During the President’s Inauguration,
CatholicsVote.org ran an advertisement on BET (Black Entertainment Television) that
used Barack Obama’s story as an anti-abortion tale.
My first reaction to this ad was,
"How disrespectful to Barack Obama! . . . to use him, an anomaly of history, to vilify women and men struggling to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy; to use a man who clearly has stood up time and again for abortion access
and women’s reproductive healthcare and choice; to use, and worse
to distort the circumstances of his birth all for an advertisement!"
Here is my second, third, and fourth
We do not know the potential fame or
folly for which our children are destined. To base decisions solely
on the unknown possibility of a pregnancy is flagrantly dismissive of
the other lives involved in that decision and sets up our children for
unrealistic, unattainable futures. We do not know who our children
will become; we only know how well we can support them, provide for
them, and give of ourselves to them. In our Open Letter on Abortion
as a Moral Decision, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing
says, "The sanctity of human life is best upheld when we assure that
it is not created carelessly. It is precisely because life and
parenthood are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry
a pregnancy to term. We support responsible procreation, the widespread
availability of contraception, prenatal care and intentional parenting."
There is no other visually indentified
person in this advertisement except a floating fetus. That’s
a medical impossibility. Removing a woman’s body from the visual
message does more than make us focus on the fetus; it forces us to create
a false separation between a pregnant woman and the fetus in her uterus.
They are inextricably intertwined as are their lives and decisions about
their futures. Abortion is not an abstract act. Why must we continue
to erase the physical presence of the moral agent in these decisions
– women? This separation diminishes our ability to grasp
the true moral complexity of an abortion decision. The advertisement
stressed "broken, abandoned and struggle" as the descriptive circumstances
into which Obama was born. Barack Obama’s mother and father
were well educated and had family support systems that allowed them
to make a choice about this pregnancy that is not the same as all unwanted
pregnancies. I don’t even think we can surmise (without hearing
from his mother, which is no longer possible) if this was an unwanted
versus unplanned pregnancy.
My fourth reaction is that the advertisement
is a new version of the old ethical argument that "absolute respect
for human life" is the only moral principle upon which to judge abortion
and its only application is to prioritize the life of the fetus.
In almost no other moral deliberations do we actively deny other moral
principles such as justice or love of neighbor. The advertisement
coercively limits the scope of our moral imagination and denies how
context influences moral choice. "The ability to choose an abortion
should not be compromised by economic, educational, class or marital
status, age, race, geographic location or inadequate information"
but in reality it is. The choice to have an abortion is
always a moral choice; women are always capable moral agents; moral
decision-making requires deliberation of multiple principles.
I haven’t even touched on the racial
implications of airing this advertisement on BET during the inauguration
of the first black President of the United States. This I think
has more to do with the racist and sexist moral character of the group
supporting and contributing to the ad, not the moral decision of women
to have an abortion.
Our moral struggle should be one that
sees racism, poverty, and heterosexism as factors that destroy our communities
and place women and men in uncompromisingly difficult moral decisions
– not one that uses historical events as an opportunity for moral