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The primary moral issue

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Yogi Berra, that modern master of the ditsy bon mot, said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"

America has been there and done that in its national moral debate over abortion. We have divided into two righteous armies, moving away from each other on two different pathways, each believing it is the only army on the path to this country's moral salvation.

Another, and perhaps not so ditsy, saying from Yogi is, "You can observe a lot by watching!"

Those of us who will not be denied a role among concerned citizens, but who have never carried protest signs, or tried to block access to an abortion clinic, or escorted a pregnant woman safely into the clinic, have been observing a lot by watching. I, for one, have observed that all those involved are sincere in their belief that they are doing the right thing, and so much so that they sometimes become vehement enough and violent enough to do the wrong thing.

I want to suggest that there is a prior moral issue that must be settled before the abortion issue can be properly addressed or resolved. I want to return to the fork in the road at which we separated, and go back to the fork in the road before that -- the fork where we once chose to take the same path together: the path of patriarchy. I think that was our great, big, mistake!

The seldom-addressed but primary human moral issue, and therefore prior to the moral issue of abortion, is the issue of male control of women. The judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Roe vs. Wade gave to women, in a specific moral dilemma, the authority to make decisions without reference to the opinion or authority of any man or group of men. This flew directly in the face of the ancient, universal, undemocratic, patriarchal mind-set, best characterized in this generation by James Dobson's recent family-values dictum, "the man has the final say!"

The parties in the effort to overthrow Roe vs. Wade are largely from those churches which, in their own domains, routinely deny women access to positions of real leadership. One has to suspect that they are not so much concerned with bringing a fetus to full term, as they are concerned with keeping the control of all women -- their souls, bodies, and minds -- securely in the hands of men. They characterize themselves as "pro-life," while denying women freedom and authority to make difficult moral judgments about their own lives. They elicit sympathy for the unborn while having no sympathy whatsoever for persons born female in a "man's world."

The issue of male control of women is seldom addressed, even in this democratic country, because it has been declared a sacred issue by those who, historically, have claimed the right to say what is sacred and what is not -- religious males.

A society which operates an unjust system like patriarchy, as if it were just, cannot last, nor can it expect its decisions about what is moral to stand. The test of time, the concerns of a new and more equitable leadership, and the scrutiny of a just and loving God, must bring such a society to an end.

The end of patriarchy may well be a long and fond farewell for many men, but for both men and women it can be the opportunity to share a far better, and more just, life together.

The ethical issues surrounding abortion are subsidiary to the greater issue of gender equity. Until we have a just society, until freedom, authority, and personhood are granted equally to both men and women, and so honored in actual practice by our overlapping religious and secular societies, what is just in cases of abortion cannot be determined.

Rev. Robert G. Hewitt is a retired Episcopalian minister living in Colorado Springs

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