Face it, abortion is more than politics

MaryAndJesusAs the Divine Ms. MZ mentioned the other day in her “Nightmare on Capitol Hill” post, abortion is the issue that simply will not die in the ongoing debates about health-care reform. Right to life issues also hover in the background in those arguments about care of the elderly, too.

Politicians can compromise on all kinds of things, but journalists continue to struggle with the fact that there are absolute truths involved in these fights, issues that are hard to decide through compromises in those formerly-smoke-filled cloak rooms. This is true for those who back abortion rights and for those who oppose abortion and, yes, this has something to do with two different approaches to ancient Christian doctrines linked to the sanctity of human life.

In the center of all of this is U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak and a circle of pro-life Democrats — the GOP is basically irrelevant, once again, in the House. Here is a key section of a New York Times report on the math that is driving all of this. The votes are so close that the coalition of secular activists and pro-abortion-rights religious groups will almost certainly pull their votes if anything stronger than the U.S. Senate compromise language is floated. Meanwhile, Stupak and the pro-life Democrats continue to want to see the current state of the law — the Hyde Amendment — applied to the new reality that is health-care reform. Thus, we read:

Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and the author of the anti-abortion provisions in the House bill, said Monday, “It would be extremely difficult for me to vote for a bill” taking the Senate approach on abortion.

The House, more liberal than the Senate on many issues, would impose more stringent restrictions, barring coverage of abortion by any health plan bought even partly with federal subsidies. Under the bill that is likely to be approved this week by the Senate, health plans could cover abortion. But people who enroll in such plans would have to write two premium checks, one for abortion coverage and one for everything else. Insurers would have to keep separate accounts, and state officials would police the “segregation of funds.”

Douglas D. Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said it was difficult to envision a compromise because “people opposed to abortion see it as the taking of innocent human life.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California insists that any compromise that is attacked by activists on both sides must be a true compromise.

Then, once again, you have the reality that is the math.

Sixty-four House Democrats, representing one-fourth of the House Democratic caucus, voted for stringent restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion. And 41 of them voted for passage of the House bill, so they constitute a crucial bloc. The bill was approved, 220 to 215, on Nov. 7. But leading supporters of abortion rights in the House said they would not vote for a final bill if it included those restrictions, which they fear would curtail access to abortion for many women who already have insurance.

So what does this have to do with getting religion?

If abortion is the key in this gigantic story and religion is a major factor in the conflict — and ask the pro-life Democrats, who are largely Catholics and Southern evangelicals, if it is — then some major, major newsroom (I nominate the Times) needs to do a news feature explaining the actual doctrinal views of the religious groups that are playing major roles in this drama.

I would like to read a major piece on the minds and the money behind the liberal Catholic groups, for example. Then do the same for the groups who are working with the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

By the way, here is the latest from the bishops — who are not buying the Senate compromise, even though they still want to see a health-care reform bill reach the president.

You see, there’s no way to avoid the religious conflicts in this story, if journalists truly want to cover the facts of the story. So why try to avoid the religious conflicts? Why not explain them? Why not do a 50-50 report about the viewpoints on each side. Just do it.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Story? You’d need a multi-volume book to explore this issue. “Each side”? That draws the false conclusion that there are just two totally opposing sides in this area. I do have a question: What line will the Catholic church draw about denying communion to anyone who does not strictly follow the total letter of their position?

    One story showing that this is not as black/white as assumed by some:

    “Senator, you are throwing your future political career in jeopardy by defending Ben Nelson at the behest of your party,” Schmit-Albin wrote.

    “As a pro-life Democratic state senator, how can you thank Sen. Nelson for throwing unborn babies under the bus?” she asked.

    Nordquist responded that he wished Nelson’s earlier amendment to impose stricter limitations on abortion funding had not been rejected by the Senate.

    “I am glad, however, that we have the ability to opt-out of abortion coverage in Nebraska,” Nordquist stated.

    “I am more than willing to take the lead on the opt-out in the Legislature.

    “As a Catholic, pro-life elected official who believes in the ‘seamless garment of life ethic,’ I cannot call myself pro-life and stand back while 18,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance.”

    Schmit-Albin responded that she rejects the ‘seamless garment of life ethic’ argument.

