The Purpose and Format of This Blog

This blog is about understanding differences. The authors speak from contrasting world views and have opinions that are polar opposites on many subject. At the same time they are friends with a great respect for each other. The objective is not to win an argument but to learn what the other person believes about a given subject.

The dialogue below follows a pattern. Person 1 asks a question (usually a challenging question about a controversial subject). Person 2 offers a reply to the question from the other world view or perspective. Person 1 replies with additional questions or comments. Person 2 then gets the last word. Take a look at the blog entry below to get a feel for the pattern that is being used.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Abortion Debate and Sarah Palin

Bill: We once talked about the abortion debate, so I've been thinking of you as I hear about how social conservatives are reacting to Sarah Palin's decision to keep her Down Syndrome child. People are praising her (rightly I think) for deciding or choosing to keep the baby and not have an abortion. The praise is directed toward her making the right choice. But this is just my point -- do we want to take away that choice and make it legally mandatory that people keep such a child? Are we going to put people who make the abortion choice in jail? And if so, there's really nothing to praise in her actions -- she only did what she is advocating should be legally mandatory. The presence of choice makes it a matter of morals; the absence of choice makes it merely a matter of legality. But isn't the decision -- and shouldn't the decision -- be a moral choice as it was for Gov Palin?


Steadman: Great question. My personal answer is that we need to make it a legal issue and eliminate the choice involved completely so that there would be no reason to pat our new friend, Gov. Palin, on the back for doing the right thing.

When people (perhaps moved to anger because of some significant dispute) choose peaceful solutions rather than murdering their next door neighbors, they don’t get much attention. We have chosen for the greater good and for strong moral reasons to outlaw homicide. For Christians and many other people who believe in protecting the lives of unborn babies, the issues are the same.

I would rather see these lives preserved and never see praise and attention given to someone for doing ‘the right thing’. What a spiritual relief it would be to merely uphold life.


Bill: Well, you are logically consistent. I sense some inconsistency that is perhaps politically motivated in the praise she is getting. From a social conservative perspective, it is rather like praising a peaceful person for not killing his enemy ("We're so proud of the way Scrimshaw didn't start blazing way and killing everyone in sight!")

I respect your longing for a world that upholds life -- you and I are on the same page on that no matter what our other differences may be.

However, I do think the analogy between outlawing murder and outlawing abortion is false. I don't think we can get to a world that upholds life by legal sanctions.

A murderer and his victim are biologically independent beings; the victim is a being independent of the being of the murderer. A mother and her unborn baby are biologically interdependent beings; the unborn child is a being that is an integral aspect of its mothers being: flesh of her flesh. This is an important difference. The flesh-flesh relationship between mother and unborn child cannot be thrown out the window; it just won't work to treat a mother and her unborn child like a murderer and her victim. Also, I don't think it's moral to treat them the same.

If we make abortion legally equivalent to murder:

How will law enforcement know about all the unborn babies that it would be their duty to protect? Would a woman, upon becoming pregnant, need to register her unborn child with the local police, so that the child can be known as a life that needs protection? As a practical matter how would this work?
What if a woman has a miscarriage? This happened to my sister twice. Presumably the mother would come under suspicion. There would need to be an investigation -- would there be a police investigation for every miscarriage?
Would the penalty for abortion be like that for murder? Death? Can we grant to the state a rationale for taking life (eg, detering crime), while denying to mothers that there is ever a rational for their doing so (eg to protect their own lives or, more controversially, to prevent bringing a child into a life of hellish misery and poverty)?
We know from experience that making abortion illegal doesn't deter women from getting them; it only drives the whole process underground where women (many of them just girls) are exploited, harmed, even killed by incompetent abortion "doctors". Since no legitimate doctor would do an abortion if he or she faced prison or death, criminals would prey on pregnant girls too scared and too immature to have the baby. It's an ugly outcome. How would it be avoided?

In short, while you see a moral equivalence to murder, it's not practical (and in my view it’s not moral) to treat abortion like murder.

There has to be a better approach to achieving a world that upholds life than making criminals out of desperate mothers.

I believe that if people like you and me can work this out, there's hope for the kind of world we both want.

Finally, and I say this with the utmost respect for your religious views, I really don't think Jesus would have treated abortion as murder. His compassion for the intensely painful facts that can confront a pregnant woman would have been too great.


Steadman: I really enjoyed our conversation this afternoon. And I'm thinking about the "what would Jesus do" question you asked… I can think of few instances where he condemned anyone… I think Jesus saw the heart of the person and spoke to the condition of the heart. He turned to one side when he was on the cross - one man would see him in paradise and the other would not.

I do think if folks like you and I could work on issues like these, we could make some significant progress. It would be interesting to write an article or some publication where we debated these views not so that one person would win and the other lose but so a common ground could be established that would help society for the greater good. Why does that seem so novel?

As regards the tough practical questions. I was thinking of my experience in Africa and realizing that abortion was illegal in every country I visited. I'll have to pay more attention to the issue on future trips and ask my public health friends for more info. It seems these developing countries have lots of issues but illegally performed abortions where young women were exploited as a result didn't even register on the list. I thought the map below was interesting. I think this means that abortion is illegal for about half of the geographic globe and the practical matters of legislation don't seem to be that big of an issue - unless they are simply being totally ignored (which may be the case).


Approximately 25% of the world population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, mostly in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These are the countries where abortion is most restricted according to the law. In some countries, such as in Chili, women still go to prison for having an illegal abortion.

Colorindex to the map:
Abortion illegal in all circumstances or permitted only to save a woman's life.
Abortion legally permitted only to save a woman's life or protect her physical health.
Abortion legally permitted only to protect mental health.
Abortion legally permitted on socioeconomic grounds
Abortion on request
Red countries on the map
South America:
Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela,
Sub-Saharan Africa:
Angola, Benin, Central African Rep.Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Gabon, Guinea- Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda.
Middle East and North Africa:
Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Sudan (r), Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.
Asia and Pacific:
Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka.
Ireland, Malta.
PINK countries on the map
The Americas and the Caribbean:
Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay
Sub-Saharan Africa:
Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe
Middle East and North Africa:
Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia
Asia and Pacific:
Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand


DF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DF said...

The last thing in the world I wish to do (right now) is insert myself into a debate about abortion... even a civilized one like this.

However, Steadman, I would respectfully ask you to name as many countries as you can, of those you listed, where you would like for your children to grow up.

Which ones have both social and economic conditions sufficiently comparable to ours that you would feel comfortable moving there and raising a family? Consider, in those countries, the state of: healthcare, economics, education, crime, personal freedom, and democracy.

Your list reads like a laundry list of countries where the people are dying (sometimes literally) to come to America.

The only ones that come even close to being able to provide a comfortable existence for a typical American are either oppressively Islamic or oppressively Catholic.

Daniel Farris