Thursday, April 30, 2009


I'm a big fan of pop culture. I enjoy television, film, music, and the stage, and I know lots of random bits of trivia. Naturally, I heard the news that the iconic actress Bea Arthur (1922-2009) passed away recently. She was an impeccable actress, and deserving of all the praise that she's been given recently on entertainment blog tributes and the like.

At the same time, there's one thing she's been praised for recently that's been rather distressing, and that's for the controversial role she played on the 1970's sitcom Maude. It's not that she didn't play that role well; she was a great actress, and she did. I suppose what distresses me is the role itself, and for the controversial story arc it had in its first season in which the title character, Maude Findlay, has an abortion. Many tributes have called that storyline--and all those who were involved in it--"courageous" and "visionary" (it aired before Roe vs. Wade). Being a fan of the show's creator Norman Lear (especially All in the Family), I was aware of that storyline for a while. While I appreciate his ability to bring social issues into sitcoms in a way that wasn't cheesy, that particular storyline just always bothers me.

What bothers me about it is that the character of Maude was not the type of woman whom we usually hear about when pro-choice advocates campaign for the right to choose. She wasn't a rape victim, nor was she a poor teenage mother with her "whole life ahead of her." There was no clearly defined risk to her life, other than the fact that she was 47. She was a professional, with the means and ability to raise a child. She just didn't want to. Throughout the episodes (and granted, it has been a while since I've seen them), the main reasoning put forth for Maude to terminate her pregnancy was that she was too old. Her child would be younger than his/her nephew, she had gray hair, she was too old to go through the process of raising a child. In other words, it just didn't fit into her plans.

I'm glad my mother, who was only two years younger than Arthur's character, didn't feel that way about me. Yes, there was a lot of risk for a 45-year-old woman (who also had gray hair by that point) to have a child. Her previous two pregnancies with my brother and sister had had their own complications, and they had been almost a decade previous. If, say, my mother and father had gotten married in their 20s instead of their 30s, and had had a child then, I could have very easily been an uncle who would be younger than a niece or nephew. That would have been awkward and not the "normal family" that many people aspire to. I also might not have been a "normal child." I had a 25-30% chance of having Down's syndrome.

But despite all these things, my mother made the choice to give me the chance at life. She was encouraged by some not to, for many of the same reasons that Maude was. Yes, it's been odd having parents who are old enough to be my grandparents. Yes, I'm very lucky that my mom got through her pregnancy okay and that I didn't have any abnormalities. But at least she took the risk. Life may have gone on okay without me--just as it did for Maude and her family for the remainder of the classic TV series--but I wouldn't have been here for it.

And that's the main thing I don't understand about pro-choice advocates. Many don't seem to recognize that it's a life that's being snuffed out. But it is. If my mother had made the opposite choice than she made, I wouldn't be here. Everything I've experienced and written and seen and loved would be gone. Non-existent. That's why I can't understand why some people call the decision to terminate a pregnancy "courageous."

Isn't courage doing something which might end up costing you greatly? Isn't it courage to have a child even if you don't have any money, or even if it was conceived in an awful manner such as rape? Isn't it courage to face the risks of a late pregnancy? I'm not a woman, so in many ways I don't know, but at the same time, I feel that if I was, I would risk my own life so that I could give a child a chance at one. That's why I can never see the right to choose an abortion as anything other than an easy way out. I can sympathize with the emotions of those who would choose such a thing, but I simply can't understand why they'd make that choice.


Pomoprophet said...

Good point about being courageous! Words that used to have deep meaning are thrown around all the time. Its the same principle I talk about in my Edu classes about giving artificial praise to students.

Keep up the good work buddy!

Norm! said...

Bea Arthur was an outstanding actress and a joy to watch. My partner and I just happened to re-discover 'Golden Girls' re-runs shortly before her death, so her departure was poignant.

Jay, I think you're well aware that the courage that Bea Arthur is credited isn't for her character's abortion but for her courageous decision to play the role. It certainly made her the target of anti-choice activists. The fact that we're even talking about the episode upon her death decades later is testament to the courage of her willingness to portray the taboo role.