    “In fact, our PAC will be reticent to get behind any Dem at any level after getting burned by Ben,” she wrote.

    http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_5ea7ed6a-ee8c-11de-aaa8-001cc4c002e0.html

  • Peter

    35 years after Roe v. Wade and 30 years into the culture war, who are these people who don’t understand the doctrinal views of the abortion culture warriors on both sides? Why does the media need to do a theology lesson that presents the issues so starkly black and white?

  • tmatt

    Peter:

    You honestly think that the DOCTRINAL, not political, views of the religious left are clearly known?

  • Peter

    I honestly think the religious left is not actively engaged in the abortion debate and those who are view it as a political, not doctrinal, issue. That’s been fairly clear for the entirety of the culture war.

    Everyone knows that there are progressive Catholics who disagree with the Vatican on doctrinal issues. This isn’t news to anyone who has lived in the U.S. for the last 35 years.

  • dalea

    tmatt asks:

    Why not do a 50-50 report about the viewpoints on each side. Just do it.

    There are far more than two sides here. Speaking of the left, of which I am apparently a member, there are dozens of paths that lead to pro-choice. And as Stupak, a fairly conventional labor Democrat, is on the left, it is difficult to speak of a common left position. Nor is there a common conservative position, libertarians are sometimes on the right but generally are pro-choice. Positions people take on abortion are frequently unrelated to their positions on other issues. Which is why journalists don’t do the kind of summary asked for.

    What I would like to see covered is how the RCC interacts with legal abortion in other countries. This seems very relevent to the topic. But I have not seen much coverage of the subject. How does the RCC deal with abortion in France and Germany? Such information would be very helpful but the press is not providing it.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    But leading supporters of abortion rights in the House said they would not vote for a final bill if it included those restrictions, which they fear would curtail access to abortion for many women who already have insurance.

    This is a little off topic but seems like a question a journalist should pursue: If they already have health insurance, why would these women need to be on the government plan?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    dalea:

    Obviously I know that there are many different positions, not just two. I am, as I have said, a pro-life Democrat myself.

    But there are at least two camps. At least. There are different positions on the religious left, at the very least. There are also conservatives and liberals, on other issues, who stand together on the issue of the sanctity of human life.

    I mean, click here, as a starting point.

  • Peter

    If they already have health insurance, why would these women need to be on the government plan?

    Critics of the Stupak language says it goes well beyond the Hyde Amendment and would also place restrictions on private insurers who are getting even a small amount of public subsidies. So if Aetna gets public money to insure those who can’t afford it, they would be prevented from providing abortion coverage to anyone.

  • Jerry

    why would these women need to be on the government plan?

    The whole point of the health insurance overhaul is to cover people who lose their insurance or can’t get it.

    One root of this issue which I don’t think is well-explored is the time of ensoulment at least from a religious left perspective. I doubt many who want to have abortion legal think of it in those theological terms explicitly, but it’s there implicitly because people have an opinion about what constitutes a human being entitled to “life liberty…”.

    If anyone has any real information going down this path, I’d love to read about it.

  • http://www.//godmodern.com Hal Barton

    “Cardinal” Law is like a Devil, his ‘seamless garment’ put every ‘moderate’ Protestant and Catholic morally asleep and his evil work goes on even now as people still think it is wrong to give the murder of innocent human babies more weight than the baby seals and the redwood forests and those various victims of poverty. NOT TRUE! when a child is drowning you drop everything and let all else go to save that life – so too with the murdered babies. Get rid of that document and forever turn away from “Cardinal” Law. Remember the abuse scandal under him forever!

  • Bern

    Off topic, but Hal Burton please note the seamless garment argument (not document) was promulgated by Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, not Cardinal Law once of Boston, but now serving in a minor basilica in Rome. Cardinal Bernadin is resting in peace.

  • dalea

    Jerry asks:

    One root of this issue which I don’t think is well-explored is the time of ensoulment at least from a religious left perspective. I doubt many who want to have abortion legal think of it in those theological terms explicitly, but it’s there implicitly because people have an opinion about what constitutes a human being entitled to “life liberty…”.

    While I expect ensoulment is a specifically Christian concept, I will attempt to answer the question. NeoPagans, to the extent they agree on anything, tend to see human life beginning with the first breath. The first breath inspires us to life, the last breath is when we expire. Prior to the first breath, the fetus is a part of a woman’s body not a separate human being. It has the potential to become a person, but not all potentials are realized. The decision to give birth is a highly personal one that must made by each woman according to her circumstances. We are pro-individual decision making.

