Mom goes missing

The always eloquent and gracious Matthew Lee Anderson takes on the question of why pro-life focuses so exclusively on the baby. At it’s core, it is something akin to a marvel at the promise of this life, a promise which we must then honor. As noted, he is nothing if not eloquent. It is a thing of wonder — wonder, which Abraham Heschel reminds us, is at the core of our approach to the world. And in its own hidden way it also informs our politics.

Within the pro-life outlook, the hiddenness of the fetus is a microcosm of our social relations. As Gracy Olmstead observed, the Women’s March on Washington’s proclamation that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us” perfectly distills the pro-lifer’s beliefs. “Defending the voiceless, the vulnerable, the marginalized, is priority number one,” Olmstead suggests

Yet this eloquence has a blindness: the mother goes under-addressed. If the embryo presents a society in all its tentativeness, the  social setting of the mother is no less important. She is not only the bearer, but an active agent, too.  Wonder cannot negate agency. Further, there remains the question of our relationship to our bodies an the control that I may or may not exert with  respect to my body.

These are not a counter to the essay so much as limning, an edging. There is yet more to be said. In that score, the term “pro-life” is an attempt to get a more fully-orbed sense of the issues, not only that of the embryo, but of the mother, her setting, and yes, her body. To stop at the baby is to leave the topic smaller.

Gosnell and Abortion

Slowly, like a prodded beast, the media has begun to turn its attention to the Gosnell case, the infamous abortion mill that was little more than a late term abbatoir. Rather than review the entire, sorry mess of evil, let’s give this to Conor Friedersdorf. Of more interest has been the hesitancy of the media to cover this case, here the work  of Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion has played a major role (this is her latest).

Yet, prodding the media seems futile. Why do they turn down such a seemingly juicy story? Friedersdorf, again has some ideas. The best idea been that of “mushiness” — the uncertainty of the general public (and so the reader) on the question of abortion itself. No matter how the conservative would trumpet Gosnell as an exemplar of what abortion “means” the reality may be something different.

The problem with that framing is simply that most abortions take place far earlier (90 percent in the first trimester), and were one to grant the framing of Plan B as an abortifacent, then far more than 90 percent. This shift of weight to the early stages of a pregnancy certainly undergirds public experience and understanding of the issue. Ironically, then the use  of the term “abortion” to cover everything from infanticide in the Gosnell case, to birth control in Plan B undercuts potential outrage and framing of Gosnell as about “abortion.”

Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a useful note about the Evangelical love of the anti-abortion position, one he finds a bit at odds with the character of evangelical thinking itself, as he explains

It’s always fascinated me that by contrast American conservative evangelical Protestants have come to be if anything more extremist on abortion than Catholics (certainly in terms of rank-and-file opinion) without any of these factors: they do not regard Church traditions as dispositive, have been lukewarm or hostile to “natural law” as a foundation for doctrine,

He goes on to link to a very interesting article in Religious Dispatches by Jonathan Dudley. Broadly the history seems right, but then…

Speaking from the Evangelical side of the aisle, the article misses some of the major aspects of Evangelical support for anti-abortion. While Evangelicals of the South certainly framed it through their battles on civil rights (there’s a long, long history their among the S Presbyterians especially, now in Presbyterian Church of America), in the Upper Midwest, the Evangelicals were often members of immigrant based churches. Their reaction was shaped far more by the cultural battles over the ERA. There is also within these communities a large consensus on the justice side of the issue — these communions were one of the homes for the Pro-Life Democrats.

Also, within these communions, Francis Schaffer did have a pull, not because of this last film, but because of a generation of work in Europe. Many young Evangelicals found in him the first person who seemed to possess a cultural engagement. Whatever his flaws, at L’Abri he pioneered a vision of Evangelical thinking that inspired a number of evangelical and non-evangelical scholars. His film had impact because of his previous brand, as it were.

Among northern Evangelicals (well, at least in here in Michigan), the decisive push to a more radical position takes place in 1988 and Pat Robertson’s primary run. This was the contest that showed the political potency of the Right to Life, from that point on, that was the beat that the Evangelical Right had to move to (also note that the Evangelical Left, prominent in the late 70s had collapsed — another story).

