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Sacred Conversations

A Christian ethicist and Evangelical scholar, David Gushee shares this smart essay about how he brings his religious values into hot-button conversations and the "sacred humanity" of the other.

Cited Research: CNN 2004 Election Exit Poll

View the 2004 election exit poll that Frances Kissling mentions regarding the attitudes toward abortion.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

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The natural sex ratio quotient doesn't add up. A stark portrayal from MediaStorm of violence against females in India.

Reconciling childhood recollections with the complexity of abortion.

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A reflection on the compassionate nature of our listeners' conversations when we addressed the topic of abortion in 2008.

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Video of Obama's speech and how it came up in our live event with Joshua Dubois.

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Our aggregated tweets from our interview.

Frances Kissling reflects on the limits of seeking common ground on contentious issues. "The pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other."

About the Image

Pro-choice and pro-life supporters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on January 22, 2007 to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion.

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I learned in the 3rd or 4th grade in a Catholic school, what abortion was and what birth control was. I formulated immediately in my own young mind, that abortion was wrong and birth control was not(Which differed with the Church's view).

I learned in the courses of a science education in a secular University that life begins at conception without question or nuance.
The causes of all other opinions are nuanced by the value of one human life over another, theological differences that say real personhood begins with first breath, and pure ignorance of the truth of the biological sciences. Violating absolute truth has its consequences, no matter the innocence or guilt of the perpetrator of the act. (And for those around the perpetration of the act.)

The five year old who finds a gun and kills a friend, is totally innocent of the act of murder because the child is not old enough to comprehend the enormity of the act. The act remains a burden for the child and those involved for the rest of their lives.

The woman, who enters an abortion clinic, may have failed to make the right decision when she truly had a choice or may have had no choice at all in the present circumstance, but the life with in, is an absolute truth, that will impact her and those involved for the rest of her life. The healing of which is carried as seriously in the hands of the Church (Project Rachel)as the absolute stand against abortion is.

I have watch the face of a young man, who thank his wife's mother for carrying her daughter to term and raising her. The mother had been a victim of rape and with all the love in him for his wife, and children, he thank her for raising her daughter as she did.

In the worst of circumstance, the child is the most innocent. Fetus means "young one". So the little one in the womb was recognized in the Greek language at the dawn of medicene.

I do not know how to speak to the heart that is very troubled and needs a quick solution. When we, as women, have concieved a child,we are in position like no other human being. Our bodies were meant for this. It requires the body to provide for the child. We need to care for ourselves like an athlete cares for their body. We are about something very important. The human body is actually programmed to provide for the baby. I believe God has a plan for the baby within.

Mother support and the accidents of life can be factors in the success of the plan. Baby's left in cribs, fed and changed, but not nurtured will fail to thrive and probably die. (Mother support is vital.) Nurturance can be given by an adoptive mother, if the natural mother just cannot raise the child.

Nutrition and injury or disease can affect the development of the child, but Stephen Hawkings and Helen Keller should give you pause before you believe that decisions about the relative worth of lives can be determined easily. Even Beethoven, was the fourth or fifth of siblings with serious impairments. We would not have had his music, if Mom had thought about herself over him and had easy access to abortion or thought the danger of him being deaf was more than she could risk.

We have stepped so far away from the basics of life. Bearing babies into the world seems so burdensome for some today. The biological imperative to pro-create seems like something for the masses but not for ME. So we have lost one third of our population since the legalization of abortion.

I would like you to understand about me that I do not want to criminalize women who go for abortions without understanding the full import of what they do. I want a world where abortion facilities go out of business because women get so smart, the facilities close because no one goes there.

I want you to know that I want the world to value the lives of children, like the year that little girl was down the well in Texas and guys going to Alaska (to drill at the beginning of the Alaskan Pipeline), dropped off big diamond bit drills in her front yard, so the guys trying to get to her, could do it faster. That little girl had no claim to fame. She was just a child in trouble in these United States. We need to get back to that. I want the busi-ness to stop, when a child is lost, and everyone who can goes to look for that child.

I work in a Church office. The staff is going to dinner Monday at Chili's, because Chili's is donating its profit that day to St. Jude's Children's hospital. Pro Life means commitment; anytime, anywhere that we can make a difference.

As one of our men said on retreat recently. "I am "pro-choice". I just believe the choice is a lot sooner than the decision for abortion." If you feel that you do not know the truth of when life begins go to any university and take a biology class. It is at conception. The genetic package of the first fertilized cell, if read, can tell you more about the adult to come, than staring in the nursery window when the baby is born. We all need to be educated on this one.

Men and women are walking around dealing with the issue of an abortion in their histories and do not understand how heavy a burden they carry, if they have not addressed it. To have an abortion or help someone have one, does not end that day. That baby is a reality in your physical and spiritual life. If you experience sorrow, you can know forgiveness. We are more and more becoming aware of our spiritual reality. True freedom is in our soul. God gave us intellect and free will. Or if you care to dispute that, who ever gave us free will and intellect is God. My Judeo Christian belief just tells me God is creator and author of my human freedom, which at its best is disciplined and accountable.

New names for all of us? I think we found the best. I am pro-life. In my Church's social teaching it is a seamless garment from cradle to grave. Life at all stages is charged with human dignity from its creator. It requires our most accountable behavior if we even think about putting it at risk. Our countries founding Father's recognized it. Our rights are inalienable from our creator. Alan Keyes says he wants his freedom given to him by no mere man. He has it from his creator and there is no variable in that.

Pro - Choice. I believe in the heart of most of these folks is a distaste for the act of abortion itself, if they understand what it is. But the face in front of them receives the tenderness of their sympathies. They will not tackle the monumental task to explain to a young woman in terrible trouble that the baby will one day stand in front of her and loving her with all that is in him or her, hold her in their arms; whether she raises them or someone else does. My religious opinion is that that will happen even if she goes through with the abortion.

My Grandson is a part of the 40 Days for Life project. He is 17 years old and a senior in High School. He tells me from his times of prayer at our local abortion facility downtown that homeless people who come up to them as they pray are pro-life. One came carrying a baby doll. The worn down man put the baby doll by the door in the mulch of the planting bed. He said to my Grandson, "Maybe that will stop someone from going in." My Grandson thought that was amazing in a society that thinks abortion is an answer.

In jury trials, the juries have not understood the DNA evidence and found people innocent who perhaps were not. They have sent people to jail and only the DNA evidence could free them. The Law and Order Series on TV and the CSI series, I have been told are about educating our jury pools so they can come up to speed on DNA and forensic evidence. Someday I hope we have the courage to educate for the truth about the abortion issue.

John Paul II called us to make a culture of life and not a culture of death. He had experienced so much in his own life as one group attempted to take power over another. I think he had a wisdom that resonates in a lot more people that Roman Catholics.

First of all, "pro-life" must include death penalty and war. "respect for life", in my opinion, would be a better category that would encompass both positions. I am personally opposed to abortion..as a choice...for myself. I could not do it. However, were the pregnancy a result of rape/incest or other unsavory forces and were the life of the mother in danger, then ONLY the pregnant woman, with the assistance of her someone of her choice, can make the decision. I guess that makes me "pro-choice". If you support a war in which over 100K innocent people have died, (and that's most of the wars), or if you support a death penalty then how can you claim to be pro-life? This is a religious issue, best left out of government control. If most people were to research abortions, how many and the reasons, I think they would be surprised at how few there really are....and becoming fewer. My daughter had a pregnancy (twins) that was extremely and daily painful and frightening. "We" have wonderful 10 yr old twins, but had she decided to end her pregnancy, it would HAVE to be her choice with my full support. NO ONE can place themselves in the position of making that decision for another person. Teaching sex education, production, safety, birth control etc. needs to be in our schools with the choice to opt out of those classes for those that wish to. Due to ignorance/shame or whatever, I was not taught at home. Too many do not have that available at home and youngsters have no appropriate access to knowledge. Keeping our children informed is a duty for the entire country, no different than teaching about drugs. There seems to be an inordinate amount of emotion on the subject of sex, birth control, etc. Unbelievable in this era and in this country.

I am very pro-choice. I march in on of the largest Pro-Choice Naral Women march in the late '80's. I actually found myself later on in 1999 making such a difficult position of an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 32. Despite my being older than many who are in such a position, I actually found myself considering whether or not it was in the interest of by myself and my unborn child if I was even capable of not just being a capable and responsible parent but if I could be a source of empowerment for my child. I wasn't sure I would actually like being a parent. I didn't spend much time around children when I was a child. And even though I like children not sure I had social skills to be a parent. I didn't want to bring a child into the world and having to face and insecure parent throughout her life.
I was actually still considering terminating the pregnancy until about 24 weeks and when I was making calls around to different clinics and the price was continuting to rise as I contemplate such a discision. I emotionally couldn't go through with it. I chose to keep my child for what I consider selfish reasons in some ways. I did't want to be wondering "what if" years down the road wondering what my child would have been like when it was 5 years old. I am so glad that I made the chioce to have my beautiful daughter. I am still to this day very pro choice however!! There is not enough support for women in general by any particular side on so many levels except perhaps the feminists side but even that side has its extreme ways and still we are all at odds on how to create a better place for a woman to be when she has become pregnant accidentally regardless of how or why. Years ago I sort of flirted with the campaign of Pro-choicers for Pro Life because folks from both sides will tell you that know one Wants to have an abortion! There is another side of this though that troubles me greatly and yet perhaps is none of my business but perhaps this is where pro choice for pro life could come in as well. I have also been know women who have had multiple abortions because they have had multiple unwanted pregnancies. All of these women were working women with children of there own who in for some reason or another just didn't use birth control. Some of these women were in monogamous relationships most were not. I wonder about there risks of HIV/AIDS and why they aren't even worried about these things. Let alone have to live with the idea of denying my daughter other siblings to be with in the future. Yet every woman should have the right to make her choice. Why are women choosing to continue to get abortions over and over again instead of taking responsibility to use safer sex methods. They run the risk of not being around for the children they already do have should they become infected with HIV/AIDS.
As long as Pro-lifers aren't willing to supply housing and financing for unwanted children who may end up in foster care for life and for the pro choicers who could possibly help come up with ideas to allow pro choicer more options to choose life because ...this dialogue could provide a table that where we aren't so far apart from a more supporting solution for women who must make these kids of deciscions regardless of their choices.

