<PT. II> Abortion Rights in America: “Moral issue” voters don't believe in such a thing as an "unwanted pregnancy”
26) Discussions on college campuses, prevailing attitudes, privacy issues, & views on abortion in developing countries
This is Part II on a multi-part series on “Abortion Rights” in America.
The Peace Corps is often called the Army for Hippies. I was in the Peace Corps in Zambia (2008-2010). While this little known fact about my service to America is relevant to this story, it isn’t the central component of it, by any stretch. But, to better understand one’s own home country, you must leave it for a while to fully appreciate what your own country stands for.
America has a belief in the separation of Church and State. At least that was what was often professed since the nation’s inception. The discussion around this “separation” can be a whole separate post (no pun intended).
Zambia proudly proclaims itself a Christian nation. The overwhelming majority of people in Zambia are Christians, and many of them regularly attend Church. Although there is a sizable number of Muslims and a few Hindus as well. The only Jews I ever came across were expats like me.
When I discussed the abortion debate with friends I made who were Zambian, they were surprised that such a thing wasn’t outlawed in America. To them children are always blessings no matter what. While the Christian influence on Zambia is certainly considerable and might only go so far back, Zambians feelings around abortion, comes more from a sense of survival than anything.
In Zambia, the infant mortality rate is 42.4 deaths for every thousand births and the average family size is five persons, the idea of abortion is abhorrent to them. America’s infant mortality rate is nearly one hundred times smaller being 5.4 deaths for every thousand births. The average American family household is 2.6 people.
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I grew up in a suburban enclave on Long Island. While my high school was quite diverse, the neighborhood I grew up in was very heavily Jewish influenced. As I have shared before, that even among some of the most politically conservative Jewish people I know/are related to, they all are “Pro-Choice”.
I went to Franklin Pierce College - in New Hampshire where the State’s motto is “Live free or die”. It’s a State where someone doesn’t need to wear a motorcycle helmet or buy car insurance until they get in an accident and then are mandated by the State to get it. This State elects representatives that largely are either Center-Left Democrats or Center-Right Republicans. They see-saw in who they vote for in Congress, Senate and Governor.
There is always a moderate view in New Hampshire. They like to keep the government out of their affairs. Many people in this State are privately against abortion, but aside from a vocal minority of pro-lifers wanting to legislate abortion. Most people in this State of New Hampshire are “Pro-mind your own business”.
The college I went to attracted in-State students as well as many people from the Boston Metro area (including all of the New England States) and the New York Metro area. These two areas were easily their largest pool of students. But, there were some students that did come to my college from as far away as Chicago, Florida and California.
One fellow classmate of mine who happened to grow up in a more culturally southern State was in a class with me on society and culture in America. She once chimed in about the abortion debate, saying
“I used to be against abortions, but now that I have friends that have had abortions, I’m no longer so sure if I think having an abortion is such a bad idea”.
As for my two year stint in Zambia, I got very close with a number of host country nationals. I also got close with a number of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. Other Americans I got to know during my time in Zambia, were Christian Missionaries.
My experience, hanging out with Christian missionaries was a cross-cultural exchange in itself. It was truly a formative experience which had me reevaluate my belief system, and lead me to have more respect for people that had views that were so divergent from mine.
I made one really good friend who introduced me to his young family, and subsequently I met many of his colleagues in his missionary group. I would travel the country and run into them at times, or even deliberately catch up with them. I was over some of their houses breaking bread. I got rides from one end of the country to the other from some of them.
<Keep in mind Zambia is slightly bigger than Texas so instead of a multi-day trip, it is rather a multi-hour car trip>.
The missionaries I met, some with young families, others with kids in high school, and then others whose kids were in their early to mid-twenties, all came with a pure heart of wanting to spread the gospel and change the world. All of them were certainly more conservative than I. As my really good friend explained, as an Evangelical Christian he is a “Moral issue” voter.
When I hear the term “Moral issue” voter, my immediate interpretation of that is to be “anti-abortion” and “anti-gay” first and foremost.
