Why I Am Reluctantly Pro-Choice

Well, that got your attention, I bet.

And I don’t like to start out that way, but Thomas Banks’ comments, and my response to them, introduced a subject I haven’t written much about for the last year or so. Abortion is, indeed, a minefield, and as I forge through it, I am as comfortable proclaiming myself to be pro-life as I am confident that I am a reluctant member of the pro-choice crowd.

It’s not my intention to make your head spin, much less to make you angry. But this is an issue I’ve given a lot of thought to, particularly as I make my way through one of the many books I’m reading, “The Church And Abortion — A Catholic Dissent” by George Dennis O’Brien, a professor and former dean at Princeton and the University of Rochester. He is avowedly pro-life, believing, as I do, that abortion is the taking of a human life. But he also argues that the Church’s stance toward abortion, abortion legislation, and women who have had or who are considering abortion has resulted in grievous damage both to the witness of the Gospel and to American culture. I agree.

I recognize that many of you will respond immediately that legalized abortion has resulted in “grievous damage” to unborn children, and I agree there, too. I believe that human life begins at conception, even as I recognize that the Church fathers have not always agreed, teaching that at some point in mid-pregnancy, a “quickening” occurs in the fetus that imbues her or him with a soul and, thus, full personhood. I’m not qualified to comment on when, if, or how that happens; it’s enough for me that the fertilized egg, left unmolested, will result in a baby born some nine months later. That that baby is fully human to me while in utero is not, I recognize, a belief shared by good and decent people who are thus opposed to anti-abortion legislation.

And disagreeing with me on the personhood of the fetus does not strip someone of their status as “good and decent,” because while I fervently believe what I believe, I know that it is not an obvious call — it is difficult, if not impossible, for some people to believe that a first-trimester fetus is a person. People who hate African Americans are not and never can be “good and decent;” the personhood of the Black man or woman is utterly and unequivocally clear, and hatred toward them is sin of the vilest sort. I have never met one pro-choice person who hates anyone, and they don’t “hate” the unborn. They’re simply not convinced that the unborn fetus is truly a person.

I disagree — but I don’t believe their intentions are murderous, and when “murderer” is applied to a woman seeking or having had an abortion, I get more than a little angry. Intention, both in law and in the heart, is the difference between “murder” and other forms of life-taking, and none of the many women I know who have chosen to terminate their pregnancies did so with the intention of “murdering” the unborn child. That language is unnecessarily hateful, terribly unhelpful, and utterly without compassion or common sense. I won’t be a part of any movement that addresses women that way, nor will I lend my support to crisis pregnancy centers that apply undue and unjust pressure on “sinful” women to give up their children. I know there are examples of pregnant women being told by CPC’s that they can “redeem” their sinful sexual experiences by giving their child to a Christian couple, resulting in the presumed salvation of the baby. That is an offense to the Gospel, and to the extent that women are coerced and unduly pressured to “choose life” by giving up their babies, it is a disservice to mothers undergoing tremendous stress.

I don’t owe my readers more of my autobiography than I care to offer, but I do owe you integrity, and so I’ll say again what I’ve said before: I have not had an abortion, and I would say so if I had. Jeff and I have been blessed with two beautiful, wonderful, and unplanned — “spontaneous” is a better word — sons, and I cannot imagine my life without them. Being their mom is the best thing, after finding Christ, that’s ever happened to me, and my surprise pregnancies brought nothing but utter joy into our hearts. But between the two pregnancies, I also experienced a spontaneous abortion — a miscarriage — when I was just a couple of months pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant; I was undergoing a serious cancer scare and frankly was more concerned about that than I was about losing a pregnancy I didn’t know I was experiencing.

For me, miscarriage did not come with feelings of great trauma, but I know that the loss of a fetus is devastating to women, and I grieve for those friends of mine whose worlds were shaken by the unforeseen, natural, termination of their pregnancies. I held in my arms my dear friend’s deceased son, stillborn at six months, perfectly formed, beautiful, and now, I believe, with the Lord Jesus. His stillborn delivery saved the life, though, of a woman I love dearly — and almost lost. I don’t take lightly the ending, spontaneous or volitional, of a pregnancy, but the near-death of my friend would have been a far worse tragedy. I find it hard to relate to people who would respond to that contention with the sober logic of the legal philosopher, rather than with an understanding wrought of relationship, loss, and gratitude. If that appears to be proof of a feminized, feminist, and excessively feminine and silly ethic, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the God of mercy, as well as on the Scriptures’ testimony of a God neither fundamentalist nor Pharisee.

I fear the intrusion of the State in the most intimate of women’s experiences. I fear that first-trimester miscarriages, if abortion is made illegal, would result in a possible criminal investigation to determine if the termination of the pregnancy was “spontaneous” — natural — or volitional. At the risk of being too graphic, I believe that an obvious, if poorly-considered, result of criminalized abortion would result in the grossest kind of violation of privacy as police somehow determine if the tissue was expelled spontaneously or by an act of volition — an abortion — by the mother. I trust you can imagine the inappropriateness, not to mention the ineptitude, of a cop examining evidence of a miscarriage in the bathroom of a grieving woman.

And that leads to another question I don’t think the anti-choice movement has considered: Whom would we be prosecuting? There are some grotesque logical conclusions here. If the mother sought an abortion from her doctor, would we really apply the same kinds of law and punishment that we would for someone who seeks to hire a hit man to kill someone else? Really? Do we hate desperate women that much? Or would we charge the doctor with murder, ignoring his or her professional and considered contention that an abortion was medically necessary? Do we really believe that the ugliness of so-called “partial-birth” abortion, as described by the pro-life faithful, is a sign of rampant baby-hating on the part of a medical profession intent on the gluttonous and gleeful slaughter of the unborn? Is not the ugliness of the procedure evidence, at least to the thoughtful, of its occasional, tragic necessity? I don’t know any doctors like that, and you don’t, either.

The reality is that while society ought to do everything humanely — and not just humanly — possible to encourage mothers to bring their babies to term and raise them with the kind of support every parent and every child needs, women and their doctors, guided by their faith and the best practices of medicine, must be allowed to retain their reproductive choice. I would like abortion to be rare — and safe, at least, for the mother. In this I stand with my feminist foremothers like Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull, whose condemnation of abortion never focused on women, but on the patriarchal, oppressive, and coercive culture surrounding them — a culture today that, tragically, shows little concern for women and children until it encounters them in an unplanned pregnancy.

I’ll close with a quote by Susan B. Anthony, about whom, by the way, you really ought to know more. She was a passionate believer and tireless worker for the suffrage of women that many of our Christian patriarchs would like to strip away. Her words here, I think, define the issue well:

“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”

I pray the Church would show more care for women and children already born before it battles for the lives of the unborn. A commitment to the abolishment of those societal factors — sexism, racism, and classism — that can drive women to consider ending their pregnancies, factors not privileged but condemned in the Scriptures (Galatians 3:28), would go a long way toward reaching women with the Gospel and bringing about a marked decrease in abortion.

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