Once upon a time, I did an ethics paper on “The Lincolnian View of Abortion.” I took all of the Lincoln-Douglas, and simply substituted the word “abortion” for the word “slavery.” With minimal editing, the Lincoln-Douglas debates could be a debate on abortion today. Here’s the third in a series of conversations I’m having with another Family Physician about the issue of abortion.
About the issue of abortion, my friend wrote:
Essentially, defining the start of life is a religious belief, and Christians can have very different opinions. As there are a wide variety of beliefs on the subject, beliefs with equally strong (or weak) Biblical and scientific bases, it is wrong for one Christian group to forcefully impose its beliefs on others.
Indeed, it’s easier and more comfortable to settle into absolutes. But that doesn’t make the absolutes correct for the beginning of life any more than they are correct for the end of life.
So a man like Obama can, in good conscience and good faith, allow for legalized abortion, even if he personally believes that they are wrong. He understands that life is a slippery slope, and that neither he nor anyone else is in a position to judge those whose beliefs are different from his. None of us have a monopoly on understanding the greater Truth, and to claim absolute knowledge of God and God’s will is to reduce God to something smaller than the human mind.
From a practical point of view, abortions will always take place. If illegal, women will still have abortions, and always have. Archaeologists find evidence of abortifacients in ancient civilizations, and they are ubiquitous across civilizations.
What is needed instead – and this is Obama’s stance – is to “remove the occasion” for abortion: to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.
If I take my friend’s words, with minor editing (indicated in parenthesis), then I find he can support “slavery” with the same logic with which he supports “abortion.”
Essentially, (the rightness or wrongness of slavery) is a religious belief, and Christians can have very different opinions. As there are a wide variety of beliefs on the subject, beliefs with equally strong (or weak) Biblical and scientific bases, it is wrong for one Christian group to forcefully impose its beliefs on others.
Indeed, it’s easier and more comfortable to settle into absolutes. But that doesn’t make the absolutes correct for (opposing slavery) any more than they are correct for the end of life.
So a man like (the President) can, in good conscience and good faith, allow for legalized (slavery), even if he personally believes that they are wrong. He understands that life is a slippery slope, and that neither he nor anyone else is in a position to judge those whose beliefs (about slavery) are different from his.
None of us have a monopoly on understanding the greater Truth, and to claim absolute knowledge of God and God’s will is to reduce God to something smaller than the human mind.
From a practical point of view, (slavery) will always take place. If illegal, (people will still find ways to have slaves), and always have. Archaeologists find evidence of (slavery) in ancient civilizations, and (slavery is) ubiquitous across civilizations.
I am not arguing that legalizing (slavery won’t) increase the number (of slaves), only that illegalizing (slavery) will not prevent (slavery) from occurring. What is needed instead – and this is (the President’s) stance – is to “remove the occasion” for (slavery).
The bottom line for the support of slavery was that the slave was not a person – and, therefore, did not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In my way of thinking, this is the root argument against abortion. If the unborn child, from conception forward, is a person (and I believe he or she is), the we have no right to end his or her life. And, if we do, in virtually every case, it’s murder.
You can read a deeply moving article, On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position. It’s by George McKenna and was published in the Atlantic Magazine in September 1995.
In this debate I have made my own position clear. It is a pro-life position (though it may not please all pro-lifers), and its model is Lincoln’s position on slavery from 1854 until well into the Civil War: tolerate, restrict, discourage. Like Lincoln’s, its touchstone is the common good of the nation, not the sovereign self. Like Lincoln’s position, it accepts the legality but not the moral legitimacy of the institution that it seeks to contain. It invites argument and negotiation; it is a gambit, not a gauntlet.
He writes this, under the heading, “A Lincolnian Position on Abortion:”
I suggested that we can find in Lincoln’s anti-slavery rhetoric a coherent position that could serve as a model for pro-life politicians today. How would this rhetoric sound? Perhaps the best way to answer this is to provide a sample of what might be said by a politician devoted to a cause but no less devoted to building broad support for it. With the reader’s indulgence, then, I will play that politician, making the following campaign statement:
According to the Supreme Court, the right to choose abortion is legally protected.
That does not change the fact that abortion is morally wrong. It violates the very first of the inalienable rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life.
Even many who would protect and extend the right to choose abortion admit that abortion is wrong, and that killing 1.5 million unborn children a year is, in the understated words of one, `a bad thing.’ Yet, illogically, they denounce all attempts to restrain it or even to speak out against it.
In this campaign I will speak out against it. I will say what is in all our hearts: that abortion is an evil that needs to be restricted and discouraged.
If elected, I will not try to abolish an institution that the Supreme Court has ruled to be constitutionally protected, but I will do everything in my power to arrest its further spread and place it where the public can rest in the belief that it is becoming increasingly rare.
I take very seriously the imperative, often expressed by abortion supporters, that abortion should be rare. Therefore, if I am elected, I will seek to end all public subsidies for abortion, for abortion advocacy, and for experiments on aborted children.
I will support all reasonable abortion restrictions that pass muster with the Supreme Court, and I will encourage those who provide alternatives to abortion.
Above all, I mean to treat it as a wrong. I will use the forum provided by my office to speak out against abortion and related practices, such as euthanasia, that violate or undermine the most fundamental of the rights enshrined in this nation’s founding charter.
The position on abortion I have sketched—permit, restrict, discourage—is unequivocally pro-life even as it is effectively pro-choice.
It does not say “I am personally opposed to abortion”; it says abortion is evil.
Yet in its own way it is pro-choice.
First, it does not demand an immediate end to abortion. To extend Lincoln’s oncological trope: it concludes that all those who oppose abortion can do right now is to contain the cancer, keep it from metastasizing. It thus acknowledges the present legal status of “choice” even as it urges Americans to choose life.
Second, by supporting the quest for alternatives to abortion, it widens the range of choices available to women in crisis pregnancies. Studies of women who have had abortions show that many did not really make an informed “choice” but were confused and ill-informed at the time, and regretful later. If even some of those reports are true, they make a case for re-examining the range of choices actually available to women.
Here are some other of my blogs on this issue: