The Illusion of the Abortion “Middle-Ground”

Last year, I attended a Wyoming legislative committee hearing on an abortion bill. The debate had its “red herrings.” But, for a time, the discussion was very good.

At one point, a friend whispered to me, “I tend to agree with the person who speaks last.” He had noticed that, for the moment, debaters from both sides were right.  

How so? Because each side was highlighting one of two distinct aspects of human rights; the right to exist and the right to personal autonomy (the right to live according to one’s own values).

Even though both religious and non-religious people support pro-existence laws, some people think such laws are about enshrining religion. This is why they can claim to be personally against abortion, but don’t support abortion restrictive legislation. They believe this is the abortion issue’s “middle-ground.”

The best arguments for autonomy reminded us that no one wants to be forced to live according to the values (or lack of values) of others.

Freedom is fundamental. But both sides can agree that it has limits.

For instance, religious freedom is specifically protected by the Constitution but it is not an absolute freedom. The state could not require church attendance, for example, without violating the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause.

But, whether values are religiously inspired or not isn’t the issue. For example, some people demonstrate by their actions that they have no objection to theft. Other people, both religious and non-religious do object to theft, and may object for different reasons. Regardless of one’s personal view or what informs that view, theft negatively impacts the life and autonomy of others. Therefore, it is outlawed for everyone.

Regardless of what one believes about abortion, or what informs that belief, the question many seem to ignore is, “Does abortion negatively impact the life and autonomy of another human being or not?”

Today, YouTube has ultrasound videos of the preborn, moving, stretching and even yawning. I invite you to watch them. Look with your own eyes and ask, “Are these living, human beings?”

If you answer “no,” then you will perceive the estimated 120 yearly abortions happening within Wyoming’s borders one way.

But if your answer is “yes,” you will believe the same number of Wyomingites lose their right to exist, as well as their right to personal autonomy every year. You will see why “middle-ground” on the issue is an illusion.

Where the “Pro-Autonomy” Movement Falters

No doubt the “pro-autonomy” movement has its own list of grievances to file against its detractors. I will leave such a listing to them. Below, I list problematic areas in the movement’s efforts.

• It defies reason when it acts as if a developing human person doesn’t exist before full term delivery.

Does a child born prematurely “qualify” for human rights? At what point?

Imagine seeing an expecting couple smoking cigarettes together. Would we pretend their decisions were not impacting another?

• It defies science when it compares the preborn to an organ like an appendix.

Our society claims to reject hate speech. Yet, it tolerates unscientific euphemisms like this which are designed to dehumanize. Such speech has led to far more abortions than simple legalization ever could have.

• It claims abortion is a “personal choice,” while, at best, remaining silent as others simultaneously seek to publicly fund abortions.

• It draws the debate down the “exceptions” rabbit hole without ever conceding to a single abortion restriction outside of those “exceptions.”

⦁ It obstructs greater debate by claiming men should have no voice on the matter.

This has been very effective at silencing many men. One would think, however, that if the movement were serious about this claim, it would restrict its own testimony to the voices of only women. But it doesn’t. This inconsistency suggests the “pro-autonomy” movement doesn’t really have a problem with men weighing in on the issue. It just doesn’t like men who challenge its position.

⦁ It undervalues adoption.

• It doesn’t make an honest claim for when life begins. By extension, it refuses to identify the moment we become responsible for protecting human rights. If not from the beginning, then when? And why then?

Is it age of viability? Because given the pace of medical advancements, “viability” seems like an arbitrary, moving target. 

Do human rights depend upon location? i.e. outside the womb, and beyond “my body?” Then why oppose legislation like the “Born Alive Abortion Survivor’s Protection Act” which Congress has failed to pass, no less than 50 times?

⦁ It fails to acknowledge that abortion law sets a dangerous human rights’ standard; only those who are “wanted” get government protection. Human rights either belong to everyone, or they are guaranteed to no one.

We must, without exception, do better to help women who find themselves in desperate situations and facing unexpected pregnancies. To turn away a woman in need is unconscionable. But we shouldn’t suggest that the intentional termination of another human being is ever an acceptable solution. How can we speak against violence, if we spend so much time excusing it?

Both sides may forever disagree about the government’s responsibility on this issue. Perhaps both sides can help each other do better at keeping the discussion honest.  

