Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: May 15, 2022”

Questioning Roe

meador

I have been dreading writing this column, although I’ve known I had to write it eventually. My reticence stems not from an inability to sort my mind — on the contrary, I have strong and clear thoughts on the matter. But how can I respectfully write about a topic that often devolves into hateful vitriol? How can I address a subject about which most people — including me — have very strong feelings without insulting or disrespecting those who disagree with me? How can I be true to my morals without damning the other side?

I don’t know the answers. But I am going to forge bravely or foolishly ahead.

The abortion debate is one I rarely address. I have strong and simple feelings that are immutable yet I recognize others have the opposite feelings about which they’re equally passionate.

Why am I weighing in now?

I believe the debate reaches well beyond women’s health care because it asks an existential question affecting all of humankind. If it was strictly a matter of women’s health care, I’d have nothing to say.

At its root, the question of abortion has less to do with a woman’s body than it does defining the moment when a human life attains value. Although women’s health care makes for a much easier argument, the body is arguably incidental to the disagreement since part of the overarching issue asks whether that “part of a woman’s body” is in fact, a separate human life.* No, the fundamental debate is establishing the moment a human life becomes a human life, worthy of the full protection of the law. Both sides know this but, since there will never be an earthly answer putting the issue to rest, the debate has shifted to something we can answer: women’s health care. It makes for heated — if pointless — back-and-forth while the real question remains answered only by current arbitrary law.

Here’s where I see disturbing logical disconnects under existing policy: What real difference exists between a fetus moments from emerging and a baby freshly born? Or two babies delivered prematurely where human worth is assigned to the one who’s wanted while the one who’s not is nothing more than waste? Or that a fetus killed by a drunk driver can earn a wrongful death charge as long as it’s wanted? Would any D.A. in his or her right mind bring charges against a drunk driver who killed a fetus destined to be aborted? Human value assigned solely based on whether a life is wanted seems to echo inhuman eugenics policies of monstrous regimes we’ve seen before. I find this deeply unsettling.

As I’ve often said, if you parsed me politically, I am about one-third liberal Democrat, one-third conservative Republican and one-third Libertarian. I am quietly proud that none of my positions conflict with any other. I am also an Anglican Catholic. My faith is a crucial component of my feelings on abortion. As a white male and member of the honorary patriarchy, I recognize many people do not want my opinion on a procedure I will never undergo.

If pro-choice people are right and I am wrong, then there really is a reasonable point when a human life gains worth and current laws might well define that. If pro-choice policy is right and I am wrong, then a fetus is no more or less than a part of a woman’s body and it’s absolutely none of my business what she elects to do with it.

If, on the other hand, I am correct and pro-choice people are wrong, bluntly speaking, we are killing our young in the name of circumstance and we will have to answer for this later.

The unexcogitable problem of this debate is we will never be able to settle this question in earthly terms to quell the issue — the debate cannot be satisfied until the God of my faith settles the matter on his terms or until human knowledge advances to the point it can prove beyond a doubt there is no god.

In the 1980s, I got tired of seeing letters to the editor smugly quoting scripture, invariably aimed at people who believe scripture is fantasy — I thought it a pointless effort, akin to putting out fire with paper. But it did pose a question I could not ignore: could I learn to debate the entire Republican platform on wholly secular terms? To my surprise, after some exploration and experimentation, I found I could defend the entire conservative platform with no religious or biblical reference, wholly secular terms. I learned to be good at it.

I cannot do that now because it’s disingenuous to pretend my faith plays no role in my position.

My faith is an integral part of my conviction. As I said a moment ago, you won’t find me addressing this issue often and you won’t hear me calling hellfire and brimstone upon those who disagree with me. I am offended when people from my party immediately and loudly label progressives “baby killers” — this tactic brings nothing useful to the conversation.

As unacceptable as I find it, abortion is not a deal-breaker issue for me. In other words, I can work politically with Democrats who support choice. In fact, I believe strongly we must work with those who disagree with us or we’ll continue down this hateful, suspicious, tribal path we’ve taken. My progressive friends and I agree on many other issues just like my conservative friends know I’m with them, too, on many issues.

But there is another reason I won’t shun my progressive friends: women close to me — people I deeply love and respect — have undergone abortions. They did so for profoundly personal reasons, agonizing over their decisions, often entangled in unspeakable circumstances. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish accompanying such situations. So I rarely speak about abortion and I do not now intend this essay to condemn them.

It makes me physically sick to my stomach to think I should have anything to say about what a woman can or can’t do with her body or that I should hold sway over her health care. If that’s what this was, the answer would be easy. But as outlined above, a debate defining the moment a human life attains value is existential, transcending a woman’s body to envelop the entirety of the human race. Put another way, if an unborn fetus had the same value as a newborn infant, most of us would be horrified if a parent sought to harm it.

I must emphasize I believe there are moral exceptions to bans on abortion. I understand there are circumstances I cannot possibly understand that would affect a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. Plus, the women I know who’ve gone through hell as they decided their only solution was termination — I am a male who will never be faced with such a decision. This, alone, usually convinces me to stay quiet on this debate even though I have deep convictions — and it is why I now take pains to weigh in quietly, with empathy and respect.

