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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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Comments

When someone identifies as "pro-life", I want to ask them if that means they are "pro illegal abortion". I see that as the result if their stance became law.

I would like to see the two sides turned around and expressed as "for illegal abortion" and "anti illegal abortion". I don't think that anyone really is for abortions--both sides can agree that it would be much better if abortions didn't happen. However, as long as women find themselves considering abortion as their last resort, they should not be forced to have an illegal abortion.

Thanks for "Speaking of Faith"; I appreciate the ideas you bring to me.

No story, just a position. Since, according to research, @50% (or more) of the times conception occurs it either does not take, or aborts itself. So, many of us declare that a baby becomes a human being with its first breath of air. My religious friends feel that is when the soul enters the child.

The aspects of abortion are universal, as well as deeply private. We are a naive bunch, if we believe that abortion is a new issue. Like other formerly "unspeakable" moral dilemmas such as prostitution, abortion is probably as old. Only since medically safe techniques were introduced, and it became part of a scope of medical procedures that is funded by tax dollars, did people become so vocal and so high and mighty about it. As usual, when you hit folks in the wallet, you really hear them scream. I feel that people who are COMPLETELY pro-life, no exeption, are often people who have lived on the safe side of the street, so to speak. It's easy to say when you have had heathy children born into a loving environment, and enough material wealth to keep them safe, fed and clothed. We need to open the scope of conversation to include guaranteeing quality life for the infant after 9 monthes gestation. There can be so so many extenuating circumstances of individual problems, that this should not be legislated, or used as a pro-con point in political debates. Conversely, women who represent themselves as having the sole decision in wether to be pregnant or not, and have not used responsible birth control methods, but have had multiple abortions, these creatures muddy the name "woman" and sicken most of us who still embrace an element of pro-choice in our profile. We do need to invoke words like "Privelege of parenting" and "Responsible Sex" instead of the continual tug-of- war concerning who has the most RIGHTS. Americans are a spoiled lot in general, always crowing about their Rights, while side-stepping their responsibilities.

I believe that liberal policies, which I define as taking care of those who are most vulnerable, would make for a world in which women will be more likely to decide to go through with a pregnancy because they know their country will not let them slip through the cracks. Conservative ideology -- every person for themselves -- makes for a harsher world -- one which is not as hospitable to children born into poverty or to a single mother. I think that is proven by the increase in abortion rates under President Bush.

One thing I would like to understand better about those who are "pro-life" is how they can justify voting Republican considering the tens of thousands of people -- many of them babies and small children -- who were and are being killed in Iraq under the Bush administration. I just don't get it.

Although I don't view it as a litmus test for a presidential candidate, I believe the question of abortion is important because of the day and age in which we live. It is refreshing to hear someone interested in re-framing this complex question, and I would like to support your effort with my views. Right at the outset, I seem to come up with a double standard!

From my college days (I graduated in 1964), I have believed that it would be inexcusable for me to have an abortion. This is not so much a religious response as an ethical and pragmatic one. I have had the advantages of a stable upbringing and a college education. I have always had the ability to support myself and my daughter, both when I was married and when I was single. I had the means to procure birth control easily and did not have to go through picketers to do so. In other words, I had the freedom and means to take full responsibility for my reproductive choices.

I know there are millions of women in the world in much different circumstances. How can I possibly hold them to a standard I have set for myself, when I would most certainly fall short of that standard if I were in their shoes? I cannot imagine the heartbreak of having to give birth to an unplanned child, knowing that birth further jeopardizes my other children. For a woman grappling with such wrenching circumstances, abortion is an option which must be easily available.

Ironically, I could never be a presidential candidate in this day and age, being a non-theist with a Buddhist practice! My greatest concern is the future of the planet, with the future of my species running a close second. In an admittedly futile attempt to impact these concerns, I no longer eat meat, and have taken other efforts in my personal life to lessen my impact on the earth. I view the question of abortion as one of many issues involved in long-term sustainability of our only home. It is concerning that this question seems to get more consideration than that of providing for easily accessible birth control for all. The latter could certainly have an impact on the former.

I feel it is important to listen carefully to others who hold views different than my own. I would hope that someone with differing views could listen to mine, resisting the temptation to dismiss me because I lack a belief in a deity. Ultimately, we are more connected to each other than we are separate. We survive together or we pass from the scene together. I resist positions that attempt to polarize us by underestimating the complexities of the issues (such as abortion) facing us.

Thank you so very much for your excellent program, and for the very thoughtful approach you bring to each subject!

When I think about abortion, I rarely think of the NOW, pro-choice organizations, or pro-life camps. The abortion issue does not shape my voting patterns. I do not contribute to pro-life or pro-choice organizations. I do not think about moral or spiritual aspects of abortion. When I think about abortion, I mostly think about my own experiences and my many friends who have made the decision to have or not have an abortion.

