I have immense respect for both sides of the abortion debate, which I suppose puts me in the minority position.
Both the pro-life and pro-choice forces are motivated by a noble impulse: protection of the vulnerable, whether it is the woman carrying the pregnancy or the unborn fetus.
In light of that fact, it is wrong to have a negative view of the individuals involved here. One could easily see a reasonable, good-hearted person holding either perspective.
Yet when you dig a little further, it becomes abundantly clear why abortion should remain legal in the United States, according to the parameters set by Roe v. Wade.
First, one of the key issues one confronts is the simple question — when is it reasonable to define the beginning of life?
There are Jewish traditions that ascertain it starts after birth, when a baby takes its first breath; evangelicals, by contrast, refer to the moment of conception; while many other Americans hold a view that falls somewhere in between.
The ethical issue at stake here is when life begins, abortion is rendered immoral, since then it would constitute a murder.
However, this is a problem that is fundamentally philosophical, and cannot be definitively answered by science. Therefore, it is inappropriate for the firm hand of government to intervene on it.
Each individual must reconcile the matter with their own conscience and make a dignified choice. We should have faith in the goodness of American women that they can be trusted with abortion rights and will not take them lightly. For, after all, who loves children more than women, our greatest caretakers?
One of the main motivations animating conservative Christians — the foremost advocates of pro-life legislation — is that they seek to honor the Bible’s insistence on the sanctity of the unborn.
And while that’s an understandable impulse, scripture also instructs Christians to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” in other words, to separate questions of faith and politics.
It is the job of a believer to live a moral life, and even preach to their friends, family and community. But there’s nothing in scripture that mandates turning Biblical notions into policy. In fact, one can make the perfectly reasonable case that restricting abortion actually violates religious principles, because it hinders the capacity of individuals to use their God-given free will to live the life they choose.
Religion must be chosen voluntarily, not forced on people, in order to be meaningful. By using government to enforce theology, conservatives end up turning many young people away from the Church, since they now see it as an authoritarian institution trying to control them, rather than a refuge for their troubles.
Furthermore, there is a clear hypocrisy in conservatives demanding that government enact anti-abortion legislation, while at the same time refusing to use government to help the poor. The Biblical mandate for the latter endeavor is as clear as day. In fact, you could say assisting the poor is the heart of Christianity.
How then, could the right justify employing the state on one issue but not the other? Do you really think God is going to look too kindly on a GOP governor who signs a measure banning abortion, while vetoing other laws that would give health insurance to the sick, housing for the homeless and aid to the elderly?
At best, this is a selective use of faith. At worst, it is pompous virtue signaling by a bunch of powerful right-wingers who are willing to take a stand on a moral issue when it means policing women, while refusing to embrace other moral issues that would require increasing their taxes.
As I said in the beginning, there is nothing inherently wrong with the pro-life impulse. We should honor anyone who seeks to protect a vulnerable population, be it refugees, senior citizens, or the unborn. Where conservatives err is in using government as a tool for advancing their goals.
When dealing with such a gray, difficult issue, such as the beginning of life, we must have faith in the decency of the American people to figure it out for themselves. Taking this right away from the public is only going to result in a massive backlash, not just against the politicians responsible for pro-life policies, but against the religious views that brought them into being.
Separating church and state protects not just the government but also faith. It’s a wisdom our founding fathers knew clearly, and one we would be mistaken to forget.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.