Saturday, November 04, 2006

Is it democracy when you only have two choices?

This morning I recieved an email from a friend in Kano, saying in Hausa that he hoped I was well, that everyone greeted me, and that he hoped I wouldn't vote Republican in the upcoming elections because Bush is enemy number 1 in the world.

I admit, guiltily, that I had contemplated not voting in the upcoming elections. I shamefacedly confess that up to now, I haven't been the ideal citizen. I have only voted in Presidential elections and not in the midterm elections. However, I had been planning to look at the candidate's positions and try to go ahead and vote, since it would be a bit hypocritical of me to be so critical of our current government and then not utilize the miniscule bit of power that I have as a voter to make my statement. When I recieved the email this morning, I remembered earlier convictions I have had in presidential elections that my vote is more than just mine--it also stands for the many people I know around the world and non-American citizens living in this country.

So tonight I spent about 3 hours trying to research the positions of each candidate. It has left me discouraged and tempted just not to vote (a temptation, which I will resist.) For Senate, there are four candidates: The incumbant democrat, and a republican, an independent, and green party challenger. For congress, there is the incumbant democrat and her republican challenger. Turning to Vote Smart, a national website that gives candidate information based on a national political awareness test (henceforth referred to as npat), I started looking at the positions for each candidate.

In the Senate race, every candidate except for the incumbant democrat had filled out the npat. In the Congressional race, neither candidate had filled it out. Seeing the independent senate candidate, I was excited, thinking maybe I had found a moderate candidate who doesn't kowtow to any party line; however, when I looked at the npat, I was alarmed. He was much further to the right than the republican candidate, to the the point that he wanted to pull out of the UN and didn't want to prohibit torture. The Republican seemed to pretty much toe the part line, with the interesting idea that he could raise government funding for everything (that is everything but International aid and welfare, both of which he would cut back drastically...) while still cutting taxes. Out of the three, I was the most in agreeance with the positions of the "working mom" green party candidate. The incumbant democrat, of course, didn't turn in his form.

In order to try to figure out the positions of the incumbant democrat congressperson and democrat senator, I attempted to plow through their voting records. This is incredibly time consuming and difficult to understand. What discouraged me the most was realizing that I will probably, despite all my attempts at research, end up voting for these candidates that didn't seem to care enough about the voters to fill out the npat on their positions, simply because I cannot, in this current political environment and state of nation, stomach voting for any republicans. The other thing that really disturbs me is realizing that not only are both of these candidates "pro-choice," which I suppose is to be expected since that is the party line, but that they both voted against banning partial birth abortion (a law which had caveats about it being allowable if it needed to be done to save the mother).

Now, I realize that writing about my moral dilemma may cause some of the readers of this blog to think that I am too conservative or politically naive. I often remain silent on these sorts of political issues because I know that they often evoke emotional responses (case in point being certain people in the English department at this university who villified as intolerant, gender self-hating, and idiotic the few brave souls who dared to mention that they questioned the right to abortion.) However, since this is my blog where I find myself coming out and saying what I think, I feel like I must express this. I am against abortion. I am also against embryonic stem cell research and cloning. Much of this has as much to do with the lasting impact of reading Aldous Huxely's Brave New World and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" in high school as it does with my evangelical upbringing. These questions are also raised in Ursula Le Guin's powerful essay/short story "The Ones who walk away from Omelas (Variations on a theme by William James)," in which the very happiness and freedom of a utopian society is built on the mistreatment and neglect of one imprisoned child. Ethically, I just can't stomach the idea of the means justifying the ends, human fetuses being harvested in order serve the greater good of finding cures for diseases. I am all for adult stem cell research and attempting to find cures for tragic and debilitating diseases like Parkinsons or Alzheimers, and I realize that for many people living with those disease, theoretical arguments about the ethics of what kind of stem cell is used in the research seem impractical and heartless. I am very uneasy, however, with the idea of harvesting and manipulating human embryos in order to serve a more elite class of older human beings. I am also disturbed with rhetoric that devalues a growing embryo as something that is "owned" by the woman in which it is growing and which she has the right to discard if she wants because it is part of her body. (I have a similar squeamishness to the idea of creating test tube embryos and discarding some of them once there has been a successful implantation. And if some people are angry about cats being declawed or dogs being fixed, how much more human beings being tailored in this way?) How much do we own of ourselves? of other bodies? How ethical is our manipulation of science to create children for ourselves when we want them and discard them when we don't want them? Why is the life of the woman automatically more important than the life of the child? How will history judge these decisions? How do other societies judge these decisions? Will we be/are we considered decadent--or will my objections eventually fade away as mere reactionary prudery, as ridiculous at taking offence at the idea that the earth might circle the sun?

