First, to the few of you actually reading this thing, my apologies for the extended lull in posting. I’m working on multiple projects at the moment, for which blogging has temporarily taken a back seat.
Today, though, I want to present to you my take on a topic because of how it hits particularly close to home for me. It is not an I’m-right-and-they’re-wrong stance, but rather an invitation to deeper reflection and discussion of the topic in pursuit of a solution. For the sake of ethos, I want to open this with a personal anecdote. It’s probably going to feel a bit off-the-rails going in, but bear with me — this will culminate to my point regarding the topic at hand.
My mother was pressured to abort me.
During the ’70s, my teenage mother was a bit, shall we say, promiscuous, for lack of a better word. One such fling resulted in my fetus announcing its arrival early in the year of 1979.
Now, an important side note: Be aware of the the culture of the ’70s, even the early ’80s that followed. To be a single unwed mother back then was to be more of a pariah than even today. It was even more so of a scarlet letter on the forehead than what we’re accustomed to.
With that in mind: My arrival was not just a damning visible scar on my mother’s reputation, but it was a disgrace to my entire family’s honor (again, as seen through their cultural moral filter of the day).
My grandmother, a highly-revered matriarch in my family, wanted none of this and pressured my mother to abort me (a secret she carried to her grave). My mother — all her other faults notwithstanding — refused. (In all fairness, it didn’t take long before my grandmother loved me fiercely.)
There was a whole chain of shame-driven events that followed like dominoes, none of this which I’d learn about until my mid-20’s. This progression of bad decision followed by worse decision culminated into a deceitful narrative I grew up my entire youth believing that all revolved around a fictional, murdered father figure who never existed. This whimsical narrative (a topic for another day) to cover up a past they were collectively ashamed of went so far as to provide me with a fictional legal last name. (Yes — “Panetti” is made up. Were convention followed, my last name would be “Barton”, after my actual father, who is in fact still alive, and, in keeping with my colorful history, thoroughly denies relation.)
Where am I going with this? Two personal conclusions:
One – I enjoy being alive. I am not a fan of the idea of having been aborted.
Two – The dominant norms of fundamentalist evangelical Christian conservatism leaned in favor of my abortion. (Holy crap is that terrifying to say!) I understand my anecdotal experience to be a microcosm of the culture of the day. Before you rise to debate that conclusion, consider: were fundigelical conservatism not driving societal morals, there would have been no shame in being a single mother to begin with. That much is undeniable. Catalyst. Reaction.
If you doubt the influence of conservative fundigelicalism even still, then I present anecdotal Exhibit B: when I finally learned of this in my mid-20s, that truth was accompanied by a rather cutting claim from another paving-hell-with-good-intentions family member that the “sins of the father” (in this case sex outside of marriage) are a curse carried by the son, and that I myself, by extension, was ripe for sexual sin because of theirs. This was in the early 2000’s, not the ’70s.
Not only was it their shame then, it was my shame now. What?
(Side note: Today I’m nearing 40 with a stronger faith in Jesus than fundigelical conservative past-me ever dreamed of having, and I’ve been happily married to the love of my life for a decade. Take that, inherited curse!)
My story is not unique (save the over-the-top fictional dad part). My story is shared by countless others of my generation, else I wouldn’t dare suggest my anecdotal experience is adequately instructive.
(Necessary side note: There are other reasons abortions happen — agreed. My point is that this is a very significant one such reason that must be given attention and the one I am most qualified to speak to.)
Today, fundamentalist evangelical conservative Christians are insisting that abortion is murder and must be illegal. Full stop.
Something doesn’t add up here.
To put it another way: the need for abortion to arbitrarily save face — a problem created by fundigelicalism — is a problem that must be solved by fundigelicalism.
We have a word for that in psychology when such a claim is made to an individual: gaslighting. “It’s your fault I made you do that, and only I can fix this by punishing you.” This is gaslighting on a macro level, moving across multiple generations.
So that is my admittedly-loaded opening ethos: at least one party pressured my abortion. I am glad I was not aborted. I have observed that the same culture that produced the person who pushed for my abortion for the purpose of upholding reputation valued by said culture are also the ones proposing the solution to abortion. I say do not look to the people who at best contributed to the problem for your solution.
I thus offer a more nuanced viewpoint.
First, I am pro-life. In fact, I fashion myself pro-all-life. I am for the birth of babies, for the parent(s) having what they need to take care of and nurture and raise said baby safely and soundly, for that baby to later have access to education and medicine and all that which grows life into livelier life, and I am against violence, against war, against hate, against cruelty, against selfish apathy, and against everything that smothers and drains life.
Now the inescapable question: is abortion murder? I find that to be a curious question. Did my grandmother pressure my mother to murder me? That’s a hard sell, and I am hard-pressed to argue any scenario that paints my grandmother with murderous intent. So let’s talk about types of life.
A plant is alive, yet killing a plant is not murder.
This is where it gets tricky. There is “life” in terms of the scientific definition — plants, cells, fungi, freaking mosquitoes — and there is “life” in the metaphysical sense — sentience. A soul. Which definition are we to use here?
Which definition applies to a fetus? Honestly, I have no flipping idea. We don’t have a way of asking fetuses if they are sentient and have souls, and they don’t have a way of telling us. Even worse is the question that follows that question: at what point does a collection of cells become sentient with a soul? Six weeks? Two weeks? One day? One hour? The very instant the sperm collides with the egg? The first twinkle of romance in the parent’s eye?
