By John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
This has become an absolutely molten issue so I thought I might put up my attempt at good old Anglo-Saxon compromise in the matter
Abortion is a difficult issue for conservatives. They seem to be fairly evenly divided about it. But Leftists are not. Leftists almost all seem to favour abortion. Why?
The key to understanding that is simple. When Leftists get into absolute power -- as they often did in the 20th Century -- we soon see what their "compassion" really adds up to. From Stalin to Pol Pot, Leftists showed that they do not care about human life at all. They murdered millions. So what are a few unborn babies to them? A mere bagatelle!
Rightists are divided because they are the only ones who genuinely care and it is a situation of conflict between the rights of the child and the rights of the mother. I myself think it is patently obvious that abortion is murder. A baby that would survive if born premature is destroyed by an abortionist and we are told that no crime has been committed! Absurd.
But my libertarian instincts also tell me that coercion is not the way to stop abortion. I leave coercion to the Leftists. Paying mothers to have the baby would work a lot better. Good old capitalism again! A payment of (say) $10,000 to all mothers who produce a healthy baby should do the trick. And with the now catastrophically low birthrates in most of the developed world we probably need such an incentive scheme for all mothers anyway. Australia already has such a payment, set at $5,000 at the time of writing. The payment was introduced by a conservative government.
So conservatives should be helping to support and encourage reluctant mothers rather than threaten them with the law -- perhaps even setting up special, discreet, resort-style homes for them during their pregnancy.
I am pleased to note that President Bush argued for policies similar to what I have outlined above. I quote him from one of the 2004 Presidential debates:
"I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life.
I understand there's great differences on this issue of abortion. But I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.
Take, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion. It's a brutal practice. People from both political parties came together in the halls on Congress and voted overwhelmingly to ban that practice. Made a lot of sense. My opponent out - in that he's out of the mainstream, voted against that law.
What I'm saying is that as we promote life and promote a culture of life, surely there are ways we can work together to reduce the number of abortions. Continue to promote adoption laws - that's a great alternative to abortion. Continue to fund and promote maternity group homes. I will continue to promote abstinence programs".
Despite much Leftist frothing at the mouth over the "extremism" of Bush's moral and religious views, what we note above is in fact a surprisingly libertarian approach to the abortion conundrum. He starts out rooting his opposition to abortion in that great intersection between Protestant/Christian and conservative/libertarian views: Respect for the individual and the rights and liberties of the individual. And precisely because he sees that principle as axiomatic, he does not go on to advocate a dogmatic policy of coercion or total prohibition but rather a policy of seeking voluntary ways of just REDUCING the number of abortions. So Bush was preaching a synthesis that was both classically conservative and yet also very supportive of Christian values -- with their view of all human life as the work and gift of God. It's the sort of synthesis that might have served a clever politician of the Left well in a religious country but it was the "dumb" George Bush who actually put it forward and won much kudos among Christians in doing so.
I am also absolutely delighted that Australia's most eminent Catholic -- Cardinal Pell -- has actually now put such policies into practice as well. I quote from a report in early January 2005:
"One of the last announcements Cardinal George Pell made before taking his annual leave this week was to introduce a program, new to Australia and only the third of its kind in the world, to provide support to pregnant women who are contemplating abortion. "We want to respond to the needs of women facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy by providing them with life-affirming options," he said. "Through the program, expectant mothers and, if required, their families, will be provided with social, emotional and practical support to enable them to continue with their pregnancy to full term. Women need real alternatives to abortion, and this new program is targeted to meet the specific needs of women contemplating abortion."
And in Israel too, a similar approach seems to be gaining ground:
"Responding to an issue that Jews often refer to as "the demographic threat", a non-profit Jewish group is encouraging poor, pregnant Jewish women who might be considering having an abortion to go ahead and have a child instead. Set up 29 years ago by Eli Schussheim, a surgeon, the Efrat organisation offers women $1,000 of support for a year, including diapers, a crib and baby clothes, if they decide to give birth rather than terminate their pregnancies"
And there are similar arrangements in some places in America:
"Take, for instance, the people of the Northwest Center in Washington, D.C., a pregnancy center and maternity home. They provide a whole host of services to women, children and men: material needs, job training, educational assistance and housing. Established 30 years ago by graduates of Georgetown University, with a modest budget and more demand than it can ever possibly meet, it has served more than 40,000 people.
At its fundraising dinner this year, the Center honored Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Democrat from Illinois, for being a staunch defender of the most innocent human life. In his acceptance speech, Lipinski in turn honored the real heroes of the fight for life and family in a country beset by a culture of death: the volunteers and those who make Northwest Center and its services possible. But even more so, the mothers -- those parents who bravely say yes to the lives with which they have been entrusted. Who, whatever the circumstances that brought them to pregnancy, surrender themselves to service.
"I believed no one supported my choice to choose life," a very pregnant Sharnece Ward explains. Ward has faced most obstacles a single mom can have. The father of her child gave her a litany of reasons to abort. "Planned Parenthood was recommended." She lost her job and housing. But she managed to find the Northwest Center and its "effortless support," the help "my family wouldn't give me." She's living there, at no cost. Suffering from gestational diabetes, she is getting the basic and additional health care she needs through the Center's help. And in addition to the parenting skills, she's continuing her education. She was determined to be the mother she already was, despite the option so many around her were all too insistent she pursue.
No political party owns social justice. Every individual is called to serve and defend the cause of life. In the face of evil and confusion, we often just need to encourage one another -- help each other with the support and resources -- to answer the call. Bonhoeffer's example reminds us of this. A contemporary martyr in a far-off country reminds us. A mother reminds us. In service, in courage, there is peace. Be not afraid, as a wise, saintly man of the last century implored.
Laws generally do however tend to have unintended consequences and laws implemented under Leftist influence are particularly noted for destructive consequences. See here for an example of a California law that lasted only two weeks!
And a probably unintended consequences of the SCOTUS verdict in Roe vs. Wade is that black women have eagerly accepted the opportunites for abortion that it opened up for them. Millions of black babies have been flushed down the drain in recent years. Given the high propensity to crime among blacks, this has probably contributed positively to American society -- as Levitt & Co. have rather controversially argued.
Note however that in all that I have said above there is no claim that opposition to abortion is a characteristic conservative doctrine. As I started out saying, conservatives are divided about it. The REAL opposition to abortion is religious rather than political. And the church which has historically tended to support the LEFT -- the Roman Catholic church -- is the most fervent in the anti-abortion cause. So the claim that conservatives want to impose their own moral views on others in the matter of abortion is quite wrong. Conservatives are indeed the one side of politics to have moral qualms on the issue but they tend to seek a middle road in dealing with it. Taking the issue to the point of legal prohibitions is a religious doctrine rather than a conservative one -- and the religion concerned may or may not be characteristically conservative.
Note further that although there is much about the RC church that would lead us to expect conservatism of it, the church is to this day quite Leftist in some parts of the world -- e.g. in Latin America -- and the church has long been centrist in its social doctrines. From de rerum novarum to centesimus annus the extreme of communism has been rejected but government intervention on behalf of the poor has been firmly supported.
Note finally that other ways in which conservatives have sometimes been accused of authoritarianism -- such as Sabbath observance and opposition to homosexual marriage -- are in fact distinctively religious, the work of VERY religious people usually.
For more on the correlation between conservatism and Chistianity, see here.