Thank you for sharing your story about your mother's decision in a similar situation as Maude. (Admittedly, I'm pro-choice politically, but I'll avoid getting into the same-old pro-"life"/pro-choice debate that we're so familiar with.) If you re-watch Bea Arthur's "Maude" scene in which she discusses whether or not to have the pregnancy with her character's husband, it's clear the decision is not made lightly. And Maude was willing to go through the pregnancy for her husband. Instead they made a reasoned decision about whether they should be parents or have a child.

That said, as a gay man who would face tremendous obstacles if I ever did choose to raise a child, I do have a hard time understanding straight couples who seemingly take for granted the decision to create or not create new human being.

Jay said...

Pomoprophet: Thanks, bud. Hope you're doing well.

Norm: She certainly had courage to play a controversial role. But many of the tributes I've seen done also highlight the courage of the writers and of Maude as a character.

In my mind, just because Maude and her husband made a reasoned decision doesn't take away the fact that they ended a life. Maybe they wouldn't have been very good parents at their age. Still, I'm sure if they had had the child, he would have been happy to exist despite their inadequacies.

James said...

I really haven't seen that much coverage of Maude, much more of the Golden Girls. Maude is a relic of history because the show, like most other Norman Lear shows, was blatantly political, unabashedly liberal.

I think Bea Arthur wanted to do what she thought no one else would touch, even if she may or may not have agreed with the message. When she hosted SNL around 1979, she appeared in a sketch which made fun of a breast cancer patient and author (First, You Cry). Later she said she had some second thoughts. But she was a trailblazer.

So, I look at it that way. Bea Arthur did these roles which broached many topics people don't want to talk about, and the stories spurred discussions many may have avoided.

How many people may have chosen not to have abortions because of the Maude episode? How many people may have decided to speak up about their pro-life views because of the Maude episode?

In the end, it probably did as much, or more, to help the pro-life movement than the pro-choice movement.

donsands said...

"That's why I can't understand why some people call the decision to terminate a pregnancy "courageous.""

You're right about it being the easy way out. And it is killing a person, who is being knit together in the womb in the image of God, for the glory of God.

Remeber when Jesus came upon the blind man from birth, and the disciples asked the Lord who caused this man to be blind by their sin. Jesus said, "No one caused this man to be blind by their sin, not mother nor father, but this blindness is for the glory of God.

I also thought of Hellen Keller. What an awesome story she is. She not only learned the English language after being born deaf and blind, but I heard she learned other languages as well.
God likes to glorify Himself in people.
We better stop killing them in the wombs.

Good post Jay. Important issue abortion. I believe it shows more about a man, what he believes about abortion, then any thing else.

Ophir said...

Never seen Maude, nor heard of it until Bea Arthur's death a few days ago. I don't think I've ever seen the Golden Girls either.

Regardless of whether one supports legalized abortion or not, this scene from the show in which the daughter urges her mother to terminate the life of her little brother or sister in a "simple operation - just like going to the dentist" is vile, if not evil.

It's pure pro-abortion (not even pro-choice) propaganda, and the conversation itself is absurd and unrealistic.

Brandon said...

Amen to that!

Frankly, I'd call abortion outright murder. Might as well not hold back anything, because that's exactly what it is.

Similarly, I'm glad my mother gave me a chance to live. I was conceived just before my mom became a senior in high school and her and my dad weren't married yet at that point. These days, people would say her only hope for a normal life would be to have an abortion. I'm glad she didn't do that though. It would have been such an easy way out for her to have done that. Allowing me to live was harder on her and my dad in a lot of ways, but I don't think they've ever regretted the decision they made to have me. And I can't tell you how grateful I am to them for that decision.

My favorite movie is "It's A Wonderful Life". I often wonder, like the main character in that movie experienced, just what the world would be like without me. You see, it's very likely that had my parents aborted me, they would have never gotten married, my brother would have never been born, his kids would never have been born, and all the life and experiences we've had would have never happened. That's a rather sad thought, I believe. And like you, I wonder how people can think having an abortion is the right way to go. Don't they realize how much life they're affecting?