I chose to have an abortion the summer before my junior year of high school, when I was 15 years old. I grew up in a strict Catholic home, with a single mother who voted primarily on the pro-life issue. When I told my mom I was pregnant and that I wanted an abortion, she was supportive and understanding. She never judged me, or told me that I was a bad person. She simply told me she disagreed with my choice, that I would have to pay for the procedure, but that she would support me and love me - no matter what. She drove me to the neighboring state, walked by the protesters, sat in that clinic with me, and held my hand during the procedure. The day I had my abortion was the day I truly understood what is meant by "a mother's love" and mark that moment as the start of my adult friendship with my mother.

A year after my abortion, I traveled to another country for a year as an exchange student. I returned home, went to college, earned a bachelors degree, worked abroad, learned two languages, returned to the US for graduate studies, and began my career as a professor - at the age of 28.

A year after my abortion, my best friend got pregnant. She is now a medical doctor with an 11 year old daughter and is happily married to her child's father. We made very different choices, but I am positive that both of us made the best choice.

I have had a number of friends who have faced the decision of whether or not to have an abortion - friends in high school, friends in college, colleagues who take medications that make accidental pregnancy dangerous, and students who come to me for support.

While working with Catholic sisters (nuns) I have often heard them talk about being both pro-choice and pro-life. Many liberal Catholics argue that the problem is not abortion, but unwanted children and unsupported women and families. They say, if we developed a society that was supportive of women and children, abortion would be less of an issue.

I do not consider myself "pro-life" or "pro-choice", but when policies are passed that limit the ability to access abortion, I find my heart sinking. I cannot imagine what I would have done had I not had the option of getting an abortion.

I feel that our understanding of "the issue" would be less polarizing if the many women that have had abortions could speak openly about their experiences. Many women do not regret their decision to have an abortion. Many pro-life organizations tell women they will have "feelings of guilt and dread" but I never have. In fact, I feel relief knowing I have the choice. Because we cannot openly talk about abortion in US society, people do not realize that many different types of women have abortions for many different reasons. Many of our nurses, clients, teachers, neighbors, and pro-life friends have had abortions.

If we could create a less hostile environment for speaking about abortion - less shame and judgment on women in general - we might be able to have a more mature, nuanced conversation about abortion.

I would recommend Dr. Susan Wicklund's book "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor" as one recent publication that offers a new perspective for reframing and understanding the abortion issue.

I would describe my wife and myself as right of center in most matters, but not all. When we decided to try and start a family my wife was 36 & I was 40. We knew that there was a greater chance for the baby to have birth defects or downs syndrome. We discussed that possibility and what we thought we would do. Our decision was actually quite simple, we would try to become parents and whatever hand we were dealt we would play.

Abortion just wasn't an option for us. But that is a decision we can only make for ourselves. Yes we made it because we didn't think that abortion was the right choice,for us, we could not and would not force anyone else to have to make the same choice.

Every ones circumstances are different. I don't think abortion should be used as birth control. I would prefer that those in difficult circumstances would choose life for the baby and give it up for adoption, but in the end the choice has to be hers.

If you believe that abortion is a sin or murder, are you willing to take responsibility for the life of that child? Feeding it, educating it making sure it is a good member of society.

If you believe that someone who has an abortion puts their salvation in jepordy, what about free will.

I believe in the end each of us has to answer for our actions. It would be better for us to make sure that those faced with the decision of aborting a child would not be concerned about the social or economic ramifications, and could easily choose life. Then we would not have to concern ourselves with what the law is.

As for my self, I consider myself Pro-Choice, My choice is life.

I believe that the Bible tells us that abortion is the taking of a human life. However, I have come to understand over the years that just telling people that is not going to change their mind about the need for abortion to be legal. While I believe abortion is not good for women or children, I can't affect change by just spouting forth and not showing compassion for the fact that many women are absolutely freaked out by the decision they face when they have an unwanted pregnancy.
I guess I would like to understand how people so quickly dismiss the mere idea that a fetus could actually be a human being when there is so much evidence that says this is a fact. I want to understand why so many pro-choicers seem to want to focus so much on the woman and "her body" that they just can't see anything else that might be affected by abortion...like a culture that cheapens human life.
I would like people who oppose my views on abortion to understand that I am not a traitor to my sex. I am also not just a lemming who's following the so-called Christian party line. I come to my opinions honestly and with a lot of forethought.
After 35 years of abortion on demand being the law of the land, I can't imagine us successfully changing pro-life and pro-choice into better terms. Unfortunately, that means that pro-lifers are always seen as anti-woman or anti-freedom of privacy and pro-choicers will be seen as anti-life or pro-death.
I used to be very militant in my advocacy for the unborn. As I have mellowed and grown over the years, I have come to see myself as more of an advocate for the women and the children as well. I would love to see our country become pro-education. I truly believe that if more women knew of ALL the choices available to them and knew what actually happens in an abortion, they would choose to have their babies a majority of the time. Legal abortion would become largely obsolete if we could just educate women about the absolute need for birth control of all kinds as well as educating them as to what options they have if they do become pregnant.
I'm waiting for that day.

