September 20, 2014

By Chris Buice

Whenever someone suggests that we post the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms. I offer an alternative biblical verse: "Judge not that you be not judged."I admit this could prove awkward for any judge presiding over a case. A close relative who is a circuit court judge smiles tolerantly at this idea. My point is that the stone tablets in the courthouse might lull us into thinking we are God's agents dispensing divine justice when in fact we are human beings prone to error, especially when filled with self-righteousness.For example, if you read a lot of theology books, as I do, then you may be aware that a great deal of thought has been given to those circumstances under which there might be a "just war."

Surprisingly little thought has been given to the circumstances under which there might be a "just abortion." This neglect is a profound disservice to women who have been the victims of rape or incest or are in situations where abortion may be necessary to save the life of the mother.

Men are more likely to write theology books. Women are more likely to be rape victims. An estimated 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence. A woman is far more likely to experience rape, incest or a life-threatening pregnancy than a man is ever to see combat in the armed forces. Why so much attention to "just wars" and so little attention to the ethics of abortion?

On the ballot this fall there is a proposed amendment to the Tennessee state constitution that would empower our state Legislature to take away the right to an abortion for women who are raped, sexually abused or have their lives put in danger by a full-term pregnancy, women who may have other children to care for. I have to wonder, have they really given it that much thought?

There are always those who will insist on framing complex issues in the simplest of terms, often at the expense of other people's dignity. It was wrong when Vietnam veterans returning home from war were greeted with the epithet "baby killer." Today a woman entering a family planning clinic might be called the same name. Those who have experienced the trauma of war and/or sexual violence or a major life-threatening health crisis deserve our respect, not our uninformed judgments.

So read this proposed amendment carefully, especially those words in italics, to understand the extreme nature of this proposal:

"Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

In other words, our state government could outlaw abortion, granting no exceptions whatsoever.

Perhaps it is impossible to live a life without ever making a judgment. Indeed, life can force us to make difficult and painful choices. However, we may be able to agree that some judgments are better made in private with a doctor instead of in public with a lawyer. With all due respect to the judges of our state, some judgments simply do not belong in the courtroom.

Vote No on Amendment 1.

Chris Buice is minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.

This op-ed appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Sep 20, 2014.