I’ve been thinking about writing a post on abortion for some time. I mentioned it in my last post, and I received responses from people saying they were looking forward to it. But now that it comes down to it, I don’t wanna.
Honestly, it’s kinda scary. I’m fairly confident everyone will hate me when I’m done. I won’t be punitive enough for pro-lifers, and I won’t be sensitive enough for pro-choicers. I’ll be too complex and nuanced for people on either side who see it as a simple issue. I’ll bring in too many other issues for those who see it is isolated from any other topic. I considered titling this post “How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People.”
I want to promote life. I want to promote compassion. I want to promote dialogue. And ideally, I would love to promote real change.
In looking for other people’s ideas that might help inform my own (a practice I would always encourage), I read a couple posts by Rachel Held Evans. If you don’t know her work, you should. If you do, then you already love it.
Two posts are particularly relevant to this discussion. The first is from 2008 and matches my intent very well. She is writing in light of the then upcoming election between Obama and McCain and wrestling with the challenges posed by being a Christian and seeing the Republican version of American Christianity with all its flaws. She wrestles with defining the starting point of a human life. She wrestles what it really means to be pro-life in all arenas and not only for not-yet-born babies. She asks questions about the reality of the Republican party’s commitment (any time you see me referring to Republicans, keep in mind I am talking about the politicians and power-interests, not the run-of-the-mill citizen who is registered to vote as a Republican) actually to criminalize abortions. She asks questions about the actual mechanics of ending abortion.
It’s a fantastic post, and I would much rather have you read her work here–Let’s Talk about Abortion–than try to duplicate it and not do as good a job anyway.
Did you read it? Good. Or bad, since I have no idea if you did or not. But I think you should.
The second post was from 2013 and does a lot to shed light on the complexity of the issue and just how real the problems are. It is also well worth reading. Here it is: Why Progressive Christians Should Care about Abortion.
Because you totally already read Rachel’s two posts, and she’s pretty close to where I’m at on everything, I won’t spend much time going over those ideas. I’ll just do a quick summary of my thoughts and how I got to where I am on these issues.
I came from an area of rural California where it was pretty much expected you were Republican, especially if you claimed to be a Christian. I had a friend growing up who was born in England, and his mother lived in the US on a work visa. We were in the car one day, with no other adults around to overhear. This was in 2000, election year between George W. Bush and Al Gore (I’m pretty sure he lost nearly entirely because he was cursed with a terrible name). My friend’s mother was unfamiliar with the American political scene, but she knew she needed to have the right opinion to be able to fit in with her friends at our church. So she asked me which candidate Christians supported. 15-year-old Brandon told her without having to think about it: “Christians vote Republican.”
I went to college with my ideas in that arena unchanged, and I was paired with a roommate who basically worshiped the ground Rush Limbaugh walked on. In fact, Rush might have pulled too many punches as far as my roommate was concerned. I “learned” still more from him.
But as I grew in my understanding of the Bible (I was a Bible major after all), and encountered more people and was taught to think critically (for all its other failings, Evangel University encouraged us to think and to think well), my ideas began to shift.
One professor asked us what party most people in the Assemblies of God supported. The class unanimously guessed Republican. The professor told us we were all wrong. The majority supported Democrats. Then he asked us why we thought that was. No one had any idea. It was like asking why all Christians hate baby Jesus. The answer was that the majority of people in the Assemblies of God are not white (though nearly everyone at EU was).
That might have been the beginning of the end for me as a Republican. Don’t worry, I didn’t turn tail and run right then. I supported Huckabee in the 2008 primaries, BUT I was no longer under the illusion that Republican was a synonym for Christian. Chrissy and I both joined the limping campus Democrats club, not because we were Democrats but because they happily welcomed independents, which is what we had begun to call ourselves, and the Republicans didn’t.
That trend has continued to this day, and I refuse to be pinned down. I register as “Not a member of a political party” unless there is a candidate running under a party ticket that I really believe in, and I switch in order to participate in the primaries. I vote not for the party or for what religious affiliation a candidate claims, but I vote for the issues and what I believe in and whoever supports those issues.
And that is why I can’t take abortion into consideration when supporting a candidate. Not because I’m willing to sacrifice one issue for another or to choose the lesser of two evils. I can’t take abortion into consideration because no candidates share my views. On any side.
I believe in defining life in a way that makes abortion not just terminating a pregnancy within a woman’s body but as snuffing out the flame of a human child’s life. I don’t want to argue about when life is official, at conception or when a heartbeat starts, or brainwaves, or fingernails are formed. It’s not really the point. I think science, common sense, and even the Bible to a very small degree support a very early starting point of what it means to be human, certainly before birth.
I also believe that mothers are precious and deserve to be honored and cared for and respected.
No politician that I have encountered takes both of these ideas seriously. That makes it impossible for me to choose a good candidate in this regard. Even Republicans who are about making abortion a criminal offense don’t really take all the facts into consideration. There are much more effective ways to reduce the occurrence of abortion than prohibiting it. I would like to describe (admittedly without any plan for enacting it) what I would see as the best way to approach abortion.