I'm not a fan of either of the terms: pro-life or pro-choice. These are labels that are about painting the other guy as "pro-death" & "anti-choice". They're about making enemies, and not reconciling people. While I hold strong views, that abortion is always wrong, except in extreme circumstances to save another life, I don't feel the need to condemn those who disagree with me. I can see how a reasonable person- that is an intelligent, well informed moral agent might reach different conclusions than myself. This calls for dialogue -listening, reasoning and persuasion.

I think the Pro-life moral lens is often black and white, setting up a judgment situation -not of the issue (abortion) but people. This deonontological rule-set also makes for in my view an inconsistent ethical set - pro-life and pro-capital punishment. While there is some truth in this view, I prefer to look at through my left-wing lens a struggle for civil-rights and coupled with the principles of non-violent resistance. Abortion is one issue where I feel called to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (the unborn, the poor, imprisoned, the ill, the hungry, and the environment). And just as in other non-violent struggles I assume that those who disagree with me have a conscience and I appeal to it, and I speak truth to power.

Abortion is a health care issue. To reduce abortions we need more sex education and free contraception. We need to have clinics that provide free sterilization. These services need to be pervasive. It also has to be easier and more socially accepted for married people to give up infants and older children for adoption. Open adoptions may help with this.
It is difficult for people to change their ideas about abortion, contraception, and adoption. But holding the ideas we have now will not decrease abortions. Making it illegal does not work. Desperate women abort in what ever way they can, even at great risk to their health. I agree this discussion need to occur. I hope you can have productive discussions on your radio show, Krista.

I believe that abortion is a very complicated issue. I do not like it, would have a hard time supporting my own daughters if they were in the position where they thought they had no other choice, but realize that in some cases it has to be a choice. The more important issue is reducing the number of abortions. As a Catholic christian I know that I differ from the church's teaching on this topic and that is difficult for me.

I would like to understand how people on both sides see this as such a black and white issue.

Respect for life is not just for the unborn, which is why I could not choose a candidate soley on one issue, even one as emotionally charged as this one. Other people should understand that I don't take this issue lightly. I hate the idea of abortion, but I also cannot deny a woman the right to choose what happens to her body.

Sue Szymanski

I feel that abortion is not the right thing to do, but also I believe in choice.
My mother had an abortion three months before becoming pregnant with me, and chose not to have a second one. Since then she has been heavily pro-life.
The abortion haunted her for many years, contributing to her bipolar disorder.
If not for abortion I wouldn't be alive.
So I am somewhat ambivilent.
Morally abortion is very bad, adoption would be a much better choice.
Morally being a terrible parent is bad also though.
So I guess I would have to call myself personally pro-life, politically pro-choice.

As I talk to people about abortion rights, particularly those who oppose abortion and consider themselves to be pro-life, a question I ask concerns a possible future where abortion is held to be illegal with few or no exceptions. In other words, abortion would considered a criminal act just as, for example, car theft and murder are considered criminal acts. In this context, I ask people to consider what the appropriate criminal penalties for those who might be involved in abortion should be. Interestingly, I find that most people have not considered this aspect of criminalizing abortion.

As we talk about abortion, I think a discussion of the criminal aspects of "pro-choice" and "pro-life" positions is essential. Moving past these slogans to thinking about how a criminalization of abortion might work in our society might provide a very valuable perspective and help bring the two sides closer together fairly quickly.

Depending on the severity of the penalties involved (misdemeanor? felony?) and breadth of their application (women only? women and doctors? etc.), the ramifications of criminalizing abortion could be fairly significant.

I believe that abortion should be completely legal, with no restrictions, at all stages of pregnancy. I also believe that Medicaid should pay for abortions for low income women. As you may have guessed, I am not a "person of faith" - I am agnostic, although my grandparents are devout Christians & they also believe strongly in a women's right to choose and have, throughout their lives, contributed to NOW & Planned Parenthood.

I believe what I do because the ability to control when and if to have children is THE main reason that women have been able to move toward equality. Birth control is not enough, it fails sometimes and sometimes a woman's health or other circumstance may make carrying a baby to term dangerous, or honestly, inconvenient in some way. Perhaps she is in an abusive relationship and the child will somehow endanger her more, or she fears bringing the child into that life. Basically, there are MANY reasons a woman may need or decide to abort a child and NO ONE besides her and her maker should judge her.

