This weekend I attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many people passionately expressing their beliefs in a whole host of causes, and I was proud to be included in what I know deep my bones will be regarded as a historic event in the years to come.
The March in DC was largely touted as a pro-choice event. Of course pro-lifers were welcome to march, but they were not represented among the list of speakers for the pre-march rally, and pro-life organizations were not allowed to be listed as partners on the official Women’s March website. Many of the signs at the March proclaimed pro-choice messages that largely pertained to the idea that women ought to have the right to make their own choices when it comes to reproductive health.
All of this has inspired me to share my own complicated feelings about abortion, since to be honest I took issue with many of the pro-choice signs I saw. The more I consider this controversial issue, the more I realize how terribly complicated it is, and how difficult it is to develop a view on abortion that is morally consistent.
Growing up as a conservative Christian, abortion was one of those many issues in which there is only one “godly” position to take: it is nothing less than murder, and as a Christian I am obligated to support legislation that would make abortion illegal, since a fetus is a human being entitled to all the same rights that an infant, child, or adult would have.
I first started to question this belief when I stumbled across the blog of Samantha Field. She wrote a six part blog series called the Ordeal of the Bitter Water, and at the time I stumbled across it I believed in the divine inspiration of the Bible enough that if the Bible taught certain things, I believed that teaching should hold true in my life in some form. So when I learned God mandated abortion among the ancient Israelites as a form of punishment for an unfaithful wife, I was shocked. Reading about this caused my first tailspin into doubt, because I realized that the Bible is more complicated than I thought when it comes to scriptures about abortion. If God mandated abortion in ancient Israel, how could I say that my pro-life stance is in line with God’s will? If God could justify abortion, then why shouldn’t I?
The more I learned, the more confused I became. At first I thought it was pretty clear that the root issue that determines whether a person is pro-choice or pro-life is the personhood of the fetus. After all, if you believe a fetus is a human being, you can’t really regard abortion as anything less than murder.
I have a few problems with this, though. The first is that natural abortion – a.k.a. miscarriage – happens all the time. It is a natural part of the reproductive system. The reason this complicates things is this: who gets to decide whether a woman has had a self-induced abortion or a miscarriage? There have been women who have been wrongfully incarcerated for as many as 30 years in prison when their miscarriage was determined in court to be an abortion. This is a travesty, and it is an injustice someone who is pro-life will need to come to terms with if they believe abortion should be criminalized.
That is the problem with taking a hard line on treating a fetus as a human being. One cannot regard a fetus the same way that they would an infant because that fetus is growing inside a woman who also has rights. That is not a nuance I have ever seen in a pro-life stance, and it’s because they can’t take that stance; you have no choice but to place the rights of a fetus over the rights of its mother if you end goal is making abortion illegal. And that is a big problem.
The second problem I have with the pro-life stance is that it takes for granted that life begins at conception. This is also illogical when you really think it through. From what I understand, the most widely accepted definition of cconception is when an egg becomes fertilized by a sperm. If you are hard-line pro life, it is from that moment on that abortion becomes murder. Yet, women naturally dispel approximately 80% of these fertilized eggs before they plant on the uterine wall. How can one possibly say that a fertilized egg that is naturally dispelled suddenly becomes murder when it is expelled through medical means? I would never be able to wrap my head around charging a woman with murder for having such a procedure done, when it is one that her own body does naturally. Yet that is what you must do if you believe a zygote ought to be endowed with the inalienable rights of a human being who has been born.
Thirdly, I cannot accept the pro-life stance because it deprives women of choice. For a long time I never fully understood the gravity of this. I bought into the conservative lie that women always have abortions for selfish reasons; they are not responsible enough to be abstinent, and they don’t want the responsibility that comes with having a baby were the two biggest reasons I heard for why women have abortions.
This is not true. There are many cases in which a pregnancy is not viable, and the woman must have an abortion to save her own life, or cases when the pregnancy is not viable. When I reach of one such case, it just about broke my heart. This woman named Karen conceived, and she and her husband were joyful with anticipation. They found out she was a girl, and they named her Evelyn. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Karen discovered that her unborn daughter had a disease called skeletal dysplasia. Not only was the disease lethal, Evelyn was also in terrible pain. Karen and her husband had a choice to make: carry the baby to term with excruciating pain and the very small chance that she may live up to a few hours, or terminate the pregnancy and spare Evelyn that pain as well as lower the health risks to Karen.
This couple chose abortion. In my mind, there is no argument one could make in which the government would be justified in charging Karen with murder for aborting her child. She wanted this child, she was this child’s mother. By choosing abortion, she believed that she was making the best possible choice available not only for herself, but for Evelyn as well. It was her right as a potential parent to make that choice, and no one – especially not the faceless legal system – has any right to make that choice for her.
I chose this story as the last and biggest problem I have with the pro-life stance because it also highlights the problem I have with the pro-choice stance as well. Often, among those who are pro-choice, I see the unborn child stripped of all humanity; it is a collection of cells, it is a developing fetus; it is not a human being. It is almost as if an unborn child is not human at all – just a thing developing in a woman’s womb – until that child is born. Women should feel empowered about abortion; they should not feel guilt, or angst, or have any negative emotions.
This is troublesome to me because like it or not, a fetus developing in a womb is potential human life. That is something that should be taken seriously, because every single human being on the planet was once a developing fetus. They are so much more than a collection of cells, and I think the idea of abortion on demand undermines the sacredness of that potential life.
A world in which abortion is freely accessible to anyone, anywhere, for any reason is a world that is, in my opinion, freakishly unbalanced. Just as the pro-life stance does not value the woman enough, the pro-choice stance does not value the unborn child enough. Especially when I see those rare few stories of late-term abortions, I am horrified that we have compartmentalized humanity so much that we justify ending the life of an unborn baby as old 7 months.
In many cases, I can see why women might believe abortion is the best choice available for themselves. But on the other side of the coin, I can’t help but wonder if having an abortion chips away at the heart of the woman. After all, abortion is not a routine medical procedure no different than a minor surgery; it is the end of what would otherwise one day grow up into a boy or a girl as beautiful and unique and full of personality as you and I are. It is no small thing to make that choice, and I believe that the psychological damage caused by abortion is often underestimated among those who are pro-choice.
As I said in the beginning of this post, this is no easy issue to navigate; it is very complicated and the more I think about what is at stake for both sides, the more I realize that neither really has an answer that would grant autonomy to a human being because before a child is born, that unborn child and its mother are one. To argue for the rights of the unborn baby denies the rights of the mother, and to argue for the rights of the mother denies the rights of the unborn baby. And what is more, the concerns that both sides of this issue have are valid and worth considering.
Typically when one writes a post like this and hashes out the “for” and “against” reasoning behind an issue like this, they conclude with taking a stand one way or the other. But for all the reasons stated above, I truly can’t. What I can say with conviction is that I believe with all my heart in minimizing abortions. At least half of abortions occur because the woman cannot financially afford a child, did not have access to affordable birth control, or is too young to be ready for motherhood. Under the Obama administration over the last eight years, abortions have reduced to an all-time low in this nation precisely because the pressures of all the above factors were alleviated.
So if there is any stance that I have on abortion, it is this: for the sake of women everywhere, and also for the sake of unborn children everywhere, let’s make it our primary goal to reduce abortion by improving the condition of the pregnant woman instead of taking hard-line stances that dehumanize mother or child. Investing our efforts in that cause will achieve a result that everyone can get behind.