Thursday, July 15, 2004

Kerry on Being Pro-Choice

In his book, John Kerry does not really discuss his position on abortion, except for one reference. Since it seems to be an issue that some folks here and elsewhere want to discuss, I thought I'd introduce it now, and include some sources beyond his book to facilitate a more informed discussion of the topic.

First, the reference from his book;

...I am equally concerned about a particular threat that we now face to a woman's right to choose. Although they don't often discuss it in mixed company, President Bush and the Republican Party are committed to an exceptionally harsh policy of reversing Roe v. Wade. Some are actually seeking to prohibit abortion and, for that matter, the use of certain birth-control measures by what they call a Human Life Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- A Call to Serve
, p. 181.
He goes on to explain that since neither of these will ever come to pass, the fallback plan is to change the Supreme Court.

His website offers this statement on his position;

John Kerry believes that women have the right to control their own bodies, their own lives, and their own destinies. He believes that the Constitution protects their right to choose and to make their own decisions in consultation with their doctor, their conscience, and their God. He will defend this right as President. He recently announced he will support only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court. Kerry also believes that we should promote family planning and health plans should assure women contraceptive coverage.
The Washington Post reports the following quotes from John Kerry offered in an interview in Iowa on July 4;

I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception...

... I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.
For me, the key to understanding this position comes in the following paragraph in the Post's article;

...several parishioners asked him about his position on abortion and his vote against a recent bill that would have banned the late-term procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion, according to a reporter for the Telegraph Herald who sat behind Kerry's pew. Kerry replied that he would have supported the ban if it had included an exception for the health of the mother.
This is in line with my personal view on this issue. I affirm the sanctity of life. This means I am opposed to war, capital punishment, euthanasia and abortion. That does not mean that I think in every situation that the decision to take a human life is never an option. If an intruder entered my house and threatened my family, I would stop him, using every means at my disposal. I have seen those who are in extreme pain with no hope of recovery. In such cases, I believe that euthanasia might be the most compassionate response.

Every ethical decision has to be considered within the context of its particulars. If carrying a child threatens the life of a woman, I would think that abortion would have to be considered. It's one of those situations where there is no "good" decision. The death of the child or the death of the woman would grieve the heart of God. But not making a decision in such cases would in actuality be a decision, which would result in the death of the woman. So, we make the best decisions we can and ask for forgiveness from God.

I know there are those who will disagree with the idea that life begins at conception, and will object to me referring to a fetus as a child. I think this question, "When does life begin?" does need more attention than it has received. My honest answer is that I don't really know. Claiming that it begins at conception is an assumption I have made; one which might prove to be erroneous.

It is difficult to know where to "draw the line" as to when a fetus becomes a person. For some persons of faith, that line would be the moment of "ensoulment," which is often assumed to coincide with the moment of conception. But does it? Consider the case of a fertilized egg that splits and becomes twins. Did ensoulment happen at conception? If so, do the twins each have half a soul? Or did it occur at some later time after the split? If we accept the latter, then we have to admit that we know of at least one exception, meaning that there might be others. We don't know when ensoulment occurs.

One of the difficulties in discussing ethical issues is that many of us "do" ethics in quite different ways, which I have previously mentioned;

I want to suggest that there are basically two models used when faced with an ethical decision; the deontological model (some things are always right, and some things are always wrong) and the consequentialist model (the greatest good consequence for the greatest number is the right thing).

Both are valid approaches, and people of faith can find precedents for each within scripture and tradition.
The difficulty is that both the deontologists and the consequentialists are so sure their way is "right," that they can't hear one another.

I hesitate to speak on this issue, as it is an ethical situation that I will never personally face, which I suspect makes my thoughts on it a bit too objective to be of any real value. Personally, I believe abortion is the termination of a life. I also believe in some situations, this may be the difficult decision that must be made. Consequently, I oppose legislation that would make such a choice illegal. To use the line I first heard from Bill Clinton, and is now echoed by John Kerry's campaign, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.


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