Apr 5, 2008

Moral Dilemmas: Sorting Out Who Stays And Who Goes

When it comes to abortion, I hate the fact that babies, whether still in the womb or not, are literally tossed as garbage on the streets. I hate the fact that some women view abortion as a method of birth control. I hate the fact that many choose to terminate a pregnancy because the fetus tests positive for Down's Syndrome. I hate the fact that when the consequences of being promiscuous or having an affair are too much to deal with, abortion can be your "get out of jail card." And yet, despite all this, I'm glad that the option is available to women and children -- because yes, some of them are still children -- who are raped or whose lives are at stake.

Of course, as members of the Church, we are instructed that abortion is not sinful in the case of victims of incest, rape, or where the mother's life is in jeopardy. Still, have you ever thought about how a law prohibiting abortion, except in those cases mentioned, would be enforced? How many women would falsely cry rape in order to get an abortion? And demanding "proof" would open a collossal can of worms. The bottom line is that society is paying a human price for the protection of the rights of those who are victimized. It's a huge price to pay because although I don't have any statistics, I would bet that the number of elective abortions (meaning those who had no morally valid reason for terminating the pregnancy) performed in the US greatly outnumber those performed on victims of rape or illness. Some would say it's too high of a price to pay.

Abortion opponents are often against embryonic stem cell research because of the destruction of human embryos. When it comes to stem cell research, whether it's morally right or wrong is not my call because I'm not the Moral Authority. But I've given a lot of thought to this issue and in my view, it requires the same sort of sacrifice that abortion rights do. Just as in the case of a mother's life being in peril, stem cell research requires the sacrifice of one life in order to save another. The difference is, of course, that we still know little about the potential of stem cells. We could be destroying human embryos for nothing, or we could be missing out on cures for a host of illnesses and disorders because research is not being carried out. Let's assume that the human embryo holds the cure to MS, Parkinson's or paralysis, just to name a few. Is it wrong that changing, or perhaps even saving, a human being take precedence over a human cell? Are we sacrificing the lives of people among us in order to preserve a life in its very first stage? And if so, is it worth it?

I guess the point I've been trying to make is think before you hop on any bandwagon. I mean REALLY think about what you are fighting for and want to see happen. You might just find yourself reconsidering once you find that things aren't so black and white.


Sanford said...

Faithful D – My personal stance on abortion has put me at odds with the Church for many years and is just one of the many contradictions I live with as I work to understand and maintain my belief in Mormonism.

My main reason for being pro choice is that I think it is personal decision that should be made by those who are contemplating it. Not everybody believes abortion to be a moral wrong and I am generally ok with letting people decide for themselves what they consider appropriate personal behavior.

As I studied Roe v. Wade in law school, I decided that it was about as close to a compromise as could be achieved. It might strike some people as rather odd to suggest that there is middle ground on abortion, after all, a fetus is either terminated or not. But I feel that in the political climate of this country, Roe v. Wade is an uneasy accommodation of both sides of the debate. And the consequences of making abortion outright illegal would be worse than let things stay the way they are.

sanford said...

Faithful D says

Of course, as members of the Church, we are instructed that abortion is not sinful in the case of victims of incest, rape, or where the mother's life is in jeopardy.

I understand the health of the mother reason. But I have always had a hard time understanding the position that it is ok to terminate a fetus under the rape and incest exceptions. The fetus is no less a living creation than if it were conceived under consensual circumstances. It seems as though the church position might be a bit of a compromise itself. Do you have any insight into this?

The Faithful Dissident said...

I would hesitate to call myself "pro-choice" because I'm not sure that I identify with arguments such as "it's my body, my choice" or "it's not the government's business." On the contrary, I think that under normal circumstances, once you carry another life inside of you, the welfare of that child should become the state's business, just as with any other child.

That being said, I always try to put myself in the shoes of others, whether I agree with them or not, in order to try get a broader perspective on things. I think that in my younger days, I liked to paint things black and white. It's easier to label things as "good" or "bad" and then just refuse to consider the other side of things. Now I think that the inability, or unwillingness, to empathize with another's point of view is the main reason why there is so much hate and conflict in this world. The abortion issue is a perfect example of that because both sides are often so consumed by their own agendas that they're blind to any perspective but their own.

I remember reading an online abortion debate and one woman made a very good point that made me think. She said that she was an unwanted baby, born to a young mother. Her mother raised her such that she always knew she was unwanted and she was scarred for life. Many times that she wished her mother had aborted her because no child should have to be born to someone who didn't want her. She chastised religious groups for seeing adoption as a good solution because, as she pointed out, how many of those people are lining up to adopt an unwanted baby? The US is full of unwanted kids being tossed around from one foster home to another, never having the chance to grow up in a stable family they can call their own. Now, I don't want to use this story as justification for abortion because I don't think it is. What it is, however, is a good reminder of the state of society and the miserable reality that some children are born into. It is also an eye-opener as to why some can see abortion as a reasonable and even moral solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Honestly, I can empathize with someone who believes that.

