Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What We Lost in Colorado Springs

As I wrote when the initial "Planned Parenthood sells baby parts" videos first came out, I don't much like writing about abortion.  I have found it to be nearly impossible to have a dialogue about, much less a civil dialogue and even less so a meaningful or even persuasive dialogue.  More than almost any other question before us as a people, abortion has its hardened zealots on either side of the question, while I struggle somewhere in between having my guts churn at what abortion entails and having my brain remind me that simply banning the whole thing creates more problems than it solves.

So I have instead committed myself to advocating for other means of reducing abortions, especially universal access to contraception, which has been demonstrated to reduce abortion by 44-67% by itself.  Even figuring on the low end of that range, that's over 300,000 abortions that could be prevented per year based on the CDC's 2012 numbers (and as many as nearly 470,000).

It is also why I so vehemently disagree with the pro-life movement's tactics and strategy of trying to essentially scare or intimidate women out of getting an abortion, even at Planned Parenthood locations that do not perform abortions, and then (because people in the pro-life movement tend to vote for politicians with these policies) strip away the social safety net that ought to allow mothers to raise their children in financial and existential security rather than scarcity.

It's impossible to tell how many abortions are prevented by their tactics, but I'm willing to bet the proverbial farm that universal contraception, science-based sex education, and sound public health policies would prevent a hell of a lot more.  So why haven't we done that?  Why haven't we taken a step far easier and less confrontational than what we are currently doing?

That question is what leads me to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where you know by now that a domestic terrorist shot up the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, killing one law enforcement officer, two civilians, and wounding nine other people (both law enforcement and civilian), for which he may face the death penalty...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The tactics of intimidation, manipulation, and--in the case of David Daleiden and his fictitious BioMax company who released the aforementioned videos earlier this year--outright fakery hardly seem like they are working when hundreds of thousands of abortions are still being performed every year, and at the expense of the lives and security of other people.

We're losing our ability to actually live up to what we claim: what does it mean to be pro-life, or pro-choice, or pro-anything when we reveal ourselves to be such a bundle of contradictions, willing to ostensibly pursue life by telling lies, or to pursue life by using bullying, or to pursue life by inciting murder?

I'm quite serious what I use that word, "inciting."  Because here's the deal: if we live in a country that, by a significant majority, approves of the use of the death penalty for murderers (which we do), and we claim that abortion doctors are murderers and killers, we lose the right to be genuinely shocked when someone, no matter how mentally balanced or unbalanced they may be, acts on those beliefs.

We can *act* shocked.  But we don't get to *be* shocked.  We've lost that innocence to actually be surprised.

And so we shouldn't be so surprised that the terrorist, while questioned, mentioned "no more baby parts."  Much like how #AllLivesMatter didn't enter into our language until #BlackLivesMatter did, so too did "baby parts" not become a commonly used phrase until the doctored footage from Daleiden and co. hit the Internet and the airwaves.

People like Daleiden and his ilk can claim they never saw anything like this coming, but considering that extreme pro-life activism is ironically and paradoxically historically linked with murder and terrorism, those claims are disingenuous at best.

Our words matter.  And we're losing our ability to see that.  We say something that ends up as an incitement to violence, and we can say "I never meant for that to happen," but when these acts of violence, these murders of human beings, happen again with Barnett Slepian, and then again with George Tiller, and then again in Colorado Springs, we don't get to say "I never meant for that to happen."

If you know words are going to cause or create a certain negative effect, you don't use them.  It is why we say "N-word" instead of n****r, because we know saying that word has a profoundly negative, racist effect.  It is why people are increasingly moving away from using sexist pejorative terms like slut, whore, and like that can contribute to shaming, eating disorders, and a host of other evils.  Words matter.

So why hasn't the pro-life movement learned that referring to abortionists as "babykillers" or comparing them to Nazis or Stalinists has a negative, incendiary, and inciting effect?

What is so ironic about this is that the pro-life movement, in no small part, preaches an ethic of responsibility and accountability: you have sex and get pregnant, it's your responsibility to carry the fetus to term.

So why are so many Christians abdicating their responsibility and refusing to hold themselves, much less one another, accountable for their own words?

We've lost that as well.  We've lost our sense of accountability, our sense of responsibility, our sense of actually holding ourselves to the standard that God through Christ sets for us.  We are no longer loving our neighbors, we love only ourselves to the point that we prefer excusing our own sins rather than rising and repenting of them.

I'm just as serious when I use that word "repenting," too.  Pro-life Christianity has repentance to do.  If you are pro-life and are seeking to change the world through public policies that make abortion less necessary, then I tip my hat to you.  But if you are pro-life and you are seeking to change the world by scaring, lying to, and intimidating women, then that is not loving your neighbor.  That is not doing unto others.  The ends do not justify the means.

For many of us, they do.  And in so doing, we are also losing a bit of our own humanity, a bit of our own life and, sadly, life-giving ability, in the name of being pro-life.

And why am I writing about something so touchy, so contentious, at such length when I admittedly don't really want to (see above)?

Because if we are going to demand of, say, Muslims that they disown and condemn those who facilitated and enabled the Paris attacks, then it is equally incumbent upon us Christians to disown and condemn those who facilitate and enable the Colorado Springs attack.  Again, it's about regaining that sense of responsibility and accountability that we claim to hold so dear, but it is just as much about sending a message out to the world that this is not what following Christ is really about, or ever should remotely be about.

Point blank, I am a Christian who struggles mightily with the morality of abortion, and the rhetoric that led up to the Colorado Springs attack appalls me.  And if ever you were struggling with how and why Christians have been saying the things they have, and seeing those words from me makes you more at peace with those of us who call ourselves Jesus followers, then I will be beyond grateful.

Because at long last, we will have gained, rather than lost, some sense of spiritual peace in a violent, broken world.

Longview, Washington
December 1, 2015

In memory of Officer Garrett Swasey, Jennifer Markovsky, and Ke'Arre Stewart


  1. Persuasive and powerful. I would also add that abortion has existed in every era and every culture for as long as humankind has been around. Women will always seek it when they face challenging or desperate circumstances. There will always be unintended and unwanted pregnancies - the result of birth control failures, economic hardship, domestic violence, abuse and abandonment by spouses or partners, physical or mental illness, or simply the inability to properly care for a child for whatever reason. Those who bludgeon and shame and attack women for abortion almost never direct their messages toward the men who got the women pregnant or to the host of societal, economic and personal problems that may result in abortion. I applaud your support for universal contraception. I also add that, at the end of the day, I always have to respect the bodily integrity and autonomy of each woman.