Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Politics, Part I

It has been very hard for me to decide to publish this series of posts. I really hate politics and the anger that enters into most political discussions, and most especially I hate the way it polarizes people and fosters judgment and disdain. However, I have very strong feelings on society and the role of government. I believe political participation is an important way that we, as Americans, can take the poor with us. It might be the most influence we have on the world at large, and to refrain from active participation is unthinkable.

However, I do not have typical Catholic sentiments towards politicians and government. I say "typical" to mean that my opinions are not usually in line with those others who attend services with the same frequency as I do, or hold to the teachings of the Church as rigidly as I do (as defined by polls which cover these things.)

Voting, in general, causes me a great deal of anguish and emotional strife. I am writing these posts in part to be honest about my struggles, but also in an attempt to work out the direction of my political involvement. Writing is the best way I know to sort my thoughts, and this forum allows me to solicit the input of like-minded believers, which I value.

So, let's get right to the most contentious bit.

Part I: My Objection to Voting Pro-Life

I live in Colorado, which had on its ballot this past week the following amendment to the State constitution:
"An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term 'person' as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."

This is the second time such a measure appeared on the ballot. In 2008, "biological development" had further language that made personhood apply from the moment of fertilization. The measure was roundly defeated in 2008, and reappeared this year with the modified language.

The following is part of the text from the Colorado Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding this measure, written in 2008:
"While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado."
This brings me to my biggest problem with voting pro-life. Despite the best efforts of pro-life politicians and faithful Catholics involved in pro-life ministries, there has been no significant decrease in abortion rights over the last 40 years. What we are mostly fighting over is taxpayer funding. While it's true that rampantly pro-abortion presidents (such as Clinton) caused great harm to the pro-life cause, it is not the case that pro-life presidents (such as Bush) have done much to help it.

While I am pleased that people of faith haven't given up on the abortion issue, I'm not convinced that the actual power of a given pro-life candidate outweighs the possible harm they could do on other issues. The anti-life culture is so ingrained in our society that politicians, no matter how well-intentioned, find it very difficult to pass any legislation that significantly alters abortion rates or rights. The more fervent and passionate a candidate is on the pro-life issue, the harder it is to get him elected.

I am pro-life. I consider our country's abortion rate a tragedy of epic proportions. There is NO EXCUSE for a country as prosperous and educated as ours to have no room in our hearts for a million little children. As a faithful Catholic and pro-life woman and mother, it pains me every time I think of the wasted lives and the gross injustice perpetrated on these innocents every single day. I argue against abortion with everyone in my life, even with my staunchly pro-choice family, even at the dinner table, even hours after the conversation has stopped moving forward and I am close to tears. They refuse to acknowledge the truth: that a baby, even unborn, is a person with the right to live. That bearing a child already conceived, even if it delays your graduation or promotion, is your responsibility as a human being. That we should be doing everything in our power to promote motherhood, adoption, and pre-natal care.

The bishops statement on the personhood amendment also declared:
"...lower federal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to apply the permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe."
In other words, the bishops affirmed not only the uselessness of any attempt to overturn abortion at the state level, but the actual harm it might pose in creating even more case-law that supports Roe v Wade. The way the Supreme Court works, any decisions it makes must be reinforced by the lower courts, and subsequent Supreme Court cases can rely on those lower judgments in their later decisions. In other words, everything builds on itself, and once a decision has been made at the Federal level, it is much, much more difficult to overturn it than it was to come to the decision in the first place.

How could the bishops refuse to support this amendment on the basis that it is unrealistic and could cause harm, yet insist that I cannot vote for a pro-choice politician based on the same argument? I do not take voting lightly. I do not make my decision on simple partisanship. Since 1970, we have had pro-life Presidents, a majority pro-life Congress, and pro-life state governors and state legislators multiple times. However, not a single pro-life President has issued an executive order banning abortion. Why not? BECAUSE THEY CAN'T. It would be immediately overturned by the legislature or the Supreme Court and the people would riot.

The most we've been able to accomplish is to impose regulations that get in the way of quick, cheap access to abortions. While this is laudable, and an important step, the long and short of it is that we've made abortions more difficult for those who are in the most need of support during an unwanted pregnancy: unwed mothers and low-income families. 60% of women who have abortions already have children, and 75% of those who have an abortion state their reason is financial, either that they cannot afford another child, or that having a child would interfere with their school/job/ability to care for other children.* Unless we are providing assistance to these women in the form of pre-natal care, maternity leave, and affordable child care, we are perpetuating the myth that children are a burden and abortion is necessary to prevent poverty and unemployment.

