Do you know someone who has had an abortion? Well of course you do, because 33% of women have had one by age 45. They work with you, sit next to you in the church pew, wait in line with you, eat next to you in restaurants. Or maybe they are you. But who have you talked to about their/your abortion experience? I’m going to guess not many, or any, because while this subject is ever in the news, the volatility of it and way it is discussed by “the left” and “the right” in the news media and on social media sure would discourage me from being public about it.
The issue of abortion has been on my mind my whole life. You can’t be raised evangelical and not have it be an issue that you heard continuously talked about when you were at church or at home. Or maybe you even have been to an anti-abortion rally or protest. Maybe you went to an abortion clinic with your parents to picket — I didn’t, but I know those who did/have. I grew up in a house that always voted Republican, at least in the 80s/90s. Why? I always knew that this was because Republicans are against the “pro-choice baby killers”, and really, what single issue could be more important than child murder?
Actually, I know both my parents had more sophisticated political minds than this, but they were highly pro-life, and the political and Biblical narrative that fueled this line of thinking was reinforced in my church nearly every Sunday, both when we lived in Minnesota and after we moved South into the Bible Belt. I remember being eight years old and just sobbing and sobbing in our basement after overhearing a member of my extended family voicing their support for legal abortion to my parents, because I had been so brainwashed (yes…I use that word intentionally) that I truly believed this made this person an evil sinner doomed to hell for sure, because there was clearly no Christian who would ever be pro-choice.
If that really were it in black and white: that Democrats are evil people who want to kill children and Republicans are the saints who want to save them, then being a single-issue voter might make sense. But obviously this point of view is utterly lacking in reality. Thank God this is not the late 80s/early 90s…and the moral majority has had its hey-day and is gone, though the rhetoric remains as potent as ever when used.
Now, most of us who grew up with conservative parents who identified as members of that movement have been able to do some of our own thinking and realize that this issue is not as black and white as it seems. Some of us are stll pro-life, others have decided being pro-choice makes more sense.
This whole abortion debate goes hand-in-hand with a discussion about sexual education. When I was about eight, my parents gave me the “birds and the bees”, mechanics of sex, talk. They gave me a kid’s book with quasi-anatomically correct pictures that reinforced what they had told me. My mother took me to a “True Love Waits” event and card signing when I was ten (!) years old. (Click here for explanation if needed.) I remember that the speaker spoke about being sexually abused as a child. (I didn’t think about how vastly inappropriate it was to have someone talking about that subject at a True Love Waits event for young girls until years later.) I didn’t have a purity ring, but many of my church friends did. Later, I received fairly terrible information about sex and contraception from the NC public schools. (The only thing that stuck with me, from all those hours in 6th period, sophomore year, out in Miz Bailey’s trailer classroom, was “Alright y’all, we’re not going to say ‘thingy’ or ‘woo-woo’ in here…you need to call them what they are: ‘penises and vaginas’.) Very helpful.
Those experiences were what I took with me to college at University of Georgia, where I enrolled in Biology for Non-Majors for my degree-required non-lab science credits—a three hundred person lecture class taught by a graduate student. As part of the course, we learned sexual education from the biological, cellular perspective, as well as the science behind the various methods of contraception. So at 18, I finally received quality, accurate information that I could use to make decisions about my own sexual health.
I didn’t have an application for that information for awhile after that, but I remember exactly how empowering it felt to have this information — information that could so strongly affect my life in positive and negative ways! I was so thankful, and remain thankful, to that graduate student today for choosing to include that information in our curriculum. I feel that it is quite important to note that I felt that empowerment even coming from the worldview of a very conservative Christian who intended to delay sex until marriage, based on what my churches had always taught me.
And that is because knowledge is power. Having sexual information does not make women more likely to have sex. Period and end of story. (If you are a man and you disagree with me on this, I really don’t care. Sorry. If you are a woman and you disagree…great, let’s talk about it.)
Over half of abortions are performed on married women. I am certain that giving everyone having good information about birth control from puberty on benefits everyone, and reduces the number of abortions that take place, even years and years down the road. Churches (and other religious institutions) have to stop being so afraid of giving teenagers information about sex and contraception.
If you pretend that abortion is a black and white issue, you are fooling yourself, or you haven’t spent enough time talking with or reading things written by people who are different from you. There ARE Christians who are pro-choice. The left needs to know that pro-life, conservative Christians do not hate women—because they don’t. The right needs to know that the left does not hate children and want more abortions to happen—because they don’t. We all would like to reduce abortion, even women who have had them and do not regret their decision to do so. But how can we begin talking and taking action on this? The only way we can move forward is for everyone to stop launching rhetoric at each other like grenades.
I offer the following chart, which of course reflects my opinions, but I feel provides some middle of the ground response that could be helpful, though may not reflect anything new or different than what has been discussed by those with more expertise and influence than me. I’m sure some of you could help me fill this in with more rows.
|Recently discussed abortion-related issue||Unhelpful/unrealistic conservative “right-wing” response/rhetoric||Unhelpful/unrealistic liberal “left-wing” response/rhetoric||Possible middle ground response|
|Planned Parenthood Videos/Selling Fetal Tissue||Planned Parenthood and everyone who works for it is evil.
