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The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973 to legalize abortion placing the decision to have one on each woman faced with that choice. Immediately after the verdict organizations formed which have since worked continuously to reverse the court’s decision, influencing countless house and congress members and even a few presidents–yet the verdict has stood ever since. It’s never even come close to being overturned, though many politicians have based their entire campaign on promises to overturn it and even one president (Reagan) made moral opposition to abortion a frequent talking point both because of his own fundamentalist evangelical faith and his close political alliance with Jerry Falwell in forming the “moral majority.” Reagan’s selection of George H.W. Bush, a social moderate, was controversial as Bush was not strictly pro-life but in time he “came around” to the position. Later on, his son would also engage in pro-life rhetoric. Interestingly, Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush were both pro-choice all the while.*

Yet for all of their talking points none of these pro-life politicians have been able to reverse Roe v. Wade. In fact, the legality of abortion was even expanded in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which removed the trimester barrier (which restrained the legality of abortion primarily to the first trimester) replacing it with a “viability” clause which defined abortion as illegal only in cases where the baby would be able to live outside of the mother’s body. There isn’t much a President can do to criminalize abortion as it was a decision by the Supreme Court that ruled abortion as a legal right related to privacy and due process via the 14th amendment. Presidents can nominate justices they believe will vote “pro life” when a case comes along that would have bearing on the previous decisions but this is often hard to predict as Reagan’s nominations proved.** In fact, there was a time when the Republicans controlled the House, Senate, Presidency and 7/9 Supreme Court justices–and no moves were made to criminalize abortion. *** Some argue that it works better for GOP campaigns to keep abortion up for debate as it gives them an additional base.

Meanwhile, life continues on and due to many factors, abortions are actually at historic lows. Abortions even went down an additional 13% during Obama’s presidency (and prior to restrictions placed in conservative regions).**** This is largely because abortions are almost always a symptom of a bigger problem–poverty–that democratic policies tend to better address through an emphasis on sustaining the social safety net. One huge factor that (obviously) reduces abortions is access to birth control and as that expands abortion numbers drop. Yet many factions of the pro-life movement extend the pro-life view to include opposition to birth control as it also prevents potential life from culminating.

Here we are 40+ years after RvW and the issue is no less contentious. Criminalizing abortion is still a rallying cry that whips up a base and creates a wave many candidates have rode to office. Where I live there is a congressperson who makes overturning RvW her primary talking point regardless of what issue is currently under discussion–local traffic and infrastructure needs, the city budget, etc.–and she is widely loved for it. Nationally, Trump has “converted” to the pro-life cause after a lifetime of quotes in which he was seemingly pro-choice. For this reason there are many one-issue voters who will vote for Trump as he is the only “pro-life” candidate running.

Many others have effectively argued that being pro-life goes far beyond the issue of abortion.***** They stress that being pro-life must be about caring for life once it is born–that if we are to insist a poor Mexican immigrant carry her pregnancy to term (for example) then we must advocate and support programs to lift her out of poverty, provide her with the education needed to sustain her and her baby’s life, provide her with healthcare and a network of support, and value her and her baby’s life–even as that baby grows into adulthood and faces tough choices of his/her own. “Pro-Life”, such advocates insist, must also oppose capital punishment, support immigration and refugees, the living wage, welfare, addiction treatment,  and all matters related to the social safety net. While I respect and admire the views of writers like the referenced Ms. Held-Evans I part ways with them in ways that will deter some readers, but here goes:

The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are a misdirection that creates a false dichotomy. One is either for or against the criminalization of abortion, that is all. You can be “pro-life” on either side of this divide and you can be “pro choice” about any issue other than abortion on either side. Those that are pro-life believe abortion should be illegal and although some make exceptions for special circumstances many make no exception for any (even Zika-induced encephalitis as Rubio recently proved). Those that are pro-choice believe each woman is their own moral agent capable of making the decision to have an abortion or not depending on their own circumstances. I believe unequivocally that every woman has the right to make that decision for themselves based on their own unique circumstances. I believe that a government that insists every woman carry every pregnancy to term is guilty of serious overreach. I believe the health and well-being of the mother is always the first priority and I trust every woman to make that decision themselves.