Real change comes from changed people, not merely banning things. We can’t force people to change, so we address the cause of things. There is a direct correlation between level of education, standard of living, access to healthcare, and access to support and resources and the rate of abortions sought. Merely banning abortions leads only to people getting them in much more desperate circumstances. They are done with much less safety and oversight. Take away the reasons people seek them in the first place.
Educate people on how be safe and keep from getting pregnant. Abstinence may or may not be a good answer for people, but people should at least know how to protect themselves if they choose to have sex. Provide for people’s education in general. The more people know and understand, the better choices they are able to make.
Provide access to healthcare and support. Make it so that a pink line on a pregnancy test is not the equivalent of being sentenced to suffering and hardship. Take care of people and give them the confidence they will be supported and given what it takes to make it through whatever decision they make. Stop using shame as a motivator… for anything. When teen girls believe they have to get an abortion in secret in order to avoid shaming themselves in their parents’ eyes, the parents are to blame, not the pregnant child.
Raise people’s standard of living. Abortion rates are higher among women in poverty. I know this is rather vague admonition here. Raising the standard of living is not a simple task. There are, though, some tried and true methods. Generally, though, policies that fight for equity are going to play a part. “Trickle down” economics is a lie that rich people tell everyone else, and it has been believed by the American public for far too long.
If abortions are to be decreased, taking care of people is the primary solution, not prohibitions.
On the other hand, if we are sticking to the idea that an abortion is voluntarily ending the life of another human being, then we are asserting that it is murder, despite what those who carry it out believe.
If we take into account the inherent power balance between any adult and child and then multiply it by the difference between a fetus and a doctor, it becomes an incredible injustice and system of oppression between one class of person and another.
With those things in mind, it is hard not to assert some kind of legislative regulation to protect the innocent and seek justice for those who cannot protect themselves.
If we go so far as to provide for all the needs of potential mothers, change the shape and direction of the political, social, and economic landscape so that abortion rates drop as low as they possibly can, then perhaps it would be the time to enact laws to protect against the rest.
At this point, I again want to reiterate the absolute respect for women and mothers that is essential in any discussion about any issue that touches them in some way. Women should be part, and probably the larger part, of any discussion about how to implement these ideas. Women should be able to choose how they want to use their bodies. Women should be able to choose how they want to care for their bodies. Women should be able to choose when they do and don’t want children, conceived yet or not.
However, if we are still viewing these unborn babies as real human beings, killing them becomes more than a choice about a mother’s body. If you’re not with me on that point, then none of the rest of this makes sense to you. Sorry about that. I’m not sure where to go from there because there is no way to conclusively prove what constitutes the beginning of human life. There are persuasive arguments, but no conclusive ones.
Regardless, though, legislative restrictions would still need to be paired with legislatively prescribed aid. Women who find themselves pregnant with an unwanted child should receive the utmost care and support for all their health, emotional, financial and any other needs affected by the pregnancy. They should be aided and supported and guided through their options. They will still have to endure a pregnancy and labor and recovery. That really, really sucks. We should all have compassion on them. That’s no little thing we ask of them.
At the end of that time, the support must continue. The effects will continue for the mother whether she decides to keep the baby or give it up for adoption.
And that last part is important too. If we were to enact these ideas, there would need to be way more people taking in children and adopting them. In fact, right now, there is a desperate need for more foster and adoptive parents. That need would be increased dramatically, and all of us who side with protecting unborn children’s lives would need to step up to the plate and shoulder some of the burden.
We can’t just angrily tell women they have to suffer through permanent, life changing hardship, and then go back to our lives as usual. It’s not fair to the mothers, and it’s not fair to the children. If we want others to be affected by our values, we need to have the courage to give action to them ourselves.
If we are going to call ourselves, pro-life, we need to say it with integrity. We need to live it with consistency. We need to apply universally. We aren’t really pro-life if we don’t care about life outside of the womb. And if we’re claiming our pro-life position based on Christian values, but then we don’t care about taking care of people’s basic needs, then we don’t really have Christian values, and our hypocritical words mean nothing.
We ought not just demand continuation of life. We ought to give our all to promote life, and life abundantly for everyone our lives touch. Merely not dying isn’t good enough. If we’re pro-life, we need to be supporters of a life worth living, for everyone involved.
As usual, more can be said. I think for now, though, that my part is done. If more is said, I want you to be the one to say it. As with politicians, I have not met many people at all who share my view in full. It may be the least popular position out there. I don’t expect to see it happen, but I can hope that at least some of it might get closer to reality.
Where are the holes in my thinking? Where are the virtues in it? What am I missing? What have I been blind to? What would you add? I’m not qualified to make sweeping declarations for everybody everywhere, as much as sometimes it looks to me like I have something figured out. Collaboration is the best way. So, I invite you, collaborate! Together, maybe we can build something better than the destructively two-dimensional framework we have in this country for discussions on this issue. Maybe we can build a better world for the children we hope to protect.