I’m a secular humanist and a liberal, and I oppose abortion.

Sometimes you just have to get something off your chest.  This is one of those posts.

I’ve organized regular get-togethers of the liberal/progressive social group Drinking Liberally in the Peoria area for more than two-and-a-half years.  (Online here, at Meetup, and Facebook.)  There’s always a healthy debate at our meetings What would you expect from a bunch of liberals and progressive drinking at an Irish-themed bar?  But only a few issues have ever completely blown up one of gatherings, with people getting angry, walking out, etc.

Abortion is one of those issues.

I think I’m safe in saying that most Drinking Liberally-Peoria members are pro-choice, in every sense of politics and policy that that description has come to mean.  But not everyone fits in that category, and certainly I don’t.  I’ve argued my position a few times at Drinking Liberally meetings, and now I’ll set some of those down in writing.

I want to start first by re-printing a portion of an email exchange I had with a curious conservative earlier this year.  All of what follows is my writing and not any of that person’s:

Abortion is a hard issue, obviously.  I’m afraid I don’t line up on the commonly understood “liberal” axis with this one.  I don’t exactly like this phrasing, but I call myself a “pro-life” liberal.  Using that label suggests I have more in common with people who describe themselves that way than I do.  Using that description at one of my Drinking Liberally meetings brought a bunch of shocked looks, but as is typical for all of us, the group respectfully let me explain my point of view.

I believe that everyone has the right to life and that a human life begins once the various chemicals of the sperm and egg combine to create the batch of cells that can – if everything goes right – become a human being.

However…the world would be a much easier place if we only had one right or a clearly ranked set of rights, but unfortunately, that’s not so.  Various rights and values compete all of the time.  That’s why all of this is so hard.

One of those rights is the life of the already existing human being, the mother.  If the pregnancy proceeds in a way that it threatens to kill the mother if brought to term, we have two separate rights to life competing.  In that case, I believe the mother should have the right to a safe and legal abortion, if that’s what she chooses to do.

Another one of those rights is the right to liberty – the right to make our own choices about our lives, to live the life we pick and not the one forced upon us.  That right to choice/liberty is taken away from a woman in cases of rape and incest.  She did not pick that pregnancy, and it’s an ugly thing to have the state force a woman to have that child under those circumstances.  That woman’s right to choose her life competes with the unborn child’s right to life.  I don’t think it’s my place to decide how to balance those rights.  I think that decision must remain with the woman, and she should be allowed to get a safe and legal abortion under those circumstances.

Where I draw the line is when abortion is chosen as a means of birth control.  Often the opposite of the “pro-life” side is called “pro-choice”.  Well, I believe the choice comes in when someone decides to have consensual sex.  Once that choice is made, it’s hardly the unborn child’s fault that he or she came to be, so that’s no grounds for violating his or her right to life.

All of that just begins to scratch the surface of the argument.  There are all kinds of objections and issues that I’m leaving out.  I guess I’ll say a couple more things and then let it go for now:  First, what I outlined above pretty much describes the mainstream of American public opinion on abortion.  Most people want it legal and safe and left pretty much up to the mother.  At the same time, people recoil from an unlimited right to an abortion.  Second, I think a great way to avoid a lot of this would be to make birth control and adoption opportunities readily and widely available.  Of course, like I said above, that puts me in opposition to many of the people who describe themselves as “pro-life”.

Let me say a few more things.

First, I’m highly critical of Bill Clinton, but he did have a good line, when he said that abortion should be safe, legal…and rare.

Second, my views above would likely get me condemned by both of the extreme ends of this debate.  There’s very little room for grey in public discourse on abortion.

Third, I think what distinguishes a “pro-life liberal” from a “pro-life conservative” is that a pro-life liberal actually care what happens to the kid once it’s out in the world, whereas a pro-life conservative seems to say, okay, great, it’s born, now it’s someone else’s problem.

And finally, yes, I’m a secular humanist.  Just in case you’re curious, because I’m often asked, yes, I was raised a Catholic.  But my position doesn’t have anything to do with that.  Don’t prattle on to me about the soul, etc.  No, my position is based in humanist values.  To put it one easily recognizable way, we all, as human beings, have an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And unless there are drastic, extenuating circumstances, we should respect those rights.

