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Abraham, Martin, Abortion, and Dangerous Unselfishness



Faith, Feminism and Abortion: An Individual’s Business, Period

By Susan Jacoby

First, I am not in the business of defining either feminists or the faithful. The second portion of this week’s question is particularly disturbing because it shows how successful the religious right has been at infiltrating its notion of abortion as an absolute evil into the larger culture.

“Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that [abortion] is wrong. If [abortion] is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its [acceptance and its protection].”

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

To ask whether one can be a person of faith and support abortion in “some” circumstances is to accept the premise that abortion is always bad.

All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought [abortion] right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.”

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

Otherwise, why set up a dichotomy between “faith” and support for abortion in certain cases?

“Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care.”

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

The Arizona nun who was excommunicated for supporting a Catholic hospital’s decision to perform an abortion on a woman with primary pulmonary hypertension–a condition that makes pregnancy a serious threat to the mother’s life–must surely be a person whose faith would not allow her to sentence a woman to death in order to preserve, for who knows how long, the existence of the fetus.

“Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point here and now.  We’ve got to see it through.  But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base….

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Martin Luther King Jr.,  I Have  Been to the Mountaintop Speech,  April 3, 1968.

As for whether one can be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances, the better question would be whether one can be a decent human being and oppose abortion in all circumstances. “

“Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full [acceptance], as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?”

If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively.

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

Do you believe that a 12-year-old should have to give birth to a baby conceived through rape?

If our society would accept and helped, children conceived under such circumstances, instead, of clinging, to Victorian Social Morals, would this girl still have an abortion?

Do you believe that a woman with cancer should be denied an abortion and forced to forgo chemotherapy because it would harm her fetus?

This is a life and death decision between the mother and hopefully her spouse, about the most difficult decision that a couple can make. My only suggest is, for them, to think, of the idea, of dangerous unselfishness, when making this decision.

Do you believe that a woman carrying a Tay-Sachs fetus, who will surely die in agony, probably by age three, should be forced to give birth and watch her child whither and die?

It is not the writer choice or the reader choice, to decide, what this woman should do, with her child. Speaking, as a disable American, I would say that let the child live because the writer’s question, to me, is callous, towards a disable child, for which, I was one.

Then the least of your problems is whether you can be considered a feminist.


But, being a callous moral absolutist, you won’t see your views as problematic.

“Reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance.”

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

As the not-so-Divine Sarah [put a link in here to explain the reference to Sarah Bernhardt, lots of them available] would surely say, “God must have his reasons.”


The issue here is not the morality of abortion. As it happens, I agree with the religious right that abortion is a moral issue. I simply do not agree that one faction’s wickedly rigid definition of immorality should be translated into illegality.

“What will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call [abortion] wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. [Roe v. Wade must be supported unconditionally and indefinitely], to suppress all declarations that [abortion] is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, pulpits, or in private.  The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to [abortion], before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.”

Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

As for ex-governor Palin, what she means by “frontier feminist” is that she espouses a political philosophy, if one can dignify her pandering by calling it a philosophy, that opposes all of the laws and judicial decisions that have furthered equal rights for women in this country during the past forty years.

Has women loss their citizenship rights under the 14th Amendment? Have they loss their right to vote under the 20th Amendment?

She thinks that every woman should be forced to follow her example and carry a Down Syndrome fetus to term.

Why would that be wrong? Why should a woman terminate a pregnancy because the child will be born, with a handicap?

But she opposes government spending to support public programs, inadequate as they are, designed to help parents take care of children with disabilities.

Palin opposition towards public programs, to aid, handicap children is irrelevant because it does not answer the above two questions?

Of course, if you are making a fortune by spreading irrational hatred of government, you won’t need government help.

Regardless, of Palin fueling, irrational hatred of government, to make money, is once again irrelevant, towards the two questions.

Somehow, though, I suspect that Sister Sarah will swallow her anti-government bilge and sign on the dotted line when it comes time to apply for disability payments for her son at age 18.

Why would matter if she applies for disability payments, for her son, at age 18 wouldn’t that be what parents, who have children, with Down Syndrome, would do, to help them?

After all, the Lord helps those who help themselves–to everything they can get.

What does that mean? In addition, this is an irrelevant statement, for her, to make, and it’s a vile attack, on her child, who has Down Syndrome.


Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.


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