My innately sinful nature as a flawed human leads me to a dark confession: even though I believe life begins at conception, I would have a much easier time denying life to a ten-day-old cluster of cells than I would a one-term baby. I will also admit that, had I created a surprise pregnancy back in the reckless days of my youth, you can bet abortion would’ve been on the table, if I had had any say in the matter.

These failings on my part aren‘t entirely in vain. They are part of the complicated equation that gives me empathy for women who are confronted with a situation I will never experience. This is another reason why I do not often declare my opposition to abortion — I, too, have had conflicted feelings, if I am brutally honest. I have questioned people who loudly decry abortion yet fail to contribute to alternatives. I’m jarred when a robust defense of the unborn goes silent once the unborn are born. I have considered the cynical argument that we’ve spared children from unspeakable poverty and abuse. I’ve pondered the equally cynical question of why it’s such a big deal from a Christian perspective if, by Christian logic, the souls of the departed get a fast pass to paradise.

Abortion is nearly always argued in stark black-and white terms. While I agree it’s a clear-cut question, no one can say it’s not surrounded by a chaos of swirling grey.

I have been labeled a left-leaning Republican, which is not entirely inaccurate. But I remain committed to many conservative ideals and my opposition to abortion is one of them. My position is based on the fundamental issue of arbitrarily assigning value to human life — to me, a baby newborn and a baby about-to-be-born should have an identical innate worth but in Oregon they do not.

If nothing else, the disconnect is jarring.

Photograph © 2022 Maria Oswalt via Unsplash. Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

Measuring homelessness

stapiluslogo2

The old saying among business consultants is that you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.

That’s not true of managing everything. (Measures of quality don’t always reduce easily to numbers.) But it does seem true for at least one of Oregon’s most difficult problems: homelessness.

We know it’s a big problem. But we don’t know exactly what the problem is.

On May 4 the three Portland-area metro counties delivered a new point-in-time report (federally mandated, and conducted on January 26) on the numbers of homeless people. Those numbers by themselves point to a problem big enough to justify the widespread concern it’s getting: “6,633 people were counted as experiencing homelessness on the night of Jan. 26, 2022,” more than 5,000 of them in Multnomah, with several hundred each in Washington and Clackamas.

The numbers were up by about a quarter since the last report, which was taken in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. But big numbers and increases aren’t unique to the Portland area. Only a quarter of Oregon’s documented homeless people are located there. In central Oregon (mainly in the Bend area), the numbers were up by about 17 percent (to about 1,300 people).

“The results, which will be reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also make clear that people of color continue to face disproportionate rates of homelessness. In Multnomah County, for example, people of color made up almost 40 percent of everyone counted this year,” the Tri-County report added.

It also, though, acknowledged its limits: “This year’s data, like with every Point in Time Count, should be considered an undercount of people experiencing homelessness. Because of federal rules, the Count does not include thousands of people who did not have a home of their own on the night of Jan. 26 but were ‘doubled up,’ staying with friends or family. Culturally specific providers tell us that people of color are more likely to experience homelessness this way and are underrepresented in the Count as a result.”

Even with that, many people may be missed. Consider the people incarcerated but who have nowhere to go when they get out?) And, “As a one-night snapshot, the federally structured Count also isn’t designed to reveal how many people move in and out of homelessness over the course of a year, either losing their housing or gaining it back with support services.”

So we don’t know the real size of the real homeless population: But that’s just one dimension. We also have little information about the people, why they’re unhoused and what it might take to get them into shelter.

Stereotypes abound: They’re drug or alcohol addicts. They’re mentally ill. They’re financially irresponsible, or just unable to focus on keeping their lives together. They were evicted from living places made abruptly too expensive to afford. Race may be a factor. And there are other explanations.

These stereotypes didn’t emerge from nowhere: You can easily find case studies in support of them. But opinions have differed on what factors account for how much of homelessness, and what that would mean for solutions. If, for example, a tenth of people without a permanent residence got in that position because they were unable to fund or afford a residence, then a path to solving the problem might be clearer - for them. But that would leave a large majority of the homeless population still unaccounted for.

The stereotype often suggests a single man, but many reports have suggested a majority of unhoused people are women, and many children are among them. Exact information, again, is hard to come by.

The idea of a mix of responses was hinted at in a statement from Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury: “I believe in both/and responses to homelessness. That’s why I’ve led work to add hundreds of shelter beds, from villages to motels, before and during this pandemic. It’s also why I championed our Behavioral Health Resource Center, opening downtown later this year. But I’ve also worked to ensure we don’t give up on work that will help people leave those shelter beds, or avoid them in the first place: housing with support services.”

Still: Finding more beds under roofs to provide space for people off the street would be useful for some segments of the homeless population, but not much for others.

Next time around - presumably, next January - the point-in-time counters might try something more ambitious: A deeper dive of not just the top-line numbers of homeless, but a greater inquiry into the specific circumstances that got these people to where they are, and what combination of solutions might help get them somewhere better.