Abortion and Shades of Gray

Michael Medved is an intelligent, engaging Jewish conservative. He began as a movie critic but is now a popular author, Right Turns, and talk-show host. His classic tag line line, on his the radio show, is that America is still: “The greatest nation on God’s green earth.” Some of my younger friends would find this signature statement corny, or even offensive. Like any simplistic slogan it can be faulted but in the end I like it because I agree with it. Tell me a place that is better, as a nation of laws and true opportunity, on God’s green earth than the United States of America? Tell me where freedom has brought so much blessing and so much prosperity? Michael Medved also regularly expresses a very high regard for Christians and for our Judeo-Christian culture. On top of that he also believes that a Christian revival is the long term hope for America. I’ve heard him say this more than once!

In the Wednesday (October 24, 2007) issue of USA Today Medved contributed The Forum, an op-ed column. I do not make it a habit to comment on items in USA Today but this one is worth your time if you missed it. It was titled: “Abortion’s Shades of Gray.” Medved speaks of the present struggle within the Republican Party for the presidential nomination of 2008 and of how the pro-life issue is playing out in the primary process. The front-runner, as everyone knows, is Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani’s view on the abortion issue is actually the majority view in America. He is “pro-choice and anti-abortion.” To most pro-lifers this view is impossibly hopeless thus they regularly speak of opposing Giuliani if he is the nominee of their party. (There is not really strong candidate they can rally behind so they have gotten little traction in trying to slow down Giuliani to this point.) Some polls have showed that many in the religious right are Republican for only one reason: abortion. If this is true, and it appears that it is with many pro-lifers that I have known, then I suggest that it underscores an extreme lack of knowledge about a healthy full-orbed cultural view of the nation and of the role that Christians should play politically within the culture. Politics, in other words, is about a lot more than one issue and one way of expressing that one issue. Politics is about moral conviction but it is also about the art of the possible. Often it involves incrementalism, something people of strong idelogical orientation do not easily understand. Culture in general is not changed in a moment, ever. It is this element of "no shades of gray," usually expressed by strongly conservative Catholic and evangelical partisans in this debate, that regularly presents Giuliani’s view as “pro-abortion.” It is not.

As Medved explains Giuliani takes a “mixed, nuanced approach that defies easy categorizations.” In so doing the religious right demonstrates, by its wholesale rejection of the idea that they might vote for him, just how far removed from reality they really are. If you compare Giuliani’s major positions on abortion to ALL the candidates on the opposite side (Democrats) you will discover that there is a considerable difference. All the Democrats, and I mean ALL, oppose the Hyde Amendment (banning taxpayer funds for abortions) and openly support partial-birth abortions. (Clinton and Obama, for example, regularly talk about being personally opposed to abortion but they always vote a pro-choice position that pleases everyone on the far left in this debatae.) Further, all the Democrats in the race are committed to a judicial philosophy that would keep the courts solidly committed to preserving abortion in all three trimesters. And they ALL oppose parental notification. Giuliani, on the other hand, has openly said the kind of judges that he would appoint would be strict-constructionists like Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts! ALL the candidates of the other party have worked against such nominations.

Medved then rightly concludes that “it is a major distortion to label Giuliani as ‘pro-abortion’ and [thus] indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton or other Democrats.” Medved further says two questions have to be asked, not just one.  (1) Are you pro-abortion or anti-abortion? (2) Are you pro-choice or anti-choice? Rudy is anti-abortion and pro-choice. What is interesting is that all the polls show that the majority of Americans favor Rudy’s position, not that of the Democrats. Most people want to limit abortions severely but not stop them altogether. The refusal of the pro-life groups to work with what they do have, with political savvy and nuance, is part of what kills their effectiveness in the long term. They allow no “shades of gray” as Medved calls it. Medved presses the point that even before Roe v. Wade we did not arrest women who had abortions and try them for first-degree murder. We have always recognized that while abortion is wrong there is not a simple legal response to the problem. What a vast majority of Americans oppose is that an abortion be treated as a minor choice much like having your tonsils removed. Put another way Medved says most Americans are still in favor of giving the unborn child in the womb more rights than we give to protect a puppy.

At least 25% of all women have had an abortion. Sane advocates of the pro-life position, even very devoted ones, do not want to execute or imprison these millions of women. Simply put, most Americans are still moderate and want a position that avoids the extremes. I remain consistently pro-life myself but I think it is time we face what Michael Medved calls “the shades of gray” on this issue. If conservatives sit out the next election, assuming Giuliani is the nominee, it would be a major victory for almost everything they hold dear about the culture and the future of this vital issue of easy abortion on demand. Medved is to be praised for helping people think about this in a critical and clear way.

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