I feel that "pro-life" people are very judgmental and not living in reality. While yes, I understand that people see aborting a fetus as murder, if we can not reconcile the beliefs of the few with the laws of the land then it must remain legal. Of course, now we have to also discuss when life begins. Shouldn't it begin when it can stay alive on it's own?

I would genuinely like to understand how or why anti-choice individuals think that their beliefs should be followed by everyone, and how their views fit under the law.

I would like the anti-choice to understand how difficult it is for a woman to choose to have an abortion, and to have some compassion. ESPECIALLY when it comes to "partial-birth abortion" - of which there is no such thing medically speaking - that those are such rare circumstances when such a procedure would be done - and it is almost always only when there is something wrong with the baby or where the pregnancy would harm the mother in some way. Who are we to make that decision - it should only be between the woman and her doctor.

In law school I was president of our school's chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. We use to be Law Students for Choice, but as you mentioned, choice can be very polarizing. That is why we changed our name, because it really is so much more than choice - it's about reproductive rights, a person's (man or woman) ability to maintain their reproductive health and to control their reproduction - when, how and if they have children. The abortion issue really needs to be more inclusive - it needs to include contraception, the rights of pregnant women*, child care support for low income families, and other things I can't think of right now. :)
*if a fetus gets rights, wether from conception or at any time before birth, this will jeopardize a woman's ability to make choices for her own healthcare, in fact it already does. As National Advocates for Pregnant Women pointed out in a letter to Sarah Palin, if those rights had been in forced when she was pregnant with Trig she could have been imprisoned for not going to the hospital as soon as her water broke because she was jeopardizing the health and safety of her baby by waiting so long, including a flight back to Alaska from Texas, before going to the hospital.

And finally, abortion should not be a shameful thing - women should be able to talk about it openly. If they have had one they should be open to share their story so others understand why they had one & how they feel about it. This would help other women in times of crisis - to make the best decision for themselves. Also, even without outlawing abortion states are managing to make it unavailable. I don't think Mississippi has any providers, and there is only one in South Dakota and that doctor flies in from MN once a month. Also, medical schools don't teach the procedure anymore. It's a surgical procedure for God's sake - all ob/gyn's should learn the procedure for the health and safety of their patients - it's tantamount to malpractice.

Sorry, one last point - It is misguided that American's put so much weight into the personal beliefs of presidential (and vice presidential) candidates because the only power they hold in the decision is through veto of bill or through selection of judges and justices. Now granted that is pretty powerful but, as John Kerry said, I'm personally pro-life but my personal beliefs should not dictate my policies and politics because they may not be best for the country.

When I think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion, I think about core beliefs that cause a strong divide. That is, whether you believe that an unborn zygote or fetus is a person or part of a woman's body. Second, there is the question of whether someone should have a choice of whether or not to bring a child into the world if one is pregnant. Thirdly, and this is the part where I have shaped my own opinion, there is the question of whether the act of terminating a pregnancy should be punished or prohibited and what if any good this would do.
I believe that my energies and money would be better spent on supporting programs that support healthy pregnancies and children than on opposing abortion.
From a personal standpoint, my period was late once after my first sexual encounter early in my teen years. I went to get tested at an abortion clinic. Even though I did not wish to terminate the pregnancy, I considered it seriously. My period came later. Later on, at twenty-one, I became sexually active again with a steady boyfriend and I became pregnant. I knew that I didn't want to have an abortion, although I was very scared of being a single mother. No matter what the decision, it was daunting. I looked into adoption, because I wanted the child to have adequate support. I ended up having a miscarriage. No matter what the choice, it was daunting.
As far as the terms, pro-life and pro-choice, they are not the best. However, within the context of what they have come to mean, I am very cautiously pro-choice, with strong pro-life leanings. I am also a Catholic and realize the conflict. While I do believe that life begins at conception and this is sacred, I also believe it is sacred at all of its other stages. This is the true teaching of my faith. That is where I would like to place my emphasis with my vote.

As a young student nurse in the 1960s, the first patient for whom I cared who was my age and who died was a teenager who had given herself an illegal abortion. It is difficult for young people today to remember that there was a time when it was not uncommon for young unmarried women to be shamed by a repressive culture into aborting their babies. Although I was raised Catholic, I could not help realizing that the God I knew and worshipped grieved as much for the young women who died after illegal abortions as He did for the babies they lost. I became a strong supporter of Roe V Wade, believing that the lives of young mothers in difficult situations are just as precious as the lives of unborn babies. The God who from the cross forgave those who crucified Him can surely forgive those who make desparate and difficult choices. I cannot find it in my heart to condemn others to the death my first young patient died.