I look at abortion in a large context of Bible teaching on the nature of God and the nature of human beings created in God's image. I have earned a PhD in Family Studies and MA degrees in Marriage/Family Counseling and Theology and have taught human development in university and college settings for 20 years. If we apply the ordinary use of language to the human fetus, we say both that it is "alive" and that it is "human." Common sense and common language tell us that. While none of us can 'prove' when essential human life begins, I think there is ample evidence from a broad range of Old and New Testament passages that one valid Biblical view is that it probably begins when a baby draws its first breath. Not only is reference to "the breath of life" made in many places, but the penalties under Old Testament Law for accidentally causing the death of an unborn child are limited to the damage done to the pregnant woman. I think we might talk most productively about this important subject if we look at underlying interests and concerns. I see at least three: a concern for a woman's welfare, a concern for human life, and a concern for society/community built on law. Law describes the ways we have decided to live together. It must bridge a concern for the individuals with a concern for the community itself. I believe that the decisions around a difficult pregnancy are not simple. They are much like decisions around war – in some cases there are no really good alternatives. As a society/community we need to care for and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Both a woman and a child at the edge of medical catastrophe are unable to speak for themselves, and logic has always held that the mother's life represents more potential to the family and the community for either help or hardship than the infant's does. When the difficult decision must be made to save one or let both die, I would choose to save the mother at the terrible cost of the infant’s life. In all other cases, I have two values that inform my thinking. The first is that moral choices have a deeper base than the convenience, preferances, or even needs of any individual. Our society has come to hold the individual and that individual's power to choose as the most important value. In my understanding, the real "sin" of many abortions, is not murder, but selfishness, pride, and the determination to take control of one's life rather than trust God for solutions that may be costly, but ultimately respect God and God's creation as well as the wonderful ability to choose that the Creator has given to humankind. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have over 60 years of personal experience that God provides and protects out of God's extraordinary, self-giving love for humankind. There are always solutions to problems beyond my immediate fears and limitations. I can trust a loving God, I don't have to control all of my world. As a counselor and former pastor, as a single-parent of four children, as a poor woman for much of my life, I understand that pregnancy makes a woman hugely vulnerable. Emotional and mental health are often just as precarious as physical health. The needs of a woman who has more than she can handle physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, relationally must be addressed by her community. The community that outlaws abortion must contribute to the care of the people affected. If we would humble ourselves and come together to listen to one another's concerns and fears and pain, I believe we could come to solutions around this issue that are far more moral than allowing the ending of human life for any but the most dire of painful choices between mother and child's survival. If we would humble ourselves and ask God to show us a way, the Creator has promised to respond to the creation. If we can learn from history and look around us, we will see that a society that takes human life lightly at its' beginning will soon take it lightly when it is damaged or difficult, when the society needs expendable lives for warring, and when it is near enough to its end to be considered non-productive for the society. Whenever individual convenience and choice is the top value, the society is in fatal trouble. Whenever there is no respect given to the needs and dignity of the individual, the society is in fatal trouble. We have the great blessing and opportunity in this society to come together to find ways to support one another through all manner of hardships and difficult circumstances so that all human life can be valued and protected.

Dear SOF, There is bad new for you and good news for you. First, there can be no subjectivistic solution to the ethical problems Your efforts, unfortunately, will be largely in vain because they are not founded on truth, but on the very premise of subjectivism ("first person" approach). However, if you found them on philophical anthropology (i.e. reason and evidence-based Revelation) then you could do untold good proclaimin the infinite Divine Mercy of God. But of course in the context of public radio, it will probably cost you dearly in terms of the feeling-based, subjective reactions of your audience, however tenderly and tactfully--I imagine Ms. Tippett might be more tender and tactful than me :)--you present your instrinsic love for all life. But please consider these noble words: 70. At the basis of all these tendencies lies the ethical relativism which characterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who consider such relativism an essential condition of democ- racy, inasmuch as it alone is held to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the decisions of the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead to authoritarianism and intolerance. But it is precisely the issue of respect for life which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terrible practical consequences, are concealed in this position. It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of "truth". But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of "ethical relativism". When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a "tyrannical" decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus? (John Paul II "Evangelium Vitae")

As a loving mother,sister,daughter, aunt to 5 little girls and grand daughter, I STRUGGLE to understand why this remains such a issue in our society. I was a teenager in the 1970's when I purchased the book "Our Bodies, Our selves." I remember the chapter on abortion and the picture of a woman in a hotel room, dead from an illegal abortion. I remember thinking how terrible,to die alone and naked in a dirty hotel room, soaking in your own blood. I sometimes wonder if that picture should "argue" with the other pictures that are brought up in the discussion of abortion. As a nurse I took care of a young girl who shook up a coke bottle to induce an abortion, and had to have fragements of glass removed from her vagina. Why can't our priorities be for existing life and not potential life. Why isn't this a personal decision that only 1 person can make, namely the mother who has to live with the decision. I love your show Krista. You have opened my eyes to some amazing stories. I look forward to your discussion. Sincerely, Anne Nagel

I am an Evangelical Christian who recently published a theology book called Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, along with a study guide exploring contemporary issues from a Christian perspective. It was a tough call, but I decided to exclude abortion from my list of issues in the study guide since the conversation has turned into a shouting match with little hope of middle ground. People get too emotional, and it's hard to have a fruitful discussion.

Recently though, I have hope since Evangelical activist Tony Campolo recently shared on the God's Politics blog his role in writing the Democratic platform, adding provisions that outline plans to reduce the number of abortions. This most clearly represents where I stand today and how I hope the pro life group can move forward: make abortion the least desirable choice for a pregnant woman by making it possible for her to keep the child. We should also throw our effort into pregnancy crisis centers, where women can get the support they need. This will not save every child, but it will save many, not to mention helping the mothers and saving them from a potentially harmful procedure.

Unfortunately some Evangelicals are convinced that since abortion is murder, the only way forward is to outlaw it. They fail to realize that banning abortion, however unlikely that may be, will not necessarily stop the more determined from having one. So while we fight to pass laws, we are missing opportunities to help mothers in need along with their unborn children. It's as if we haven't collectively realized that we can simultaneously be pro-child and pro-woman.

IN 1982 I was pregnant and happily married. This baby, while a surprise was welcome and we were thrilled. At 6 months I got septecemia and by the time I got to the hospital I was close to death but the baby was fine. An abortion was NOT a choice, I was told I had to have a D&E (late term abortion) in order to receieve the medications that would hopefully save my life but would not be safe for the baby.

My heart was broken but this was life saving. I want people to know that sometimes abortion is the best or only choice although a terrible choice and stays with you forever.

I think the most important thing to do is define terms. Once you accept the notion that "life begins at conception" you paint yourself into a corner. If life begins at conception then there is no choice to even be considered. But the position that "life begins at conception" is an arbitrary line. This is a totally secular notion. The Bible talks about life beginning with the breath of life. Further there is a reference in Jeremiah where God says "before you were conceived in your mother's womb I knew you."
The biggest mistake of drawing the line of when life begins at conception is the, then, misuse of language by calling a fetus or a fertized egg, a baby. In terms of identification, A is A, this sets up the false sides of mother against baby. A baby has the same rights as the mother. An egg is not a chicken. A fetus is not a baby. Besides a sperm and an egg are just as alive and to prevent them from uniting stops the birth process just as definitly as an abortion.
The state, the bible, and human understanding is that human life, with all the rights of personhood, begins at birth. That is when the law reconizes personhood and when we start the age process.
Abortion is when the pregnancy is terminated be it volunatary or involuntary (miscarriage). When it's a miscarriage we say it is God's will. Why is it not God's will when a woman chooses to do terminate an unwanted pregnancy? If a woman is forced to carry to term the product of rape or incest then we side against the victim. Since there are good health reasons for terminating a pregnancy these too might be considered God's will. Let's ask God?
Abortion is a medical issue and should not be a matter of political debate. The politics of life ought to involve the protection of the rights of the living.
Futher, life begins in the mind of God and when we draw the line at conception we take God out of it. We say we are in control. This leads to injustice for the living. It devalues human life.