Now have at me.  Or better yet, come to Drinking Liberally, and let’s talk in person.

Update:   Listen to this interview with Jen Roth on the program Point of Inquiry.  She’s a founder and member of a couple of different organizers working to advance this perspective.

So why doesn’t God get busy ending abortion already?

So, a group has begun a 40-day vigil in the Peoria area to end abortion.  The Peoria Journal Star has an article on the vigil here.

To quote the article:

“We’re praying to God to end abortion,” said Karen Guth, the national group’s local director, at East Peoria’s Riverfront Park on Sunday night. “And we’re looking to continue growing to accomplish that.”

Okay, if God really, really hates abortion, why doesn’t it get busy ending it already?  What good is praying about it going to do?  Does God need to know that you really, really hate it, too, before it’ll do anything about it?

Certainly one of those times when I’d like to get into a conversation with one of these folks.  Maybe I’ll try to get to one of their vigils.

Update:   I felt the time had come to lay out my view on abortion publicly, after having done so several times at meetings of Drinking Liberally.  Look for those here.

The Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” – a more critical take

I don’t mean to give too much weight to the Daily Show, but it is an influential liberal/progressive outlet.  So, I want to write a bit more about the view of liberalism Jon Stewart lays out in his announcement of his Rally to Restore Sanity.

In his announcement clip, he equally criticizes right- and left-wingers who liken their opponents to Hitler.  Okay, I’m down with that.  He also takes a couple of digs at the Tea Party types.  Naturally I’m down with that.

But he also goes on to imply that somehow the 9/11 truther movement is a left-wing cause.  And he highlights the anti-war group Code Pink.

It’s a false equivalence.

Currently none of the radical left-wing voices is anywhere close to the reins of power like the radicals on the right.  In fact, the right-wing nut jobs are threatening to take over the Republican party.  No one can seriously argue that Democrats are about to repudiate war-making or start a huge investigation into 9/11 being an “inside job”.

Stewart is right that our political discourse is dominated by the loud, motivated 15-20% of people in the country.

But even if 70-80%, as he rightly points out, “have shit to do,” that doesn’t mean that they don’t reflect or care deeply about what’s going on their lives. They have real problems requiring real solutions, like finding and keeping a good job that will help them to pay for the modern essentials of life (food & water, shelter, education, health care, transportation) for their entire lives.

It’s fair enough to criticize loud and clamoring activitsts, but sometimes you have to shout, especially when big things are at stake.  I’m sure “Give me liberty or give me death!” sounded pretty extreme.  Democracy was extreme at one time.  Slavery was the norm.  All change has come from the loud.  But it matters gravely what you’re being loud about!

For example, in Stewart’s announcement, a short clip takes a dig at Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, who said on the floor of the House a year ago this month that the Republican plan for health care is basically “don’t get sick” and, if you do, “die quickly”.  Now, of course, most Republicans and conservatives don’t really want people to die.  But they also don’t view it as a social responsibility – a collective (gasp!) responsibility – to see that sick people get medical care.  If, in the end, you don’t have the resources for medical care, then it’s your own damn fault.  That is the current Republican/conservative line.  It’s worth being loud and obnoxious about such a worldview when there are, yes, “reasonable” alternatives.  (Of course, Republicans/conservatives want people to rely on charitable medical care, but where’s the evidence that charity would fill the gap?  And regarding emergency rooms, let’s remember that ERs only take everybody because of a federal mandate, signed by Ronald Reagan!)

Liberals cannot just sit back, stroke their chins, count on reasonable argument, and expect the 70-80% to come along with them.  No.  What is reasonable changes over time, largely based on what the loud and motivated are shouting about, the story they tell, and the values they celebrate.  We have to be willing to define “reasonable”.  And we can’t shy away from taking back important, resonant American words and ideas. People have to know what you’re willing to fight for.

