Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No middle ground

As I've said before I find much to celebrate in the candidacy of Barack Obama, and I find a lot to admire in the man himself. I'd love the chance to welcome him into my home and show him around our neighborhood. Just hang out for a while and talk. We'd probably have a lot in common. After all, we're almost of the same generation (another reminder I'm approaching "middle age"). The main thing I see when I look at Obama and contemplate the prospect of an Obama presidency is potential. I see huge potential for transformative change that has little to do with policy papers and legislative initiatives. But when I contemplate the prospect of voting for Obama on Nov. 4 I run up against a huge obstacle. You probably know where I'm going with this.

The belief in the sanctity of human life is bigger than the abortion issue, but for better or worse abortion has been the primary flash point in the American public square for a long time now, and that doesn't look to change any time soon. Al Mohler writes today at his blog that the abortion debate throws into stark relief two competing worldviews that make seeking middle ground a fruitless exercise.

For the better part of four decades, some have attempted to find a middle ground between these two positions, but to no avail. The reason quickly becomes clear. If abortion is to be understood as a fundamental right, no woman can be denied the exercise of that right. If abortion is the taking of innocent human life, no justification can be offered for abortion as a means of ending an unwanted pregnancy -- none at all. Middle ground would be possible only if we can assume that the right to abortion is not fundamental, but merely provisional, and that the unborn child does not have an intrinsic right to life, but only a provisional right. Efforts to frame the issue in this way fail because neither of these assumptions can be qualified in this way and remain coherent.

Abortion is back front and center in the 2008 presidential race. Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party Platform call for a reversal of Roe v. Wade and against any notion of abortion as a fundamental right. Both the candidate and the platform call for specific measures to curtail access to abortion and to lead, eventually, to the end of abortion on demand.

Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic Party Platform call for a stalwart and enthusiastic defense of Roe v. Wade and for expanded access to abortion. In the case of Sen. Obama, his advocacy of abortion rights goes considerably beyond where any major candidate has ever gone before. (Read the whole thing)

I agree with that first paragraph more today than I did 5, 10, 15 years ago. Perhaps it's because my wife and I have been through the trauma of losing an unborn child, and now eagerly look forward to the birth of our son in February. The thought that he doesn't have fundamental, intrinsic rights in the womb is unthinkable. Not that there isn't room for folks with differing views to come together and approve incremental steps to reduce the number of abortions (all of which Sen. Obama has voted against in his legislative career), but if you follow the arguments to their logical conclusion there's no middle ground. Incidentally, I'll be interested to see whether abortion and other sanctity of life issues get a hearing in tonight's debate (I haven't been impressed with McCain's ability to make the pro-life case). While I'm tempted to vote for Obama because of his enormous potential, the historic nature of his candidacy and because I'm disgusted by the attitudes of some of his opponents -- in the quiet of the voting booth it's going to be this issue more than any other I'll be thinking about. I guess that makes me a single-issue voter.

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