Abortion is a tragic, wrenching and ultimately psychically devastating reality of our contemporary time and place. In all truth, as I write it is hard for me to not feel tears rolling down both my inside and out because for me the fact that our age deems abortion necessary (whether it remains legal or not) is not the province of only Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, Christians or non-Christians. Abortion's necessity in our time and place is the province of a country that will not do the hard work to determine why any woman is compelled to the truly awful state of having to make such a decision in the first place. What is the greater social and cultural reality of a country that assures any woman who chooses to abort a baby of 1.) the fact that she cannot adequately care for the child and 2.) her country will do very little if anything to aid her to that end to begin with. When we debate abortion why do we simply talk about pro-life and pro-choice? Why do we not also talk about the fact that many women have to fight to get a reasonable/if any leave of absence to have a baby from their place of employment and that when they get it, maternity leave is very often called a "medical leave" or "sick leave?" Why do we not talk of the abysmal wage compensation for child care workers? Why do we not talk of the fact that there is very little, truly excellent child care and when it is present such care is often prohibitively expensive save for the upper middle class? Perhaps our country really needs to examine the value it places on the life of its children once they are born, the value it places on the role of "mother" within our society, and the ability of woman to actually practically (as in feeding and clothing and protecting)enact that role. I find it offensive that the political and religious spheres have so debased the fuller implications of these issues-- turning abortion into a battleground of party affiliation and quantification of religious belief--because to me it all seems to be further indication of a deep-seeded refusal to confront the darker reality of what and who we really value, and who we patently do not.

I agree that the long used phrases of "pro-choice' and "pro-life" are misleading, misused and misunderstood. Though I tend to be aligned with the pro-life position philosophically, I refuse to justify it as my only reason for voting for a candidate -- and I resent religions who insist that their congregants do. While I deplore abortion I find myself almost secretly glad to see women take more responsibility for their reproductive health. I may intellectually be defined as pro-life, but emotionally pulled in another direction. Could it be that other women have such conflicting feelings? If so, isn't there more hope for understanding each other's positions?

My fundamental assumption about abortion is that it is the taking of innocent human life and is consequently never defensible. I am a pacifist and any kind of violence is abhorrence, but most especially lethal violence against an innocent person. I believe in the "Consistent Life Ethic" - a morality that excludes abortion, capital punishment, economic injustice, euthanasia, and war - and I also believe that violence done against another is violence done against the self.

One thing that I cannot understand about the public discussion of abortion is the argument in favor of abortion in the cases of rape. If you think that abortion is simply a personal choice to have a medical procedure, rape would be immaterial. A woman would just have an abortion at her own discretion, irrespective of how that pregnancy came about in the first place. If you think that abortion is the murder of a person, why would it be okay to murder a person who is the product of rape? It would certainly be a very difficult thing to bring that child to term, but would that justify murder?

Those who are pro-choice and pro-life need to understand that the others believe in their positions as fervently as they do and both sides should assume charity on the part of the other. I have heard those who are pro-choice use slanderous terminology toward my point of view (e.g. labeling me "anti-choice") and making broad and ignorant assumptions about my religious beliefs and whether or not I want to oppress women. I can understand that those who disagree with me believe in their convictions deeply and are not necessarily persons of bad faith; I would appreciate reciprocity. Also, both of these camps need to understand how the other frames the debate so they are not talking past one another: as I understand it, pro-lifers are primarily concerned with taking innocent human life; pro-choicers are primarily concerned with continuing women's liberation and personal autonomy.

I think that liberals have tried to undermine the terms pro-choice and pro-life because of the obvious implications - the "other guy" is anti-choice or anti-life. While it's noble to try to challenge these implicit problems, it's also a fool's errand. These terms are not going away and really, we need to just accept them for what they are: they are a badge of pride to those who use them and essentially a political slur for the others. It's best to keep on using those terms, as any new coinages will only encourage more new slurs and momentarily derail any substantive discussion to a semantic debate or a semantic shouting match. For better or worse, these are the words we have and no alternative is going to be better.

In closing, I would also like to point out that the argument from ignorance is clearly on the pro-life side. If we don't or can't know when personhood begins, we surely must err on the side of protecting innocent human life. This is the same assumption that is embedded in our legal system: innocent until proven guilty. Pro-lifers also need to stop combating abortion by assuming that illegalizing it will just make the problem go away. They need to provide the services to induce women to not want them in the first place as well as try to convince women of the reality that abortion is murder. Many women simply will not believe that and amongst those who do, they might still sanction the procedure (e.g. Naomi Wolf "Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die.") The position of many vocal pro-lifers is essentially a ham-fisted fundamentalism that requires the government to be a blunt instrument that enforces their morality and for each individual to accept a large amount of assumptions. This is wrong-headed on a variety of levels.

It may be my European background, but I believe the debate about abortion in this country is driven entirely too much by religion. That would not even be so terrible if we had equal access to health care for everybody, but we clearly don't, and now there's a movement afoot that wants to "protect" health care workers from being forced to provide care that may not jibe with their religious beliefs. There used to be a bumper sticker that said it far better than I can: "Keep your rosaries out of my ovaries!" I don't care what anybody chooses to believe, but I do care that they are trying to force their world view upon the rest of us. So until we have universal health care, abortions should be available upon demand to all women, with a sliding fee scale so that the poorest are not excluded.

If the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, shouldn't we start with making sure pregnant women have health insurance and health care? Then, maybe we should talk about health care and nutrition for the baby when it's born. Day care, education, parenting classes, etc., all should be taken into account. I think there are a lot of ways to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. if "pro-life" people would be willing to compromise.

A few years back I realized that if a person believes abortion is morally wrong that they probably are obligated to try and change the laws and policies associated with it. I respect civic action based on strongly held personal beliefs. However, in my world the people are more nuanced and less strident. I have had so many interesting discussions with women about abortion. Our opinions and conclusions are hard won but gently held; representing an uneasy truce among antipodal ideas.

The conversation about abortion, sex, and public funds is not improved by intellectual argument or debate. The context of a situation does matter. This is a heartfelt issue that cannot be "solved" as a problem and then dismissed. It is something our society should not rest easy with. The choices at the individual level are painful and never easy even when they are clear, therefore, it should not be easy at the public policy level either. That said, I am very sorry that the pain of the individual has been worsened by the public debate.

I wish we could offer each other the kindness of respectful listening. I wish it could be taken out of the public debate. I am very tired of this issue driving so much of our political system. It does not feel authentic or balanced. I do not think it is more important than war, greed, our relationship with the natural world, education or health care. I wish we could take all the money spent on abortion politics and create a fund that would be available to allow those women who believe they need abortions to be able to get them. Similarly, those who believe that adoption and support of children is right should set up a real safety net and a practical option for women who are in need. Let us replace the disapproval and anger of male politicians with the energy of kind solutions in hard times.

I worry about the apparent increasing insensitivity of large numbers of people in our society (although certainly not limited to our society, or even Western society) to the wonder and mystery of life -- all life, but in particular human life. But even assuming this awesome and unfathomable quality of human life does not lead one to easy answers on the question of abortion.

It is just as arbitrary, and therefore arrogant, to assume that meaningful life does not begin until the final trimester of embryonic development as it is to assume that it begins with conception. Those who maintain that we must respect the wonder and value of life as early as conception may offer, quite rightly, as their rationale that the very potential for two united cells to develop into the fullness of a human being gives us reason to regard as awesome and wondrous even life at this very early stage. Those who suggest that it is at some later stage in embryonic development, where potential becomes significantly realized and, therefore, demonstrable, and is where respect for life as human and, hence, significantly meaningful, also present a plausible argument.

However, both positions rest upon an essentially arbitrary understanding of what can rightly be regarded as 'meaningful' life, and therefore deserving of the moral or -- even more complex -- legal protections of society. This can only lead to the conclusion that we, as mere moral and finite human beings, are not given and -- by the ultimately unanswerable nature of the issues involved -- shall never be able to answer this question.

The implication, then, of this 'agnosticism', of our recognition that we are not able to determine at what point life becomes truly significant, or 'human', is that we must approach life in its early stages with an attitude of giving it the 'benefit' of our doubts. Although this throws the weight of the argument in favor of those who would accord reverence and human significance to the simple cellular union at conception, it does not share the dogmatic and arrogant 'certainty' of most who assert the same conclusion.

This more respectfully cautious conclusion shows more respect to those who differ, assuming the latter recognize the contingency of their own position. And those who hold either position on the abortion question -- that is, the question of "At what point are we morally obligated to regard life as truly human and therefore deserving of protection?" -- should realize that one's answer to this question does not immediately solve the question of when it is permissible to abort, much less the question of when legal sanctions should be invoked to enforce the protection of 'meaningful' life, or to punish infringements of this protection.

Here one has to consider the very difficult question of "Life vis a vis life" -- e.g., the protection of the life of the mother or the life of the unborn child?, where both cannot be assured. In this circumstance, perhaps we must conclude that only the mother can decide. For anyone else -- and certainly the state -- there can be no morally 'right' answer. Far more complex are questions that weigh such matters as quality of life, whether it be the future quality of life of the mother or the future quality of life of the child. 'Complex', because we have no easy answers in regard to what kind of qualitative factors are morally worthy of our consideration, and how to rank one worthy quality relative to another when they come into conflict. This is where convenience has too often been confused with 'quality', particularly by those who argue, without qualification, for 'abortion on demand.' 'Complex', also because there are many different circumstances in which the expectant mother, and sometimes society, must weigh the issues. Therefore, being neither expectant nor a female who might become expectant, I must open the discussion at this point to others more qualified.

