Random Thoughts on a Touchy Topic

When I was young, I knew with certainty that abortion was wrong. It was a black-and-white issue. A baby is a baby is a baby. Life begins at conception, and abortion stops a beating heart. Abortion is murder. I couldn’t understand how anyone could see things otherwise. I was sure that anyone with a different opinion was godless and heartless.

In my young adulthood, I met a young man who was also an evangelical-striped Christian. But he voted Democrat and identified himself as pro-choice. He explained that even if abortion was a moral wrong, he didn’t think it was right for a mostly-male Congress to be making laws governing women’s choices about what was going on inside their own bodies.

My thought-evolution on this issue has continued. Currently, I would say that I am undecided.

Here is a random list of thoughts and things I have learned related to this issue. These are not points or arguments. Please don’t read them as such. I am thinking out loud:

Planned Parenthood is mostly about providing low-cost or free health care to women. I was always taught that this organization was pretty much pure evil, so even today when I know better, just the name “Planned Parenthood” still elicits a visceral negative reaction for me.

Medical technology has advanced so that surgery can be performed on babies in the womb, and babies can survive birth at earlier stages of development than ever.

The phrase “every child a wanted child” rings a little hollow to me. It has been used as a pro-choice argument that no child should be born to a mother who doesn’t want him or her. I agree with this sentiment, but I think a better solution is to build a world where people welcome and support children (and by extension, pregnant women and mothers of young children), not where unwanted children are denied existence.

I find the ideas on Feminists for Life‘s website intriguing, especially their FAQ answer regarding criminalizing abortion (though it seems a bit evasive).

Adoption is often held up as an alternative to abortion. But carrying a pregnancy to term is a major life disruptor in and of itself, especially if a woman already has young children (and most women who get abortions are already mothers of previously-birthed children).

It is possible to hold a pro-choice position concerning legislation and a pro-life position concerning morality. I suppose this would be a libertarian position, similar to positions on other issues such as drug use, alcohol consumption, sex, and religious beliefs.

This is a controversial issue for good reasons. The entire journey that an egg and a sperm make to become a newborn baby happens inside a woman’s body. Is it really good policy to dictate to her what she does about that activity going on inside of her? If we can make laws about whether women may terminate their pregnancies or not, can we also make laws about how they will treat the growing child inside their body? Can we make it illegal for pregnant women to smoke or drink?

Why are so many “pro-life” people also outspoken critics of welfare in any form? If you want to reduce abortions, wouldn’t you want to help build a world where children are cared for, no matter their household income – and where women have access to contraception to prevent pregnancy in the first place? But I understand that many people who are opposed to government-sponsored welfare think that churches and community groups should be the ones providing poverty relief. And that’s another non-black-and-white issue for another day . . .

According to recent demographic research, poverty – and the inadequate health care and lack of access to contraception that goes along with it – is a significant contributor to the choice to abort a pregnancy. This blog post and video discusses this information more.

Referring to his daughters, President Obama once said, “I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” Unfortunate choice of words, I’d say. Whatever he meant by that, I think it reflects the reality of our patriarchal society which marginalizes women and even more so marginalizes children (and the elderly, mentally/physically challenged, etc.) and the people – often women – who care for them. Once again, this raises for me the reminder that abortion must be understood in its larger context of social and systemic issues that de-value people who don’t “keep up” with the expected pace of American life – 16+ years of formal education, 40+weekly hours working a “real job,” etc.

That’s a long enough list for now.

Abortion, like life, is not a black-and-white issue. I’m weary of both pro-lifers and pro-choicers ignoring the complexities involved  (though of course not everyone from either perspective does so).

These are just some opening thoughts to a conversation I hope we can have here. Let’s talk. What do you think? Or feel? Or wonder? Or what have you experienced? Or learned? Or considered? I’m looking for a thoughtful and respectful conversation about an often-heated topic. So it may be a good idea to read your comment over one extra time before you make that final click.

