Saturday, March 11, 2006

Is There Room for Hope?

Several years ago, I wrote that “we are in the midst of a blip in a century that saw civil rights, suffrage, worker rights, and the environmental movement blossom. A century that created Social Security, Head Start, the National Park System, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Clean Air Act.”

The 20th Century was so wrought with dichotomy. It witnessed two world wars but also the most positive steps toward equality for women, minorities, and homosexuals in the history of our race.

My essay continued: “The backward steps we are taking right now are nothing more than a blip; we are simply inextricably entwined in a thousand year struggle to free the slaves and the serfs and the overworked and the underpaid from the injustice and inequality in which they have endlessly and ceaselessly toiled. We are in the midst of recognizing the value and dignity of each other and of our precious natural resources and finding a way to harmony and to balance. We are in the midst of a struggle for the soul of humanity, and the resolute consummation of this struggle is locked, bound, and cloaked, in hope.”

My wife and I were about to have our first child. I was thinking about the world in which we lived and wondering whether I could progress past the seemingly insurmountable wall that had, to this point, kept me from becoming a father: the fact that I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring a child into this world. Upon ultimately deciding to bring another life into this world, a decision that I took so seriously that it took me ten years of marriage to finally reach, I found myself having to convince myself that humanity is on the right path. That when one pulled himself from the trees of the day to day and looked at the entire forest, there was much to celebrate. Reason for optimism.

Now, almost three years later, I am forced to wonder whether I was seeing truth or, with a baby due a few months later, merely grasping for a mirage. Last week, the governor of South Dakota signed into law a bill that will outlaw abortions in all cases except those that protect the life of the mother. Even a rape by a family member will be insufficient cause for a legal abortion. With two new conservatives on the Supreme Court, where a challenge to this law will ultimately find itself, we have no choice but to think about implications for all of us.

I am against abortion. In fact, despite a philosophical battle that forces each side to the extreme, every reasonable person on earth is against abortion. This fight is not about being pro or con. It is about basic, equal rights and the continued struggle for equality. It is about the return to a society where the rich can fly to Europe and the poor are forced into back alleys. According to the UK Ministry for Health, 6,000 Irish women traveled to Great Britain last year to have an abortion. Of the 46 million abortions each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 19 million are unsafe, resulting in 600,000 deaths.

Can you guess where the 19 million unsafe abortions are conducted? Not surprisingly, nearly all are in the developing world. South Dakota did not declare war on abortion; they declared war on the poor. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, two-thirds of US women having an abortion say they cannot afford to have a child.

The most shocking reality is that abortion is illegal primarily in countries where religious fundamentalism, usually Catholicism or Islam, is dominant. If abortion were not the banner issue of the religious right, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion in the United States. The irony is that the there is no strong foundation regarding abortion in any of the world’s great religions. Other than belief in God, the common theme that resonates most profoundly in religion is intolerance of poverty.

The vast majority of human beings are pro-life. We are caring, compassionate, social creatures. Unless some emotional schism is introduced, like war, abject poverty, or brainwashing religious fundamentalism, most humans would more likely reach into freezing waters to help a stranger than not. Most would dial 911 upon seeing a stranger suffer from a heart attack. We don’t take the time to determine religious or political affiliation. We don’t take the time to wonder if they are pro- or anti- choice. We just react. This is cause for celebration: without some unnatural (albeit common) rupture in our development, the human biological imperative has evolved to the point where we view life as sacrosanct.

There is a common ground here. Pro-choice or anti-choice, we are all pro-life. As reasonable people, we know that our common ground lies in the root causes behind abortion, not merely in the abortion itself. So instead of moving backward, let’s continue our “thousand year struggle” for hope and equality. Let’s focus on ways to address poverty and prevent unwanted pregnancies. It is through this path that we can reduce the number of abortions, which is what we all want, rather than reducing the number of safe abortions, which merely becomes another assault on the poor.

It is through this path that I can regain hope in the world I am about to bestow to my beautiful child.

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