Not long ago my kids and I were out driving and we drove by a Pro-Life group protesting a women’s clinic. As we pulled up to the stop light, they held signs up to our car window of aborted fetuses. My children were horrified. I was horrified. It was, in my opinion, the worst approach to this conversation, which ought to be about “life” in my estimation- life of the mother, life of the child, life of the partner, life of the family, life of the community…it is life and life and life.
I was angry.
Because of this event I was put into a position of explaining the scene to my children in some way. Now, the easiest way to explain it would be with judgement and spite either for the women going into the clinic or the people holding the protest. I found that there was no way for me to adequately explain to my children, 14 and under, what this whole conversation means. It is not merely a conversation about abortion or women’s rights or legislating morality. It is all of these and more. In the end, I think I was able to couch it in general terms. To downplay the horror tactics, to show mercy and grace and care to all involved. It was exhausting. Perhaps it ought to be exhausting. It is complicated.
Then, later my teenage daughter asked me whether I am pro-life or pro-choice. I told her that this was something I’d been thinking about for a long time and that it was not as simple as slapping a label on myself anymore. It used to be or at least I thought it used to be easy.
I have been consistently “pro-choice” for as long as I can remember. I told my daughter that I do not like abortion. I do, however, support a woman’s ability to make these decisions for her own body. I do not think that the government ought to be deciding these things. I believe that a woman should have the ability to decide what is best for her situation. I told her that many years ago abortion was not safe nor was it legal and that women still made that choice. I told her that many women died because of this. For a long time, this separation worked for me, being pro-choice was about the law and being pro-life was about the spiritual repercussions of the act. I was able to find the comfortable middle there.
To be honest until recently I hadn’t thought much about the effects of my being a Christian in a society that would sanction this procedure. I’m an empowered woman, a modern woman, I am all about supporting the sisters. But now I am becoming Eastern Orthodox and my Catholic roots are beginning to show. Old messages about life and conception and contraception are creeping up. Old thoughts and beliefs start to mix with new ideas about the ancient and the sacred and then my heart sinks a little, a lot…and often.
My heart breaks for those women who have felt this was the only choice they had just as my heart breaks for the people who think that taking away this choice would suddenly change our society’s view of the sanctity of all lives. I told my daughter that I would love to live in a world in which abortion was made obsolete, not because it was shamed out of us, not because it was illegal, not because it was stamped with such venom that anyone who would consider it was treated with suspicion or punishment but because we would, as a culture, understand what it meant to show one another love and care rather than judgement and spite.
It would mean that we, as a people, would have a good general grasp of ourselves as embodied. That we would, as a people understand the sacredness of our bodies, of our lives. That we would know the inner workings of these bodies and know our motivations and our desires, that we would be emotionally healthy enough to keep these things in perspective as we enter into relationships. It would mean that we were present enough to our lives that we could have words to explain this to our own children, to our godchildren, to our students and our patients.
It would mean that we would know how to support a woman who finds herself in a position of unplanned pregnancy. It would mean that this woman would feel that support in a real and solid way, that we would all remember that a woman is fundamentally changed by those nine months- physically, emotionally, spiritually, on a cellular level and that we would have the resources to walk alongside someone who has found herself here, regardless of circumstance.
But in order for this world to happen and in order for planned (or supported) parenthood to be a “reality” rather than simply a service provider we’d have to see a seismic shift in attitude and action and in both men and women of our society.
“In a perfect world” is an easy way to postulate that comfy middle ground I’ve been burrowing in for lo these many years of my adult female life. The “I wish” position has earmarks of the grace and the care I want to convey but it is only effective, only authentic, if I also admit to the reality that we do not live in a perfect world no matter how much I pine for it. I find now that my comfy middle ground of being “pro-life” because I support the idea that life is sacred but yet pro-choice because the government can’t tell me how manage my uterus is no longer adequate. It’s not enough and it’s not enough because I put no action behind either of these positions. I just sit comfortably in front of the televised debate and cast my vote when the time comes while doing nothing. I abdicate my action by voting for people I hope do the right thing but what actions do I take to help bring about the “I wish” kind of culture, the culture in which abortion is something unnecessary?
I do not have answers here. I do not know what I have to do to find that place of integrity again. Perhaps it is right for me to be uncomfortable, that this issue of how we view human life really should never resemble a bean bag chair on the floor in front of the television. There is a seismic shift happening and it is happening in me now, rumbling and cracking me open, creating deep fissures in the crust of my own belief system and I do not know what my landscape will resemble when it all said and done. I hope in the end, when the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled that I will always err on the side of mercy and grace and care… and life and life and life…