*Update: Recently I heard this OnBeing podcast  with David Gushee and Frances Kissling about abortion. I highly recommend it as a model of thoughtful conversation on this issue.

15 Comments

  1. Personally, abortion truly makes me want to cry. As a frequent babysitter I see beautiful children everywhere. Now I know it isn’t black and white, I mean some girls are raped and become pregnant that way, but something BEAUTIFUL can come out of that situation, there are plenty of families who cannot have children. I truly think all children are special and have a purpose, even one conceived through rape or one who is ‘unwanted’ by the mother. Someone, somewhere, wants that baby. And yes I’m going to say something that I religiously believe: God made that baby, God LOVES that baby. He has a purpose for that baby, if you give it a chance.

    • Thank you for your comment, Sarah. May you continue to bless others with your love, tenderness, and appreciation of the beauty in every person.

  2. It might be helpful for the discussion to set aside the smokescreen terms “Pro-Life” & “Pro-Choice”. Other than a few vegetarian Anabaptists & a few laissez faire Libertarians, nobody is really completely dedicated to such simple ideals.

    People oppose or support legalized abortion mostly for specific reasons which are connected to their political, economic, ethical & religious beliefs.

    Usually, I would guess, the choice to support or oppose abortion is not without dissent inside a person’s belief structure.

    Here is some of my own inner debate:

    As a follower of Jesus, I believe that mother and child, neighbor and stranger are loved by God who longs for all to treat each other with kindness, respect and non-violent self-sacrificing esteem.

    This belief, obviously, leads me to see abortion as antithetical to what is good. . .

    As an American, I have been brought up in a diverse culture with a good deal of respect for the Constitutional idea of the freedom of religion. I value the fact that my country allows me the liberty to formulate my aforementioned statement of religious belief according to my own conscience, and not a legislated creed. So perhaps my religious belief should not come to bear on the law of the land. . .

    But, shouldn’t the law be built on basic moral law? Shouldn’t the law stand to protect the weak from being attacked and abused by the stronger? If the law can shelter children from abusive or negligent parents, should it not also protect a fetus from an unwilling host?

    The law however cannot force negligent parents to care for their offspring, how then should it force an unwilling womb to continue to nourish its guest?

    • l8again, when are you going to start a blog? Or write a book? Or another song? You rock. When it comes to your writing abilities, I am enthusiastically pro-life (carry these skills to term, produce some new creation for the world!); but I respect your control over your own talents, so I will not legislate the choices you make.

      The inner debate you outlined perfectly resonates with me. Right down to the last two paragraphs. Locked in on the last paragraph – that, I think, is the crux of the debate for me.

  3. Footnote: Perhaps most of us need to be honest and label ourselves “Pro-Limited-Homociders”- meaning that we believe that killing of humans by humans should be prevented in some circumstances and permitted in others.

    Otherwise we need asterisks: John Doe (Pro-Life*)

    *except in cases of convicted murders, criminals displaying means of deadly force, enemy warriors, home intruders, fetuses in pregnancies that present significant hazard to the mother’s life, fetuses that are conceived through non-consentual sexual relations, domestic animals that are raised for meat, wild animals that are hunted legally for sport, and any neighbors pets that poop in my yard twice.

  4. Your “random list of thoughts and things I have learned” is a good roundup of various thoughts on the issue, thanks for posting on a sensitive topic.

    I have to say I love the asterisk in the above post. 😀 I see the “pro-life” “pro-choice” names as simply marketing, not meaningful words, and should be treated as such. Taking them too seriously and making implications from them is more sport than debate. We each have our own individual asterisk for each and every label placed on others and on ourselves.

    • Thanks James. Yes, I think this is a great point about these two catch-all labels being insufficient and over-simplifying. “What is your asterisk?” would be a great way to move forward some of the conversations we have about polarizing topics like this one.