TRiG said...

Abortion is the top item on my list of controversies I ought to form an opinion on. I don't really know what I think.

I've previously seen abortion debated mainly on the CARM discussion forums, which has left a rather bad taste in my mouth for the anti-abortion side, who seem to rely entirely on lies and character assassination. (Reasoned debate is deliberately discouraged by the forum administrators.) I'll try not to let that colour my participation here.

Abortion, of course, is not murder. Murder is unlawful killing: as such, the word is defined by the legislature and the courts. Abortion may, possibly, be morally equivalent to murder, and perhaps should be considered to be murder, but the fact is that, at the moment, it is not. Language matters; definitions matter; accuracy matters.

I very recently heard on RTE Radio 1 a documentary originally broadcast in Australia. A woman was trying to trace her family: specifically the grandmother whom no one talked about. After a lot of digging it emerged that she had died of septicaemia following an illegal abortion. She was dirt poor, and had lived a very hard life.

A case can be made that social policies designed to reduce abortions have a far better result than an outright ban. (See Sam Harris's book Letter to a Christian Nation for a description of the results of an abortion ban.)

Here in Ireland we take a typically Irish solution. Abortion is illegal in both the Republic and the North, but legal in Britain. The ban serves to give some people a sense of moral superiority without seriously inconveniencing those who do want an abortion. If we didn't have such an accommodating neighbour, the ban would be untenable.

Moral ambiguity? Certainly. Moral cowardice? Perhaps. Politics? Of course.


Jay said...

Don Sands: Good examples. The idea that one should abort a disabled child to prevent them from suffering is an odd one. I'm sure that, despite difficulties, they appreciate being alive as much as I do, and you're right in that they can be a blessing and inspiration to others.

Ophir: I suppose growing up in Israel you wouldn't have seen Maude or Golden Girls. And yeah, that was probably one of the conversations I remember that appalled me most. I noted it was all about how Maude didn't have to go through the pregnancy, and no one seemed to mention that there was a living, breathing human being forming for whom the outcome was even more important.

Brandon: It's interesting how you and I have had similar common experiences in which our mothers were encouraged/expected to have an abortion, but chose not to. The only difference being that mine was old while yours was young. And yeah, it does give one something to think about.

TRiG: You're right about "murder." I tend to be very strict about definitions as well. Morally, I do see it as murder, and will say as such, but I do realize that it's the law of the land.

And though I have not read Harris' book, I do understand that there would be negative ramifications to an abortion ban. Women would still seek abortions, but the abortionists would go underground and conditions would probably not be as sanitary and would be more dangerous.

That's why I think the pro-life movement needs to focus more on changing hearts and minds than legislation. I think if more people stop and think that there's a full human being getting ready to be born, I can't imagine that they would prevent it from being born.

TRiG said...

In other news, I see that Kim is off your reading list.


Jay said...

Sometimes I need to put a book down and start over once the flow has been broken (it had been months since I opened Kim last). I think I'm going to read the short little titles that I have before me, then start working on it again. It's not the kind of reading I'm used to, but it was fascinating. I just couldn't get back into it after having taken such a long break due to class.

(And I've read about 20 different titles over the semester for various classes, but I've neglected to update my list accordingly. Some of my favorites were Flight by Sherman Alexie, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and Beloved by Toni Morrison).

donsands said...

"Abortion is illegal in both the Republic and the North" -Trig

That's a good illegal. That's what I pray for, and contend for here in the USA, where we can go back to 1973 when abortion was illegal, and overturn Roe vs. Wade. Each State dealt with the issue back then, but the Government was unenvolved, as it should be.

Trig, have you ever seen what abortion does to a baby? If not, then it's well worth to see how heinous this is. Here's a link to a video, that I found to be balanced. There are videos that go too far, and not far enough.

Let me know what you think after you view the video. Thanks.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I thank God that Roe V Wade was enacted after I was born or I would not be here.

My mom could not have children and I along with my brother and two sisters are all adopted, and only my younger sister was born after abortion became legal.

