Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abortion: My views; the candidates' views; Latter-day Saint, Catholic, and evangelical views

(See also FAMILY/SOCIAL ISSUES below.)

What follow are (1) my views (and those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), (2) the candidates’ positions, (3) comments from Frank Schaeffer (an evangelical pro-life leader and a supporter of Obama), (4) more on Obama’s position, (5) additional links (to comments by Latter-day Saints and Catholics).

(1) First, from my letter to the editor (http://english2.byu.edu/faculty/youngb/politics&religion-viewpoint.htm):

Officially, “the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience” but allows for possible (but not automatic) exceptions in cases of rape, incest, severe defects, and serious threats of the life or health of the mother. But “the Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals . . . concerning abortion” (see http://www.newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/abortion). This is very different from legally prohibiting abortion in every case.

The Church’s position clearly leaves open to Latter-day Saints different ways of addressing abortion in the political realm. Individuals should feel free to argue passionately for their views on this matter. But since the Church has explicitly declined to take a position on legislative approaches to abortion, no one should claim that his or her view represents the Church’s official position.

Of course, on these and other issues I have strong views. On abortion, for instance, though I believe there should be legal allowances in cases of rape, incest, and threats to a mother’s well being, abortion for convenience seems to me socially, morally, and spiritually damaging, deadening our collective sensitivity to the preciousness of life. But given that we are dealing with the state of people’s hearts, I believe persuasion and positive examples are at least as essential as legislation in bringing about changes.

[By the way, one thing in addition: The Church does not have a position at which life begins--in the sense of when the spirit enters the body. The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception; earlier--in the late Middle Ages, for instance--that was not its official position, and some of its theologians taught that life begins at the moment of "quickening."]

(2) Second, the candidates' positions in general:

McCain: McCain calls himself "pro-life" and favors encouraging a "culture of life" but would leave the decisions concerning what legal restrictions would be made on abortion to the individual states.

I don't know what his belief is about when life begins.

Palin: I don't know what legislative proposals she currently favors, but she believes in general that abortion is wrong under all circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest.

I don't know what her belief is about when life begins.

Obama: He believes abortion is a "tragic situation" but calls himself "pro-choice" and believes that "ultimately . . . women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision." He opposes late-term abortions as long as exceptions are made for threats to the mother's life or health. He favors various measure to discourage abortion including encouraging sexual responsibilitiy ("sexuality is sacred") and adoption and making it more economically feasible for women to choose to give birth rather than have an abortion.

He has indicated that he does not know at what point an individual life begins.

Biden: Biden accepts Catholic teaching on abortion, including its teaching that life begins at conception. But he believes Catholic teaching should not be enforced as law on everyone.

However, he does oppose public financing of abortion since that requires those who oppose abortion to help support it.

(3) Comments from Frank Schaeffer, an evangelical leader who is "pro-life" and pro-Obama (and whose father helped found the pro-life movement):


(4) More on Obama's views:


OBAMA: I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.

But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision.

. . .

With respect to partial-birth abortion, I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life,

. . .

This is an issue that . . . divides us. And in some ways, it may be difficult to -- to reconcile the two views.

But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, "We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby."

Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that's where we can find some common ground, because nobody's pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation.

We should try to reduce these circumstances.

FROM A SPEECH ON RELIGION IN POLITICS (indicating why he believes those with strong religious views should not necessarily try to turn those views into law that applies to everyone) (source: http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/ ):

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.

We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

[The implication for abortion is this: Catholics may believe it is God's will that abortion not be allowed under any circumstances; Latter-day Saints believe that abortion for convenience is wrong, but that there may be some circumstances when abortion could be the appropriate choice; people of other religious persuasions could believe that God has revealed nothing about the moral status of abortion. But people in all of the groups have to talk to each other about the issue in terms that all can agree on or at most use rational or pragmatic arguments to persuade each other. They cannot simply say, "This is God's will" and expect everyone else to accept their view.]

OTHER INFORMATION: The following sites give (a) the Obama campaign's view on strengthening families and (b) Obama's Father's Day speech, in which he emphasizes fathers' responsibilities:



(5) For thoughts on abortion and other issues from Latter-day Saint and Catholic supporters of Obama, see these links:

http://thinkinginamarrowbone.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/mormons-for-mccai/#comment-1882 (Comments from a Latter-day Saint)




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