When I write the term “anti-abortion” , it just reminds me of a debate that has been brewing for decades, that finally reached its powder keg moment. Again, I think there are a lot of people who privately are against abortions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they think it’s their place to impose that view on others.
When I write the term “anti-gay” I kind of cringe, as there are a number of people I’m very close with in my life who are members of the LGBTQ community. Some of them are actual family members and I would do anything I could for them. But, I still put “anti-gay” as I don’t think there is anyway to sanitize it.
When I asked my friend about the degrees of difference of his views on each, he said that abortion was worse as it harmed others (namely the unborn child) while being gay was inflicting harm on the person him/herself.
What I found in this culture of missionaries was a fault-line of sorts based on the generation they came from. Older missionaries (typically over the age of fifty), were less zealous in their beliefs around abortion. While they were ardently “pro-life”, they saw the world as it is.
Those missionaries under the age of forty were eager and anxious to bend the world to their will. And their will was, “A world where abortion is outlawed outright, with no exceptions''.
I remember even asking my friend - “Would you be happy if abortion was an issue that was ultimately decided by each individual State again?” He told me in fact he would be. Keep in mind this conversation was in 2008/2009, obviously a lot has changed since then, but I would not be surprised if this same friend said to me today in 2022 - “If we get a national ban on Abortion, it’s God’s will and I’ll be happy that God finally acted upon it”.
My friend and I exchanged a lot of ideas. We both had a love of sports, and we shared literature with each other. There was a book my friend lent me that discussed the coming “Rapture” in great length. It was a quick read and interesting, if not a little spooky and I can not remember the name of the book. (BTW, I’m usually pretty good at remembering the names of books I read, so feel free to interpret that as you wish).
In my Peace Corps House I came across a book called The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by a hippie Christian named Shane Claiborne. I was so happy to get my hands on this book. I found someone who was able to help me better understand Christian theology and the Missionaries mindset. But, he was also someone I could relate to on a deep level as well, with his sense of activism and his concern for social justice issues.
I remember after completing the book I read some of the Amazon reviews to get a sense of what other people thought of the book. One reviewer jumped out to me in his assessment where he said something along the lines of
“Other than Shane Claiborne’s knowledge of scripture, and his stance on being vehemently against abortions, he seems to be stumping for the Democratic Party”.
My friend had a similar view saying of Shane Claiborne;
“Biblically, he’s very sound. The book is just too political for my liking”.
Truth be told, I was not surprised at all by my friend’s assessment, and I actually found his distaste for the book to be quite amusing.
For example, I would often ask my friend about economic issues, and my friend would say “I don’t like the greed of America with so many rich people being glorified, while there are way more poor people just struggling to get by. But, certain issues are still much more important to me than money.”
I couldn’t argue with this guy for walking his talk, (even though it would have been nice if he had more of that activist spirit, like Shane Claiborne).
Devout Christians, much like my friend, typically live modest life-styles. If anything they might enjoy living overseas so much, because in these various developing countries, it’s among the places in the world where they actually are living above their means. Otherwise they are a struggling working guy or gal like most people in America.
Granted, my friend I got to know as an individual not just as the label of “White Southern Evangelical Christian”. Depending on what part of the country you are in, and the circles you interact with, it might be a dirty term, or a holy term.
At no point in time did my friend ever act as if he was morally superior to me or better then me or wiser than me. He just was humble and consistent and steadfast in his belief system. I respect him a great deal for that. I always respected his commitment to God, and his understanding of scripture. I admire his dedication to it. And I do think he tapped into a powerful way of living. He’s someone I still think fondly of.
I say all this, but at the same time still come out and say that the overturning of “Roe v. Wade” was in my opinion very badly misguided (and that’s putting it rather mildly).
Ultimately every woman has their own individual right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. The new legislation being passed all across the country doesn’t make God happy. Why would a merciful God be happy with men making decisions for women and girls with respect to their bodies?
I know my friend would respond that this is God’s will, and that nothing should intervene in the birth of a child, even if the mother’s life is at risk. The beautiful thing about America is the fact that I can still love and respect my friend, and vehemently disagree with him on this point, too.
Peace & Love
Stay tuned for Part III of “Abortion Rights in America”
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