January 24, 2006

Jimmy Carter's Take on Abortion: "Life" is in Thrall to Death

A review by Gary Wills of Jimmy Carter's new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis contains some interesting and worthwhile perspectives on the issues of abortion and the dogmatism of fundamentalist Christians from the former President.

Writing from the perspective of a born-again Christian, who is disapproved of by many of the well-known born-again Christians on the national stage, Carter describes "the marks of this new fundamentalism" which are, according to him "rigidity, self-righteousness, and an eagerness to use compulsion (including political compulsion)."

Herewith, part of Gary Wills review:


Its spokesmen [referring to this new fundamentalism] are contemptuous of all who do not agree with them one hundred percent. Pat Robertson, on his 700 Club, typified the new "popes" when he proclaimed: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." Carter got a firsthand taste of such intolerance when the president of the Southern Baptist Convention visited him in the White House to tell him, "We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion."

Such attitudes are far from the ones recommended by Jesus in the gospels as Carter has studied and taught them through the decades, and their proponents have brought similar attitudes into the political world, where a matching political fundamentalism has taken over much of the electoral process. Such dictatorial attitudes defeat the stated goals of the fundamentalists themselves.
On abortion, for instance, Carter argues that a "pro-life" dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns. Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance.
Carter writes:
"Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:

In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world]."

A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions."[*] This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named "pro-life" movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia. And not only that, the fundamentalists try to impose the anti-life program in other countries by refusing foreign aid to programs that teach family planning, safe sex, and contraceptive knowledge. They also oppose life-saving advances through the use of stem cell research.
With friends like these, "life" is in thrall to death. Carter finds these results neither loving (in religious terms) nor just (in political terms).


Hume's Ghost said...
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Hume's Ghost said...

The review piqued my interest. When the book comes out I plan on reading it.

And look how much Carter's views contrast with those of President Bush's.


James Kroeger said...

Thank you for presenting this synopsis, Stephen. I found I was very, very interested to hear what President Carter had to say about the abortion issue. He has integrity that is born of wisdom, not just identification. It's a shame that he still does not get the respect that he deserves.

Dicky Neely said...

Excellent! I think very highly of both Gary Wills and Jimmy Carter!
If you get a chance I have picked off a bunch of quotes from "Crazy" Pat on my blog.
And you need to read what Bush said in a speech at Hershey, Pa. in 2004 about FISA and wiretapping terrorist suspects. I found this on the officlal White House web site.

enigma4ever said...

The Book is interesting on so many points and President Carter really quietly and eloquently explains how dangerous this neocon, fundamentalist regime is to this country ( on so many levels). I hope that many of our elected folks over Christmas had time to read it.( it is selling really well at Barnes&Nobles and Borders)...
And thank you for your analysis, and expressing some views I had not totally absorbed...