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Marcia Pally: Stop culture war rhetoric and find common ground on abortion

December 29, 2011, 8:00 am | Posted by Kristin Ford
Marcia Pally

Marcia Pally

Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, had a refreshing column in USA Today last week, with a clarion call for a different kind of rhetoric and approach to the issue of abortion. Instead of hunkering down in the culture war trenches, she makes a compelling case for the “nuanced ideas” evangelicals have been developing to find common ground approaches to the abortion debate.

Here’s the heart of her principled and pragmatic argument:

Because 73% of U.S. abortions are economically motivated (according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that researches reproductive issues), abortion would drop significantly if medical, financial and emotional support were provided during pregnancy along with day care post-partum services. It would drop further if we re-thought our adoption policies and dealt with the values taught to our kids about the worth of others and of intimate relationships, and — especially for boys — about using others for one’s own pleasure.

Moreover, there’s no reason why evangelicals should not join with other faith groups, secular organizations and feminists in developing such programs.

In addition to supporting (economically, socially, and otherwise) women who become pregnant, we can also work together even amidst difference on the legality or morality of abortion to ensure that women and families have access to the health care and contraception they need.

In a November 2011 New York Times column, Nick Kristof called attention to one such effort, calling a statement in support of family planning organized by The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good a “ray of hope.”  The draft statement says: “Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women’s health, and the prevention of abortion.”

Pally points out that the Republican Party’s stance on abortion has cemented the bond between the GOP and evangelical voters.  But with evangelicals’ new approach to reducing the need for abortion and supporting women, that glue might start to come un-stuck:

As Richard Land, president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “If that issue (abortion) were taken off the table, then other issues get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer. Issues like economic justice, racial reconciliation, the environment.”

From my experience working with evangelical Christians across the country, there’s definitely truth to this: people of all religious and political stripes are anxious for a new approach to the issue of abortion and know that battles over legality don’t get at the root cause of why women decide to have abortions. And evangelicals, especially the younger generation, care deeply about America’s role in the world, global and domestic hunger and poverty, protecting the environment, economic opportunity, and a host of other issues.

Abortion is an incredibly important moral issue, but it’s not the only issue that matters to voters of faith. Increasingly, paying lip service to the pro-life cause without actively working to create solutions and alternatives won’t be enough for politicians to maintain their grasp on evangelical voters.

3 Responses to “Marcia Pally: Stop culture war rhetoric and find common ground on abortion”

  1. Jean Ehrman says:

    Thank you for proposing a start to a sane, reasoned discussion. However, I continue to be concerned that the abortion issue never includes a global perspective—that is, our planet’s population of seven billion is already unsustainable in terms of use of natural resources and quality of life issues.

    Surely the issue of overpopulation must be included when Christians–evangelical or otherwise–and all other groups contemplate the future of the entire Earth.

    • Zach Schmidt says:

      What conclusions do you draw from looking at the “global perspective” and overpopulation issues in regard to abortion?

  2. Zach Schmidt says:

    I found this an interesting and insightful article and am in agreement on the importance of looking at root causes, reducing the need for abortion by supporting women and families, and on new approaches to the issue.

    But I see the question of (and battle over) legality as unavoidably central to the issue. The author of this article states that “people of all religious and political stripes are anxious for a new approach to the issue of abortion and know that battles over legality don’t get at the root cause of why women decide to have abortions.” That’s true. But the question really comes down to the age-old sticking point, “When does life begin?” Because for those of us who agree that life begins at conception, and who observe that we have laws protecting human lives post-birth (even post-first trimester), we are justified in integrating the two strands and affirming it makes no sense for our laws to permit the willful termination of some lives but to prohibit and punish the termination of other lives.

    The root causes question is undoubtedly important, but so are our country’s laws, especially since we would (I think) all agree that our laws reflect our values. We must not overlook the legality question in an effort to help resolve the root causes, the latter of which will never fully be resolved. There is certainly a multitude of root causes, just as there is a multitude of root causes for any number of actions that individuals may carry out. But this fact has not relaxed our countries laws against, for example, my willful termination of my neighbor’s life, so why should said fact be allowed to relax the laws against the willful termination of what’s inside my wife’s womb (or any womb, for that matter)?