An opinion piece by David Gushee back in mid-March is worth revisiting as it opened the door to real dialogue on the controversial efforts of some in the religious community who’ve sought to end the culture war on abortion by focusing not on abortion itself but on efforts to reduce its incidence or need.
Some who have accepted this approach are pro-choice on abortion such as Faith and Public Life; others, who believe that abortion is almost always immoral—and wish it were possible to make it illegal—accept that that is not likely in the near future and would prefer to see some abortions prevented, rather than continue to bash their heads against the wall and insist that the only answer is to make it illegal. David Gushee has been a prominent voice in the preventing some abortions is better than continuing the status quo camp and he has urged the president to fulfill the Democratic Party platform’s promise to really do something to make abortion less necessary.
In pursuit of that goal, Gushee has gone the distance for the president and he is feeling a little used. He’s seen the President take immediate actions that reinforce the standard pro-choice agenda on abortion and related life issues including:
*Lifting the Mexico City policy which prohibited US government grantees in developing countries from using their own money on abortion and abortion-related activities in return for US family planning money,
*Expanding the use of early embryos “left over” from assisted reproduction as a way of deriving embryonic stem cells for research, and
*Lifting a Bush executive order that would have extended federal protection for health care workers and institutions that refuse to provide or refer for a wide range of services—including abortion that they consider immoral.
Gushee notes that in each of those cases he was “asked by friends at Democratic or progressive leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing those moves, but instead to support them.” He declined, but remained silent on each of these issues.
“I must confess that that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion reduction initiative that I could whole-heartedly support.”
In this sentence Gushee finds common ground with those of us who have been concerned that the entry of progressive religious advocates for peace and justice into electoral politics and the desire to emulate the success of the religious right with the Republican party will dilute the justice message.
We have seen this happen on both the centrist evangelical front, where as Gushee notes he – and I would say others – have muted their strong voice in respect for human life. And while I disagree with their views, I think the public discourse and our moral sensibility is enriched and challenged by intelligent expressions of concern for all human life. That view has been helpful to me in my efforts to reconcile my own respect for life with my commitment to women’s rights and at least try to find a theoretical common ground.
We have seen it among progressive common grounders who are pulling their punches and keeping quiet on women’s human rights as reproductive rights. These groups actually lack a rights frame for their justice work.
We will only find common ground on abortion when we learn to respect the views of those opposed to abortion rights and in favor of abortion rights. And when we respect what is best in the arguments of both sides we might be able to find a way to honor both. But we will not solve the problem of abortion however one defines that problem by deciding not to talk about it.