Monday, June 1, 2009

Abortion and Passivity

The recent slaying of a doctor who provided abortion services resurfaced something that has always troubled me about the pro-life movement. Without question, the vast majority of pro-lifers oppose murdering doctors and clinic workers. Killing other human beings is in direct opposition to the life-ethic that those who oppose abortion espouse, and it's certainly antithetical to the core teachings of Christian faith.

Where things have always seemed peculiar is in the disconnect between the rhetoric of the pro-life movement and the way that movement articulates itself socially and politically.

Abortion is, in the language and frameworks of the pro-life movement, murder. Though there aren't plain-text scriptural grounds for conservative Christians who make this assertion, folks who hold this worldview understand abortion as the intentional slaying of another human being. It is also something that is systematically practiced, making it...again, in the language of the pro-life movement...akin to genocide. Doctors who routinely perform abortions are mass murderers. A society that tolerates and permits abortion is engaged the moral equivalent of eugenic cleansing, no less horrific than the eugenics of the National Socialist movement in the 1930s. For those within the movement, these aren't hyperbolic straw men. These are the core ways in which American conservatives articulate their opposition to abortion.

What I can't quite grasp is how the pro-life movement as it has existed over the last several decades can believe all of these things and be as...well...passive as it is. The vast majority of folks who believe that all of the statements in the previous paragraph are an accurate description of reality are just going about their day-to-day lives. They might write a letter or two to their congressman annually, provide funds to pro-life organizations, have a bumper sticker, or occasionally show up at a demonstration. But they are otherwise indistinguishable from everyone else.

This strikes me as odd. Why? A recent Gallup poll indicated that for the first time, slightly more Americans self-identify as pro-life than identify as pro-choice. Within the pro-life group, those believing that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances represent 23% of the population. Applying that percentage to the baseline number of voters registered in America, that means that around 38 million citizens believe that abortion is wrong in all circumstances, and that it is...well...murder.

Yet though tens of millions hold this position, there is no similarly massive campaign of peaceful civil disobedience. Rotating teams of tens of thousands of protesters aren't engaged in 24-7 non-violent physical resistance. Our local jails aren't filled with conservative moms and dads and teens who have laid their bodies down to physically block access to clinics in which they believe mass murder is being perpetrated.

If a nearby orphanage was regularly culling unwanted children, or if Sunrise Retirement Communities had a cost-benefit-termination clause for the elderly, I'm fairly sure I'd be both outraged and active...even to the point of getting arrested. The lives of other human beings are worth it.

Being arrested is, admittedly, both unpleasant and inconvenient. Folks have to go to work to provide for their families. Kids need to be home schooled, or taken to Young Life programs. Prison time gets in the way of those things.

But how you can on the one hand believe that millions upon millions of innocent human beings are being murdered and on the other be...well...doing basically nothing about it...has never computed.

As reprehensible as yesterday's killing was, it seems in its own horrid way more coherent than the strange acquiescence of those who talk a great deal about abortion or nod their head when their pastor laments about it, yet go about their lives as if that doesn't actually mean anything to them.