Complicating abortion

August 6th, 2015

Amidst the current debates and conflict around Planned Parenthood funding and what does or does not happen to fetal tissue, the takeaway from this particular culture war (a phrase I hate, but that’s a discussion for another time) is that either you are pro-killing babies or anti-women. My personal position on abortion has changed over time; what once was clearly black or white has become gray. As I have mourned with friends and family members who have miscarried and supported those who have opted to medically terminate their pregnancies, my once-firm beliefs have shifted.

As a woman, I have always been strongly pro-choice. I greatly value the medical advances that allow me to control my fertility and plan what my husband and I would like our family to be, and ultimately, I want to be the one with control over my body. Though I have never used Planned Parenthood for women-specific healthcare, I have friends who, during college, routinely received their healthcare through Planned Parenthood. I also have never been faced with the question of whether or not I would carry a pregnancy to term.

As a Christian, I serve a God whom I believe is pro-life in the broadest of terms — pro-human flourishing in all circumstances. Jesus’ life, his ministry of healing and feeding and radical welcome, and his death, a self-sacrifice for the life of the world, witness to God’s desire for creation. But in the rhetoric of many anti-abortion activists, they appear to be pro-birth rather than pro-life, as Sister Joan Chittister points out:

“I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

In an ideal world, in one that has not fallen so far from what God intended, every conceived child would be desired and every pregnancy would be met with joy. Every birthed child would be loved and cared for and raised in a household and a community that met his or her physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs. In an ideal world, the felt necessity to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from rape, incest or abuse or that threatened the life of the mother would not exist. Every sex act between two people would be one of mutual delight and joy and pleasure, an outpouring and bonding of love, never exploitive or a display of dominance.

The evidence of our political and social realities show that we are far from living in an ideal world, and so I see the need for women to have safe, legal, accessible options for terminating pregnancies. But I don’t have to like it or the situations that women face that lead them to choose that option. I would hope that an induced abortion would only be pursued after much education, prayer and counsel with an individual’s support system, though I know the shame and stigma of having an unwanted pregnancy often short-circuits that.

Perhaps as Christians, instead of focusing the political fight on making abortions illegal or nearly impossible to obtain for some of the women who need access most, we can focus our political energy on policies that truly are pro-life. We can work to ensure that women and their children have access to healthcare, quality education, safe housing and nutritional food. We can fight for equal compensation for women and parental-leave policies that are more in line with the rest of the developed world. In our churches, we can lift up the pain of a miscarriage and whatever circumstances lead a woman to terminate a pregnancy instead of shaming them both into silence.

Maybe this makes me a bad feminist, to be politically pro-choice but theologically anti-abortion. But until our nation truly places families and children first, until there is a communal commitment to raising all children — no matter the circumstances of their birth — or until the Kingdom of God is fully manifest on earth, access to safe and legal induced abortions and a woman’s right to choose remain necessary.  

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