Updated version of an article originally published in The Daily Beacon on Friday, January 16, 2009
A problem with our modern political discourse is the tendency to rely on bumper-sticker logic as a substitute for substantive reason. Nowhere is this more evident than in the eternal war over the ethics of abortion. The clichés are all too common: “Don’t force your morality on me,” “Keep your rosaries off of my ovaries” or more recently, “Keep your religion out of my uterus, and I’ll keep my foot out of your …”
In order to make any real progress on this debate, we must do away with a few of the popular stereotypes, most specifically that the pro life cause is inherently a religious and/or a conservative political issue. Although many pro life advocates, myself included, do fall into these two categories, many of us also feel the debate has become far too myopic and politicized. The anti-abortion movement itself is much larger and more diverse than that. Consider this short list of “non-traditional” pro lifers: Theodore Roosevelt (our first “Progressive” president), Susan B. Anthony (and many other feminist founders), the Dalai Lama and progressive actor Martin Sheen.
There are pro-life wings within all major U.S. political parties, including the Republican National Coalition for Life, Democrats for Life of America and Libertarians for Life. The grounds for their beliefs may be, among other things, scientific (the fact that prenatal medical technology has made it virtually impossible to assert that an unborn child is not alive) or legal (the fact that Roe v. Wade is based on very spurious Constitutional scholarship, a fact that is even acknowledged by some pro-choice advocates (including the late Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg). At any rate, their convictions are certainly not always based on religion.
In fact, in looking at the history of American abortion policy, author and activist Vasu Murti observes: “The U.S. statutes against abortion have a nonsectarian history. They were put on the books when Catholics were a politically insignificant minority. Even the Protestant clergy were not a major factor in these laws. Rather, the laws were the achievement of the American Medical Association. … One could argue, therefore, apart from religion, that recognizing the rights of the unborn, like the rights of blacks, women, lesbians and gays, children, animals and the environment, is a sign of secular social progress.”
This is reflected in the philosophies of many modern pro-life organizations. For example, the mission statement of the Secular Pro-Life organization is that “You don’t have to be religious to have a problem with killing humans.” Feminists For Life further declares that “Women deserve better than abortion.” The Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League is based on the premise that “… life is all there is and all that matters, and abortion destroys the life of an innocent human being.” Similarly, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians states that “Human rights start when human life begins.”
Recent political trends seem to indicate that these voters may be a more formidable voice than many have realized. An example would be the 2006 race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. The incumbent Republican, Rick Santorum, was a hero to religious Conservatives since he was first elected in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. He was also reelected by a comfortable margin in 2000. However, in 2006, the Democrats coyly nominated pro-life State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. With the contentious abortion issue off of the table, these voters finally had a viable option, sweeping Casey to a double-digit victory.
Democratic icon Hubert Humphrey summed it up well: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those that are in the dawn of life — the children, those who are in the twilight of life — the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life — the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” It is this sort of compassionate approach that motivates the majority of pro-lifers, many of whom would be quite willing to consider the Democratic Party if they were offered more viable options.
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