Beyond this, the only other requisite qualification, but an extraordinarily important one, to my thinking, for entering into this extremely important discussion, is that the participants be those who have what, I think we can say, IS a distinctly human quality: a profound sense of true mystery and wonderment in regard to all life, and particularly human life.

She has emerald green almond shaped eyes – a gorgeous middle school cheerleader that’s also a devoted science student. She never shares a negative word – never a negative thought… And her younger sister, tall and strong with over-sized chestnut eyes and expressive brows. She’s possibly the best swimmer for her age in the state – and has superlative leadership and organizational skills. And she’s devoted to her brother. He is only five years old. But he already shows a prodigious ability to win over people. He’s the little Irish-looking boy that marches onto the playground and immediately develops rapport and relationships with any one and every one, ages 2-20. He stumbled into what looked like a black family’s union at the park the other day – and after a couple of gentle rebuffs, he finally succeeded in tempting several of those kids to play on his terms.

These are my children. Even as young people, each has demonstrated special skills and passions that our society will need to survive. Each could literally be responsible for the scientific or athletic or political breakthrough that could save our world from the brink of destruction.

And all were candidates for abortion. My wife and I adopted each from different birth parents and through different circumstances.

I don’t argue technically & esoterically about when life begins. I just know that without them, the world would be a lesser place. Of the million abortions each year in the US, how many of those could have contributed to a better world – but won’t get the chance?

I am a Catholic nun who has ministered to people who either have had an abortion or close to someone who has.I have worked with women who are in abusive situations that would only worsen with another child. I have worked with families whose marriages are on the brink and another child woould collapse it. I have had to think and pray over the issue. I think abortion is a terrible solution to a human problem and a woman lives with it all her life- even if it is just thoughts of- that child would be 12 now, or ready for marriage. I do not go with the thinking that a soul is present at the moment of conception.I do think it is reasonable to think that little form at 3+ months is a human life. Every seed that is planted does not have to germinate to breathing life. Though all life forms are precious and should not arbitrarily be expended. I think calling this pro choice and pro life does not begin to identify the issue. I am pro life AND pro choice. I want all life placed in our hands to be treated with respect, dignity and the supports needed to not just survice but thrive. It is too easy for my own church(and others as well) to tell its congregation not to vote for anyone who supports pro choice- then in direct or indirect ways promote war and ongoing war, not call to account congregations to support legistlation and local programs that help support the lives who are born- young, elderly infirm, handicapped, and oppressed-to be strong and viable; not to recognize and put our name and votes down on our responsibility to be good caretakers of our world; to be our brothers keeper when people are being murdered by the thousands in other parts of the world; to remove the death penalty and work toward a prison reform that addresses racism and rehabilitation support congregations that vote down be wholesome. There is the whole to be uplifted not just a frament. And I think people of faith have an obligation to put their minds and spirit to the whole issue, to ensuring practical ways that all life and all of life can be respected and supported. For all this I do not want a woman jailed or punished( of course her cosort would rarely be indicted)should she seek an abortion. I would want that there be so many supports and resources and alternatives available ( and well known) that a woman would not have to make a choice between the life of her baby and her own survical and wellbeing. Should she have an abortion I would like to see healing clinics to help her and her partners grow on with their lives in a wholesome way.

Many years ago a dear friend and I who agree on much but have diametrically opposed views on abortion, initiated and co-facilitated a Commmon Ground on Abortion group. We tried to have equal numbers of people who did not, and did support legal abortion. The group continued for perhaps 2.5 years, with some attrition, but always interesting discussions.

The goal was for people to be able to speak their views without being attacked or even judged by others, and to move into topics where we would seek to find areas of agreement. This proved to be very difficult in a number of ways. Some people could not stick to the rules that we not pass judgment on another's views, and we often found far more areas of disagreement than agreement.

It was good for people to see that not everyone "on the other side" or on one's own side was the same; there was diversity of views and in how we got to our views on each side.

We had one notable public success; shortly after Dr. Bernard Slepian, an abortion provider, was shot and killed while standing in his kitchen by a sharpshooter some distance from the house shooting through the window, we wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, noting that though we disagreed on abortion, we all agreed that violence of any kind, most especially hurting/killing people was wrong and not the way to deal with the explosive issue of abortion.

As for labels, I would let people define their views, and try to minimize the use of short-hand phrases such as pro-life and pro-choice. The media were key in moving the nation to those simplified labels and I wish they could be part of a less inflammatory reporting and presenting of views.

I don't think we are going to get to agreement on this issue, so we need to figure out a way, in our own lives, in our laws and in health care practice, and assistance to pregnant women and new parents, to allow for some midground. Many European countries have moved to one strategy which is to promote and provide for very early abortion, but make later abortions harder, and to make sure that people understand the important role of contraception and have access to safe, legal ways to prevent pregnancy.

I am very involved in my church and my views on abortion have always been very much linked to my religious/spiritual views and my values, and my hopes for a world that is better than the one we now inhabit, so I hope the issue of abortion will not continue to be seen and approached in divisive, simplistic ways. We need also to discuss the many other issues which influence situations where abortion is sought. Ideas about sexuality, about how children are provided for and on shrinking gendered division of labor, adn media role in encouraging sexual objectification of women and irresponsible sexuality are some of the topics that we need public conversations on.

Krista, et al., All of the abortion debate seems to center around a definition of when life begins. That is an interesting distraction. Why do I say distraction? Simply because a lot of things are alive, my plants are alive, my cats are alive, every cell in my body (with the technical exception of my nails and hair) are alive. Does being pro life mean that I murder plants when I eat a tomato? Is having my appendix removed and act of murder? The reality is that what we are asking for is a definition of "Human Life." Theologians have wrestled with this for a long time and the first know treatise on this topic was written by St. Augustine. To Augustinian theology an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy would constitute adultery, not murder because he did not consider a fetus at that stage of development to be human -- potentially human, but not fully human. The reality, known by just about every couple trying to have a child, is that few fertilized eggs actually implant in the uterus, and of those not all make it to full term and birth. Left to the natural state of human fertility fully human life is not as simple as having an egg fertilized by sperm. Now we enter into the realm of intent. Do the people who created the child actually want the child? There is a presumption that they do, but there are a lot of unwanted children in this world -- I know because I am one of them. Yes, my parents saw me through to birth and beyond but I was often told that I was both unplanned and unwanted and a burden to them. More often than not in the phrase "I'll make you wish you were never born." Sixty plus years later there is rarely a day when I do not realize that perhaps they were right and I should not have been born. The other consideration is that many pregnancies are involuntary not simply because of recreational sex, but of coercive sex or rape/incest. Are these fertilized eggs to become humans just because the egg was fertilized even though the child is a product of and involuntary situation that happened to the mother? I do not support abortion as a method of birth control, but I do support it if the mother does not want to bring the fertilized egg into the state being fully human. Largely because there will always be a lingering displeasure with the person formed from this ill-conceived union. Finally, there is a cure to the unwanted pregnancy: Economic opportunity for both women and men. Look at the fertility rates in Japan and Singapore where there is boundless opportunity to women and men based on the education and economies available to them. In these countries fertility rates are less than one to one. George N. Wells 166 Brook Drive Dover, NJ 07801-4705 973.361.1776 (Home) 973.270.8135 (Cell) teamwells1@verizon.net

Comments on abortion

As I listened to your request for comments on abortion this morning, Saturday Oct 4, I am motivated to respond to tell how the many women in my life: grandmothers, mothers, aunts, my intersection with pregnancy, my peers in high school, my adult friends, and over the last six months my nephews’ choices.

My simple comment on how abortion intersects, has intersected my life is that it appears any possible termination of pregnancy is always present when a women is with child. In most cases the loss of a child, no matter what case, follows the arc of a pregnancy until a child is born or lost.

For me the current political debate on what abortion is or is not is Abstract, not real. I greatly appreciated President Clinton’s framing abortion as (and I paraphrase here) something that should be infrequent. Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama have kept this goal in their comments on abortion too. And when I talk with my family and friends who don’t support abortion I turn to Clinton’s axiom. This is where we can agree: keeping unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. We also agree that all of our goals on abortion should be supporting the decline of aborted pregnancies. (Character building and self-knowledge along with education is how we can achieve this goal.)

If all of us would seek out women’s stories on their intersections of choice throughout the 20th century I think our understandings and conclusions on this reality in women’s and men’s lives would point us to: every choice is personal and private based on their specific situation. (I support a women’s right to choose based on keeping medical choices available as they are needed. Legislating medical treatments/procedures is just wrong-headed.)

The apparent absence of women’s stories, of their personal intersections with choice, in the political dialog is the problem. But I also know that the private, these private experiences, don’t belong in political discourse. Ultimately, can we conclude that the conversations on the right to life, the right to choose should occur more closely to home and not be politicized?

After setting out this preamble, I was going to proceed with stories of my intersections with abortion choices, but now I realize it is unimportant to tell my specific education. The point is that I am better educated by knowing that unwanted pregnancies occur and in hearing of my friends and families experiences with this reality helped me appreciate the biggest possible picture of what this issue is. Unwanted pregnancies are apart of most family histories and should be shared– I believe this how character is developed. It is important for the young to hear and be witness to all moral challenges– and what better witness and teacher than one’s family.

