There are a few topics I avoid discussing at all costs. One is abortion.
So when the topic came up in a recent conversation, I started to squirm. Not because it was heated (it was calm). Not because it was irrational (thoughtful opinions from different perspectives were offered).
I was horribly uncomfortable because this is the one topic where no woman is allowed to remain neutral, to waffle, question, or ponder. Both pro-life and pro-choice sides throw hard punches, and those who attempt to stand in the middle get pummeled the worst.
Yet, I try to ride the fence. Though I'm an evangelical Christian, I can't line up under the pro-life banner because there seems to be a lack of compassion there. And neither can I cling to the pro-choice side because the battle cry there is about rights rather than what is right.
For starters, the language in the abortion debate is all wrong. "Pro-life" connotes that the opposite is pro-death. Pro-murder. Some pro-life extremists would have us believe women who have abortions are cold-blooded killers. I've never met or heard of any woman who said, "I'm going to do everything I can to get pregnant just so I can have the experience of killing an unborn child." It's preposterous.
By the same measure, the "pro-choice" movement isn't really about creating options; it's about supporting one single, particular selection. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear pro-choice hardliners say, "You know, gals, you also have the right to choose to not have an abortion. In fact, there are many choices at your disposal ... ."
It bothers me that many pro-choice politicos refuse to recognize there's a real baby involved. They use the word "fetus" to make it sound more medical, more clinical. And yet, women who've had abortions tend to use the words "baby" and "child" in talking about their own experience: "I chose not to have my baby." "I'm not ready to have a child." (By the way, I pulled these quotes from a pro-choice web forum.)
Any way the fertilized egg is packaged, the idea of destroying it nauseates me. I developed strong feelings about this in college, during a biology class where we broke open incubated chicken eggs to study the developing systems. We could see a tiny spine, a network of veins, the flutter of a beating heart. The idea of developing life awed me, and when our professor told us to "clean up our areas," I nearly started to cry. Even knowing the exposed organs would soon fail, I couldn't terminate my project. "That ... is a chicken!" I protested to my fellow students. My instructor countered, "That is an egg. And that is your grade." My kind lab partner allowed me to look away as he disposed of our study material.
Maybe it's been wrong for me to look away all these years--nauseated, knowing, and still silent about abortion. Yet I'm equally troubled by the heartlessness of many pro-lifers who refuse to recognize there's a real woman involved. Or, as is most often the case, a real girl. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which began collecting abortion statistics in 1969, the largest number of abortions occurs among girls younger than 15. Rather than offering counseling and comfort to pregnant teens, some pro-lifers merely hand out pamphlets which graphically explain how abortion would rip her baby apart inside her body. I'm all for education and providing constructive information so others can make an informed decision. But do young pregnant teens really need more condemnation and guilt heaped on their already overburdened shoulders? Shouldn't a young woman chose to keep her child out of love, not fear?
It seems perspective can get
clearer if we're closer to the
people than the issue.
Pro-lifers argue that if they don't take a hard line, abortion will become a method of regular birth control. They say some women might develop a flippant attitude toward abortion. There's possibly a teensy grain of truth to this: Of women having abortions in 2002, 18.5 percent already had two or more abortions in the past (that's about 100,000 women on record). Still, CDC records show the total number of abortions has declined steadily and significantly from 1990 to 2001, then remained essentially the same from 2001-2002 (the CDC's published reports through 2002 are currently available online). And abortions are lowest among women in their prime childbearing years, from age 20 to 40. So it doesn't appear to be the birth control of choice in the U.S., probably because most women understand the chemical and/or surgical process involved with abortion has a pronounced negative effect on the body. It's no secret women who've had abortions suffer emotionally and psychologically. I can think of no greater tragedy than of the numerous Christian women who quietly bear the pain of abortion alone, afraid their churches and Christian communities will expel them if their secret should be revealed.
It's easy for me to personally say I wouldn't have an abortion at this point. I'm happily married, and while my husband and I have no immediate plans for children, we'd warmly welcome a baby. That said, I can't very well put myself into the shoes of the unmarried pregnant women (in 2002, 80 percent of women who had abortions were single) who don't have the financial or emotional support of a loving husband. And I don't know how I would react if I was raped and became pregnant. I don't know how my husband and I would respond if a pregnancy put my life in danger.
I know Christian singles and couples who've found themselves in all of those situations. More often, I've been encouraged to see their churches surround them with support. It blessed me personally to witness their pro-life Christian friends step up and say, "We will love you unconditionally, and we will help you through this, regardless of what you decide." It seems perspective can get clearer if we're closer to the people than the issue.
And yet ... there are so many arguments. Too many. I've noticed a great number of friends are torn by this issue, and they qualify their responses to it just like I do: with a healthy dose of "ifs," "ands," and "buts." My friend M diplomatically suggests this is one issue for God to deal with on an individual basis. I can imagine both Lifers and Choicers ripping into M. They'd both dismiss him, "Because he's a Christian! Because he's a Democrat! Because he's a MAN!"
And I almost wish I could dismiss M's thought, too, because it requires me to remain on that fence, teetering precariously. Then again, trusting God has always worked well for me in the past.