Finally, we should probably also noted the impact of the change in abortion itself, from surgical to medical, and with it a shift to earlier abortions. The violence of the abortion methods in the 80s played a role in fueling the Evangelical stance. In that light, the Evangelical adoption of the metaphysical fundamentalism of the Catholics represents more a political alignment, and a lessening of the community’s early horror at the practice and with it, a concern for justice.

Holy Innocents

Today is the Commemoration of Holy Innocents, an odd sort of event, sandwiched between Christmas and the New Year. Almost sure to be forgotten.

And there’s truth to that. Nominally, the date refers to the massacre of young boys by King Herod recorded in Matt. 2:13-18 — a way to stop the salvation history unfolding outside of his control: the price of this control is to be the suffering of innocents. But then again, do we need another day to tell us what we already know about Power or Force?  Rather Holy Innocents asks us to look in a different direction, toward the themes of childhood and justice. And for Evangelicals those themes come together a little later in January, on Life Sunday(Jan 20) and the Martin Luther King commemoration (Jan 21) — Holy Innocents by another name.

That January juxtaposition like Holy Innocents today asks for a better ethical vision. It is easy to overlook the ways that we rob children of their innocence. It’s not just the massacres (or abortion), though there are more than enough, but it is also the acts of continuing of injustice, from the child soldier to the exploitation of children in the workplace. All over. Holy Innocents can seem sentimental or perhaps narrow, but it is finally about our obligations to each other and our opportunity to be a shelter, to give justice room in our poor manger.

Lost Wedge

Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion is a bit irritated by the absence of tough questions to “pro-choice” candidates. Abortion, it seems, is not playing a role in the election.

that last debate showed us that neither candidate disagrees with each other on the U.S. policy of using drones to target terrorists. Does that mean that since it’s not a campaign issue, it shouldn’t be covered? Hardly. I think the press can rightly judge certain topics of importance meriting coverage even if votes aren’t being won or lost on them. But, again, that’s not even the case with abortion coverage.

The answer may lie in cold-hearted  political reality: abortion has lost its edge as a wedge issue. That is, most of the votes that would be dislodged by it have already been dislodged. The 20 percent who absolutely opposed are not likely to vote Dem in any case. So functionally, then attention to abortion and life issues in an electoral context are more a matter of base mobilization, of getting true believers out to vote. The question of mobilization was touched on by the WSJ earlier on Oct. 22, Romney Supporters Make Push for Evangelical Voters.

Several other observations may be in order. If questions about abortion are no longer a wedge, then the Dems of course, have free reign on the issue — for them, as for evangelicals, the issue may best serve as a base mobilization tactic. Second, if the question of abortion itself becomes old hat, then the news stories naturally want to migrate to the extremes — this would explain the coverage of Akin and Mourdock. In focusing on extreme cases, the Left here is following a similar path to that laid down on late term abortions by the Right.

And last, the lack of attention on abortion generally may be governed by the dynamic of the Republican campaign itself, where Gov. Romney is at best an imperfect carrier of the pro-life cause. The framing of this election as one centered on the economy and fundamental philosophical differences degrades the role of abortion, if for not other reason than such approaches muscle out such social concerns.

Gender Selection and Abortion

Bill Vis passes along a report on video sting of abortion clinics: would thy support a gender specific abortion? The video of course, serves up its point, but with reservations.

Specifically, I can think of three:

1) Statistics do not support that any such discrimination is taking place in the United States. M/F sex ratios have slightly declined in the past 30 years from 1052/1000 to 1048/1000.

2) Sex determination takes place relatively late in a pregnancy. In terms of abortions, more than 95% of all abortions take place before that point, that is, women are aborting for other reasons, not sex selection.

3) What they do abort are special needs children. There is an important report from the liberal American Prospect on this. It notes (naturally) that some politicians who claim to be pro-life on abortion issues are quite willing to cut funding for services for special needs children. The fly in the ointment? States that have relatively low funding for services also report higher abortion rates for Down syndrome kids. You can guess how the pro-lifer in me gets rankled, so let me pull up a pro-life Republican instead:

“I’m sorry to say that a lot of my fellow pro-life people are tax-cuts-at-any-cost people,” says Bill Otto, who represents Kansas’ Ninth House District, in the rural east-central part of the state. “There are lots of people who believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth. It’s really beginning to rub here. If you’re pro-life, you need to be whole life.”