I am a pro choice Christian Democrat. I see abortion as a symptom of a problem, just as I see the use of the death penalty as a symptom, as I see the wars we are involved in as a symptom. The virus is poverty. This belief coincides perfectly with my understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach us. If you take care of the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, the symptoms will disappear. You treat the VIRUS not the symptoms. When someone speaks of the right to choose, they ASSUME there is a choice to be made. A woman with no money, health care, or support sometimes feels she doesn't have a choice. Sara Palin's daughter has a choice because she comes from a supportive, wonderful family. What about the girl in the inner city who has a poor education, and comes from a family with no education and so on? Where are her choices? The immorality lies with the condemnation of people in whose shoes you have not walked. The spirituality and redemption comes with the education, the spiritual awakening of someone who has the choice and can make the right one, because her bases are covered.

I understand the people who feel differently, I really do. I only question the intent of a political party who trolls out the abortion and gay rights issues every four years and then, alas, does nothing about it. I see the issue as a political ploy.

Others don't need to understand me for me to feel comfortable in my position. I say the things I say out of love. Love for those who agree, and those who disagree.

I tend to dislike labels but feel they are sometimes necessary. I do not, however, think that pro life or pro choice actually describe the issue. The pro life movement EXCLUDES the rights of the LIVING and the pro choice movement ASSUMES a choice. They are both wrong.

Fully embracing a woman's right to choose, I wonder where the men are in this conversation.

We do not make ourselves pregnant, yet the burden of abortion is exclusively female. Shouldn't men somehow be 'morally' involved in this debate?

I suspect the reason for this is partially within the culture practice of 'blaming' the woman, expecting her to live to a higher moral standard, and excusing men from their behavior due to their cultural power and also because culturally we allow 'boys to be boys'.

I also wonder, however, if just as much as men view women as either 'Madonna' or 'whore', women see men as either 'abuser' or 'savior', with no middle ground. And I believe solutions / answers are quite often found in this middle ground.

Thank you for your thought provoking dialogues. My life has been greatly enhanced since I discovered your program. I organize forums for non-profits and quite often look to your programs for assistance with respect to structure, forming questions, and a standard of excellence.

about the show on abortion. you wanted new perspectives. I would like to suggest that any discussion of the termination of a life in utero, whenever it starts, be coupled with the death penalty question. A life is a life. Once any exception is made [heinous murder, suicide, war, ["collateral damage" = "fetus as an innocent" arguement, doesnt it?], insurance decision to not pay for life sustaining medication/procedure, etc, etc], then everything is open for examonation. Hmmm. Why havent those that are Pro-life been vocal about protesting ANY lose of innocent life? Unless white, Christian embryos are more important than all other innocents. Just some thoughts

When I hear those who oppose abortion expressing themselves with such force and confidence, I wonder what they know about the lives of the women they are condemning. I spent yesterday volunteering as a chaplain in the recovery room of a Planned Parenthood clinic. I don't think I met a single woman there who did not see her abortion as a life-changing experience. Many women were there because they were physically unable to bear another child due to high blood pressure, spinal deformities, and other issues which made childbearing against their doctor's orders. There were a lot of tears, and a lot of faithful Catholic women praying that their priests would be able to help them heal from this experience.

After women leave the recovery room, they have a family planning consultation to help make sure they do not have another unwanted pregnancy. Only 5% of Planned Parenthood's work involves abortion. The other 95% is directed toward family planning and women's reproductive health. The goal is to reduce the need for abortions to zero. We can all pray that this goal is achieved.

It would be helpful if the federal government would join us in this work, instead of limiting federal funding to abstinence-only sex education, which has proved to be a remarkable failure and a waste of funds that could have been better spent to reduce the need for abortions.

I would like to see us abandon the polarizing phrases pro-life and pro-choice. Instead, how about using a phrase we can all agree on: pro-family. This would include all aspects of nurturing and sustaining families, instead of focusing only on the abortion issue, which is a small part of the total picture, and a great distraction from what could be a productive discourse.

I respect the intention to connect and consider the unborn; but ultimately, it is the decision of the mother to nurture the fetus or not. The debate does not recognize the magnamity of being a parent nor does it respect the needs of the mother which have to drive the decision nurture or not. No mother makes that decision lightly: it is agonizing and it has dire repercussions for the future of that woman.

I want to understand why the "pro-life" movements thinks that society has a collective right to override a woman's decision on such an intimate and life-altering decision. The way I see it, government legislation over fertility sets dangerous precedents in family planning issues like access to procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligation and in end-of-life care issues such as DNR orders.

Why should government be so involved in these kinds deeply personal health and family issues?

I grew up with no information about birth control and with a deep need for the love and protection I didn't get from my father. I am deeply familiar with the kinds of emotional needs that drive women to make poor choices in intimacy. At 23, I was still not using birth control, and became pregnant. Deeply depressed and alone in my life, I chose to have an abortion. The clinic visit for the abortion was the first time I had any comprehensive review of birth control options, and I went on the pill.

At 20, I was raped by the uncle of a friend in a foreign country; I did not go to the police. Fortunately, I did not become pregnant. I simply cannot fathom a society that would force a woman to have a baby originating in a rape or incestuous relation.

I think that human sexuality is a complex issue, that there are so many intricate factors that play into whether a woman has an unplanned pregnancy. I believe that the conversation should shift to policies that lessen unplanned pregnancy. Men should be included in the discussion. Centering the conversation on abortion criminalizes a women's role in sexuality. And in criminalizing that role, we are left with an environment in which it's okay to kill doctors who perform this procedure, in which women don't feel safe sharing their stories, and which doesn't look at the very depressing statistics of women raising children alone.

Two in five women have had an abortion. It's a open secret and those of us who have had abortions don't talk about them and can't talk about them. The frame of reference should include privacy, whether women have a right to own their uteruses or whether the government gets to legislate that. It should also include the impact on women's equality - unless women can control their family planning, they can't achieve economic and social equality.

I am a practicing Buddhist. I do not believe that life begins at conception. And I believe that this decision is for the individual who will have to answer for whatever karma derives from abortion.

Thanks for opening this dialogue. I am 47 now, and I am raising two children alone. Being a parent has compelled me to do a lot of healing work to be a better parent. But I have resources most don't have.

I am perplexed as to why the pro-life movement never voices an interest in protecting the life of death row inmates and victims of war. I have trouble trusting the motives of people who only seem to be interested in protecting life when it relates to abortion.

It also seems like some representatives of the pro-life movement would also like to limit women's access to birth control, and I'm not talking about the morning after pill. There was a Frontline a few years ago on the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. By their account reduced access to abortion in Mississippi has lead to reduced access to affordable birth control and has resulted in even more unwanted pregnancies. I am sure increases in the number of woman and children living in poverty are so to follow.

Abstinence only sex education is another policy that increases the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I am a Buddhist, pro-choice, RN, mother of 4, democrat who would like to see fewer abortions and more limits on late term abortions. I would especially like to continue living in a country where you rarely hear about a desperate woman dieing from a botched abortion.

I was interested to discover in my Buddhist studies that there was a period in the largely Buddhist nation of Japan's history when access to birth control was very limited despite it's availability in the west. This resulted in many Japanese women using abortion as their primary form of birth control. Buddhist often feel uncomfortable killing bugs so I imagine this caused some ethical anxiety. The practical issues of unwanted pregnancies must have out weighed the ethical concerns. They seem to have dealt with this in an interesting way. Jizo (the Bodhisattva of the unborn, travelers and children who have died) is very popular in Japan. Japanese woman often participate in Jizo ceremonies to honor and ask for assistance for the souls of their water children who were lost to abortion.

I prefer to use the term anti-abortion instead of pro-life. As I explained before, there are more situations where life is in need of protection than just abortion.

My great-aunt Nellie died from abortion-induced peritonitis in 1913. My grandmother told me this when I was 19. She also told me that in 1925 she - my grandmother - became pregnant with her 4th child, my mother. My grandmother was a busy grocery store owner. In the Roaring Twenties women were feeling their independence and their rights. All her friends, she said, urged her to have an abortion. There was no mention of sin (she was Catholic), only decisions to be made. My grandmother remembered her beloved Nellie and was scared to die... so she went ahead... my mother was born... and I am here.

Later I got the transcript of the coroners inquest for Nellie's "homicide": http://www.madinpursuit.com/Family/Barrett/FlanaganNellie02.htm. It's a chilling tale and my heart aches for Nellie's last desperate hours. But the rippling of her story through my history gives me more questions than conclusions. It reminds me that life is fabulously complex and decisions echo wondrously through history.

i strongly believe that the language of used concerning this matter, by you, by others who i thought were more thoughtful, more progressive, helps in keeping this a polarizing issue.

this is and always has been a matter of privacy. period. dot. the end.

even moving from 'anti abortion' and 'pro-life' (we now have a self proclaimed pro life candidate for VP who is not pro moose life, or pro wolf life) to 'anti-choice' is not going to get where we need to go. continuing to use 'anti abortion' leaves no room for someone who may have chosen abortion and doesn't consider it an easy choice.

regarding your questions about moral and spiritual aspects - another matter of privacy and choice concerning a vast array of circumstances that must be made case by case by individuals - is one prepared emotionally, physically, logistically, healthwise, financially to care for and support in every way another human? what is the likely outcome for everyone involved? that something no one but the people directly involved can answer.

thank god the state i was living in when i was a pregnant teen was more progressive than most since roe v. wade had not yet come about. My state had a constitutional right to protect the health (mental and physical) and welfare of the mother. and thank god i had parents who knew how to support the decision of a scared and confused child.

unless and until journalists and politicians as well as anyone who wants to have a thoughtful and intelligent conversation about this begins speaking about PRIVACY, the polarization and vehemence and divisiveness will remain.

