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On Abortion

The news of Dr. George Tiller being gunned down in his church by an anti-abortion activist is tragic at many levels. It is tragic, most of all, for his surviving family. It is also tragic for his patients. Finally, I think it is tragic for the national debate about abortion.

I struggled today with reading various viewpoints about the issue today on my primary news feed, Twitter. And I realized that one of Twitter's gross shortcomings is to discuss anything as complex as abortion. Truly, a topic like abortion cannot be discussed in 140 characters or less, no matter how many entries are made and exchanged.

The fact of the matter is, abortion is a nearly insurmountable dilemma, with no perfect solution. This makes discussing the death of Dr. Tiller very difficult. And yet, I think it needs to be done. The tragedy would be to let it go as a simple black and white issue, but it is not. Any more than the debate about abortion is a simple black and white issue.

I'm a relatively liberal person regarding many political issues, but coupled with that is my strong Lutheran identity. And to be clear, my Lutheran identity has less to do with evoking "religious" beliefs, and more to do with how Lutherans think or, rather, live in a constant state of doubt. The central aspect of Lutheranism as a whole is not a devout belief in any one thing (that is, we tend to disagree about nearly everything), but rather a strong proclivity to question nearly everything involving God, existence, and faith. For better or worse, this is the tradition that has been handed down to us from Martin Luther himself, our namesake, who believed in God but vigorously questioned many of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church of his time. To him, little was black and white: rather, he believed in accepting and living within the "unresolvable tensions" that surround us.

And in my opinion, abortion is clearly one of these unresolvable tensions.

Which makes even the language surrounding abortion completely absurd, when you think about it. People who are against abortion aren't always "pro-life", as the murderer of Dr. Tiller just evilly demonstrated. But similarly, people who claim they are "pro-choice" aren't fully supporting choice either, are they? They are merely making the choice of the mother more important than the choice of the unborn child who, in the case of an abortion, is certainly not being given any liberties because he or she is having their life taken away.

So I hope President Obama's efforts to have a more nuanced discussion about abortion continues to be successful, despite the enormous tragedy of Dr. Tiller's death. He simply cannot afford to be either too strongly pro-choice nor pro-life, but rather must lead by striking a balance and continuing to push this issue as being entirely and thoroughly gray in nature. Because pro-choice activists are right, just as pro-life activists are, too: yet the people who are "most right" in this debate are the people who live fully within the unresolvable tension of the situation, and admit that abortion is indeed a medical solution for some cases yet a tragic one. It is a medical solution where a physician, who has sworn to do everything in their power to save the lives of humans, sometimes makes the choice of saving one life over another. Let's not glorify the woman's choice, the physician's choice, or anything at all about this. And when we remember Dr. Tiller, let's remember that he did save women's lives but he also ended the lives of 2nd and 3rd trimester babies.

I'm a father of four girls, and they have all kicked me in the back during their 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I saw their faces before they were born, and felt and saw their little fists flailing against my wife's uterus. And more than one of my cousins were born very premature. Yes, aborting a 3rd trimester child may save a mother's life, but at what cost?

So let us all mourn the tragic death of Dr. Tiller, and remember his noble efforts to save women's lives and respect their decisions. But let's also remember the deaths of the children who are the victims of abortions, and admit that the abortion debate is an unresolvable tension with no clear solution.

And finally, we cannot allow our compassion for Dr. Tiller and his family to cloud our judgment and fuel pro-choice activism any more than we should ally ourselves with his murderer. Dr. Tiller's work came at great human cost. And some people choose to value those lost lives just as much as the lives of their mothers. Let us respect this and realize that this is a noble belief to have, just as it is also noble to value the decisions of mothers, and let us live with this grand paradox.

Denying the paradox certainly simplifies the discourse about this most tragic topic, but it does not advance the discussion.


Thank you for the thoughtful reflection on the issue.