Friday, June 5, 2009

Freedom Does Not Mean Lawlessness

In the wake of Tiller's murder, we've all seen a host of debates, comments, blogs and articles that suggest the killing is the fault of the pro-life movement. The underlying premise seems to be that people who espouse pro-life principles are hypocrites because they "only care about people until they're born" or because their inflammatory language promotes hate-crimes such as the one that killed Tiller.

Unfortunately, both of these accusations are absolutely true of some people who claim to be pro-life. They are not, however, characteristic of the vast majority, and certainly not of the pro-life movement as a whole.

The pro-life movement is committed to protecting the dignity of life in all its forms. The myriad pregnancy centers, post-abortive counseling centers, and adoption agencies demonstrate that the pro-life movement cares about moms AND their babies. In addition, the movement's consistent support for families and the poor, and its opposition to domestic violence, stem cell research, capital punishment, and euthanasia, as well as the compassion with which most protesters treat the pregnant women they encounter, illustrates a firm interest in the welfare of humanity as a whole. In the wake of the Tiller murder, almost every branch of the pro-life movement, from the Bishops of the Catholic Church and the National Right to Life, to individual bloggers and citizens, have unequivocably condemned the murder of Tiller and disavowed any sort of violence to effect their
position. The very few who have spoken about their joy in his death have, in that very statement, placed themselves outside the movement.

Yet the animosity towards the pro-life position continues. Theresa Bonapartis has written an elloquent and beautiful article for Catholic Online addressing the idea of what constitues a "pro-life extremist." She writes:

When our military recruiting station was attacked this week, and Private William Long was killed and another wounded, the word terrorist was never used to describe the murderers. I have not heard Obama speaking publicly against them, or Eric Holder asking for additional security for our recruitment centers. Are the anti war demonstrators or Code Pink responsible for this act of violence?

A firm belief in the truth and a committment to pursuing it does not qualify as extremism, nor does it either promote or condone violence. Much like those who want to brand faithful Catholics as "fundamentalists" because we hold to the teachings of the Church in their entirety, this sort of blanket statement obfuscates the reality of the issue by framing it exclusively in the context of personal freedom vs. religious-based tyranny.

The crux of the argument (embodied by our President's statements on the issue) is that the decision to have an abortion is an extremely personal one, and that the only individual suited to make that decision is the woman herself. Any legislation to limit abortion would impose an outside (government sponsored) approval that should not be necessary. A woman has the right to make her own choices.

Except that she doesn't. For some reason, abortion is the ONLY circumstance in which our society believes a woman's personal beliefs should supersede the rule of law. A woman does not have the right to kill her husband if he is abusing her. A woman does not have the right to embezzle funds from her place of work if she thinks her salary is too low. A woman does not have the right to refuse to hire an African American because she believes they are dangerous. In all other cases, what the woman decides as right or wrong must fall within the boundaries of what society deems right or wrong.

Sometimes, this means the woman has to endure suffering. It means that a woman in an abusive relationship has to go to the police and fill out a detailed report and submit to photos that may cause her acute embarrassment. She may have to move to ensure her safety, uprooting her family and possibly staying for some time in a shelter. She may have to go to court, losing days of work to appear in person and file for divorce or press charges against her abuser. In some of the worst cases, she may be made the victim twice over, when the courts refuse to render a judgment that stops the abuse, or worse, when a technicality allows the abuser to come after her or her children.

Why do we put women through this, when clearly they are suffering? Why do we force them to increase their suffering rather than allowing them the more simple solution of shooting their husband in the head while he sleeps?

The answer is obvious. We force the woman to take difficult steps because those steps make our society into a civilized one where the law, not the individual, is the arbiter of justice. Even when the law fails, as it does on occasion, a woman cannot decide to pursue vigilante justice and take matters into her own hands. Despite her suffering, despite the wrongness of the situation, we still hold that the greater good is being served by having a process determine when an abusive situation is in evidence, and requiring that any punishment take place through the citizen-appointed system that exists for that purpose. We can still, as a society, show an abused woman compassion while simultaneously insisting that she submit herself to the higher authority of the law, even when that means the greatest burden of its implementation will, by nature, fall upon her.

No matter how
much thought someone puts into it, no matter how difficult it is, or how wrenching, no matter how moral or thoughtful or careful a woman is, she does not have the right to make the decision whether her child lives or dies. That decision is NOT between a woman or her family and her doctor. It is God's alone, and always will be.

Photo credit.


janet said...

Excellent, well written post.

Elizabeth K. said...

Fantastic post. This is one of the best rebuttals to "personal choice" argument I have come across.

mamazee said...

beautiful post. well thought out, and although i chafe at the bit a lot :) (the restriction of my freedoms) - i had never seen this one area as the "last Wild West" in our penal code... which it is...

mary lee said...

Dear Tienne,
This is a very well crafted piece. Like Elizabeth, I think it is a truly elegant argument against abortion.

mary said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Elizabeth K.