Thank you for having such a wonderful program with fabulous guests. I look forward to it every week and always learn from it.

I enjoy listening to your program on WAMU Sunday mornings. I come from the liberal end of the spectrum. I can not believe that the monks in South East Asia are not people of God and so I find any religion that holds that you have to believe in Jesus are destined to eternal damnation. So I like hearing the exploration of other religious traditions. In this morning’s program you asked us to share our beliefs about abortion. I have long been frustrated about how limited the debate has been. I understand that in the Jewish tradition they do not have a conflict between the commandment not to kill and early abortions and that is the position that I can support. I find it much more difficult to square the commandment with capital punishment or, more importantly still – the Bush administration’s concept of preemptive war. I believe life begins at conception, but human life does not. I do not believe that a zygote of human cells is human. Until the sole enters the body human cells do not constitute a human being. The question is when does a collection of human cells constitute a human being? Perhaps the definition of the beginning of human life should be the same as the end of human life – when organized brain activity begins. Certainly that could not occur until brain cells have differentiated from other cells, so stem cells by definition would not be human beings. It occurs before birth since late term fetuses respond to music and other external stimulations. The beginning of brain activity depends on the fetus; some fetuses are born without a fully developed brain. Because of these differences and the health of the mother and child, it should be up to the doctor and the mother to decide whether a fetus should be aborted or not. Government should be involved.

There is a lot of talk about "Judeo-Christian values, especially on the right, but no one seems to know or care about Jewish views on abortion. I often feel left out of what is a debate among Christians. This is partly because 99% of Christians think that Judaism begins and ends with the "Old Testament". The don't know what the Talmud or Rashi or Maimonides said about when life begins adn most of them don't care to know.

There is one exception. The right wing Christians who compare the abortion to the Holocaust. I feel that this is offensive and it is an insult to the memory of the actual Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Personally, I think that abortion should be legal, because there is such a variety of beliefs about abortion and when life begins that I don't think you can force one stance on anyone. Jews are a small minority and our voice alwaysw get lost. Also, Evangelicals would make birth control available only to married couples if they could, which makes it hard to find common ground.

I am a life-long devout Christian who for the most part vote Democratic. My views are liberal because I believe this is consistently in line with Christ's concern about feeding the poor, visiting the sick, and expressing a loving attitude toward others. I have had a lot of contact with very conservative Christians. I respect many I have known. Others, as I see it, tend to be militant and "hell-fire-and-damnation." (The "damned" being those who disagree with them.) Their militancy arose during the "holiness" movement of the mid-nineteenth century---a reaction against liberalizing intellectual views. In the twentieth century, during the cold war, they were "anti-Communist" against fellow Americans who didn't agree with them. As Communism has declined, they have grasped the abortion and gay marriage issues as "damned." Karl Rove and others have cynically pandered to these very often sincere individuals, equating Christianity with the Republican Party.
As a woman and a retired physician, I am well aware that the vast majority of women take abortion very seriously and struggle with such a decision. There is a strong sexist component to the anti-abortion folks. They often seem not to care what happens to mother and baby after the birth---or whether the father has any responsibility at all.
The issue is not whether abortion is good or bad---most people see it as tragic. The real issue is whether the government should be involved. Individuals who don't want the government to help provide education and health care for those who need it seem comfortable with the government enforcing decisions about abortion and gay marriage.
The people Jesus spoke out against most often were the church leaders of his day---not those ordinary individuals struggling with the moral issues of everyday life.

My "story" is one of fatigue at the loose language and self-righteous judgmentalism that permeate most discussions on abortion. According to reproductive experts, there is no "moment of conception," so how can human life begin at the moment of conception? (Like so much that is human, conception is a process, not a moment.) For approximately two weeks after fertilization, or until the fertilized egg is safely implanted in the uterus, there is no guarantee that a fetus will develop, so the "morning after" pill cannot be described as an abortifacient. There really is such a thing as a necessary, or therapeutic, end to a pregnancy, so the loaded term "abortion" cannot bear the same moral weight in every instance. Many cultures and religious traditions have a teaching about when human life begins; these differ so widely (from the "moment of conception" through the first breath after birth) that enacting public policy based on one/any tradition is completely irresponsible.

Suggestion: find and read the late Richard McCormick, SJ's article, "Abortion: The Unexplored Middle Ground" for some points where meaningful dialogue may actually be possible. (It was my privilege to study with Dick as part of my doctoral studies in theology at Notre Dame before he died too young. His breadth of expertise was infused with a deep pastoral sense and true respect for every person he met.)

Let me begin by putting myself in a box. I am a passionate Christian who considers the sanctity of life to be the most important political issue. I am also a registered Democrat. It's a lonely box.

My parents pushed me to really think about my faith as I was growing up. They wanted my faith to be mine, not just a reproduction of theirs. This push led me to think about a lot of issues connected to my spiritual beliefs. One of these issues is abortion. What do I believe and why?

I grew up in a loving pro-life family. My parents walked their talk, adopting two of their six children and serving as a refuge for young(usually unmarried) pregnant women and their children. Many of the adults in my life, at home and at church, spewed hateful words when referring to pro-choice, 'pro-abortion' and even, 'anti-life' people. Leaders in my church compared the fight for life to the abolition of slavery, ending Nazi rule in Germany and the civil rights movement.

I find these comparisons problematic. To compare abortion to these events is to equate abortion with acts of hate. I do not think that women who chose abortion do so out of hate. That said, I do believe that abortion is a human rights issue. This is where many of my loved ones would move on to speak about the rights of the unborn child. While agree that unborn children should have the opportunity to live their lives, I think the more productive conversation would be to speak about the rights of the pregnant woman. What events brought her to such a heart breaking choice? If we unpacked every story of every woman who has had an abortion I think we would discover that woman thinking about abortion have suffered great injustice.

I do believe that abortions result in the loss of life and I don't want them to happen. I also believe that making abortion illegal is not the best way to prevent abortions. I think that the best way to prevent abortions is to deal with the injustices that lead women to unwanted pregnancies and to chose abortion. These injustices, in my opinion, are connected to other sanctity of life issues such as education, poverty, war, exploitation, oppression, violence and poor health care.

I could continue to unpack this issue but I will end my story here. Thank you for your show. It's nice to know that my box isn't as lonely as I thought it was.

I am retired after a 30 year career in Public Health Administration, during which time I oversaw along with others a multitude of local programs, amongst which were services commonly known as family planning. Often to the general public's surprise, abortion was and still is not a part of publicly funded services and never a means of contraception.

I witnessed first hand how the pro choice and pro life "conversation" has waxed and waned over three decades. At its worst, while my dire prediction fortunately did not come true, that this issue would split our nation much as our Civil War did, I have come to sense that both sides want the same thing, namely unintended pregnancies.

If as a nation we can drive hard at re-framing the conversation to unintended pregnancies and do better at sex education for all people, not just adolescents, we will perhaps have made great progress. Secondly, I agree there is a moral and ethical element to this issue, but we also need to re-frame that part, not just as the domain of faith or religion, but include in the conversation the practical aspects for the consequences of our personal choices.

Thank you.

ps Amy and Krista were marvelous on the show this morning.

Though I live in Nebraska now, I was born and raised in South Florida to a family of Democrats. Though my family was not overtly political, I would say we were a pro-choice family. I grew up into feminism from an inherent sense of equality, and as I delved into academic and activist feminism in college, I became very familiar with the standard feminist pro-choice position. I even wrote an op-ed in my college newspaper stating that the only difference between Gore/Democrat and Bush/Republican was abortion rights. (Boy was I wrong there!) I understand and support the standard pro-choice reasoning.

However, shortly after college, I got pregnant. I was not married. My boyfriend lived in another state (Nebraska). I was in an entry-level job and lived with my parents. An ardent feminist and pro-choice supporter in a classic scenario, right?

I never once thought about abortion. I was so happy to be carrying a child. The love my son has brought into my life is beyond anything I could have reasoned. My experience as a mother has colored my thoughts on the abortion debate. And as I have matured, I have tired of the strident positions and negative energy on both sides of the debate. It's time to rethink things when this one single issue informs your vote. There are so many things going badly right now. It's time to introduce tolerance and nuance back into the American dialogue.

I am still a supporter of legalized abortion, but there are some things that I have never had the courage to say out loud. Having carried two children in my womb, I believe that every conception is a life. And if you have an abortion you are ending a potential life. That being said, I believe that women have the right to have an abortion. It is their choice. God gave us free choice. If it's good enough for God, why isn't good enough for pro-lifers?