If “yes”, then is contraception murder?
If “yes”, is willfully remaining single and abstinent your entire life murder?
Herein lies the trickiness of this topic: I don’t think abortion is an act of ending life; I think it is an act of preventing life — and there are many, many ways you can prevent new life, the most effective of which is perpetual abstinence.
I don’t raise this as a trick question to cleverly stump you; rather, I humbly conclude that I myself am incapable of knowing exactly when life starts, which means for all I know, life could start the moment the sperm hits the egg, or two weeks later, or six weeks later, or three months later. As one who believes in God and souls and all that fun stuff, I can’t authoritatively say when God decides to plant a soul in said fetus.
In fact, it kinda scares me a little that I don’t know. That’s kind of a heavy thing to not have all the exact details on.
So I do not conclude that abortion is murder; instead, I conclude that abortion is unfortunate.
That much I believe is always true, because it includes room for the gray areas. It’s unfortunate when someone becomes pregnant who doesn’t want to be pregnant. It’s unfortunate when a pregnancy occurs due to rape (understatement of the century; words obviously fail). It’s unfortunate when one must choose between a mother’s life or a fetus’s/baby’s/would-be-human’s life. It’s unfortunate for everybody, but it’s especially and uniquely far above and beyond unfortunate for the woman who cannot escape having to make a Sophie’s choice.
If you doubt that statement, note that the reverse doesn’t work: it’s never fortunate for anybody. In other words, there’s no scenario in which someone goes “Yay! Another abortion for the books!”
At this point I present a challenge: If you fashion yourself pro-life, just how pro-life are you? To what length are you willing to go?
I propose that if your goal is to make abortion illegal, you are not willing to go far at all.
Thus I am also pro-choice. Why? A number of reasons, but primarily and most simply because abortion rates go down when abortion is made legal. This is the essence of my “how far?” question. If I want to see abortions become a rarity, and outlawing abortion results in more abortions, then I do not want abortion outlawed — otherwise I would be engaged in self-defeat.
Why doesn’t outlawing it work? Simple: the solution does not match the problem. Square peg, round hole. Generally speaking, the thief wants to steal; the murderer wants to murder; the cheater wants to cheat. Laws act as barriers to make it harder for those who desire ill to achieve it. The woman getting an abortion does not want an abortion. She may be pursuing an abortion because she does not want a child, but she is not pursuing the abortion itself, as the thief pursues theft. If you do not understand this difference, then you have never known a woman who’s had an abortion.
If you don’t follow my meaning yet, then let me put it another way: no woman gets pregnant so that she can then have the pleasure of an abortion.
You outlaw stealing to stop the thief who steals riches for greed, not the thief who steals food to escape starvation. The woman who seeks an abortion is desperate to escape something, not lusting after anything. Laws do not stop the desperate; laws result in the means by which the desperate person achieves their goal being far more…tragic, for lack of a better term. Desperation leads to back alleys.
To champion outlawing abortion is to, knowingly or hopefully unknowingly, make a half-assed effort at acting pro-life. Nothing more.
I’m not alive today because abortion was illegal. That had literally zero influence in my fate.
To really be pro-life all-the-way is to get dirty and engage humanity at its messiest, which means pursuing more nuanced, complex solutions. That requires sacrifice, because doing that hurts. To engage the hurting is to allow yourself to hurt with them.
My second reason is because I know that the caricature of the promiscuous woman who flippantly turns to abortion to escape consequences is a classic strawman (straw-woman? straw-person?).
Yes, I did tell you in the opening that my mother was promiscuous. What I didn’t add was that she was also a victim of very severe child abuse. That promiscuous teen evolved out of a young little girl who’s drunken daddy once aimed a shotgun at her.
Did you care? Or did you jump right to “she’s a floozy — that’s my point!”? Humanity is messy and you can’t know until you engage with it.
Is the solution looking clearer yet? Do you see why the letter of the law will not shortcut us to a quick fix here? Are you really ready to commit to a pro-life worldview? Then you get involved with that abused little girl and you inspire her to believe in the strength of her womanhood and her unique soul and her ability to rise above it all. If you are not there to cheer and inspire and encourage and drive her on, then something else will be waiting in the darkness of abandoned solitude to fill that void.
Change of this nature must come through social and cultural change — through us — instead of through the law. You want to stop abortions? Stop raising boys into men who see women as objects to be toyed with and discarded. Stop blaming women and creating an upside-down world where rape victims are afraid to speak up because they’ll be the ones punished for it. Stop pressuring daughters to get married and become baby factories right out of high school. Stop shaming women who don’t share your religious beliefs or do share your beliefs and accidentally deviate from them in a moment of being human, and instead, celebrate life when life happens.
If you shame my mother enough, I will not exist, and you are beyond a hypocrite. You may be pro-something, but it sure ain’t life.
And, lastly, when a woman says her body is hers, listen.
If there ever comes a time when such a world will exist, that will be a world in which abortions are an incredibly rare exception to the rule. If you want that world, work for it instead of pushing for laws to get the government to do it for you. The truth is we can have that world. We only need to hope, to believe, and most importantly, to try.