However, we as Christians need to do more for the single mothers in regards to child care, jobs, education and prayer so that instead of abortion being the first and 'best' choice. It becomes the last resort. Until then we're not much better than the women who choose to abort.

donsands said...

"..we as Christians need to do more for the single mothers in regards to child care,"

Absolutely. We also need to more prayerful. We need to preach the gospel more. We need to give more of our money toward the cause of Christ. We simply need to be glorifying Jesus Christ more.

I know I am never ding all I can to serve others in this world, for the glory of God.
Yet, through His grace I have been able to walk in faith and love before the face of the Lord.

I wouldn't think someone who speaks the truth in love about the heinous sin of abortion is as bad as a woman who has decided to kill her baby because it is a boy, when she wanted a girl.

Actually, when my wife of 36 years now, by the grace of the Lord, became pregnant, before we were married, I suggested an abortion. I was totally indifferent and selfish.
Today I am thankful that I married my wife, and even though our first child died, and only lived one day, I'm forever grateful God's mercy somehow kept us from aborting this child.

I was worse back then then I am now.
I'm certainly still a sinner saved by grace, and I'm also righteous in Christ.

I rambled on a bit here, but I hope you get where I'm coming from.

Lord bless.

TRiG said...

donsands: That's a good illegal. That's what I pray for, and contend for here in the USA.Why? Have you ever actually asked yourself that question? Have you ever properly thought out what it is you wish to achieve? What's your goal?

Do you want to reduce the number of abortions, with the ultimate aim of eliminating them altogether? Or do you simply wish to punish those who offend you by seeking abortions?

If a reduction in the number of abortions is your aim, is an outright ban actually the best way to achieve that aim? Have you ever stopped to think about it?

To every complex problem, there exists a solution which is simple, obvious, and wrong.


(I have no interest in your video, and no intention of watching it.)

donsands said...

"Have you ever stopped to think about it?"

Sure have. It's evil to rip a baby's legs off. It wicked to suck a baby's brains out of his, or her head, while it's feet are still kicking. And it's monstrous to have a small dow syndrome baby be born alive, after trying to kill him, and then put him in a closet to die.

I contend agaisnt this. It's wrong. These humans are created in God's image. Life is precious.

Should we have a law that says you cannot murder? Suppose I don't like a person, and he doesn't like me, can I just kill him?
No. We have a law that says if you kill him, that is murder him, then you have consequences to pay.

Same with any other laws that we have that are good laws to have. To make a law that says killing babies in the womb is illegal is a law that I would like to see established.

Just as slavery was once not against the law, but now is.

"I have no interest in your video, and no intention of watching it."

Why no interest? Why not see what you think is fine is all about. It's a balanced video of the facts.

Jay said...

I could be wrong, but I think what TRiG is trying to say is that an abortion ban won't really stop the number of abortions. It's just that abortionists will figuratively go underground (like they were before it was legal).

I think, as Christians dealing with the issue of abortion, changing hearts and minds is more important than changing the law. This doesn't mean that laws aren't important, but that we do need to think about all the consequences and what our reactions to them would be, should the ones we desire come to pass.

donsands said...

"I think, as Christians dealing with the issue of abortion, changing hearts and minds is more important than changing the law."

I agree. If slavery were still legal, it would be the same type of situation, but we would still speak out, while continuing to try and reach people's hearts.

And even if we had no law against rape, then it would be good to have a law that said rape was wrong, but we would need to reach the hearts of unbelievers.

I agree.

It's the conversion first, and then the conduct shall follow.

I appreciate you allowing me to discuss this Jay. I know I have blindspots. So I may have not understood Trig. That's for sure.

The truth, and facts are that if abortion is illegal, then there will be less abortions for sure. No doubt it will a slow turning about, but in a few years there won't be millions of babies killed each year in the USA. As it was in 1973.
And even if it didn't, then why not still fight the good fight for God's name sake, and for the Gospel, and for innocent babies.

In China, now that's a different story, where I have a missionary friend, and abortion is required if a mother has more than two children. And if the baby is a girl, I think.