Deacon Mike Leman is the Legislative Liaison for the Diocese of Cheyenne.

Against Hate

 

My name is Deacon Mike Leman. I am here representing Bishop Steven Biegler and the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. Bishop Steven could not be here today, but he sends his heartfelt regards and assurances that he joins our prayers for healing, peace and unity.

The reading I have selected comes from the Second Vatican Council, regarding The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Men and women must not be content simply to support the efforts of others in the work for peace; they must also scrutinize their own attitudes. Statesmen…in their efforts to secure peace are of no avail as long as men and women are divided or set against each other by feelings of hostility, contempt and distrust, by racial hatred or by inflexible ideologies (Gaudium et spes, nn. 82-83).

I chose this reading for reflection because I think it is honest. In principle, we are all against hatred. We must continually examine the need for systematic changes which can aid the promotion of peace. But really, that’s the easy part. Because if systematic changes fail to happen, I can always blame somebody else. But if I fail to scrutinize my own attitudes, if I fail to change, there is no one else to blame.

We are here in principle to speak in defiance of fear and hatred. But the reading calls us to look beyond mere principle and ask, “How are we doing in practice?”

I recently heard an interview with a law professor from Notre Dame who was talking about the need for judges to be objective. She tells her students a story to illustrate what this looks like. I am going to borrow her analogy and put a twist on it. Because we are not considering the role of judges but our role as people of faith in our community.

The story she uses is that of Odysseus and the sirens. Odysseus is warned that the sirens’ song is so beautiful and seductive that it drives men mad, and in their desire to get near the sirens they willingly steer the ship into the rocks. Odysseus takes the warning very seriously. He orders his men to stop their ears with wax and to tie him to the mast of the ship. He tells them, no matter what he says, they are not to untie him until the ship has passed the island into safety. In this way, Odysseus is able to hear the song, but is not able to do himself or his men any harm.

Faith leaders are people too. We also, are susceptible to the power of the sirens’ song, the call of ideology. We underestimate this truth at our own risk. The songs often begin by highlighting an injustice against a particular group. We are beckoned to enter into solidarity with that group. That much, we must continue to do. Like Odysseus, our own ears cannot be stopped. We must hear the cry of the poor.

But when the ideological song goes beyond the call to solidarity and the refrain settles on a person or group to blame, a scapegoat, upon which we can channel all of our anger, and frustration, it becomes very seductive and can even feel righteous, to the point of madness.

As a diversity of faith groups our ship enjoys a plurality of ideas about who God is and what it means to be a creature of God. But if there is a mast to which we must be bound, it is the mast of human dignity. That by simply being human, regardless of age or stage in life, regardless of race, religion or any other factor, each person has a dignity that guarantees an inviolable right, to be. If that is our foundation, then we can safely enter into heated debate about every other subject under the sun. But, if we get that wrong, if there is a crack in mast, beware, for Odysseus is breaking free, and we are headed for the rocks.

We affirm our opposition to fear and hatred, how are we doing in practice? Does our language reflect the true dignity of every person? Have we adopted an ideological language that veils certain groups of people? Do we use language that diminishes the legalized violence being perpetrated? As faith leaders, everything we say and do matters.

As Christians, the image of God crucified is an image worthy of reflection. So, I would invite you to do that with me for just a moment. Because the message that God gives in that reflection is this; whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever language you speak, whatever the color of your skin, know this: you are worth that kind of pain. You are worth that much suffering. In fact, you were even worth dying for, because you are precious in God’s eyes. Remember that.

May the Lord grant healing and consolation to all victims of hatred. May he grant us the grace to seek systematic changes where changes are necessary. May he grant us the courage to continually scrutinize our own attitudes. And may he grant us the wisdom to understand that we cannot fight the fires of fear and hatred, by adopting the very ideologies that feed them. In his most holy and sacred name we pray. Amen.

Detachment and Christian Discipleship

In today’s reading from the Gospel, we heard that the man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and to give away his possessions, give to the poor, and then come and follow him. We want to resist the temptation to water down the sheer radicalness of Jesus’ call. We are tempted sometimes to let ourselves off the hook a bit. So it is good to sit in the moment with all of its awkwardness for a while.