Two more things I want to mention here. Roe v Wade was decided by a majority conservative court appointed by Republican presidents. The closest we came to overturning it was 1986, with
Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. 7 of the 9 justices had been appointed by Republican presidents, and were told by the current President (Reagan) that they should revisit and overturn Roe v Wade. Instead, they voted 5-4 to uphold the right to abortion. There are many reasons to have conservative Supreme Court justices, but the likelihood of them overturning Roe v Wade is remote, even if they ruled as we expect, which they rarely do.

And the personhood amendment that appeared on our ballot this week? Despite my vote, it was defeated 70% to 30%. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of our country (even in a heavily Republican state like Colorado) is against the overturning of Roe v Wade or any sort of real limitations on abortion. It doesn't make sense to me that I should put aside all the other issues and ignore reality to vote for whichever candidate is against abortion, even though that is the clear message of the Church.

I write this only to say that I am very conflicted each time an election comes around, and I find the phrase "vote your conscience" to be incredibly insulting. My conscience doesn't allow me to support any candidate in any race at any time, because there is no "faithful Catholic" party. Every line I drew on my ballot this year went AGAINST my conscience, no matter which party I supported. I will never be proud of my vote, nor will I ever be happy that a certain candidate has attained office. The entire process is riddled with guilt, doubt, frustration and disappointment from beginning to end.

I cry when I vote. And I don't wear the cheery little sticker.

*Statistics on induced abortion from the Guttmacher Institute

Picture credit.


Anonymous said...

What a really honest, interesting blog post. I think I feel similarly...I'll have to sit with it awhile before I conclude that for sure. But I've been so frustrated with the mandate to vote pro-life, for the reasons you articulate. Life begins at conception. I don't see anyone getting around that reality. But the pro-life political/legal movement, such that it is, is particularly frustrating to me. To support something unpopular or lacking political traction at this moment in time isn't the problem I have. It's to have it eclipse other important issues that may get traction in the meantime. I wonder...

Thanks for posting, thanks for articulating some of my frustrations and forcing me to think.


Elaine said...

Dear Tienne,
This is so well-written, and beautifully expressed. Last Sunday as I was driving out of the parking lot after Mass, I was handed a political flier listing pro-life candidates in my area. Every one of the candidates listed had horrible records regarding the poor, the mentally ill, the handicapped, the elderly, the sick, the working poor, the immigrant, daycare, education, death penalty. Just because they are anti-abortion, does not make them pro-life! I wish there were more politicians that really, truly respect ALL life, but until there are, I cannot vote for anyone based on one issue while ignoring all other social justice concerns. I don't think that would be morally responsible, and I can't believe that is really what the Catholic Church is asking me to do.
Secondly, I'm not sure the legal system is the best way to abolish abortions. What we need to do is change minds and hearts to recognize life beginning at conception. I wish I knew how to do that.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Very interesting thoughts!

The reason I don't vote for pro-choice candidates isn't very pragmatic -- I realize that there are a lot of different factors at play that could reduce abortions, and that supposedly pro-life candidates don't always get the job done. However, what does concern me is the level of evil involved in the view that an unborn child is not human; it's a different level of evil than someone who, for example, doesn't think we should give more money to the poor. The latter person may be wrong, but at least he acknowledges that the poor are human beings. There is something deeply chilling about an entire class of people being rendered sub-human. The implications go much further than just the issues of the day.

Just my $0.02. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

el-e-e said...

I love this. I agree that it's so disheartening to vote these days. There's never a perfect candidate. Very thought-provoking, so thank you for bravely posting it. (I hate talking politics!)

big sky said...

I feel the exact same way! I'm so conflicted now that I don't even vote. I believe some pro-life candidates aren't really pro-life, they just say it because they want my vote. Oh, sure, they might vote for some pro-life legislation or pro-life appointments, but they are not going to actively try to stop abortions. You are absolutely right when you say we can't elect a true pro-life candidate- there is no way they would win. I'm not willing to give my vote to someone based on an issue they won't do anything about. But, I'm also not willing to vote for someone who perpetuates such a gross evil. I don't think not voting is a good solution- I just don't know what else to do. So, I pray. It's so refreshing to hear someone say this in Catholic circles!

Amy said...

Wow, it's like you are reading my mind. I wrote a paper for a theology class with very similar points. I know how you feel, I feel the same.