I asked my friend if you could protest in China against abortion. She strongly said, "No."

A whole different situation for the Church. And the Church is growing in China. The Lord is moving in great ways, and doors are opening for the Gospel, and souls are coming to Christ for rest.

Rachael Starke said...

I would respectfully sugggest that the whole reduction vs. making illegal argument is a bit of a straw man. The issue is whether or not a zygote or a fetus is a human life, and thus entitled, to quote the Constitution, with "certain inalienable rights." No life, then no need for any kind of reduction, or expression of sadness over the loss of "potential" life. If it's a unique human life, it's murder, and it's unconstitutional.

Our laws regularly restrict our choices on the basis of these principles all the time. I can't choose to initiate a sexual relationship with a minor. I can't choose to run a red light because I'm late for an important dr.'s apppointment. Oh, and if I ride a motorcycle, I have to wear a helmet.

Interesting - the law can actually tell me what I can and can't do with my body.

Jay said...

Don, Rachael, I see where you're both coming from. Good points all around.

Especially your last one, Rachael. I've always felt that that particular argument had the least weigh.

Yesh said...

Donsands and Jay, sorry for the late response. It is now in comments under the post Born That Way. Best to you both and all who enter here.

TRiG said...

donsands, I shan't watch the video because I'm squeamish. And I prefer reason to emotional appeal.

Rachael Starke, I think the "It's my body" argument does hold some weight, but not a lot. After all, it's easy to reply that the entire point of the debate is that it's not just your body.

I did have something else to say, but I've forgotten it.


RikFleming said...

Wow, should I enter this abortion debate?

To assert a person can have an abortion because "its my body" assumes that you are free to do whatever you wish with your body.

I didn't make my body nor redeem it, I am not my own. (1 Corinthians 6:20) I may not do whatever I wish with my body.

But even non-Christians will argue that just because it is your body does not mean you can do WHATEVER you wish with it. You cannot lawfully run down the street naked, flash your private parts to a little child etc.

Furthermore, the child within is not YOUR body. IN fact, the child within can actually have a completely different blood type than the mother.

What is insane is that unborn children have already won hereditary rights in court so that a will from a grandparent to his/her grandchildren includes the unborn. Yet that same child can be deprived of the right to life and liberty.

The reality is, abortion exists because people want to have sex outside the bounds of Biblical guidelines, which is itself an act of worship. The result is children of inconvenience who are then sacrificed to the modern equivalent of Molech, though in a more sanitary fashion.

Okay... I've said my 2 cents...


Jay said...

Rik: "The reality is, abortion exists because people want to have sex outside the bounds of Biblical guidelines, which is itself an act of worship."

I wouldn't go that far. People can be encouraged to have abortions when they're old and at risk (like the Maude character I mentioned). Same goes for victims of rape.

It's not all just a bunch of people who want to have sex without consequences, though of course that's part of it.

TRiG said...

If you want sex without consequences, you're not aiming for an abortion. Abortion counts as a consequence in my book.

Contraception can help for sex without consequences.

This is all a pretty academic discussion for me, it must be said.


donsands said...

"If you want sex without consequences, you're not aiming for an abortion. Abortion counts as a consequence in my book."

Or having a human baby is a consequence.

TRiG said...

True. Both abortions and babies are consequences. Neither is a desired outcome, if you're looking for consequence-free sex.


donsands said...

"Neither is a desired outcome, if you're looking for consequence-free sex."

Perhaps. However, the baby is a blessing from the Creator of this universe: "Lo, children are an heritgae of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is His reward" (Psalm 127:3).

distingué traces said...

"The reality is, abortion exists because people want to have sex outside the bounds of Biblical guidelines"

The statement is, first of all, just false -- many married women get abortions.

But it's also a very self-defeating line for the pro-life side to take.

A common point of view on the pro-choice side is that pro-lifers only pretend to care about unborn babies -- the real motive for criminalizing abortion is to control the sex lives of women and limit their independence.

Of course, this idea is an unfair caricature. But it's not smart to play into it if you are really trying to change minds.