  5. My one outburst I try to keep inside each time I come upon this debate is: “Why do we use Pro-life and pro-choice as though they are opposing sides?” If I am pro-life am I not allowing others to choose to live their life as they choose? Why does pro-choice only denote choosing an abortion after the sex? Can it not mean I choose to have safe, protected sex?
    Also, as a woman, I am appalled that men comprise most, if not all, of the committees deciding these things. Why?!
    I do concur that there are no black and white answers here. I mourn for those who have had first trimester miscarriages (which happen frequently) but also for those who are unwillingly impregnated/raped. There are no easy, one size fits all, answers here.
    Oh, and LOVE the asterisk above! Great job I8again.

    • Thanks for your comment, Shari. Right on – I agree, “pro-life” and “pro-choice” don’t really sound like opposing perspectives! Which gets at James’s description of the terms as “simply marketing.” Organized groups who oppose legalized abortion chose a label that sounds very positive, and in response (I think – I’m not sure which label came first), organized groups who defend legalized abortion chose another positive-sounding label.

      Thanks for not keeping your “one outburst” inside this time. I’m honored 🙂 – and I sincerely hope that more of us can give each other freedom and space to talk – and disagree – openly about difficult topics like this one.

  6. This issue runs deep for me because we have been blessed with a child who is alive because her 15 yo mother kept her pregnancy a secret from her family. She believed if she told her mom, she would make her have an abortion so she kept it a secret. Her sister found out, kept it a secret until she got mad at her and told their mom. That afternoon her mother drove her to the abortion clinic to have an abortion. She was too far along for a legal abortion. Our child’s mother tried her best to love her baby, but was unable to care for herself let alone a baby. Our child suffered a fractured skull, broken ribs and a broken arm at the hands of my child’s young mother’s boyfriend that were not taken care of and had started healing on their own. This is the point the state stepped in an removed our child from that home. She was placed in our home as a foster child, while her mother (16 by then) tried to gain some parenting skills through various classes the state offered. After about 18 months our daughter’s mother was told by the state that she still was not able to care for her so the state was going to step in an cut off parental rights. It was at this point that our daughter’s mother came to us and asked if we would adopt her baby. She saw the stable, loving home that she had with us and wanted that for her baby. She also wanted to keep contact with her daughter. We spent alot of time together and she told us her story. She kept coming back to “I’ve made alot of dumb choices in my life, but I know I’ve made one smart one and that was to keep my baby and not have an abortion.” This young mother has seen alot of hurt in her young life and she was still able to say this as she realized that she needed to make this new decision of where her baby would grow and be loved. Our daughter is still able to see her birth mom and continue that relationship. She was even the flower girl in her birth mom’s wedding. There is no denying the love between the two, and who would want to deny that love?

    That is a short synopsis of the lives of many intertwined with this “touchy topic”. All I can say is I am so thankful for the law that wouldn’t alow that late term abortion and so is glad too was this young 15 yo girl. How sad is it that because there is a law that allows early term abortion this young mother wasn’t able to share the fears, joys and wonder that comes with pregnancy with someone that could help her walk through this path that she was on.

    • Hello Mary – thank you so much for taking the time to share your very personal experience around this issue. Obviously many lives, including your own, your daughter’s, and her birth mother’s, have been made richer through the decisions that both of you mothers made. It’s easy to talk about these things from a philosophical perspective, but sharing personal experiences always deepens any discussion like this. So thank you for doing just that.

  7. I think Obama’s quote was good, actually. It’s implying that having a baby should be a good thing that you want, not a punishment for making a mistake. I understand how other people might have construed this, but it’s simply a lack of considering the speaker’s intent. The speaker and the listener both have a responsibility in a conversation. All of us say good things that could be misconstrued as something bad but we assume the listener will assume we meant the better interpretation. Some statements are more debatable but this Obama quote is exactly how I would have stated this idea, personally.

    • This is a good reminder for all of us to be more gracious to politicians, whose every publicly spoken word is scrutinized, sometimes to incredibly nitpicky degrees! My description of his words as “unfortunate” were more focusing on the fallout of those words in our polarized society than a judgment of his intentions in speaking them.

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