Friday, October 17, 2008

Fil-Ams, the U.S. elections, abortion, and Barack Obama

Filipinos-for-Obama pin from
Filipinos-for-Obama pin from

Fil-Am communities, especially those online, are debating heatedly the coming U.S. elections. Supporters for Obama and McCain bombard each other with comments, responses, articles, and other materials in the hope of convincing the other to vote for one’s candidate. In a recent survey of Asian-Americans including Fil-Ams, 35% indicated a preference for Obama compared to 29% for McCain. Significantly, 34% were undecided with the remaining 1% indicating another candidate.

Photo of Fil-Am and Asian-American supporters of Sen. John McCain. Photo taken by Charito Benipayo, Co-Chair, CAPACforMcCain from the website
Photo of Fil-Am and Asian-American supporters of Sen. John McCain. Photo taken by Charito Benipayo, Co-Chair, CAPACforMcCain from the website

If the online exchanges are a crude indicator of rising political participation of FilAms, we may hazard a premise that a number of FilAms support the Republican ticket of Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, simply because of the Republican’s pro-life/anti-abortion stance vis-à-vis the Roe vs. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision. Filipinos are considered socially conservative in light of the value place on family solidarity and Catholic upbringing. Thus, the framing of the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate must shift if Obama supporters are to convince Republican Fil-Ams to change their voting patterns.

It seems like Fil-Ams’ support for Republicans is based on the abortion issue to the exclusion of all other issues. As a Catholic myself, abortion is horrible. I am a pro-lifer from the moment of conception to adulthood. Shouldn’t we all be? I understand this point of view for Fil-Am’s support of Republicans, but I think this should be expanded. Fil-Ams supporting the Republican party because of its pro-life stance need to be convinced that abortion can be avoided by a change of hearts and an enabling environment. Basically, when women are respected more, supported, and have more access to life’s opportunities, they will choose to be pro-life. It is about spreading love, not fear and hate, or scare mongering. The data support this assertion. The excerpt below is from the Guttmacher Institute which has long conducted research on the issue of abortion.


  • Fifty percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are younger than 25: Women aged 20–24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and teenagers obtain 17%.
  • Thirty-seven percent of abortions occur to black women, 34% to non-Hispanic white women, 22% to Hispanic women and 8% to women of other races.
  • Forty-three percent of women obtaining abortions identify themselves as Protestant, and 27% as Catholic.
  • Women who have never married obtain two-thirds of all abortions.
  • About 60% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children.
  • The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women
  • The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

What jumps out here? One, those seeking abortions are young, women of color, probably poor and lacking education, mostly Protestant and nearly one-third Catholic. The reasons cited for abortion reflect a lack of a network of support and isolation/exclusion.

Clearly we have a situation of poverty, minimal education, minimal opportunities, a breakdown of family, and no support network. Social scientists call this structural violence. The structure of society, i.e. politics, education, inequality, etc. lead to the deaths of the most vulnerable. Yet, the framing of the abortion issue at present hinges on the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. The abortion issue has been used by neoconservatives as a cultural wedge issue to distract voters from the main issues that drive abortion, namely; poverty, inequality, social exclusion (PIE).

Bring down poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. Work to support minorities in their human development. Provide universal health care. Be more loving and compassionate like the Catholic Church and provide more facilities for supporting single moms, troubled teenagers. Support programs to strengthen a loving family conscious and committed to SOCIAL JUSTICE. Evangelize to the poor, lost souls. These are the best ways of driving down abortion rates, which will render Roe vs. Wade irrelevant.

On another level, this is not to say that there are no Catholics supporting Barack Obama. The website Roman Catholics for Obama notes that Obama promotes a culture of life. Note that his rock solid family is an example of the importance of a good family in creating a good society. In the website, Obama says;

“I don’t know anybody who is pro-abortion. I think it’s very important to start with that premise. I think people recognize what a wrenching, difficult issue it is. I do think that those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren’t expressing the full reality of it. But what I believe is that women do not make these decisions casually, and that they struggle with it fervently with their pastors, with their spouses, with their doctors….Our goal should be to make abortion less common, that we should be discouraging unwanted pregnancies, that we should encourage adoption wherever possible. There is a range of ways that we can educate our young people about the sacredness of sex and we should not be promoting the sort of casual activities that end up resulting in so many unwanted pregnancies…Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues. With significant constraints…”

For Catholics, the Roman Catholic Church issued a document on the elections. In the statement, the Church also emphasizes that any politician engaging/ supporting in a culture of death, torture, racism, neglecting to address poverty and social inequality, among others, should not be supported. In other words, the Church calls everyone to support those who support a culture of life based on social justice. In addition, being pro-life is not only about killing the unborn, it is also about not killing men, women, and children in war. It is also about providing health care to nearly 46 million people without insurance. It is about taking care of the environment. It is about putting people first before profits. It is about doing things today that will not adversely impact future generations.

Even prominent conservatives are beginning to see the bigger picture of abortion in the United States. Frank Schaeffer, is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. He is also the son of the late evangelist Francis Schaeffer. In an interview with Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! Radio program, he said;

“And so, I think there’s a choice for Americans interested in this issue who are like me, pro-life, and that is, do you want to choose ideological purity attached to a party that will so destroy our economy and all the social programs that there will be more abortions, i.e. as there have been through the Republican-controlled years, when they’ve been talking about this issue for thirty years and done nothing about it for actually helping women and children, or would you rather have a president like Barack Obama, who you disagree with on this one ideological point, in terms of what you might call the theology of the issue, but whose program would practically result in a more conducive environment for families to prosper, for people to have children, for kids to go to school, for women to be taken care of? And I would rather vote for a person who’s going to do the job rather than just have the correct ideology.”

The confluence of the economic crisis, debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, high oil prices, environmental degradation, corporate excesses, racism, fear mongering, and immigrant scapegoating, among others, has damaged the country in many ways, including its global standing. The problems are indeed monumental, yet this provides an opportunity to restructure American society based on social justice and preferential option of the poor and excluded. Fil-Ams because of the historical experience of the Philippines vis-à-vis poverty, inequality, and social exclusion, can meaningfully contribute to this restructuring. They can do so when the abortion issue is analyzed in a comprehensive and societal manner.