    Now that I think about it, I have never seen press coverage of anything other than the life begins at conception concept. Nor have I seen much coverage of the ProChoice concepts of when human life begins.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think at least part of the reason the media is tending to not want to cover the abortion angle much is that it is in favor of pro-choice for the woman-death to the baby and has noticed that the more abortion is discussed and revealed for what it is its popularity rapidly sinks in polls . Some polls now show opposition to using tax money for abortions becoming more and more unpopular–hitting 70% opposition in a few polls.

  • str

    “While I expect ensoulment is a specifically Christian concept”

    Wrong! It is a Jewish concept that was for a while shared by Christians until those not blinded by other interested accepted that it is contradicted by the facts of biology and adapted their views accordigly.

    “NeoPagans, to the extent they agree on anything, tend to see human life beginning with the first breath.”

    Too bad for them that this is all wishful thinking. Too bad for their babies too.

    “Now that I think about it, I have never seen press coverage of anything other than the life begins at conception concept. Nor have I seen much coverage of the ProChoice concepts of when human life begins.”

    Maybe because the ProChoice crowd actually does not work in such dimension but rather claims a choice, regardless of whether it is a human being. Only some note the inconsistency with the otherwise prevalent talk about human rights and try to bridge it by defining babies out of humanity. Which of course doesn’s make their murderous thinking any better!

  • Stoo

    How does calling people murderous square with general rules of civility on this site?

  • dalea

    Stoo asks:

    How does calling people murderous square with general rules of civility on this site?

    Indeed, thanks for asking Stoo. Perhaps there may even be an answer, tho I doubt it.

  • str

    Who called anyone a murderer?

  • Stoo

    Well ok the crime is just thinking muderously.

    I mean here I am right now, thinking (by your standards) murderous thoughts! Is that weird to you? Horrifying?

    Would it be ok to accuse theists of tragically deluded thoughts? That’s a far less harsh accusation than “murderous” so for consistencies sake shouldn’t be spiked either.

    (ps I wouldn’t actually do that. Just an example)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Stoo:

    You are not making any sense, at the moment. However, if a comment offends you, please let me know and make a sound reason — journalistic even — for it being removed. We err on the side of caution around here and complaints by readers are always taken seriously.

    However, in this case, I — like str — don’t see the comment to which you are referring.

    Also, I am in the mountains of North Carolina at the moment and only have wifi every day or two. It’s hard to follow comments terribly closely under those conditions.

  • Stoo

    Str spoke of the Prochoice crowd engaging in “murderous thinking”. He didn’t aim it at anyone specifically, and I’m sorry I implied that. But it does clearly and obviously apply in general to several of us who post here and some percentage of those who might be reading. And I’m just wondering what isisn’t okay to say when commenting in general on groups you disagree with.

  • str

    Indeed, I referred to a certain thinking which I think murderous as it revolved around killing innocent human beings? I think it only fair to call a spade a spade. It was a thinking I referred to, not any one person.

    But my actual comment didn’t even call any thinking murderous but stated that a certain act of definition doesn’t make that thinking any less murderous. That is true regardless of whether you think the thinking in question murderous in the first place.

    Stoo, you are free to complain about my thoughts just as I am free to complain about anyone else’s.

    “Would it be ok to accuse theists of tragically deluded thoughts? That’s a far less harsh accusation than “murderous” so for consistencies sake shouldn’t be spiked either.”

    As if that hadn’t already happened, except for that the group in question – theists – doesn’t actually exist. Also, this supposed accusation is much less specific, hence it would be much harder to actually argue for it, if there is some factual core at all. It basically amounts to “‘Theists’ are bad” and that is not “much less harsh”.

  • Stoo

    Theists don’t exist???

    And yes “deluded” is much less harsh than “murderous”.

  • str

    Deluded is actually harsher as it is more general and less descriptive. Saying someone preferring green apples to red ones is murderous is obviously nonsensical, saying the same about some one who thinks it okay to murder babies is very apt. But deluded has exactly what content? It is just an insult! The fact that somebody is murderous is of course harsher – to those being murdered.

    “Theists” is a more or less meaningful (mostly as opposed to “deists” or “pantheists” or even “atheists”) classification but theists do not exist as a group. So to make such a statement about a non-group is pointless, Stoo.


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