I have heard that it is murder. Yes, if I believe that every conception is life then I have to admit that it is a type of murder. But I think that even murder has nuance and that laws are established to protect societal peace. Killing an adult in the act of passion or with calculation has societal consequenses if left unchecked. An abortion has no negative societal impact that I can pinpoint. We have accidental murders. We have state sanctioned murder. We have self-defence. We let people go without healthcare that could save them. Murder has shades of grey.

I would like us to ask ourselves - WHY does a woman have an abortion and what can we do as a society to support that woman so that she doesn't feel like she has no other choice? That is a debate I want to see. If we have pro-life values in this country, that shouldn't stop at birth. If we beleive that it is worth it to save a life, then we need to support mothers who want to keep their children. If that means welfare and education and child-care support then so be it. If that means creating a national dialogue around adoption that gives diginity and support to a mother to carry her child for 9 months and then give that child up to someone better sitauted then so be it.

I think abortion is a values debate. But I think that we need to be ready to put up or shut up. If you don't want women to have abortions than give them a good reason not to. I have carried two children in my womb. I know that it would not be an easy decision to kill that child. We need to be ready to give them other real options. THAT is the way to reduce abortions in this country.

When I had my abortion, I didn't feel that I could do right by a child, but steeped in the rhetoric of choice, I wasn't prepared for the sudden knowledge that I was engaged in a life and death choice for baby. I felt a need to mourn afterwords, and at the same time felt that I didn't have the right to (especially faced with the miscarriage of a co-worker.) The Japanese have a way to mourn aborted children -even a temple dedicated to that purpose- and we would do emulate them.

I feel that once pregnant we are responsible for the potential child, and the decision to abort should be dependent upon whether or not we can do well by that child. When I was pregnant I was in a disintegrating marriage and I had no skills, living far from family. I wasn't sure I could take care of myself, let alone a child. And the idea of giving away my flesh and blood was inconceivable- a topic that should be explored further as it seems to be a visceral value at least as strong as the right of the fetus to life. I had hoped my husband would come through and declare he was willing to pump gas or whatever it took, but he wasn't willing to step up to fatherhood and I wasn't willing to bring a child to life under those circumstances.

I declared then that I would never have an abortion again. However many years later, with one child and a mentally unstable husband who would have fallen over the edge if we had a second child, I was forced to concede that if I had gotten pregnant, the life of my born child and the mental health of my husband would have trumped the potential life of a fetus.

I believe that abortion does violence to the mother at some level. It may still be the best decision, but it does not come without cost. I have medically treated Russian women who have had ten or twelve abortions, having lived in a society where other contraception was unavailable, and it leaves psychic scars.

While I do not believe that government can or should make a decision that involves weighing delicate competing interests, I find it appalling how many pregnancies end in abortion. All sides of the on the debate should find common ground in reducing the need for abortion.

The two best ways to prevent abortions are to make contraception available and to provide economic supports for women who bear children so that they can raise them properly. Absent such supports- which would include health care and enough welfare to support a child, with no penalties for part time work or requirements to work with a child below school age, we cannot claim a culture that values the life of a potential child.

An intriguing example of recent Evangelical approaches to reducing abortion and promoting alternative choices is the counseling/prenatal services ministry of a non-profit called "A Woman's Concern." http://www.awomansconcern.org/ These folks have gone beyond the conventional approach of counseling/pregnancy testing to also provide ultrasound imaging and parenting classes. I believe that their ambition is ultimately to provide comprehensive pre-natal care. That's costly The organization was founded in the mid-1990s by a christian minister, John Ensor. John has since moved on to larger things: http://heartbeatinternational.org/ He has also written a number of books http://www.amazon.com/Doing-Things-Right-Matters-Heart/dp/1581348428/ref... http://www.amazon.com/Experiencing-Gods-Forgiveness-Journey-Gladness/dp/... http://www.amazon.com/Great-Work-Gospel-Experience-Grace/dp/1581347731/r... I've known John since the early 1990s. He's a gentle soul and, I think, a good example of a "middle way" in the Evangelical engagement with Abortion. The great objection of Evangelical pro-choicers is that the principal concern of "pro-life" believers is to stop abortion, and that there is little concern for families in distress. I think that John's work is a significant move in the direction of addressing that objection, though there is doubtless much further progress to be made. He might be a very worthwhile interviewee for your show. Sincerely, Sam Conner

If we want to get beyond the intransigence characterizing much public debate on abortion, it is less important to state what we think individually than to seek common ground in the underlying principles that drive our divergent positions. From a conventional moral perspective the onus is on the pro-choice contingent. Pro-life advocates are unlikely to be dissuaded of their conviction that equates abortion with pre-meditated taking of human life. Even so, few pro-lifers are pacifists. If pro-lifers acknowledge that some instances of pre-meditated killing are morally defensible, perhaps they can be persuaded to contemplate the legitimacy of others who define exceptions different from their own. Understanding that thoughtful advocates on both sides of the argument share common philosophical precepts is an important step towards dialogue.

This is how I feel about the abortion issue. Abortion SHOULD NOT BE A LEGISLATED ISSUE - period.

Abortion should be something that is strictly between a woman and her medical professional. Should a woman decide it's best that she have an abortion, then it should be a medical procedure like any other.

It is abhorrent to me that lawmakers, (and let's face it - this has typically meant men) have been given the power to speak for any woman regarding this very private and personal issue.

Again - Abortion should not be a legislated issue.

Thank you.

Sara Breeze

Ever since I was an irresponsible teenager, raised by a single mother, I have considered myself pro-choice. The way I rationalized it was by asking myself what kind of life I would like to live, and what kind of life I wouldn't be willing to live. There were all kinds of scenarios in which the answer to this question seemed obvious to me. I would not want to be raised by an irresponsible teenage mother without the support of her family. I would not want to live so severely mentally handicapped that I couldn't think about the things that matter to me or engage in meaningful relationships. Thankfully, I was never faced with this choice... until now. My partner and I finally became pregnant after careful consideration, and several repeated tries. At our ultrasound last week, we found out that there are at least three common markers of down syndrome present in our baby. Ironically, we had spent the previous evening making not-so-appropriate comments during the vice presidential debate about Sarah Palin's decision to carry her baby with down syndrome to term. Though we are not actually at that point yet, it is likely, or at least possible that we are going to find ourselves in one of these places where we will be forced to make a decision that, previous to it actually coming up, we thought we knew the answer to. Enough so to joke about it. The truth is that we don't know how to make this decision. We are not even thinking about it in the same way that we were able to, so abstractly, so detached, as a voter, or as an opinionated citizen. The decisions we make as citizens, the decision to take one side or another, is completely different from the actual decision of whether or not to have an abortion. You do not even use the same part of your brain. I have heard many people claim that they are pro-choice, but would never have an abortion themselves. I wondered about the circumstances they imagined themselves in, how they knew what kind of decision they would be able to make or not. It seems almost foreign to me, now, to think of myself as the pro-choice, cynical, rational, level headed person I was before last week. I am not that person now. I think that there is room for much to be done in terms of separating out these two, very different, kinds of decisions people are faced with and, in the case of the decision to take one side or another, I believe that there is far less content to either position than we initially assume. It is not at all clear to me that I meant ANYTHING by being pro-choice before this happened.

In the 70's I worked in a "Family Planning" clinic in Chicago's downtown loop. Very high end offices where family planning consisted primarily of abortions and other physical interventions to end pregnancy or ensure no pregnancy would begin. I saw a lot of things, flight attendants using abortion as a type of birth contol, young women scared "to death", foreign women with too many children who did not want their husbands to know they where they were, and older women with attentive husbands who definitely did not want "change of life" families. This work became the foundation for my beliefs about abortion. The business was extremely lucritive; plush offices, penthouse lunches, quietly coming and going doctors in Jaguars, which unsettled me somewhat. Some family planning counseling was offered by staff, I was a 23 yr old barely trained intake clerk, hardly qualified to help women through such difficult decisions. Rarely, did a woman leave the office without having a "procedure". They seemed to be relatively well informed and quite clear in their decision. The women whom I saw who changed their minds were typically young, alone or with their boyfriends. If Mom or Dad was there they went through with the "family" decision.

I believe termination of pregnancy is a personal decision, at the same time I appreciate the guidance supplied by laws and regulaitons and am deeply concerned about the chronic divisiveness of the issue in our culture. Later term abortions after 12 weeks or so, give me a cold chill, by that time the fetus has almost made its own decision. I have read that 80% of all fertizied eggs go down the drain so, early termination is in some ways natural and protects reproductive rights.

In the clinic days, I was struck by the number of young women who repeatedly used abortion as a method of birthcontrol. That did not seem a well thought out plan, they seemed unaware of the physical risks of the procedures, and unconcerned with the possible cosmic implications of such weighty interpersonal decisions.

Now, I am a dedicated practitioner of the metaphysical philosophy of Science of Mind I know that there is only One Mind and Creator of every thought, feeling and expression of life and that each of us, visible or invisible is intricately woven into the fabric of the Universe and God, the One Mind, Heart and Body and while I still think abortion is not a good solution to a very difficult challege, I accept that each of us walks a uniquely individual path filled with Divine Grace and Guidance. I fear not for the lives of the not yet born, nor for the souls of hard pressed potential Mothers. With this world filled with abuse, neglect, abandonment, and disease the life of an unwanted throw away child is much more worrisome. Filled with fear and torment children all around the world are forced into armies, street corners, crack houses and lonely graves - that is the real moral struggle and spiritual abandonment.

