Thursday, March 25, 2010

abortion: bizarre logic and a long history

The abortion issue has been on the nations mind more recently as a result of the Health Care Bill. I'm glad it's something we are talking about again (doesn't seem we have much since the election). Here's a couple of recent posts on it (followed by some thought from Olasky's Abortion Rites).

I will be the first to admit that I am now completely lost, dazed, and confused when it comes to the Health Care Bill and the political wrangling in Congress (as a disclaimer, I like the idea of universal health care even if my taxes skyrocket. If it's right, do it). The post Final FAQ on Health Care and Abortion, by Matthew Lee Anderson on the First Things website, was helpful in sorting some of it out. Here's his concluding thoughts

"As I’ve argued, the bill as it is funds abortions.

Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear facile Christian endorsements of this bill without a single acknowledgement that we have increased abortion funding significantly, overnight. Endorsing the bill without repudiating not what might be pragmatically or economically inefficient, but what is morally wrong, is simply to turn a blind eye to the substance and effect of the legislation.

And as much as we want health-care for all—and health care for all is a good—it is deeply inconsistent to claim a pro-life ethic while endorsing a bill without qualification that directly funds the intentional killing of human persons."

Recently, Piper has commented on the "Tea Parties" conscious decision not to discuss the abortion issue, claiming that we can 'ill afford' such distracting conversations in the midst of far greater concerns for the nation, like the overwhelming debt we'll be passing on to the next generations. He summarizes the bizzare logic, "Let me see if I understand this term “ill afford”. Is this it? Enormous debt will hurt our children and grandchildren. Therefore don’t talk about the lawfulness of whether they can be killed."

I've been reading Marvin Olaky's book Abortion Rites. It's eye opening. I'm reading slow because I'm reading so many other good books at the same time, but I'm sure I'll comment on it regularly here. From the preface, "Professor Olasky makes a compelling argument for employing the strategy of containment as a first step to rollback. He challenges pro-life leaders to tailor their approach to rel-world realities, to content themselves with small victories, to provide women with positive, pro-life alternatives to abortion, and to continue to fight for laws restricting abortion while not making laws their primary focus."

I had no idea our nation had such a long history (guilt) with regards to abortion. In the first chapter, Olasky examines court records (yes, people were tried for abortion, and more typically, infanticide) from the colonial and Revolutionary period. Abortion was a dangerous deal. Surgical abortion was almost always a "double killer"; therefore, most women relied on chemical abortions. This also was a tricky business. The woman would need to take enough of the poison (like Tansy Oil) to kill the child, but not so much to kill her. It shouldn't be surprising that infanticide was more common as it was by far more safe - unless you were caught and convicted.

Most of the killings were of illegitimate children. Olasky writes, "Only 2% of all Massachusetts children during the colonial period were illegitimate; 90% percent of neonates legally found to have been murdered were." Certainly many more children were conceived out of wedlock than the 2% number indicates. However, there was tremendous societal pressure for a man to legitimate the child by marrying the mother. If that did not happen, the woman could rely on the courts to enforce substantial support payments.

While 90% of the victims of abortion/infanticide were illegitimate, that total number is remarkably low because of the societal pressures (only 2% of all births in the colonial period vs. 40% in 2007). Most women wouldn't have feared financial desperation and didn't need to fear their children would have been shunned. "Colonists were," according to historian Daniel Smith, "unwilling to punish children for the sins of the parents." Olasky writes, "Repeatedly the women involved in the crimes were not only unwed but among the minority of the pregnant unmarried who fell outside the informal and legal society safety nets." Unfortunately the number of "isolated women" dramatically increased with the urbanization of the early nineteenth century, and the societal pressures waned and have all but disappeared.

As a society, we have moved not applied that pressure to fathers to legitimize and support their children. There is often the attitude that "two bad decision (to have sex before marriage and then to marry someone you don't necessarily love) don't make a right." I do not follow that, for the reasons above. The lack of such societal pressure leads to many single mothers who, in desperation, will seek abortions. Here is one non-legal way Christians can begin to reshape it's culture in ways that will reduce the numbers of abortions - call upon men to do the right thing and use the arm of church discipline when they refuse.

The second chapter of Olasky's book explores the connection between prostitution and abortion. Obviously, in an era where contraceptives were unavailable and ineffective, prostitutes would find themselves pregnant fairly often. In addition, it's easy to see why pregnancies and children weren't acceptable options for prostitutes working in the brothels. Many of the children born to prostitutes would be very ill or deformed due to the untreated syphilis ("[30% of unborn children infected with syphilis] die before birth, and only one-fourth of those who make it to birth are healthy"). Olasky computes, taking into account many factors, that the average prostitute had 1.8 abortions per year. Using well researched estimates of sixty thousand prostitutes nationwide, he suggests that "there may have been at least one hundred thousand prostitution related abortions annually in the United States on the eve of the Civil War." Olasky quotes from The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, "There seems to be no diminution of the evil, notwithstanding the terrors which the law holds up to the view of the criminal. The murder of unborn children is fearfully common everywhere, if the great number of half-grown infant found floating in boxes upon the water, dropped in vaults, or otherwise brought to light is any evidence of the fact. Both women and men abound, in all our large cities, who have a decided and acknowledged reputation for performing the murderous operation." Add to this the words of New York police detective John Warren, "Social rimes like infanticide, that were once place on the same level as murder, are now not only looked upon with complacency but overlooked altogether, but are are defended on principle by certain theorists..."

What were Christians doing? Honestly, I don't know. Where they reaching out to prostitutes, trying to help them find a way out of that dangerous lifestyle (estimates are that a women survived for only four years as a prostitute before angry patrons, disease, drugs or the dangers of abortion took their life). Where they offering help to the pregnant prostitutes? To what degree do these statistics apply to today? Are prostitutes and women of the porn industry more likely to seek abortions? If so, is there an opportunity there for Christians to work to help the women get out of those lifestyles or to provide options other than abortion.

We think a lot about the legal aspect of the abortion debate, but clearly, as history shows, even with laws on the books criminalizing the killing of unborn children, women still sought abortions. What more can be done?

Note: I am just clarifying on this that I am writing as an individual and this blog isn't tied to ECC or the college ministry of ECC. My views, while always correct, don't necessarily represent the views of the church or all it's member.

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