Equating abortion directly to murder is dangerous. Many of the terrorist acts perpetrated on American soil over the years have been by right-to-life organizations including as recently as last year a shooting at a women’s clinic and the arson of 4 others.****** Doctors have been murdered and women threatened under the guise of “pro-life” and rhetoric that flatly compares a woman’s choice to murder directly encourage that activity by giving the armed and dangerous moral permission to prevent future “murders”. Several years ago when I was living on a seminary campus pursuing a master’s degree in religion my wife volunteered with the campus women’s center. As a progressive seminary the women’s center was pretty far to the left of similar organizations on more conservative campuses. This group went to the city’s women’s clinic to help escort women into the clinic past the protestors. Doing this greatly honed my wife’s ability to block out insults and maintain composure in dicey situations. This is because the clinic in the city was one of the most aggressively protested women’s clinics in the country. Often my wife would be escorting a woman in who having miscarried a child was having a procedure to remove the body–of course, on top of the heartbreak and discomfort the woman was already undergoing she then had to snake through a mob of loud frenzied picketers shouting at her that she was a murderer. Point is, those protestors did not know the situations of the women they were shaming–and they didn’t care. Their violent rhetoric could have easily led to gunfire any day as it has around the country for decades.

Deep down, most people realize the situation is more complicated and nothing brings this to the surface quite like the issue of “punishment” for abortion. If abortion is illegal then it would seem to follow that if a woman procured one she would then face punishment for breaking the law–and if abortion is flat out equal to murder then that punishment would be severe. Yet when Trump voiced this position earlier this year he quickly back-pedaled as even pro-life groups stressed punishment of the woman was never an option, she had been through enough; punishment was to be reserved for the doctor alone. By parsing the judgement in such a way  Slate writer William Saletan argues fairly convincingly that pro-lifers secretly recognize “that abortion is a medical procedure, that the woman is the primary patient, and that the physical and moral relationship between her and her fetus is complicated.”

But if we abolish “safe,legal and rare” abortion (as Clinton defined it) what is it we are asking for? Some sort of punishment for those women who desperately sought out an abortion. Wealthy women, even enthusiastically pro-life ones, will continue to have access to and procure their own abortions while denying them to others (As Jon Pennington writes based in his PhD work on the pro-life movement “Most pro-life women oppose abortion with four exceptions: rape, incest, the life of the mother, and me”).********

Women have abortions for many reasons. Some men use pregnancy as a means of limiting a woman’s options, trapping them in continual pregnancy to “keep” them whether the woman wants or can handle having another child or not. Sometimes women are victims of rape or incest. Some times women are simply not physically, mentally or financially capable of giving birth and if they are forced to that child will grow up unloved, unwanted and in physical and financial pain and want. Unwanted children are often victims of poverty, domestic abuse and addiction.

I have been fortunate and privileged to have never had to face a situation where a woman I love has had to contemplate abortion. I have always taken every precaution possible to ensure this was never an issue and I’ve been fortunate enough that even had I faced an unplanned pregnancy in my relationship my partner and I haven’t lacked the resources and connections to “choose life” had we found ourselves in such a situation. Yet I would never in a million years choose to judge, shame or denigrate someone who has had to make such a choice. Based on the stats a woman in America is about 30% likely to have had  an abortion by age 45.********* Though the “1 in 3” claim has been a contentious bit of data  ********** the 30% estimate is our best current estimate and it is much lower than it was 30 or 40 years ago and will likely continue to lower pending maintenance of the social safety net, promotion of sex education and the widespread availability of birth control. The point is, it’s safe to assume a woman you know, maybe a woman you love, has had an abortion. To label her a murderer and to flatly refuse to consider the complexity of the issue is not the moral high ground.

The moral high ground is in fact the issue. Because it’s over the issue of abortion many on the right get most indignant. Liberals may have “stolen” the moral issues of poverty alleviation and caring for the sick, poor, refugees, “least of these”, environment, imprisoned, etc. but the right are the ones to hold onto the hard “fact” that abortion is a moral outrage. It’s enough of an issue for conservatives that one I love could claim someone like myself can have nothing to say of value on any issue if I don’t agree abortion is always wrong.

