In the most recent US presidential election a number of Pro-Life advocates came out in support of the Senator Obama. The argument made then was typically some form of the argument made last November by Frank Schaffer in an open letter to President-elect Obama. As I argue below, while I understand why many Americans voted for Mr Obama, I believe those who argue his policies are compatible with a Pro-Life policy position are simply, tragically, wrong. While my letter is address to Frank Schaeffer, I would invite your own thoughts on the matter.
On November 12, 2008 you published an open letter to the then newly elected Barack Obama. You title the piece, “An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama About Abortion: From a Pro-Obama and Pro-Life Leader.” While I do not dispute your past contributions to the Pro-Life cause, I must take objection to what seems to me to be the faulty moral analysis that underlies your advice to President Obama. To be direct, your argument is neither a Pro-Life argument nor compatible with the historical, Christian faith nor the teaching of the historical Christian Churches, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic. The Church’s teaching aside, however, you cannot be, as you claim to be, “pro-life,” and argue “that abortion should remain legal.” Your arguments are not pro-life but pro-choice.
Let me explain.
You argue that we must reduce the number of abortions, far enough. But you also argue that there is no need for the Democratic Party (and I’m quoting here from your essay) “to give up principles about reproductive rights. In fact, it means that those principles can better be defended in the long term because you will have claimed the moral high ground.” In other words, and please correct me if I am wrong here, you argue that reducing the number of abortions is in the service of defending a so called “right to abortion.” I’m sorry but this is simply monstrous. In effect your advice to our new president is that he work to help some mothers bring their children to term so that other mothers can maintain the legal right to kill their children!
You agree with President Obama’s own argument on the matter, when you say that abortion (and again I’m quoting) “is a moral issue upon which reasonable and honorable people can disagree.” Again, this is monstrous—indeed if it were not for the moral horror of this argument it would be laughable. That people disagree over abortion is clear—but it is neither reasonable nor honorable to accept, even regretfully, the proposition that it is morally licit to take an innocent life. And such acceptance is certainly not a pro-life argument.
Let me be clear: Under no circumstance can one sanction the taking of an innocent life. Those who fail to see this, do so because of a grievous moral blindness and hardness of heart.
What I find more is disturbing than intellectual poverty of your moral analysis is your cynical willingness call yourself pro-life while expressing a willingness to sacrifice the lives of the unborn for the sake of national harmony and an end to the culture wars. You contend that, if your advice is followed, the President “will have taken a giant step towards bringing this country together.” Whether this is true or not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of national unity is not the words of someone I can reasonably call pro-life. Your position is morally unacceptable both in light of natural law and the biblical tradition that informs the pro-life opposition to legal abortion.
We cannot as a country simply agree to disagree about the murder of the unborn. To suggest we can is the essence of the pro-choice argument of convenience: “I am personally opposed but…” And yet this is the very argument of you advance when you assure Mr Obama, that (and again assuming he follows your advice) he “will find . . . some new and unexpected allies rooting for [him] on the issues of the economy, service and sacrifice.” Specifically you have in mind “millions of Evangelical young people ready to follow your call.” That more of these young Evangelical Christians have voted for Mr Obama “than for any Democratic candidate for the presidency post-Roe” is not doubt true. And that many young people, whether Evangelical Christian or not, are “already believe in your vision of service, responsibility and compassion. ” Alas, should the president follow your advice, he (and you) can only betray their idealism and desire for service with a false and deceptive hope, since neither he (nor I fear you) take seriously their “moral concern on the issue of life.”
Nowhere is the pro-choice character of your argument made clearer than in the parallel you would between President Nixon and President Obama.
In your view of things, abortion can be for Mr Obama his “‘Nixon goes to China’ moment.” You argue that only “a progressive Democrat” (such as President Obama) can “defuse the situation and heal the culture wars in a way that no Republican president has been able to do.” How? By using, as you suggest, the presidency as a “‘bully pulpit’ for life, and a substantive set of a programs to reduce abortions, while also defending Roe. You can do both!”
No, Frank, he can’t. Your argument is simply wrong.
Certainly, President Obama’s economic plans is something that reasonable and honorable people can disagree over. And while I am willing to entertain the possibility that Mr Obama’s policies may, and I must stress MAY, reduce the number of abortions, this is not the salient moral point. But the moral problem does not lie so much with the number of abortions but with the fact that abortion is not only legal in the US but accorded the status of a right. But how can anyone have the right to kill an innocent human being?
Your willingness to accept the continuation of legalized abortion as the law of the land is not compatible with either the Tradition of the Church or natural law; it is certainly not a pro-life position.
I would go further and say that your letter is scandalous. Not only is it such in the popular sense of shocking, but in the technical, theological sense as well. You present yourself as a Christian and a self-professed pro-life leader and yet you offer a public witness that argues for the moral legitimacy of abortion. In suggesting a course of action that allows not only for the upholding of legalized abortion (or as you refer to the euphemistically, “reproductive rights”) but also suggests that such a position can reflects “the moral high ground,” you are not only morally wrong, but have caused grievous harm to his readers—you have left them with the false notion that a pro-choice position is consonant with the Gospel. It is not.
By all means let us as Christians support Mr Obama when he proposes policies which, to quote His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, “extend a hand to those suffering from their sins, what ever they are.” We have the confidence to do this, no matter what the personal or political cost because by faith we know and proclaim that “There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, save the one we refuse to accept forgiveness for.”
At the same time however, we must remind Mr Obama that we cannot simply work to reduce the number of abortions; we must stop abortion. Why? Because as His Beatitude reminds us “Abortion not only destroys the life of the infant; it rips the soul out of the mother (and the father!),” even as our support of abortion has ripped apart the fabric of our society.
From my own pastoral experience I know that abortion is “a sin for which a woman torments herself for years, sinking deeper into despair and self-condemnation and self-hatred. But there is forgiveness, if only she will ask.” Sadly your own letter seems to pass over in silence not only the Church’s moral witness on this issue. In doing so you minimize the Church’s teaching that in Christ those who commit abortion, those who perform abortion and those who—even passively—support abortion “need . . . to repent and accept forgiveness, so that their souls, their memories, and their lives, might be healed.”
However well intentioned you might be—and please understand I do not doubt your good intentions—your willingness to support legal abortion is simply wrong.
+Fr Gregory Jensen