Abortion: A Matter of Power, Not God

The moribund Bush administration has proposed new Health & Human Services regulations that would cut off funds to health care providers who fired or refused to hire people who object to abortion or contraception for religious or moral beliefs.

Never mind that workers are already protected against such discrimination -- though it is not reciprocal: Catholic hospitals have no obligation to hire pro-choice workers or respect moral convictions about contraception or HIV.

Recently I've received comments about my views on abortion. I am always gratified when readers respond to the issues I raise, and often find their criticisms helpful in shaping my thinking. But I find myself unpersuaded by arguments that human life begins at conception and that abortion is therefore murder.

I can't accept, either as a matter of personal conscience, or of my commitment to my neighbors and the planet we live on, that we should invest scarce resources, argue endlessly and fruitlessly, and punish women, neglect children and forestall medical research in order to keep every fertilized ovum alive.

I believe we have more important things to do -- making sure children already born have enough to eat, medical care and education, and learning to live together without killing each other and consuming the planet we live on.

I don't think the abortion question is about religion, except insofar as most religious people think that God doesn't like it because it destroys a human life. What kind of a god worries about the destruction of some unviable human tissue but designs human reproductive systems with a 50 percent attrition rate? What kind of god gives males the choice to conceive a baby but doesn't give females the choice to reject it? What kind of god allows older children to starve so that younger ones may be born, or permits babies to be born to a life of want, violence and fear? Not one I want to have anything to do with. And I won't accept the "It was ever thus" argument about human frailty. Just because we humans have always done badly doesn't excuse us from trying to do better, for ourselves, because we are all one family.

That said, however, I have to retreat a step. I do have a kind of religious faith, pretty much defined by what it is not. The Skeptic in me demands that the utilitarian condition must be satisfied -- God cannot be less than as source of Goodness -- love, grace, fulfillment -- that is available to all creatures and living systems. But my Resident Mystic keeps insisting that a God worthy of human experience must be more than a bearded old man obsessed with sex and virgins, strewing goodness about while withholding it from sinners and showering wealth on entrepreneurial men, handing down Ten Immutable Rules for human behavior, torturing the wicked, and advising George W. Bush on how to conduct his war on terror. I believe we are called to imagine a God of Truth and Uncertainty, Beauty and Disorder, Joy and Loss, while we are challenged to love our neighbors and seek to live with them in peace.

But neither the Skeptic's God nor the Mystic's God speaks to me about abortion. Abortion isn't about God, it's about power. And it's not even about male power vs. female rights -- only whether a person is to be allowed to make decisions about her or his body independent of the rules of religion, society or the civic order. The prevailing mythology today is that women cannot be trusted to make the right decision or take responsibility for their bodies and must be forced to do so by law. Men are excused from responsibility because sex is "natural" for them. And Viagra, Cialis, and other male sex-enhancing materials are big sellers in our society.

What I don't understand -- but find infinitely galling -- is why anti-abortionists feel it is their right to despise my conscience, control my thinking, dictate my behavior, and criminalize a private medical procedure. I don't tell them what they can and can't do, or try to make laws or constitutional amendments to force their compliance with my beliefs.

The late John Seiberling was threatened in 1972 by Right-to-Lifers who claimed they would defeat him if he didn't vote to restrict abortion.

"Well, that's all right," he replied, "because if I can't vote my conscience in Congress, I don't want the job." He won (75% - 25%), he believed, because he stood up for his conscience.

Once again we are looking into a deep chasm between those who believe that human governance is a matter of blind obedience/uncritical acceptance of sacred or secular laws and authority, and those who believe that we must govern ourselves from individual conscience and shared values.

I don't know if the latter is even possible on a planet now largely owned by private corporations, bristling with nuclear weapons, overpopulated with hungry, hopeful masses, and overheating by the desires and habits of men.

I do believe that if it is to be done at all, we humans -- male and female, all ages, colors and beliefs -- will have to do it ourselves. We can't expect a deus ex machina, Grand Plan, or U.S. president to save us.

We don't need more fascist regulations that override individual conscience on abortion. As we choose a new president and administration we do need honest elections, and candidates of conscience who will help us generate the laws and processes needed to stop killing and torturing humans already born, and start addressing the apocalyptic challenges of an endangered species on a threatened planet.

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