Planned Parenthood should be defunded entirely.
There are no possible grounds for which fetal tissue should be used.
|Planned Parenthood should have free license to do whatever they want, because they help women.
We should not scrutinize Planned Parenthood at all because of the “malicious intent” of those behind the taping of these videos.
|The videos, while meant to be inflammatory and biased, are disturbing—at least to some degree.
We should care about the ethics of what is done with fetal tissue.
All state policy regarding the handling of fetal tissue, or perhaps at the federal level, should be examined, particularly in respect to who can make money from it. Changes that result in a more transparent and ethical system should be made, if needed.
|Legality of abortion||Abortion should be made entirely illegal in this country.
Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion at any stage of pregnancy, including partial birth abortion. (this is actual false information that many Christians assume is true)
|Abortion should be legal in every instance, at any point in the woman’s pregnancy, without exceptions.
|It is an undisputable fact that women will seek abortions and receive them whether it is legal or not, safe or unsafe.
The parameters of Roe v. Wade does not provide “abortion on demand” but rather makes 1st trimester abortions legal and allows for states to decide what they would like to do about the second trimester.
Except in extreme cases, we could agree that abortion should not be legal past the middle of the 2nd trimester. This is the actual law in most states—all but 3 actually.
|When does human life begin?||Life begins at conception; therefore all abortion of any type is morally and ethically wrong in every sense, in every situation.
People who have had abortions and doctors who perform them are “baby-killers” and “murderers”.
Once a woman is pregnant, she becomes a vessel for incubating a child, and therefore gives up her own rights for herself.
|Life doesn’t begin at conception; it only begins when it is wanted.
|A fertilized egg is a living organism, so medically speaking, life does begin at conception.
On the other hand, there is a vast difference between a days old fertilized egg and a late third-trimester fetus.
While no one can say when an organism should be ordained with “personhood”, we can probably agree that if an abortion is needed, the earlier the better.
Being “pro-life” should mean that you ascribe as much meaning/value to the mother’s life as the child’s.
|Birth control/ contraception||Access to birth control makes women promiscuous.
Birth control allows women to have “sex without consequences”.
Access to INFORMATION about birth control will make women promiscuous.
If your birth control method fails, abortion is never an acceptable solution to the “consequence” of pregnancy.
|Having accurate and scientifically –based information about birth control is empowering for women.
Birth control is not a women’s issue. It is an issue that both partners should be equally as informed about as the other.
Both partners should be equally responsible for birth control. Therefore, men and women should both have equal knowledge about methods of preventing pregnancy and STDs.
It is reasonable to expect parents to want to delay sexual experiences for their preteens and adolescents. It is unreasonable to expect that all will choose to do so, or that full control over this is possible.
It is not be reasonable to expect that all woman can perfectly manage to avoid unintended pregnancy for all of her years of fertility (Eggenbroten).
|Sexual Education||Sex before marriage is sinful, therefore abstinence-only education for everyone is the only type that should be supported.||We should make sure even young children are informed and prepared for sex, in case they decide they are ready for it.
Religion has absolutely no place in sexual education.
|It is not reasonable to teach abstinence-only sex ed in public schools, when the evidence so overwhelmingly shows that good information about and access to contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies and by extension, abortions.
It is reasonable for parents to want to delay their children’s sexual experiences. It is important for children to have access to age-appropriate sexual information. There will always be differing opinions as to what is age-appropriate, so respectful discussion is always needed.
It is okay for families with religious beliefs pertaining to sexual intercourse to teach those beliefs to their children.
It is good for churches to be involved in sexual education; in fact, they have a responsibility to address it in an accurate manner.
|Fetal Viability||I think that the “left-wing”, adamantly pro-choice in all circumstances camp is going to have to address the fact that “viability” keeps moving earlier and earlier, and will likely continue to do so year after year. This is an ethical concern that cannot be wished away.|
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to post about this subject. I think it is mostly because I believe it does need to be talked about more, and not just behind closed doors. It needs to be talked about without shouting. I am coming from the perspective of a Christian who was raised to be ultra-conservative on this issue, but after years of listening and researching, am now resting somewhat uncomfortably between the pro-life and pro-choice camps. I can’t fit comfortably in either. It was interesting to write this post as some who is 8.75 months pregnant with a child that was very much wanted, but conceived while using reliable birth control. My thoughts on this issue are of course informed by my life experiences, which includes my faith, but while also realizing that I am a global citizen in a world made up of people of many viewpoints, which must be respected and considered. I would also like to respectfully invite anyone who is a die-hard pro-lifer to read the first book in my works consulted list. Even if you heartily disagree with some of what it says, you will be better for having read it. If you are someone who has had an abortion and would like a safe place to talk about your experience, please feel free to send me a private message on fb or email. Thanks for reading, as always.
Abortion–my choice, God’s grace : Christian women tell their stories / Anne Eggebroten, editor. 1994.
Tough love : sexuality, compassion, and the Christian right / Cynthia Burack. 2014.
The human drama of abortion : seeking a global consensus / Anibal Faundes, Jose Barzelatto. 2006.