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.