Monday, February 14, 2011

Reaching Out, Maybe

Talking is not a bad thing, so it's at least a little hopeful that, as the Denver Post recently reported

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly on Friday said he will bridge a great divide by asking abortion-rights advocates to work with his conservative Christian ministry to make abortion less common.

Reproductive-rights supporters say they want abortion to be legal, safe and rare, Daly said, and so his Colorado Springs-based media powerhouse will try to walk that common ground with them — lessening demand for abortion.

The "let's talk" offer to reproductive-rights groups signals a sea change in Focus' uncompromising approach to the abortion issue. It is bound to engender controversy about whether detente advances or hinders Daly's ultimate goal of making abortion illegal.

However, it is in keeping with his makeover of the house that James Dobson built. Daly has said he wants the ministry, which it says reaches 220 million listeners worldwide with its daily broadcasts, to have more conversations and fewer fights.

And Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said it is willing to listen.

This may be the ocassion to trot out a cliche: trust everyone, but cut the cards.

It's understandable, and reasonable, that Daly would assure the readers of his blog "we'll continue to fight for the day that we can overturn Roe v. Wade." Nor is it surprising that a fervent abortion-rights opponent would claim "God is on our side," though, as Abraham Lincoln advised us, we need to be concerned that we are on God's side. And if Daly wishes to add "the majority of Americans is on our side," which is, at least as it pertains to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, blatantly untrue, it can be written off as just another activist claiming to be fulfilling the wishes of the people.

But spare us the effort of establishing moral equivalence between a legal procedure and what was an apparently horrific crime in Philadelphia created by a thoroughly greedy, amoral capitalist (Conservatives may squawk, this appears to be a case of the pursuit of private profit going unregulated by the state.) Daly, with the characteristic lack of shame or self-introspection of the right, argues abortion,

like we've seen with Dr. Gosnell, it's not even physically safe for the mother. That's not to mention the long-term emotional devastation that often accompanies this tragic choice.

But it's easy being sidetracked by an emotional incident (or series of incidents) unrelated to the larger issue. Abortion, once more physically dangerous than childbirth for the prospective mother, now is even safer for the mother than giving birth. Further, existence of "the long-term emotional devastation" has become very controversial. That is extraordinary, given that the woman who has chosen an abortion is subject to much of society asserting that she has committed murder. (No, the woman typically is not told "you have committed murder;" but it is characterized by many individuals as "murder"- and the woman made the decision.)

And then- as if you didn't see it coming- Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger, according to the Denver Post, remarked

the ministry doesn't yet have the list of abortion-rights supporters it will contact, but Focus will reach out to that movement.

"It's something (Daly) is clearly very passionate about," Schneeberger said. "It's a 'Schindler's List' moment for us: How many lives can we save on the way to our goal of ending abortion? We don't know how it will be received."

There is little question how it will be received by the folks Mr. Schneeberger has just implied are Nazis. Oskar Schindler was a German businessman renowned for saving from concentration camps more than a thousand Polish Jews while Nazi Germany controlled their country. Yet- no, because of this- Schneeberger refers to the organization's anti-abortion activists as akin to Oskar Schindler. It is apalling, and not a little immodest. (Immodesty- is that a Christ-like virtue?) Frederick Clarkson notes

We have seen this Religious Right script too many times. The most notorious example for me was when Rick Warren, during a nationally broadcast presidential candidate forum hosted by his church, called for people on opposing sides in public life not to demonize each other. That sounded great until he called abortion a "holocaust" -- thereby casting those with whom he disagrees as Nazis.

Jim Daly, current honcho of Focus on the Family, told the Denver Post that he wants to have more conversations and fewer fights. It would be nice to believe that. But if he is going to convince anyone of his sincerity, his spokesman can start by stopping the Nazi analogies.

We can suggest, request, or implore, but it won't happen. The Nazi analogies go on and on and appear not to have marginalized the pro-life movement, or even the minority of its adherents sufficiently reprehensible to have invoked them. The answer is not to avoid discussion or to sink to the level of the extremists among the opponents of abortion rights; the left far less effectively demonizes its opponents. Hopefully, Planned Parenthood and other groups which might try to bridge the divide by entering into negotiations recognize that for their ideological adversaries, some issues are non-negotiable.

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