Instead of something controversial, let’s just talk about abortion.

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I think we are capable of having complex conversations on controversial issues. I want to create an atmosphere where dialogue can take place, not just diatribes. Few if any topics are more controversial or more complex than abortion. Hopefully I can communicate my thoughts on the issue in a way that is thoughtful not sanctimonious. I will break up my thoughts on the issue into two categories: morality and politics.

Morally: “Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God.”  This quote comes from a brief statement on abortion from my Church and reflects my own feelings. I believe life is sacred. I am the father of five children, I hoped for, prayed for and rejoiced with each child’s birth. I cannot imagine my life without them. I think it is wrong to end a pregnancy for personal or social convenience. I believe the power to create life is a sacred trust from God. I would never want to abuse those powers. I believe those who do abuse those powers with stand accountable to God someday.

Politically: I refuse to use the terms pro-life or pro-choice to determine my own position on this issue. I find them limited, loaded, ambiguous and supercilious. I think both parties have a great deal of confusion and hypocrisy on the issue. Abortion did not always play such a role in our politics. As this CNN article points out.  It is now a wedge issue used by both parties as a means to rally the base.

First, the Democrats “Pro-choice”: this is a party that believes government can help people make better more informed choices. The party who thinks it is important to regulate food, drugs the environment etc. For this party to say it has no place to tell a woman what to do with her body seems contrary to their core beliefs. Save the whales, forget about the unborn is hard to make sense of. The parties position has evolved in recent years. In the 90’s the party line was abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Even as late as 2012, the Obama administration was still trying to get traction for a policy to reduce the need for abortions. The new party line seems now more focused on the right to have access to abortion, treating it as a medical procedure only, with no moral or ethical consideration. To be sympathetic to the idea that black lives matter and yet not the lives of the unborn is intellectually incongruent to say the least. You should read David Brooks’ piece on this, I agree with him that Democrats have moved to far on this issue.

The Republicans “Pro Life”: If Democrats are inconsistent and hypocritical with their position, Republicans are borderline sycophantic and schizophrenic. Pro-life means sooo many different things to different people. From legally restricting abortion as a means of birth control, to viewing all termination of a pregnancy the same as premeditated murder. I have had some Republicans go so far as to think that birth control methods like IUD’s were akin to murder. Also, there is a fair criticism to make that the Republican Party is pro-birth not pro-life. Their lack of support for and aid to the poor, health care and education seems to be anathema to a commitment of improving the quality of life.

I am sympathetic to why people vote exclusively on this issue. The problem for me, however, is neither party has a position that completely coincides with my moral view. In addition, not every candidate from the major parties views the issue in the same way their party does. Not to mention that I think the parties sometimes feel less interested in honestly doing the right thing for people and more interested in fundraising and maintaining their party line narrative as a way to encourage people to vote for them. I am frustrated by the unwarranted certitude from many on the right and the smug superiority from those on the left—when in reality I think the vast majority of Americans understand the complexity of this issue. They realize universal application is unrealistic when considering individual circumstances. The simple sound bites from both parties fail to do justice to the issue.

I do believe there are common sense compromises that both parties could make. However, I am fearful that our current tribalistic atmosphere is resistance to serious substantive change. As Michael Wear points out in this Politico piece.“In the early days of his presidency, and in keeping with this spirit of collaboration, Obama also pursued an initiative across ideological lines to reduce abortions. This effort at bipartnership failed. The story of that failure is a window into some of our ugliest partisan tendencies: Democrats’ unwillingness to take religious groups’ objections seriously and thoughtfully; Republicans’ unwillingness to let Democrats be known for any progress on an issue so close to their party. It is a window into what, exactly, we’re going up against at a time of deep political division.”

As this NPR article shows there is no question that abortion rates are falling in the United States. There seems to be many reasons why. In states like Mississippi, Republican efforts to restrict access seems to be a contributing factor. In other states that have greater access to abortion the rates have fallen even more. The vast majority of abortions are performed as a matter of convenience, not medical necessity. I believe both parties could work together to reduce the demand for abortions. However, it will take people breaking out of their polarized partisan views. As with most issues the first step is being able to talk about the issue in a way that allows those who disagree with us to be heard.