My first memories of “abortion” are from my early elementary school years at my family’s central Arkansas Bible church. Let the stereotypical assumptions flow after that introduction. But seriously, I recall seeing pamphlets with graphic photos of bloody trash bags of dead babies. I’m sure I asked my parents or maybe they showed them to me and explained what the picket line we were going to participate in was about. I was horrified and sad that this kind of thing could happen, and my little 7 or 8 year old self was proudly “pro-life.” I helped create posters with colorful magic markers to hold streetside in front of the capitol maybe? I don’t remember the locations but I’ve stood in a few abortion demonstrations as a young child. Maybe even in junior high – that was probably the last one I remember, with my church youth group here in Overland Park, Kansas, on 95th Street between the cross streets Lowell and Craig. How I remember those details, you got me? It was just a busy street in a residential area, near some churches (though not ours), and not in front of a clinic or government building, but I digress.
Over the years I’ve heard all the buzzword arguments on both sides. And while my views on lots of traditionally conservative issues have changed in many regards, I still haven’t heard a good answer to explain “when life begins” if it doesn’t begin at conception. Maybe the argument of “when life is viable outside the womb” works, except that as technology and medicine continue to advance, so does minimum. I think the earliest born surviving preemie was born at just under 22 weeks gestation, and the viability chance for fetuses continues to increase. When you combine that with the idea of “cloning” science, it doesn’t seem impossible that the two sciences could meet someday and a baby could be conceived and gestated with no living human womb at all. Seems creepy, but possible in some matter of years. So that argument of “when life begins” seems like it could be a moving target.
Where things get really gray for me are the cases that get thrown around a LOT in the media and politics, that everyone gets so up in arms about – the right to abortion in cases of rape or the mother’s health or birth defects. And I think each of these scenarios has so many shades of gray. A woman who is raped has been damaged physically, emotionally, mentally, and possibly spiritually. I haven’t been through it but have only imagined the pain and trauma. And if that horrific event wasn’t just over at the time, but that evil attacker left a part of themselves inside your body to join with part of your body and create a new creature that you would be responsible for the rest of your life, always reminded of that event, even that face. What if that child was the spitting image of their father? Could they be loved? Would that hurt and anger be taken out on that child? What if the evil in the father’s heart was genetic? And pregnancy and childbirth is hard and uncomfortable and hormonal – would there be any healing to hope for in those 9 months? Those are only a few of the thoughts that I’ve considered in that sad scenario. So I can completely understand and feel no judgement for anyone that could choose to terminate that pregnancy and attempt to move on. However, I know and truly believe that God can make beauty from ashes. If a victim had faith, I think there is a way (and I’m sure this has happened in real life) to turn this tragedy and pain into something amazing. God can provide healing in amazing ways, whether through blessing a family that wanted to adopt, or building a beautiful mother/child relationship with the victim, even if they started in unlikely and evil ways. So I believe there is hope for those that would choose life – to take that chance on the new creature inside them and put that baby’s life ahead of their own pain. I’m not saying which one is right or wrong, but I believe there is healing either way, and a lot would depend on the spirituality and support system of the victim.
The mother’s health argument – I haven’t done a lot of thinking about, honestly because I have this idea in my mind that modern medicine can figure that one out in most cases that it seems a very rare decision for anyone to have to make. And I think the stats support that, it’s not really an argument people should be resting their laurels on because it just isn’t applicable to many people. But the case of birth defects was recently illuminated for me. But let’s start at the beginning of my views on this first. I generally do not believe that viable genetic abnormalities should be reason to terminate a pregnancy. The idea that “I just don’t want a child with known health problems” just doesn’t jive with me. That in and of itself sounds selfish and slippery. I agree, it could be devastating news and completely change the vision you have for your future family. But people are doing it, and they have found so much joy in it. And that argument seems similar to and dangerous to the “when does life begin” question. What constitutes a birth defect that is acceptable for abortion? Is it one that you don’t feel mentally or emotionally prepared for? Is it one that you can’t afford to pay for the resulting medical services? Is it one where the child has a chance of dying anyway? How big of a chance? What about the child’s “quality of life” with their condition? Who’s standards do we use to determine when it’s okay? And what heavy combination of answers to these questions makes one scenario okay but one scenario wrong? These are the questions that I can’t answer. Today I read two heartbreaking stories/articles that got me really thinking about this late-term abortion issue (and I’m referring to that now because I’ve recently learned that late-term abortion really only applies to these unique medical situations, rather than some selfish woman who decided last minute that she didn’t want her baby). First was about a couple who learned mid-pregnancy that their much-loved and much-anticipated baby could absolutely not survive outside the womb. It would be stillborn, but they had to carry the child full term and deliver her, knowing this devastating outcome for the entire second half of the pregnancy. Second was a similar case, but this baby could survive, albeit with an extreme condition that was likely to cause a painful, vegetable-like existence. I read both these stories and fought tears. Tears for the parents and the heartbreak they felt and the guilt they felt with even considering their choices. I felt tears for these unborn souls, who would never fully know their loving parents. I felt compassion and understanding, and sadness that laws made these already difficult situations even more difficult and painful. It gave me new perspective on this issue. Though I still don’t know the answer for them – what should be legal and what shouldn’t. I think in the first scenario, a baby with zero viability should not be made to be carried. That seems downright cruel and ridiculous. The second story has a lot more gray, as the mother describes. I can’t blame her either way, and she would carry her decision with a certain pain no matter which way she chose. And that baby never had to know pain and suffering.
