Columns: Invite further conversation
This October, the Catholic Church observed Respect Life month and over the course of that month the Washington Post published three opinion columns that bore witness to the progress of the pro-life message:
Richard Cohen writes, "I no longer see abortion as directly related to sexual freedom or feminism, and I no longer see it strictly as a matter of personal privacy, either. It entails questions about life - maybe more so at the end of the process than at the beginning, but life nonetheless."
While still making a case for a "woman's right to choose," Cohen challenges the validity of the Roe decision saying, "A bad decision is a bad decision. If the best we can say for [Roe] is that the end justifies the means, then we have not only lost the argument - but a bit of our soul as well." (Washington Post, October 20, 2005)
Courtland Milloy points to the disparity in the number of African American pregnancies ending in abortion. "African American women, who make up only 13 percent of the U.S. female population, accounted for 32 percent of the 1,293,000 abortions performed in the U.S. in 2002." He continues, "We might welcome the controversy about abortion and black babies and the long-overdue focus it brings to the black womb." (Washington Post, October 5, 2005)
Patricia Bauer, the mother of a daughter with Down's syndrome and a former Washington Post bureau chief asks why we as a society can't talk about the impact of abortion on an entire class of people - those with disabilities.
"What I don't understand is how we as a society can tacitly write off a whole group of people as having no value . . . People want what they want: a perfect baby, a perfect life . . . The abortion debate is not just about a woman's right to choose whether or not to have a baby; it's also about a woman's right to choose which baby she wants to have." (Washington
Post, October 18, 2005)
In reading these three excerpts, our first impulse may be to shout in exasperation: "That's exactly what we have been saying for years!" But we should avoid that impulse, because it would be wrong on two counts.
First, there is no graciousness in an "I-told-you-so" response and a reaction of that nature contributes nothing to furthering a civil dialogue.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it would be a disservice to each of these writers
to attempt to oversimplify their messages by co-opting them. Each writer is weaving a question about abortion into a broader commentary, some of which we may agree with and some of which we may not.
People should read these columns in their fullness to get a true sense of the message of these authors. Indeed, these contributions are valuable because the messengers are unique.
So in avoiding our first impulse, let us instead welcome the entrance of new voices. They may not accept our message in full, but in expressing some of the same concerns that have echoed in the pro-life movement for years, these writers give these ideas credibility in circles where they have long been dismissed.
The best response to their voices is a humble "yes, we see it also" and a simple "thank you for contributing to the discussion." And then we should firmly resolve to continue advancing the conversation.
Kathy Markeland is associate director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.