I would genuinely like to understand what others think are good resolutions that will work for all parties involved and how we will work together to create and support skilled and willing parents, provide truly safe homes for children, offer medical, education, and financial supports to build strong families, etc.

I have a personal, sacred, relationship with the Indwelling Presence of God that fully inspires my life, family, society, and the world. Christians do not have an exclusive relationship with God and the golden rule applies to all people, not just those with whom we agree. Each person is on an individual journey through eternity and freedom to make choices that lead to the highest and greatest experiences in this One Life of God. Divine Life is continuously active and moving to balance and harmonize all life for the best in spite of our perception of It.

If the phrases "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are limiting and polarizing, can you imagine new frames of reference for new and better conversations? * Reproductive Rights for Successful Societies, Women's Rights, Rights for Successful Families

I have never had an abortion nor known anyone who has had one, but several years ago I took a class to help me in teaching fourth graders about the Cathoilc religion. I came across and article by a Catholic Bishop who stated that "you can't be pro-life for one thing and not for everything". This pretty much summed it up for me. Either you believe in the santity of life in ALL forms or you don't! Since God created us it is only He who should determine when we live or die.I truly grieve for those who find themselves with an unplanned pregancy and feel they have no other choice but an abortion and for parents and spouses who lose a love one to a violent crime and those of us who struggle with long term care of a sick relative. But when we lose respect for life we lose respect for ourselves and each other.God has made man so intellgent ... there are always better solutions then destroying life, it's so very precious! I truly believe that the issue of "life" will not be resolved until our country turns back to God and reconizes Him as the purpose of our existance, here and in the after life.
God Bless
TB

To depolarize abortion we need to stop debating it and discuss instead the underlying problems. Do not ask "Do you believe women have the right to abortion?" Ask instead, "Why would a woman ever be in the position she would need consider an abortion?"
Why did the woman not have birth control?
Why is adoption not an option?
Why was this woman raped?
Why can this woman not afford to raise her child?
How did a 13 year old become pregnant?
The pertinent question is "How is our society going to support women, children and families as we go forth into the 21st century?"
Let's take the millions of dollars wasted on a fruitless discussion about the merits of a medical procedure no one wants and use that money to study and solve some of the profound problems of our society.
If we would put this money into universal healthcare then all women could afford to go to the doctor and get effective birth control.
If we put some of the effort into looking at our attitudes about adoption perhaps we could make it a tenable option for more women.
If we had more supports in our towns and schools perhaps we could give teens something to do besides have sex.
If we had more comprehensive sex education perhaps we could help young people know how to prevent pregnancy.
If our culture didn't glamourize sex in the movies and on TV perhaps young people would respect themselves more and not feel the pull to have sex so young and so casually.
If we had a better foster parent system perhaps we could justify bringing children into the world when their biologic parents aren't prepared to raise them.
Let's stop hiding behind the "abortion" issue and ask ourselves how we are going to deal with the problems that create such crisis for women that sometimes abortion seems like the only way out.

My story begins with the fact that at a certain time in my life the issue of abortion was not even on my radar screen eventhough I considered myself a serious Catholic. I soon felt differently when Pope John Paul II wrote "the Gospel of Life," that our God is a God of life not of violence and death, which abortion is. Furthermore, PJ II wrote that abortion is so horrendous and the millions killed so massive that we are a nation without hope if we do not stop killing the innocent. I also now hold this view - i've seen the pictures, worked with post abortive traumatized men and women and continue to pray for it's end. There is no other alternative - either we will continue to destoy life and destroy ourselves or we will turn back, repent and embrace life once again.

The political pilgrimage to Terry Schiavo's bedside a few years ago brought this issue into focus. To those in power, a human has moral significance before birth and after being trussed up with tubes and wires on his/her deathbed. Between those times, we are all on our own.

I would like the "pro lifers" to understand that I cannot take them seriously in their concern over humans pre birth if they do not care about human life after birth. My ears are quite simply deaf to their protestations of high moral dudgeon over murdered babies while they salivate over endless war and the prospect of the death penalty for an endless supply of criminals with other than white skin. Humans are morally significant at all maturities, or they are not. It is really as simple as that.

We accept the taking of life in many circumstances. Many religious people promote a war where there are deaths of all kinds of people even the unborn. We legally allow killing to protect yourself or others, we mitigate it when a person loses his temper vs. plans carefully to kill someone. The same religious people promote keeping guns at home in order to be prepared to kill to protect themselves. Many support killing people who have committed terrible crimes though Jesus specifically enjoined us to support those in prison and we have made countless errors in executing innocent people. Bishops refuse the eucharist to politicians who support prochoice positions while having nothing to say about those that try to expand the death penalty.

Killing is wrong. We instictively consider it the ultimate sin, yet it is not first in the ten commandments and there is no ranking anywhere of sins in any religious book I am aware of.

We accept killing under some circumstances. Abortion is a private personal decision that is difficult to submit to debates such as we could have about the death penalty or wars started with lies about the level of threat we were under.

Abortion for one is the result of carelessness and for another the result of the impossible weight of poverty and tragedy in their life. I prefer to let diety make these judgements until I am absolutely not a part of other killing such as war or the death penalty. When we have achieved this level of virtue then we can have this conversation with the serious weight it deserves.

Right to Life but no Rights to Live. Where this debate always breaks down for me is that the “Right” wants to preserve the right to life but will do nothing to enhance our quality of life. The RIGHT’s position is that all government programs such as food stamps, medicare and social security should be eliminated. If a 16 year old girl, is pregnant and not married, who is obligated to help in raising this child? The way I look at it, as an educator, if you help the child you are making an investment in the community. An educated and cared for child will tend to grow up to be a productive member of society.
My question to the right is why are you in support of life but not for living?

I have no personal experience with abortion. When I was single, I chose to be a virgin, since I did not want to be a pregnant single woman. After I was married, I had some unplanned pregnancies whom I welcomed and loved. But I was not poor. I was educated.

My moral and spiritual values make me pro-choice, because I believe in a woman being responsible for her actions and choices. I do believe that abortion can be a horrible, crippling emotional experience for some women. (I have a theory, unproven, that it may be a contributing factor in anorexia and bulimia.) But I don't believe it is the state that should make her choices for her, even though she may make choices that turn out to be bad ones.

I believe that both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" people hate abortion. It is not a casual procedure. Nor is capital punishment a casual procedure. I find it strange that "pro-life" people often are in favor of capital punishment, and that I tend to be "pro-choice" and against capital punishment. The one who is executed certainly doesn't get a choice.

I can think of no better phrases than "pro-life" and "pro-choice", even though I consider myself "pro-choice" because I honor the life of the woman over the life of the fetus. (Incidently, I believe life begins at conception. Therefore I do consider both abortion and capital punishment "murder". Did I mention that this is a terribly difficult issue? Maybe the phrases could be changed to "pro-life for the unborn" and "Pro-life for the born". Ha.

I have swayed from one extreme to the other over the course of my life. When I was 13, the Catholic mother of a friend gave several of us information about and pictures of aborted fetuses, and I became strongly pro-life. My mother (who was pro-choice) disapproved, but left it to me to make up my own mind. While I was in college, my roommate became pregnant, and it was harder for me to maintain a condemning stance--I ended up driving her to and from the clinic for an abortion. During the summers, I worked with a 19 year old woman who casually commented one day about her "second abortion." I asked how many she'd had, and she said three. I was horrified to realize she'd been using abortion as a means of birth control.

And then, at age 24, single and in my first quarter of a Ph.D. program, I became pregnant. I'd taken out loans to pay for school and did not have a job; my boyfriend at the time (later my husband) was barely making ends meet at a job he hated. It was particularly shocking news because I'd tried hard to be "responsible": I'd gone to the campus clinic to get birth control pills but was delayed for over a month due to a family history of heart disease that required several blood tests. We had been using barrier methods until I could begin taking the pill.

The decision to have an abortion was extremely painful, and not one I made lightly. I knew that neither I nor my boyfriend had the wherewithal (financially or otherwise) to care for a child. We feared that if I had the baby and tried to put it up for adoption, our parents would pressure us to keep it (they wanted us to get married). I'd worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot to get into graduate school, and could not see a way to care for a child and remain in school. Having an abortion seemed the least bad of several really terrible choices.

So, where do I fall on this issue? It's far more complicated than the political rhetoric suggests. I do not favor making abortions illegal, in part because history shows that this makes the procedure more dangerous without putting a stop to them. I don't see any benefit in endangering the life of woman who is determined to get an abortion. By the same token, I have a hard time supporting abortion as a casual method of birth control. In summary, I don't think one answer (abortion, adoption, having a baby) can fit every situation in which a woman has an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

What I'd like to see is a compassionate community response that enables each woman to figure out for herself--in the context of her own beliefs, values, and life--what makes the most sense for her situation. If we could step back from harsh judgments and agendas that push one decision over the other, and simply listen, ask questions, and provide support, we might realize that there are times when all possibilities can be moral.

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is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and served as the president of Catholics for Choice until her retirement in 2007.

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