The poisonous abortion wars are back. No better example can be found than the reaction to Carly Fiorina’s recent debate performance, her subsequent rise in the polls, and the intensified debate over her candidacy.
In response to her passionate condemnation of what Fiorina claims is on the Planned Parenthood videos, pro-lifers went wild with enthusiasm. Frustrated by decades of incompetence from male pro-life politicians, it was clear Fiorina “gave the pro-life movement the moment it was looking for.”
The response from the pro-choice camp was swift and devastating. Vox claimed that what Fiorina railed about simply isn’t in the videos. Fusion called it the “scariest moment” of the debate. And Slate asked “what was up” with the candidate’s “grisly abortion rant.”
Pro-life pundits responded by claiming the videos describe exactly what Fiorina says they do, and suggested that those who suggest otherwise simply haven’t watched the videos. Pro-choice pundits responded in kind, with Joan Walsh saying of Fiorina: “This raises questions about her character. Either she’s a liar or she’s delusional.”
What a disaster.
The abortion wars have poisoned our ability to even have a genuine argument—not only with regard to abortion-related issues, but with regard to our polarized politics more generally. Good people imagine themselves inherently opposed to each other in an “us versus them,” winner-take-all political fight to the death.
Pope Francis Is Politically Transcendant
Happily, there is a way to do this conversation differently, and it is signaled by the imminent arrival of Pope Francis to U.S. shores. Here’s a man who manages to unite very, very different kinds of people in their love for him and his message. Everyone from Jeb Bush to Joe Biden will not only be pushing to meet him, but trying to claim he supports their views on contentious issues.
People on both Right and Left will have good reasons for doing so, especially given that Pope Francis has a consistent ethic of life that doesn’t fit either American political category. His skepticism of the “throw-away culture” raises concern about issues like animal welfare, human trafficking, euthanasia, climate change, and—yes—abortion. The pope insists prenatal children are “the most innocent and defenseless among us” and as the “least ones” in our culture they bear the face of Christ.
But the pope’s consistent ethic refuses to choose between vulnerable populations. Whenever he talks about the value of fetuses, he also defends the value of women and highlights the “profound anguish” that often leads to abortion. In a recent announcement about the new jubilee Year of Mercy, the pope singled out his concern for the social pressure under which women find themselves, and referred to it as “an existential and moral ordeal.”
A Pope Francis Approach to Abortion
What would a Pope Francis approach to abortion look like? What would it look like to refuse to choose between mother and child?
Well, for starters, it would involve listening to the voices of women when it comes to abortion policy. While women generally want abortion available in early weeks of pregnancy, they support the 20-week ban in very high numbers. Indeed, women support it at higher levels than men do.
But abortion restrictions ought to be connected to increased support for the difficult situations in which American women in particular find themselves. We blithely speak of “reproductive choice” although women have virtually no social support. Child care is hopelessly expensive, women are still paid less for the same work, and the United States remains the only industrialized county that does not offer some kind of paid family leave.
More attention should be given to the #ChooseBoth campaign of Democrats for Life, and especially to the idea of attaching paid family leave to the 20-week abortion ban. Pro-lifers should realize moving in this direction is the only way the bill has a chance of passing, while everyone should see that it reflects Pope Francis’ refusal to choose between mother and child.
This approach could also mitigate against the vitriol in the Planned Parenthood debacle. #ChooseBoth would send the tax dollars currently given the country’s largest abortion provider instead to nonviolent community health centers. Such centers (which outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by a factor of ten) actually provide many services that Planned Parenthood does not, including mammograms.
At a recent Judiciary Committee hearing on the Planned Parenthood videos, even conservative Rep. Trey Gowdy floated the idea of doubling current federal money funneled to Planned Parenthood—to $1 billion—and giving it to community health centers for women’s care
These are precisely the new conversations we need to be having. They may not get the TV ratings and web traffic of the abortion wars, but a commitment to respect both mother and child is the way forward in these debates. Here’s hoping Pope Francis’s visit can give our culture the push in this direction it so desperately needs.