I am fully aware that this is a risky blog post. In no other area are social conservatives and progressives so much divided as in the debate about abortion. Both sides have fully made up their minds and whenever abortion comes up they talk over and under and around each other, repeating the now very old talking points that score points with their bases while alienating any who are still undecided.
With that said, the political scientist in me absolutely loved Bernie Sander’s address to Liberty University’s chapel on Monday. I love that they invited him to speak and I love that he accepted the invitation because, as he put it, “I believe it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in civil discourse.”
And for the most part, that is what happened at Liberty University last Monday, though Sanders certainly still spoke very forcefully about this own moral/ethical views. He was the most at his game when he spoke about how we treat our children who are living in poverty. In fact, he put it most poignantly and poetically when he asked, “Are you content? Do you think it’s moral when 20 percent of the children in this country [are] living in poverty?”
He goes on to describe how our economic system ravages our most vulnerable children in order to show favor to the “billionaire class.” It was the best part of the speech.
As was fully expected during the brief Q&A, abortion came up. The question, stated by Liberty University’s Vice President, went like this, “You have talked about how it is immoral to protect the billionaire class at the expense of our most vulnerable children. A majority of Christians would agree with you but would also go further and say that children in the womb need our protection even more. How do you reconcile the two?” (39:20 in the clip below) The Vice President also noted that it was the most popular and most asked question, which was substantiated by an almost standing ovation as the question was asked.
Despite how obvious the question is, it is still a very brilliant and fair one. Sander’s answer was no less obvious but far less clever. He reiterated the standard talking points of pro-choice types, muttering something about how the government shouldn’t be telling every single woman how to make health choices about her body. His official answer was something like, “I understand the very painful and very difficult choice that women have to make and don’t want the government telling them what they have to do.” (40:30 below)
That is a fair answer but a tired one and one that doesn’t quite understand the underlying pathos of the pro-life movement, whose reasoning is more along the lines, “God all ready told them what to do and it is just the government’s job to enforce God’s decision.” But I do not expect a Jewish Progressive to fully realize or answer that line of thinking.
Putting that aside, this whole interchange (or lack thereof) felt tired and it annoyed me a little, more so as I thought about it this week. I understand the debate about abortion is now 40-50 years old and it barely registers as a talking point any more except in early voting conservative states and the deep south Bible belt.
Yet there is still progress to be made here for children, the unborn and their mothers who are in those difficult days making those difficult decisions.
For one there is still the underlying hypocrisy on both sides of the debate. It is a hypocrisy a now retired college professor of mine summed up perfectly when he said, “Democrats don’t seem to care about a child before it is born. Republicans don’t seem to care about a child after it is born.” It is a scathing reality underlying this whole debate and there is a fair amount of propaganda pointing at it on both sides but the propaganda never goes so far as to answering that hypocrisy with honesty.
So without digging my grave any deeper, I admit that I wish Sanders would have risen to the challenge and addressed his own hypocrisy and the opposing hypocrisy of the evangelicals. I wish there was room on both sides to admit we are all being hypocrites.
Therefore, I would like to step into Sanders’ shoes and offer my own answer to the hypocrisy question.
Here is what I might have said, “Yes, the unborn children in this country are very vulnerable. The recent headlines about Planned Parenthood have made that abundantly clear. Yes, I care about the mothers in unfortunate situations who are having to make the very difficult decisions during these unexpected or unwanted pregnancies and I question how effective the government can really be in helping them make the most informed and compassionate decision.
However, I also fully acknowledge that a child’s vulnerability does not end at birth! The most important and crucial development happens in the first 4 years of a child’s life. We have an economic system that heaps abuse and insults on these children, especially if those children are born with the wrong skin color, in the wrong country or to low income families in low income neighborhoods. They are not getting the nutrients they need. They are not getting the exercise they need. They are not getting the love and support from parents and grandparents they need (which is why family values are still extremely important). We must do more for children both born and unborn! We must do it consistently and compassionately all throughout their childhoods and even into adulthood, not just stopping at birth or a few weeks after.”
Such an answer would have at least acknowledged the hypocrisy and allowed for a greater discussion that might just expose how limited our care and concern for the “vulnerable” really is. Or maybe I am just daydreaming carelessly about a world where we can actually talk to each other, not around each other.
I will let you decide. Be that is it may, the full speech with Q&A is below.
Also here is a link to Rachel Held Evans’ 2 year old post about abortion that is one of the best I have ever read.
2 thoughts on “What Bernie Sanders Should Have Said About Abortion”
In your blogs, you paint with very broad brush strokes. It will be interesting to observe whether you use less generalization as you age.
Very very good!