But despite all these feelings, the thing I’ve also learned is that these situations make up something like less than 3% of abortions that take place in the United States today. The vast majority are unplanned pregnancies terminated in the very early weeks. There are hundreds of reasons why an unplanned pregnancy is inconvenient, and I can empathize with not wanting this circumstance or this change in my life plans. But, the women in these circumstances knew it could be a possibility. The evolutionary purpose of sex is to reproduce. I believe it’s the responsibility of the people who chose to have sex to accept parenthood as a possible outcome of that, whether or not they used birth control. That’s not a super fun way to look at it, and I know that sounds really lame and old school, but that’s how I see it. Our culture has made a huge deal out of sex, glorifying it and promoting sexual freedom, but not appropriately emphasizing that sex causes children (for heterosexuals, that is)! The Pro-Choice movement is so adamant about women’s health and women’s control over their own body. I 100% support that. Women should be able to choose when and with whom they have sex, and they should have access to affordable preventive birth control and the education to use it the most effectively. But, once they have become pregnant, it is no longer just their body that they are making health decisions for. There is a new body; a new person in this equation, I believe, since I haven’t yet been convinced when life begins if not at conception. And that person’s health is now the responsibility of the parents. Yes, unfortunately, if unplanned, most of the time the women take the brunt of the responsibility, if not all of it. But those are the risks taken if choosing to have sex with someone and either or both of you doesn’t yet have the desire to be a parent. There has to be some acceptance of responsibility at that point, not once a new life has been created.
This last scenario is where Pro-Lifers need to focus their efforts in discussions and legislation. Why does abortion have to be an all-encompassing, all or nothing law? If we could make some concessions in certain areas to not put well-meaning parents through unnecessary heartbreak and fear of judgement, maybe be open to lovingly and empathetically discussing abortion as a legal alternative for rape victims. Let’s look at addressing this very small percentage of abortion cases with compassion. But then focus on re-educating today’s young men and women about responsibility with their sex lives – not just about the risk of catching and spreading STD’s, but about the “risk” of parenthood. And then, for those who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies, let’s flow some legit resources there way. Healthcare, adoption resources, support networks and groups. For those that keep their baby, help with childcare, education and employment. Legal resources to help maintain responsibility for BOTH parents. Parenting classes and support groups. I know these things exist, but are more often charitable organizations rather than government-funded. And abortion is so much financially cheaper and logistically easier than these things. But THIS is where the argument needs to be, and the most lives could be saved. As long as Pro-Lifers and the politicians running on that platform continue to use scare tactics about partial-birth and late-term abortion to make Pro-Choicers out to be evil baby killers, and as long as Pro-Choicers stop using “for the health of the mother” as a reason to keep abortion legal, there can never be any sort of progress on this legislation that really promotes the health and safety of women and their unborn children.
I’m sure some of my thoughts here are unpopular with both sides of the coin, but it’s so emotional and it’s something I’ve considered a lot and asked God about plenty of times. I’ve said before I never really had a desire to be a mom. And my second child was very much unplanned and inconvenient in ways not many realize. I hated being pregnant and being a mother is DAMN HARD. And I’ve got it easy compared to many that are faced with unplanned pregnancies, so I get it. But I also know the blessing my children are, and the ways they’ve expanded my soul in such positive ways, and what they’ve taught me about joy and love. Things and feelings I never would have known without their arrival into this world. This issue has been weighing on me heavily this week since the presidential debate where some disturbing buzzwords were thrown around. I laid awake the other night feeling so emotional and confused that I had to get some words out to try and make some sense of the issue. I still don’t know the answer, but I do know there needs to be more understanding, less judging, and as always, more love.