I am a psychotherapist employed by a Child Advocacy Center, where my colleagues and I encounter and have to deal with the issue of unwanted pregnancy on a regular basis. Child Advocacy Centers thoughout the US do forensic interviews for law enforcement and provide counseling services for children who have been sexually abused. I have been raised Catholic and, at one time, was strongly pro-life. It was easy to hold that view when I didn't have to face the consequences of it. In my work I have encountered children as young as 11 years old who were pregnant due to rape. Commonly, we encounter 13 to 16 year old victims of rape or incest who have been impregnated. The decision to keep or abort is not ours, but the families of these children or in some cases, Child Protective services. Often because of a lack of sex education, the girls don't even know they are pregnant until it is too late to abort. My point is that unless you have looked into the face of a weeping 13 year old who is terrified of giving birth and whose body may not be ready for such a stress, you cannot render a judgement for that child or that family. What of the life and emotional stability of that child? Why is a fetus more precious that a living, breathing child? It is my personal opinion, that when a 60 year old can impregnate a 12 year old, that is not God's plan, but nature at its worst. I would also pose the question to those who hold a very conservative view and who usually are conservative Republicans, how can you be pro-life and pro-war at the same time? I also feel that unless you are ready to be an adoptive or foster parent to an unwanted baby, then you have no right to render an opinion at all. I consider myself very pro-life and thererfore I am pro-choice, because all life is sacred, including the life of the pregnant child.

Women my age know that no one can prevent abortion because a woman can do it to herself with a knitting needle or straightened out coat hanger. So making abortion illegal simply punishes a woman who has made the wrong decision by denying her medical care. Last I checked Jesus had told me to put down my stones and not punish other people. There should be much more discussion about why a woman would choose abortion and ways to help midigate her concerns. Simply calling her a killer and shouting at her as she seeks help is the wrong way to go.

Years ago, being pregnant out of wedlock meant a woman was in trouble, literally, as well as figuratively. So women either got married to the father (or a very generous man who ageed to take on a troubled package) or went "to take care of a sick aunt" and went to a home for unwed mothers and gave the baby away. Or, she could abort. All this took place before there was much in the way of birth control and before women's lib, so there was not much negotiation taking place as far as under what circumstances sex took place. If the guy didn't want to use a condom chances were good the woman didn't have much say in the matter. But she could say no, so if pregnant that meant she was of weak character. Thus the trouble. Note the man bore no shame.

So abortion laws were changed to allow for a safe medical procedure. When the right tried to stop abortion all of a sudden they had to say that there was noting wrong with being pregnant. Which lead to mothers keeping their babies when there was not a shnwballs chance in hell that the baby would have a decent shot at life. So now we have a situtaion where it is not politically correct to tell unmarried women that having a baby is not acceptable. And the result is that the babies pay the price. We need to go back to a time when babies before husband is shockingly bad and since birth control is now varied and available we need to do everything we can to prevent conception until ready. But that allows for sexual activity that goes unpunished. If we can have sex and not get caught (pregnent) then there is no way for society to inflict judgement. And don't forget, Jesus doesn't want us judging others, just helping them.

The sub title speaks volumes - 'between polarized extremes.' How does anyone ever expect to have a conversation, let alone resolution, when the conversation partners are polarized to extremes? The traditional way of studying Talmud is for two people to take a position and argue it fully and vociferously. After a time, the teacher stops the argument and the students have to switch positions, arguing the new side just a vociferously even if they don't agree with the argument. What might happen if those on both sides of the abortion issue were forced to fully understand the passions of others' positions?

At the age of 20, as a struggling college student, I became pregnant. My mother wanted me to have an abortion. My friends wanted me to have an abortion as well. I chose to have and raise my son, because I felt like things happen for a reason, and I knew that I was mentally and emotionally capable of raising a child.

I consider myself pro-choice for others, but pro-life for me. If I had an abortion, I think the grief would consume me.

I have friends who are pro-choice, who have had abortions, who didn't grieve, but felt relief. Who am I to saddle them with the burden of a baby that they never wanted?

I would like the pro-life side to understand that they'd do way more good if they provided services to prospective mothers like healthcare, parenting classes, and financial support. That would change many more minds than a photoshopped picture of an aborted fetus.

I would like the pro-choice side to provide more counseling to those who are genuinely confused and troubled by their pregnancy. Help them through the process of the decision.

I would like to know if it's better to have a life of suffering as an unwanted baby than to be snuffed out before consciousness? Because for many abortions, that's the choice that I think is being played out.

I would would like to bring up an issue and ask several questions of those who believe that as soon as an egg is fertilized it is a human being and has a soul.
It is well established that in women of normal fertility, with no attempt to end the pregnancy, only about 50% of fertilized eggs reach the 3rd trimester. The rest are spontaneously aborted or miscarried. (You can look this up in any Obstetrics textbook such as William's Obstetrics)
So if there are 4 million live births a year there are approximately 4 million spontaneous abortions. When you consider women who have reduced fertility there are even more. This is far more than the approximately 1.5 million induced abortions per year the 'pro-life' people are so upset about.
Some of these spontaneously aborted fetuses are clearly not normal, but others appear normal.
What are the 'pro-life' people doing about the spontaneous abortions? Should we do less research on diseases at the end of life such a Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and divert the resources to research on spontaneous abortions?
If you could prevent one-third of the spontaneous abortions, that would "save" about as many "souls" as ending all induced abortions! Also,
why does God kill so many unborn babies?
Obviously, I am 'pro-choice', but I do not recall ever hearing a 'pro-live' person deal with this issue.
Thank you.

