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Jim Wallis: “Making Abortion Provision Part of Healthcare Reform Will Kill Healthcare Reform”

You read that right. Jim Wallis has announced in a public interview:

Making abortion provisions part of healthcare reform will kill healthcare reform . . . There are a number of people who believe this is an issue of deep moral conviction and conscience and there are firewalls that if they are breached will really destroy common ground.

You have to know a little bit about Wallis to understand why this might be important. This past weekend, the New York Times has reported that President Obama has carefully cultivated relationships with at least five influential ministers—all described as evangelical “centrists”—for private sessions of prayer and occasional political advice. One of these is Jim Wallis. As Joe Loconte says in his Weekly Standard article, “Obama’s Prayer Warriors” , the label “centrist” is not entirely accurate:

A problem with this characterization, reported with facile approval by Laurie Goodstein of the Times , is that it blinks at political reality. Jim Wallis, for example, has been a fierce and partisan critic of the Bush administration, the Republican party, and religious conservatives. On the eve of the Iraq war, Wallis compared Bush to the Egyptian pharaoh who persecuted the Jews, one of the most despicable characters in the Old Testament. He once attacked the late Catholic thinker, Father Richard John Neuhaus, as a “hired political assassin on behalf of the rich and the powerful.” Even a brisk review of his magazine, Sojourners , reveals a political agenda nearly indistinguishable from the Democratic party platform. “It’s a politically astute move,” says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “But calling Jim Wallis a centrist is a lot like calling Jesse Jackson and Pat Roberson centrists.”

Given all this, it is not insignificant that Wallis would announce publicly that including abortion in any health care provision will kill heath care reform. The skeptic might note that Wallis merely said, “There are a number of people who believe this is an issue of deep moral conviction and conscience” without including himself among those people.

But wait, there’s more. Wallis was asked point blank by David Brody of CBN News : “Where are you or Sojourners on this issue of abortions being covered as part of a benefits package?”

Wallis’s reply: “I’m against that.”

I suppose it would be rather churlish and curmudgeonly of me not to see this as a positive development. Wallis does seem to count himself among those who have deep moral objections to this policy. Or does he?

Before we break out the champaign, pop the corks, and celebrate the return of a prodigal to the pro-life fold someone needs to ask Wallis a follow-up question: What exactly is so morally objectionable about including abortion in health care reform? For example, Wallis has always claimed to be both pro-life and pro-women (whatever that means). Couldn’t his progressive friends argue that including abortion in health care reform is being pro-women? And if he opposed it, would that make him anti-women?

If Wallis’s opposition is truly principled (or “prophetic”) then we can expect Wallis and the Sojourners crowd to offer up a  reasoned and articulate public argument for the moral wrongness of including this particular “health care procedure.” We would expect to hear from Wallis and the Sojourners crowd not merely the acknowledgment that other people have moral objections, but an explanation and articulation of Wallis own moral objections. We would expect an argument that informs his readers just exactly why his “progressive” friends are so wrong on this issue and the right wing “pro-life extremists” are right.

First Things readers might want to check out the Sojourners website to judge for themselves. But, as Loconte suggests, the stuff you find over there doesn’t exactly instill confidence. To put it bluntly, if you breeze through the website or Sojourners magazine you can’t help but conclude that Wallis and the his friends just aren’t up to the intellectual or moral task.

But I am willing to be proven wrong. In fact, I’m anxious to be proven wrong. So, just to prove I’m not a complete curmudgeon, let me offer one cheer for Wallis’ public stance on this issue. For time being, however, I will withhold further cheers until I hear him give a reasoned public argument telling us why it would be wrong in principle to include abortion as a part of health care reform. And I’ll withhold the other cheer until I have a chance to evaluate the intelligibility and moral coherence of Wallis’ pro-life argument.

The ball is in your court, Brother Wallis.   Silence is not an option.



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