“Jesus, what must we do to inherit eternal life?” “You know the commandments. Follow them.” “We do, Lord.” Then Jesus, looking us with love says, ‘Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”

It is true, that the Church does not interpret today’s reading to mean that every disciple of Christ must become materially homeless. The Kingdom of God would not advance if every Christian suddenly decided to live in the street. But we shouldn’t imagine that means our call is any less demanding or that it will be any easier to respond to.

The details for how Christ calls each of us are unique, but what is the same in every case, is the need for us to become detached from those things that prevent us from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Remember, the fullness of the Kingdom is not yet fully revealed, but it has already begun. It is not a distant, future reality. Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” So, the young man in the Gospel, he’s on the doorstep of the Kingdom. But he is still so attached to the world that he freezes on the doorstep, and ends up walking away.

The question for each of us, then, is what attachments do we have that are preventing us from crossing the threshold today? Once we have identified them, we should realize that detaching ourselves from them will probably not be very easy. It might even hurt. Like the second reading says, “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow…” So, what are those attachments that are preventing us from enjoying a deeper communion with God? Let’s allow the Word of God to cut those things away.

Of course, there a many things that we can become attached to. For me, I have recognized an attachment to the desire of being liked. Selling out for Jesus has meant experiencing sort of a social, political homelessness. That has been hard because I am a people pleaser. I never want to say or do anything that will offend people. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I want people to like me.

At a certain point, you make a decision to go along with the crowd, to hold your tongue so that people will like you. Then, one day, you wake up and realize that you are the one! You have become the person who doesn’t like you. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to detach myself from the desire of being liked.

October is respect life month. The Church reminds us that a just society must learn to respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death, and in every stage in between.

When we hear the Church’s language regarding human dignity, where do our minds go? Do we think about the unborn? The poor? The elderly? The immigrant? Is there any population that we exclude when we hear the Church’s language?

I know Catholics who don’t like it when I write about the dignity of the unborn because they think it gives validity to a certain political party. They send me angry letters. I know others who don’t like it when I write about the dignity of immigrants, for the same reason. They think it gives validity to the other party. They send me angry letters too.

Our country is so taken by fear that we don’t seem capable of seeing the dignity of every person. So, it’s no wonder that we fail to challenge ideologies that veil the dignity of those persons, when we don’t even think of them as persons.

But that’s the political world with its zero sum game, saying we have to choose one group over the other. The Catholic worldview prefers people over policies.

I will be honest with you. I don’t much like looking at pictures of the horrific reality of abortion. I don’t much like hearing the stories of immigrant families being torn apart, fleeing gang infested, war-torn countries. I don’t like looking at poor homeless people in the street.

All of these things remind me of how small, and weak I really am. If I had power, all of these problems would be solved. But I don’t have power. I am weak. And that is a heck of a thing to learn about yourself. I don’t like it very much. But that is precisely where discipleship begins. Every single day. Every morning. Anything else, and the day begins with a lie.

We are weak. We don’t know worldly power or have simple political solutions to all of these problems. What we do know is the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God as revealed by the son of God. He showed us that every person, including every single person in this Church, including the unborn, the infirm, the homeless, the immigrant, the elderly, the prisoner and every person in every other possible state, is worth the sacrifice made at Golgotha. To Jesus, they are all worth dying for. Yet for some of us, they are not even worth challenging our own political party for.

The Christian worldview is a consistent worldview. If you hold it consistently, you will know what Jesus meant when he told the would-be disciple, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” If you hold it constantly, you just might find yourself politically homeless.

The Good news is that the world, influenced by Christianity has come a very long way over the last two thousand years. The fact that the weak and the marginalized are given consideration is amazing. Two thousand years ago, broad public discussions like the ones happening today would have been unheard of. So the Kingdom of God has advanced significantly since then.

My prayer is that, one day, by the power of God, through whom all things are possible, every one of us will enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, in all of its glory. When that day comes, it is likely that we will see those who we were supposed to be afraid of. And we will recognize that they were not problems to be solved, but that they have always been our sisters and our brothers. And there will be rejoicing on that day.

But today, the question remains for us; will we be builders of that Kingdom? Or, will we remain so attached to the world and all of its false promises that we find ourselves frozen on the doorstep?