I am a pediatrician. In my practice I have encountered four cases where the family felt that abortion was the best choice. I doubt that anyone could condemn their decision. I really don't know who thinks that they can judge others in this painful decision. I'm want tot hear from others why they think that they can. I also don't know what would have been accomplished in these four cases if everyone involved would have been criminalized. If abortion becomes a crime then everyone who assists becomes a criminal also. If someone comes to me because of a botched illegal abortion with an infection, and if I don't report it to the authorities then I commit a crime also. I want to know who goes to jail if abortions become illegal.

A month ago, a very difficult pregnancy of mine (my fourth) ended pourly. The pregnancy started as any other, much anticipated with joy and happiness and hopes and dreams. Because of some problems I was having, I was subjected to bi-weekly ultrasounds so that we could watch our sweet baby grow. what a miracle! we were amazed, at every step, to see our baby. at 8 weeks, her heart beating. at 12 weeks, to watch her move around and kick and to see her tiny limbs and feet and spine. and then at 15 and 17 weeks, even more development, movement, facial features. we got to know our baby through ultrasound. at 20 weeks, my water broke and our baby died days later. our little girl was born still - not given a chance at life. through this process of watching my child live and die, i could not help but think of abortion, and why it is something that happens in our intelligent society. my baby at eight weeks was as real as she was when she was born. and for that matter at 6 weeks, or 4 weeks. i ask myself, why is it different to kill the unborn than to kill another child? or an adult? if we are to have choices as to whether or not to kill our unborn baby, should we also be allowed to mame or kill our older children, if we decide we don't want them? morally, this is a no brainer for me. anyone who has seen an early ultrasound of a baby should realize that this is a child we are discussing, and if so, then there is no question that this child has constitutional rights just like any other.

what i would like to understand about someone who feels differently is what exactly they think abortion is and who chooses abortion. Obama stated that it is a weighty decision for women. as a woman, i know many friends for whom it was absolutely NOT a weighty decision. this is the tragedy. human life, not even valued. abortion is a brutal, cruel end to life that should not be allowed to happen. i wish that every pro choice person would check out the priestsforlife.org website and follow the links to see actual abortions being performed. would they feel the same if they saw the pictures?

being a realist, i know that to some degree abortion will always happen, regardless of what happens with roe v. wade. women who want them will find them. i think education is key to prevention, and i think that if we had a democrat or republican who had his or her heart set on decreasing abortions, the way to do it would be to leave roe v. wade as is and flood the media with info and pictures and images of aborted babies and truely educate women on their options and show them what their baby looks like at different stages, and present them with the possibility that an abortion is the same as murder. i think there should be a more general term for pro life which embodies all life, not just the unborn, and paints a nicer picture of it than just the denial of a woman's right as it is now. we are so afraid in this country to deny women of things, GOd forbid we allow them to choose what to do in this situation even though another human being's life is at stake.

The only way this will ever be settled is that it can be determined exactly when God exhales then the light or soul enters the body (around birth), before that its just a fetus or shell. When light enters the shell we are called Human, and after death when God inhales thats called death when the human becomes a shell again and the light leaves .

RE: "There's no more important question than abortion" (or why is abortion such a big issue).. as an indigneous person I find this issue reflective of the inevitable decline of American pioneer religions. Those trying to maintain traditions have become more desperate to save their older forms of culture. 100 years ago Christian leadership had the freedom to openly discriminate. This changed 50 years ago, as we're all still dealing with that. Abortion has been permitted to float to the top because pioneer Christians still practice unquestioned leadership.

As I was writing, it struck me that the moral issues of giving away ones flesh and blood have not been well-explored. Most American women who cannot raise a child apparently would rather not bring their child to life, or would kill their baby depending upon your frame of reference, than give birth and give away the child. When I had an abortion years ago, giving away my flesh and blood was inconceivable, even with the realization that I was making a life and death decision. It seemed less responsible to carry a pregnancy to term and give the child away than to have an abortion.

Regardless of your take on the morality of abortion, there seems a visceral revulsion to giving away your flesh and blood that is at least the equal of the visceral revulsion to abortion (which has its own psychic costs.) What do you think is at the root of this?

If I look at it abstractly, I don't see a moral equivalence between taking even a potential life and putting a child up for adoption. But I think there is something hardwired about letting go of your genetic heritage that we don't acknowledge.

