By Celia Murray
On June 11th, I wrote a column about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, which necessarily dealt with what may well be the most controversial issue in American politics – a woman’s right to choose. While I did not state my position on the issue, it was implicit in the column. The retaliation for expressing my opinion was swift and vicious. Last week, in two published letters, I was accused of “spewing hatred,” of being full of “anger and bitterness,” and the question was posed as to whether I should be labeled a “terrorist.”
There are two distinct issues presented by these letter writers – the abortion issue and what I will call the “debate” issue – and I want to address both, after which I will say no more on this subject. First, with regard to the abortion issue and those who consider it a moral and/or religious issue, I encourage them to read the opinions of Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, who for more than a decade has been president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Based in Washington, D.C., the coalition advocates for reproductive choice and religious freedom on behalf of about 40 religious groups and organizations.
Prior to joining the coalition, Veazey spent 33 years as a pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Surely we all agree with Rev. Veazey when he states that “men and women are moral agents and equipped to make decisions about even the most difficult and complex matters.” Rev. Veazey goes further: “We must ensure a woman can determine when and whether to have children according to her own conscience and religious beliefs and without governmental interference or coercion. We must also ensure that women have the resources to have a healthy, safe pregnancy, if that is their decision, and that women and families have the resources to raise a child with security.”
Dan Maguire, a former Jesuit priest and professor of moral theology and ethics at Marquette University, contends that while the decision to have a child can be a sacred choice, the decision to not have a child can also be a sacred choice. Abortion is a serious decision, and surely no woman makes such a decision lightly. Among some, there is an assumption that some would end a viable pregnancy carelessly or without a reason. The facts do not bear this out.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy revolves around the individual woman’s circumstances and issues – such as whether she is old enough to care for a child or whether she already has more children than she can care for. These are extremely personal decisions which should be between a woman, her doctor and her God.
Opponents to choice contend that abortion is murder. Rev. Veazey does not believe that life as we know it starts at conception, and many educated, thoughtful and spiritual people share his opinion. He states, “I am troubled by the implications of a fetus having legal rights because that could pit the fetus against the woman carrying the fetus; for example, if the woman needed a medical procedure, the law could require the fetus to be considered separately and equally.”
It is important to remember that religious traditions have very different ideas about the status of the fetus – Roman Catholic doctrine regards a fertilized egg as a human being, while Judaism holds that life begins with the first breath. Most abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Late abortions are virtually always performed for the most serious medical and health reasons, including saving the woman's life. As Rev. Veazey notes, “These are difficult decisions; they're moral decisions, sometimes requiring a woman to decide if she will risk her life for a pregnancy.” Although the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a very difficult one, it can a responsible decision. Depending on the circumstances, it might be selfish to bring a child into the world. Pat Gillespie and Brenda Thompson undoubtedly believe that every child conceived must be carried to term. It has been my observation that many like them are 100 percent supportive while the child is in the womb, but as soon as the child is born, their support disappears. Too often those who are most vocal in their “pro-life” positions are also those who oppose taxpayer funding for healthcare, education, housing, family assistance programs and other anti-poverty programs. Essentially, in the words of Rev. Veazey, they “abort” that child by driving him or her into generational poverty, drugs or the criminal justice system. It has often appeared to me, based on fiscal policy, that the right’s concern for the “unborn” ends at the birth canal. Although I doubt there is any dispute of the fact, let me state that I am an unrepentant liberal Democrat. That means I am pro-choice – not pro-abortion. It is an important distinction. While I support a woman’s right to choose, I believe that abortion should be rare. The only way to accomplish that goal is to provide comprehensive sex education in schools and in our communities and by ensuring that both accurate information about contraception and contraception itself is available. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has not been willing to pass a bill to fund comprehensive sex education. Instead, they put money into failed and harmful abstinence-only programs that often rely on scare tactics and inaccurate information. Former Surgeon General David Satcher has shown that abstinence-only programs do not work (i.e., Bristol Palin). We should provide young people with the information to protect themselves. Education that both stresses abstinence and provides accurate information about contraception will reduce the abortion rate. The positions of people like the writers of last week’s letters cause me to want to know more about them. I wonder, for instance, if Thompson and Gillespie support sex ed and available contraception. I know that there are thousands of children in the state of Georgia’s foster care system who are available for adoption, many of them being special needs kids, and I wonder how many of them Thompson and Gillespie have taken into their homes to raise and love and support. I don’t know – maybe they both have stepped up to the plate and support their convictions with action – I hope so. My personal bottom line mirrors that of Rev. Veazey – it is selfish and cruel to bring children into the world and not care for them. We, as a society, are extremely selfish when we neglect children already born. Veazey: “For all practical purposes, children whom we are neglecting are being aborted.” So now that my position on the choice issue is clear, I want to address the “debate” issue. Pat Gillespie’s letter asserted that I contend, “if you disagree (with me)… you are wrong and have no right to speak.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I concluded my column of June 11 with the following: “Surely…people on both sides of the pro-life/pro-choice debate can engage in a civil discussion of this controversial issue and leave the politics and speech of hate in the past.” While it may shock Gillespie, I have a number of goods friends who happen to be Republicans and we often engage in spirited debates on the topics of the day – but always in a civil, respectful manner. The exchange of ideas about the weighty issues facing us today is the cornerstone of our democracy. I have never tried to silence the opposition or accused anyone of being unpatriotic for sharing a view different from my own. In previous columns, I have contended that “genuine dissent is to be encourage and serious political debate is undoubtedly healthy” (February 12, 2009) and condemned negative personal attacks, praising John McCain for his defense of then Senator Obama (October 23, 2009). I encourage debate across the spectrum, but always with caveat that we must all acknowledge that others not only may hold differing opinions from our own, but that they have a right to do so. To paraphrase Rev. Veazey, it is totally arrogant for others to tell me that I need to or must believe what they believe. Of course, we all want to win others over to our point of view, but we must undertake to do so in a respectful manner. In this, Thompson and Gillespie have failed. Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Party.