But maybe that’s right to the extent that the reasons I am for the woman’s right to choose tie in with the rest of my moral judgements–so if you ridicule or hate my rationale for taking this stance you may as well ridicule the rest. I support a woman’s right to choose because I trust women to be their own moral agents and I would never presume to  know what is in their best interest. I am for a woman’s right to choose because I believe forcing a woman to carry a baby to term from the very moment of conception is arbitrary and cruel. The CDC reports 90% of abortions are in the 1st trimester and just over 1% are in the 3rd (almost always tied to the survival of the mother or because the baby has died). So to insist that those women who just found out they are pregnant but who are wise enough to their own situation to know they are in no shape to become a parent must just suck it up and become a parent is beyond absurd to me and against the liberties and freedoms inherent to our country. Pre-born life is potential life and there is no argument against abortion that is not rooted in religion; so if we are to maintain our separation of church and state we will not dictate what decisions women can make based on our own form of religion that they may not share. The issue of abortion is simpler than we all make it–if a person is against abortion they should never get one and they should never be forced to get one. But there is no room for them to force others to share their belief. Women can never maintain gender equality with men and be free to pursue their own visions, goals and live their own lives if we do not grant them freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies–and that includes an embryo growing within that body.

If you are pro-life I urge you to at the least expand your vision of what that entails and support programs, resources and avenues of growth that let life flourish from adoption and foster care systems to refugee resettlement programs to addiction treatment and poverty alleviation. I urge you to support programs that reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies: expanded access to birth control, comprehensive sex education and advanced women’s health care and mentoring. I urge you to love the life of women facing terrible decisions without resorting to labeling them murderers and shaming them without even understanding their life situation. I also urge you to be skeptical of politicians and people who play on your pro-life convictions to get your votes and dollars without ever having any genuine plan or hope of changing abortion legislation who simultaneously do everything they can to destroy the programs that reduce the desire for abortion in the first place.

References

*http://thefederalist.com/2016/01/15/why-the-abortion-stance-of-a-presidents-spouse-matters/

**http://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyashapiro/2015/10/28/ben-carson-overturn-roe-v-wade-abortion/#18da2a754511

***http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithfuldemocrats/2012/09/if-you-are-truly-pro-life-youd-vote-democrat/

****http://www.politicususa.com/2014/02/03/newsflash-republicans-abortion-rate-fell-13-president-obama.html

*****http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/pro-life-voting-for-hillary-clinton

******http://www.adl.org/combating-hate/domestic-extremism-terrorism/c/anti-abortion-violence-americas-forgotten-terrorism-1.html

*******http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/04/donald_trump_abortion_comments_exposed_the_incoherence_of_the_anti_abortion.html

********http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/05/pro-life-views-change-if-abortion-gets-personal.html

*********http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2016/jan/19/wendy-davis/flawed-wendy-davis-claim-1-3-women-has-had-abortio/     “”We know that the abortion rate has dropped substantially since 2008, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the lifetime incidence has. There also have to be concomitant changes in age-specific first-abortion rates.” She said that until 2014 data is analyzed, likely in 2017, it’s only appropriate to say that given 2008 abortion rates, “an estimated 30% of women will have an abortion by age 45.”

*********http://www.not1in3.com/

 

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This is the beginning of a series on Evolution Theology–by that I mean an (admittedly novice) attempt at sketching out a potential theology capable of incorporating progressively, cohesively, and enthusiastically the science of biological and astrophysical (cosmic) evolution, including natural selection and quantum theory and all that such fields may include. I have no pretensions of doing this definitively or expertly–this is more of a journey and fumbling attempt by a reader and a constant student, and at that one better versed in world religions and philosophy than science. As such I fully expect to miss some of the disparate opinions and nuances of much of what I introduce, so I fully welcome comments and corrections in the appropriate sections at the end of each column, by whoever wishes to dialogue with me. I welcome all resource suggestions any may provide.

I not only hope to sketch out what a hopeful attempt at  a true, science-affirming theology–not just one which concedes to science that which is of science and then ignores the field in all practical and spiritual concerns but rather incorporates and enthuses all that which is of merit–but also to tie those concerns to the idea that religion itself in its denominational and global variations also follows the path of evolution in a cultural and perhaps even transcendent sense. That all which we see in religious diversity is part of a “tree” of religion. For this thread I owe much to the excellent scholars and their proposals in “Three Testaments.”

So bear with me and I hope you enjoy.