I agree with Stewart that fear is the enemy of reason.  That’s what makes the “duel” between Stewart and Colbert so fun.  But simply appealing to the 70-80-percenters, without first articulating and defending the liberal and progressive worldview in the strongest, yet still reasonable, language possible, will never succeed.  Liberals have been trying that for my entire adult life with precious little to show for it.

Daily Show and Colbert Report nice enough to give me an anniversary present

If Beckapalooza wasn’t for you, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have planned dueling rallies in Washington, D.C., for October 30th – the “Rally to Restore Sanity” (Daily Show) and “Keep Fear Alive”  (Colbert).

As part of his announcement, Jon Stewart laid out the compelling reasons for scheduling the rally on 10/30:  the show will be there the week before anyway; Sunday is Halloween, and they like to see their kids on that day; so basically Saturday was the time to do it.

But he failed to mention that it’s also my wedding anniversary!  That must be the real reason, although of course, they’ll argue that it’s all a big coincidence.

Sadly, I probably won’t be able to make it to the rallies.  I mean, it is my anniversary, of course.  And we’d have to line up a sitter.  And Halloween’s the next day, and that’d be unfair to the kids.  And it’s in D.C., which is a long way and a lot of money.

Some liberal I am…well, more like that 70-80 percenter…  Watch the full clip below to understand what I mean:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Conservative core assumptions

I’ve discovered a new podcast called Best of the Left.  It’s a digest of many of the major liberal-progressive radio, TV, and podcast programs.  I find I’ve heard many of the segments before, but in a recent podcast, he pulled out some “vintage” Bill Moyers from soon after the Citizen’s United case was decided.

Moyers lays out how some Congressmembers were already trying to counter the decision, especially:

its core assumptions, that money is speech and corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to spending it.

That one line helps clarify for me two major differences between liberals and conservatives.

Watch the full segment.

No, Tea Partiers, you don’t get to own American history

So, last night, Tea Party types won big when Christine O’Donnell took the Republican party nomination in the U.S. Senate race in Delaware.  That might not work out so well for them, of course, but I’m more interested in something she said during her victory speech:

Don’t ever underestimate the power of We the People!

“We the People”, huh?  I hadn’t even known that she had used this line until my wife pointed it out after hearing it on NPR.  She brought it up because of a pin I wear:

I first saw this pin on a friend’s lapel at a meeting of the Drinking Liberally social group I organize in Peoria, and I had to get one.  Back in the dark, late-Bush, still-possibly-McCain-Palin days, I felt the phrase “We the People” went a long way toward signifying what I felt was at stake.  We the People – all of us, in this together – had a lot to lose if conservative-Republican rule continued. 

So, along come the Tea Partiers and swipe We the People.  They already lay claim to the Gadsden flag, like hardcore religious and economic conservatives don’t want to tread on the rest of us.  They claim the U.S. flag, of course.  They claim freedom.  And of course, they claim the Constitution.

In my experience, liberals and progressives tend to shy away form using American imagery.  That’s a mistake.  American history – with its constant advancement of individual freedoms and quality of life – is our story, not theirs.

Let’s take a quick look at the preamble to the Constitution:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

 Let’s review:

  • Justice – dare I even say social justice?
  • The general welfare – hello, social security and Medicare.
  • Liberty – for everyone, not just the select.

Six goals laid out in the preamble and easily half of them clearly liberal and progressive.  The preamble, remember, spells out why the entire rest of the document exists – to serve those goals.

Now, I understand the liberal and progressive impulse to not overly glorify American history.  There were a lot of mistakes – horrible mistakes – along the way.

But it is no solution to simply concede the words and imagery of American history the Tea Partiers and hardcore conservatives.  Nope.  It’s ours.  And we’re not giving it up without a fight.

People are Too Big To Fail

In a post reviewing President Obama’s new economic proposals, Ezra Klein also goes after the idea that the Obama administraiton is somehow “anti-business”.  He sums it up this way:

The various stimulus measures have been designed to directly support businesses or indirectly support the people who those businesses rely on.

It’s just a variation on the theme of Too Big To Fail – the idea that if we only support companies (especially large ones), we’ll all turn out okay.

Some TBTF might be needed in special circumstances, but how about emphasizing actual, individual humans as being Too Big To Fail for once?