the last one. When I walked in she told me that basically I had reversed every single problem I arrived with. 🙂 She was so impressed that she gave me a hug! My blood pressure has gone down to borderline, my cholesterol is just two points shy of normal, my blood sugar dropped nine points, and my triglycerides dropped over 100 points. And . . . I’ve lost 27 pounds, without being on any official regimented diet, and WITHOUT BEING HUNGRY.
Now, some people might say that Obamacare doesn’t deserve the credit for this, but let me tell you a story. Six years ago I had my last checkup and got blood work done. At that time all of the above factors were close to what they are now, so above where they should be but not yet dangerously so. But because I did not have insurance, that one appointment was all I got. No one offered me any suggestions. They said, “We’ll keep an eye on it,” but how could they when I couldn’t afford regular checkups and blood work? This time, I’ve seen my doctor three times, the wellness nurse three times, and the nutritionist once. The nutritionist will continue to monitor me and do bloodwork every three months to track my progress. Moreover, they gave me the suggestions and the support I needed to succeed. This is what preventive medicine is all about. Without it, people bumble along and get fatter and sicker and end up in emergency rooms having heart attacks, or going on disability, costing ALL of us money (not to mention the cost in human misery, which is far more important to me). This kind of care makes sense and I am so grateful to be benefiting from it.

Me, Happy to Be Insured and Getting Healthy
Me, Happy to Be Insured and Getting Healthy

For more on our journey from being uninsured to becoming healthy, and on my views on Obamacare in general, see the links below.
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

Poetry Blogging: The New Colossus

I only have part of this one by heart.  Reading the whole thing brings tears to my eyes.  Not just because of the moving lines, either, but because I don’t think most Americans today share these sentiments.
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”