The Myth of Progress

To begin with, I offer this prologue musing on a concept argued expertly by the late Stephen Jay Gould in his work “Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Darwin to Plato.” I acknowledge some controversy to his work—from allegations that his ideas are correct but not original,l to the arguments against some of his premises by other evolutionists. Yet the idea he proposes, whether accepted earlier or argued since, is certainly convincingly made and seemingly in line with most of current biological theory and one that, if not challenging to his fellow scientists is certainly challenging to many laypersons. Gould argued that perhaps the most common misconception regarding evolution is that it is always progressive–that natural selection as a theory works itself out in an “upward” manner. Gould argues that the traditional way of envisioning evolution is as a chart, a progressive march from apelike ancestors to the modern human being as the pinnacle of evolution. I would concur that it seems likely that this is indeed what most of those who commonly accept evolution envision–overlooking the hardline creationists and science-deniers on the one hand and the full-on scientists on the other, I wager that common laypersons typically see the progression of primordial substances to human beings as a constant chain of progression and the example par excellence of all that natural selection exhibits. Even in everyday language “evolution” is often used synonymously with “progress,” as if the “evolution” of something is always an obvious higher stage.  Gould cuts the wind from under that by laying out different case studies which force his readers to learn to look at data from different angles; but the short of it is that bacteria far outnumber human beings and each life-form we would label as bacteria today exhibits remarkable versatility, adaptation, and “perfection” in that they function as they ought to and often better. Per Gould (and most modern evolutionary biologists) human beings with their consciousness and deliberating abilities are a minority–or as Gould put it, a short tail on a large dog (and everyone knows the tail cannot wag the dog). The truth of evolution is that it is adaptation–not always up, not always better. Life that adapts to its geography and climate for survival is rarely “better” in any subjective manner–i.e., a wooly mammoth was no better than an un-hairy elephant, just better suited for the cold. Variation is the normative state of life according to this line of thought. Difference, originality, creativity. There is in fact no objective “normal.” Life varies and no upper echelon for any branch of it is guaranteed.

The myth of progress runs deep. It was embedded in rationalism and enlightenment philosophy. It took root in Western political philosophy and inspired both great and terrible things. Evolution, when absorbed under its umbrella, fit nicely when viewed as the scientific leg of a system which envisioned optimistically an ideal future in which the bulk of problems could be conquered. Some of the greatest liberal theologies and political philosophies were grounded in the myth of progress. Not all that grew out of this was (or is) bad; but today the problem likely is not that too many embrace a theory of constant, perpetual progress but rather that too many believe that all is slipping from what was once great.

The Myth of a Golden Age

I’ve written before of the problem with nosalgia. The problem often today is that far too many assume there was a better, often going just shy of claiming a perfect, time. Politically, nationally, religiously, once was better and we are falling away from that time. Gould used the example of baseball in his “Full House” book; the disappearance of .400 hitting, according to Gould, is evidence of an overall improvement in baseball skills not a sign of decreasingly skilled hitters as “golden age of baseball” cynics (and retirees) opine. In proving this argument he managed to prompt readers to learn to evaluate data differently, more broadly, more accurately. I am tempted to digress into a similar bit of argument here on a cultural issue–the often exclaimed “they just don’t write ’em like that any more, play ’em like that anymore” argument by those who argue that music has slowly slid downhill decade by decade. I love the Beatles and Miles as much as any serious music fan but I also recognize amazing current artists. The fact that once such artists garnered more popular airplay than they do now, the issue of media consolidation and the uptick of “artistic” capitalism, and the bias of those with nostalgic ears are all issues that have nothing to do with the quality of the music itself. I may come back to this later more depth, but for now I assume you get the idea.

No, for our issue at hand, I can simply say that the idea of a once pure religiosity, religious body, or religion itself is fallacious. We very likely will traverse the dispersion and inter-connectedness of religious bodies, tenets, and thought throughout this series of explorations but that core of originality was not more perfect than what might be found today; religions are connected, springing from common ancestry, but they have neither fully progressed to more perfect forms today nor were they once golden and now forever tarnished. Diversity and adaption are the norm in religion as well as biology and we will explore how this understanding might affect a newer religious sensibility as well.

I hope you will follow with me and converse, argue, and correct me along the way as I dip my toes in these various subjects throughout the upcoming year.