Now, the problem with my position, of course, is that I CAN see the gray areas. That's what literature does for us right? I can imagine myself into the position of a young girl who is pregnant; the shame of an accidental pregnancy; the horror of having to face parents, friends, teachers with the results of a liason you swore to keep secret; the despair of realizing that this could mess up all your dreams; the crisis of not being economically able to support a child; the feeling that this would entrap you in a relationship/situation/position/reputation you wouldn't be able to get out of; the dreadful realization that a wanted child is likely to be severely handicapped; the desire to have this child but the painful reality that you just can't manage it all by yourself. I realize that if abortion were outlawed, that there would probably be many women who would have dangerous illegal abortions performed. I realize that, in some ways, my anti-abortion position is much more comfortable while abortion is legal, than it would be were abortion to be illegal. And, yes, I am troubled by the rhetoric used in the state of Utah, where abortion has recently been made completely illegal. I am open to discussion. I now realize that it is a much more ambiguous area than I once thought it was. I am willing to say that abortion might be an option in certain circumstances, where the mother's health is an issue, where there might have been rape or incest. (The prochoice counter-argument of the10 year old pregnant by her father is a powerful one.) However, despite all of these grey areas, I cannot honestly say that I am pro-choice. There need to be other options and choices available: more social support for teen mothers, more free daycare services for single and working mothers, and, yes, more access to contraceptives. This is where other Christian friends may disagree with me, but I'd rather contraceptives be used properly than abortion be an option. Ideally, teenagers would not be having sex at all, but this is something that the culture needs to discourage--not the law.

Perhaps, abortion is just symptomatic of a larger feminist/womanist issue. We must ask if the insistance on rights to abortion is a specifically Western feminist option of preserving women's rights? Why is it that children become these symbolic and actual burdens to women's reputations or their careers? Shouldn't we tackle these deep structural problems in our cultures--work on solutions that will give women opportunities to pursue their dreams while also being mothers? Give them multiple choices on how to do this? Everyone talks about adoption, and of course that is an excellent option, but there have to be other systems of support as well. I don't have any solutions, and perhaps this is just naive idealism, but mustn't we question a practice which just gets rid of a pregnancy, gets rid of the symptom, when we can imagine more creative ways to preserve and celebrate both the mother and the child's life? While I AM anti-abortion, I think the rhetoric of the pro-life side needs to change as well. Instead of always talking in negative terms about murdering babies, we need to actively start providing more choices.

So, all this to say, this is why it upsets me that I will probably be voting for two candidates who voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. I will vote for these candidates because the most pressing issues right now seem not to be abortion (which will probably still be debated 20 years from now) but how America is presenting itself in the world, the ambiguities this administration has created about torture, the misinformation and dissimulation and propagands, the morass of Iraq, the complete inattention to environmental concerns, the repressive tendencies, human rights abuses, and xenophobia of the Patriot Act, and the looming spectre of global warming. Basically, this current administration has flunked in almost every possible way, and I have a responsibility to voice my concern on these issues with my votes. My concern is consistent; I am worried about any kind of human rights abuse. The literature I cited above is just as relevant to the mistreatment of minorities in this country as they are to the mistreatment of human embryos. But, why are the choices always such extremes? Why must the only people who are concerned about our position in the world, the environment, social justice, also not have a problem with the gruesome proceedure of partial birth abortion? Is it that they think that if they show any squeamishness about any kind of abortion that suddenly they will be hurtling down the slippery slope of being anti-feminist? Can't we meet half way somewhere? Compromise?

Or is it that all the good moderates out there, who can see many different sides to an issue, are too cynical and disillusioned to enter politics? I suspect that is a very strong possibility. I'm almost disillusioned enough not to vote. But I can't let down all my non-American friends who are counting on me to strike out symbolically against this administration. This vote, as morally dubious as it is, as morally dubious as most of our decisions are, is for them.

1 comment:

Talatu-Carmen said...

This morning, I clicked on a CNN clip about the supreme court and partial birth abortion, which seemed to indicate that the supreme court struck down the 2003 bill, saying it was unconstitutional because it did not allow for abortions in cases of danger to the mother. Upon hearing that, I thought that I must have read the law/voting record wrong, and was glad because it made me feel better about voting for people who had voted not to ban the proceedure (because I think there always need to be caveats and ways out of authoritative laws--for specific exceptional cases). But when I got back home today, I decided to look at it again, and I read the entire law. Maybe I am displaying my inability to properly read complex texts here, but there is a clause here that seems to say that a doctor will not be prosecuted if the abortion was performed in order to save the life of the mother, whose life has been endangered by the pregnancy. So, I'm not sure I completely understand what is going on here, and maybe I am not looking at the law that was voted against by my candidates, but this law DOES seem to provide a certain space for protecting the woman here. So, now I feel bad again about intending to vote for these candidates. But there are other issues at stake, so I have to go with the most pressing issues. But WHY isn't there anyone running who is concerned with human rights abuses in Iraq, human rights abuses here, AND the human rights abuse of partial birth abortion? Why oh why is our country so damnably partisan?

Here's the website and the portion of the law that makes the statement.

`Sec. 1531. Partial-birth abortions prohibited

`(a) Any physician who, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both. This subsection does not apply to a partial-birth abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself. This subsection takes effect 1 day after the enactment.

`(b) As used in this section--

`(1) the term `partial-birth abortion' means an abortion in which the person performing the abortion--

`(A) deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and

`(B) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus; and

`(2) the term `physician' means a doctor of medicine or osteopathy legally authorized to practice medicine and surgery by the State in which the doctor performs such activity, or any other individual legally authorized by the State to perform abortions: Provided, however, That any individual who is not a physician or not otherwise legally authorized by the State to perform abortions, but who nevertheless directly performs a partial-birth abortion, shall be subject to the provisions of this section.