I suspect that the lack of control in adoption is an issue- open adoptions might well reduce abortions, or adoptions like they have in Germany where the birth mother becomes part of the extended family. But there is something stronger because our abortion rate wouldn't be 1/5 pregnancies when open adoption is at least an option. And I don't think embarrassment, inconvenience or the great physical difficulty of pregnancy is the only reason why we don't have more unplanned children put up for adoption.

The group Feminists for life has been most helpful to me thinking through abortion. This group has allowed me to reconcile my path over the years regarding this issue. I was raised in a conservative Catholic home to protest at the abortion clinics. I grew more liberal in my college years and departed from my parents on many political beliefs, but have never strayed from recognizing the immorality inherent in abortion. I strive to hold a consistent life ethic, opposing violence from conception through death. Yet I recognize that simply being against legalized abortion doesn't solve the issue because it fails to recognize the complex factors pushing women to choose abortion, individual and social factors. Feminists for life articulates a philosophy against abortion that places the dignity of the woman front and center.

As for new frames of reference, I once heard a pro-choice woman speaking about abortion describe it this way: no one is pro-abortion, just like no one is pro-amputation. I think discussions that promote this acknowledgement that abortion is always an awful, horrendous event are critical. My party, the democrats, avoid acknowledging this and it is to our own detriment.

I think about abortion in several different ways. I support a woman's right to have an abortion, but I would oppose it on a personal level if anyone in my family would consider it. I don't like the idea of aborting innocent fetuses, but I would not preclude other people from doing it. The constitutional right to an abortion should not be changed.

I am trained as an accountant and as an attorney. I am sure that these disciplines influence my thinking. When I consider abortion from an economic standpoint, I would conclude that abortions should be permitted. The population of the world continues to grow at an alarming rate. Air and water pollution, global warming, shortages of water and arable land are all exascerbated by the increase in the numbers of people. Today, there are 6.5 billion people. In 100 years, we could have 30 or 40 billion. The resources on this planet are finite (limited). If we do not curtail population growth, we will cause the extermination of many creatures on the planet and could even put our own existance in jeopardy.

Abortion reduces population. Homosexuality often reduces procreation and also holds down population growth. These are regularly opposed by religious groups whose doctrines were developed at a time when our planet's population was not a factor in the ecological balance of nature. At those times, religious groups sought population growth by their adherents to increase their numbers and influence (and to assure the survival of those groups). These guidelines to "be fruitful and multiply" need to be reconsidered in light of the current problems that are raised by overpopulation. Permitting abortion and accepting homosexuality should be included in that consideration.

Thank you for your excellent programs on Speaking of Faith. I am a regular listener.

The thought recently occurred to me that nowhere in the abortion debate have I heard a discussion of what I believe to be a central theme to this issue. It seems to me that we need to consider what brings women to a perceived need for an abortion. It is only women who are pregnant who experience this need. It is just as important to examine the reason behind the pregnancy as it is the reason why a woman might feel she needs the abortion. These are the facts: women who have sex the conventional way with a man often become pregnant. When this happens for the wrong reasons, many times women elect to terminate the resulting pregnancy. While there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that can lead to an unwanted pregnancy within a committed relationship or a marriage, I would be very surprised to learn that it is these circumstances that lead to most abortions. Until men and women abandon the attitude of entitlement that many hold about having free reign to satisfy their sexual urges at will without proper regard for the consequences of these actions, the need for abortion will remain at current levels. However, if more couples treated each other and themselves individually with more dignity and respect, and exercised a measure of restraint, I think there would be fewer instances of regret which lead to abortion. When the sex act is treated as nothing more than a form of recreation, the results are predictable.

Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian environment many years ago and later coming to find my own faith experience, I have come to what I consider to be my own particular view of abortion.

I think of terminating a pregnancy as a negative, sad, unfortunate thing. I feel this way both as a spiritual thinking person and as a loving father who never experienced any greater miracle than the birth of my two children.

Notwithstanding, I CANNOT support the overturning of Row v. Wade with these thoughts attached:

- Making abortion a crime again won't stop it from taking place, but rather will in many cases return women to the days of back-alley hacks.

- Abortion in the cases of rape, incest, the eminent death of a mother absolutely have to be a decision of the individual in a given circumstance.

- The case of a barely fertilized embryo is a world away from a late-term abortion where a formed child is fighting for its life while being destroyed.

- In the case of a barely fertilized embryo, where a child is unwanted, about to be born into an atmosphere of assured poverty, assured of facing sexual abuse when reaching as certain age, assured of a life of crime at a slightly later age, and practically no hope of a quality of life at any age, the choice of terminating or not terminating a pregnancy - of sending that embryo back into the hands of God or not - must be in the hands of the adult(s) directly affected.

