Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Gosnell case: Why it won't make any difference

Anti-abortionists have been transfixed by the current criminal trial of Dr. Keith Gosnell, a Philadelphian who performs abortions, and have complained about media coverage -- in their view, the lack thereof, because of their perceived pro-choice bias. I suspect that they want to force a national conversation on the morality of abortion and that if they covered it properly more people would support their cause.

I think that they're wasting their breath.

The reality is that most Americans really couldn't care less about abortion -- one survey I saw a number of years ago noted that the percentage of people who based their vote primarily on a candidate's stance on legal abortion was in single digits, and two-thirds of those were pro-choice. And when was the last time you ever saw abortion as a campaign issue? It almost never happens.

And I think I know why. In its nearly-40-year history the "pro-life" movement has always been dominated by religious types not consistently popular with the public, specifically Roman Catholics and Protestant evangelicals, because of its uncomfortableness with the use of faith as the will to power. In other words, ultimately it's about not "life" but the idea of religious values being crammed down everyone's throat (which Americans despise with a passion, especially today). In this context "religious" arguments simply don't -- can't -- work. Yet the movement keeps trying, wishing and hoping for the cultural change that they have yet to produce.

That hope took root in 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president; I was in college at the time and noticed that fighting abortion was the only acceptable way to be a Christian who sought political involvement. And that led to an unbalanced understanding of what faith was about -- many of my fellow students became flat-out jerks more concerned about "the cause" than the personal character that God wanted to develop in them.

As someone who opposes abortion for reasons having nothing to do with my Christian faith, I see no way that we can have a conversation about abortion unless and until the religious aspect is downplayed. That actually might happen as the United States grows increasingly secular, but it won't happen a moment before. And I'm thankful for that, because fighting abortion has become a form of idolatry.

And that's why the Gosnell trial won't be the touchstone, the turning point, that anti-abortionists have craved.

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