I also read a fictional account of a poor, unmarried woman in South America, her personal struggle and ultimate decision to have an abortion. It was one of those cases where you really start to understand the saying "until you walk a mile in my shoes." Most people, myself included, cannot truly appreciate what it must be like to be in that situation. Once again, I don't believe that it's moral justification. It does, however, certainly make it understandable.

I'm sure that any reasonable person, pro-choice or not, would agree that abortion is not a "good" thing. As a society, taking a life is not something that we should set out to do. And yet, like you said, the consequences of making abortion outright illegal could be worse than leaving things the way they are now. (Even Mitt Romney recognized that, citing an example of a relative who had died of a botched abortion, before he flip-flopped.) Realistically, I cannot fathom Roe vs. Wade being overturned. I think it's a lost cause and I really don't think it's worth fighting for. What I do think is worth fighting for is putting a stop to the things that lead up to an abortion. I really wish that all the Christian conservatives would work harder on tackling the root of the problem. There are a whole lot of steps that lead up to an eventual abortion, which is just the final act. More often than not, an abortion is just the final result of adolescent immaturity compounded by lack of moral upbringing, or things like substance abuse, adultery, and dysfunctional relationships. Outlawing abortion will do nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the only change we'll see is a rise in deaths from botched abortions.

Your question about terminating a fetus in the case of rape/incest vs. consensual circumstances is a good one that I've also thought about. The only theory I have is that the Church recognizes that in some cases, one life takes precedence over another. I don't think that the Church would consider the fetus conceived through rape any less of a living creation because a life is a life, regardless of the circumstances. A woman who conceives a child through being victimized has no moral obligation to carry the fetus to term because she would be sacrificing her life, figuratively and even perhaps literally, for something that she had no choice or control over. Just as in the case of embryonic stem cell research which I presented, there is no question that a life is being sacrificed. Sometimes, though, we need to make sacrifices for the greater good. The physical and mental health of an innocent rape victim is something that I think the Church recognizes as "the greater good."

Sanford said...

I think that in my younger days, I liked to paint things black and white. It's easier to label things as "good" or "bad" and then just refuse to consider the other side of things.

It can be very difficult to see beyond the black/white good /bad convention. I was a very black and white person prior to my mission and for a couple of years afterward but like to think that I am not that way anymore. It was, however, a difficult transition(one that is still going on I suppose).

I have lately been dealing with the issue of what is good and bad with my seven year old son. In preparation for a trip we are taking this summer to some civil war sites, we have been reading about the war and watching some related movies like Gone with the Wind and the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Several times he has pointed to someone on the side of the south and said ”they are bad, right.” I’m not quite sure how to respond. I say, yes, but usually follow it with some sort of qualification. It’s hard to get him to understand, for example, that a southern women watching her son go off to war is not necessarily a bad person. I have puzzled over how to help him learn a more developed view of the war. He is probably just too young but I want to help him develop the ability to see events and issues in a more nuanced manner. In the meantime, I am thrilled that he is willing to indulge me and learn some history with me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think that seeing the world "in colour" as opposed to black and white is a life-long process and I like to think that perhaps it's even a step in the path to Godhood, which is something that concerns us Mormons. For some, living one's religion fanatically and unyielding to compromise is a display of an upright and righteous devotion to God. I don't agree with it. I don't know whether I'm right in this, but I like to think that God doesn't want us to see and think in black and white when it comes to issues that challenge society. God is merciful and compassionate. If we are to ever possibly become anything like Him, then we have to develop these traits. I have a hard time believing that religious zealots, within Mormonism or any religion, are any closer to God than the rest of us just because of their unwavering faith.

On the other side of the coin, I sometimes find it hard to not be too merciful. I often think I'd make a poor jury member because tell me a sad story about someone's miserable life and I couldn't find it in my heart to convict them. God is merciful and compassionate, yet He is also just. Balance is the key because the alternatives are either a Taliban-like or an "anything-goes" society. The funny thing about a country like the United States is that people will tell you that it's both, depending on who you ask. :)

The issue of war and "good vs. bad" is always interesting. I think what you're doing with your son is great because it can be extremely difficult to look at war in a nuanced manner, especially if we're the ones experiencing it. My grandmother on my dad's side is English and lived through the Nazi bombing raids on London. To this day you can still see the bitterness, and perhaps even hate, in her when the subject of Germans and WWII comes up. I studied German all throughout school and have gone there several times myself, have German friends and love Germany. At first it angered me that she still holds so much bitterness towards a nation that has evolved from its evil past, but when I really think about it I can understand it. I've never experienced an invasion of my country and if I did, who's to say I wouldn't feel the same? And then there are holocaust survivours. How would any of us get through a place like Auschwitz and not be consumed by hate? I'm just fooling myself if I were to say I'm confident that I wouldn't. Hate born by war is a very strong emotion that is extremely difficult to repel. I think of the brainwashing of children via children's TV shows in Gaza, instilling hate and revenge in them from such a young age, and I think it's repulsive.

Have you seen the movie "Saints and Soldiers?" I thought it did a good job of portraying the dilemma of hate vs. compassion in a brutal war setting. I think there's a little too much violence for a young kid, but when he gets a little older I think it has a message worth sharing.