- Our energies must be directed toward changing people's hearts and minds, not the law. We must promote an awareness of alternatives to abortion, education of safe sex/contraception, and overcoming the effects of cruel poverty instead of concentrating our efforts on the changing of a law.

Thank you,
Daniel Killman

I have moved from pro-choice to pro-life. The question I have for the pro-choice thinker is where is the personal responsibility? There are the extreme cases of rape and incest causing pregnancy, but, that is not where the millions of abortions have come from over the years, it has been a method of last resort birth control. Where are peoples heads at the time of conception? Why choose sex if you are not prepared to choose life? Where is the personal responsibility in choosing to have sex-shouldn't we live with the consequences of those choices? If people would take on the moral responsibility of sex, abortion would not be an issue. I have come to the realization we cannot legislate this morality, it must come from one on one interpersonal discussion and understanding.

What changed my thinking was a speech I heard where the speaker noted the millions of babies eliminated by abortion and then posited the question- have we killed the person who would cure cancer, who would negotiate peace in the middle east, who would solve our energy crisis, who would be our next Einstein? How much have we retarded the growth of the human race by killing millions of productive souls?

My new frame of reference- Pro-responsibility!

SOF:

I am reminded of Soren Kierkegaard's Fear & Trembling when I think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion. Might the pro-life/pro-choice dilemma involve a similar "teleological suspension of the ethical" that Keirkegaard contemplates in his meditation on Abraham's will to slay his son Isaac? D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard's Fear & Trembling provides an excellent framework to entertain this possibility within the abortion issue. I suspect that the Justices who decided Roe V Wade had read Keirkegaard!

As a pro-choice catholic I am troubled by the ethical/moral/universal transgression of abortion; however, I have faith that through God's love a policy that permits abortion may also reflect a manifestation of the absolute.

I will leave it up to your keen spiritual curiosity to further explore this issue in the context of the problems contemplated in Fear & Trembling.

I am grateful for your broadcasts.

Mike Kerrigan
Steamboat Springs, Colorado

I think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion as a liberal, with no regard to authorities or doctrines, but for the good of the voiceles underdog.

It is important to understand that the people who feel differently are the victims of this polarization, thinking as they are told rather than thinking for themselves. They are lured into this mindlessness by stereotyping anyone who disagrees with them as merely thinking what they are told, rather than reflecting on themselves in the same critical light. This accusation may be correct in some cases, but it is not in many others, even when it is not as seemingly preposterous as when they accuse me. This is because I have no political, religious or party affiliations whatsoever to expose me to brainwashing. They accuse me of deriving my opinions from websites I have never seen or religions I don't subscribe to.

I would like to understand that I have experience with things that they don't. I have lived in countries with extremely different laws regarding the right to life, and have met some of the few who actually survive attempted abortions. I would like them to realize that I agree with them on most liberal issues, even regarding sex, but do not take this extreme liberalism to excess by mimicking the worst aspects of conservativism as they do by following a mindset to excessive measures.

Pro-choice is a rational oxymoron. The proponents of abortion are the least in favor of a choice. The Chinese Communist Party's one-child law involves no choice for a woman, but rather a male-dominated government dictating a woman's reproductive rights. A true liberal will oppose this steadfastly. The lack of outcry against the anti-feminine nature of this hypocrisy is manifesting in other crimes against female humanity, like the forced sterilization of Mayan women in Guatemala by US Aid and the attempt to impose a one-child law on the Phillipines. A true feminist supports all a female's rights, from the right to be born onwards. The recent legislative bill in California about informing the parents about minors is a prime example of the hman rights issues at hand. A mother of a 14-year old girl one day learns her daughter is dead. Not even knowing she was pregnant, she is shocked to find her daughter died from a ''safe,legal'' abortion. The pretext that anything legal is safe is utterly false. 19 women die each year from legal abortion, in the state of Florida alone! I convinced a pro-Abortion friend to change their vote on this one by saying ''I support a woman's right to choose who lays their hands on her daughter.'' Plus, what rights is a woman granted once her right to be born is withheld? Yes, abortion is anti-women, anti-freedom, and has nothing to do with choice.

I would like to think women are strong enough to fight for their rights. We are still working on that however. I cannot really walk in someone else's shoes and I cannot make a decision about someone else's body. Human beings, especially woman, should be allowed to decide what they will do if an unwanted pregnancy occurs. None of us knows until it happens to us. How could it ever be different in a true democracy? I think the term pro life for someone who wants to control another's life is really not pro life at all; it is just the opposite.

Bill Clinton's comment that "Abortion should be legal but rare" seems to me to strike the right balance, but may have little effect on those who regard any abortion as murder, on religious or philosophical principles. There are certainly situations where continuing a pregnancy would have consequences so severe as to justify an abortion, but "pro choice" implies that abortions of convenience are permissible. Giving the woman the unfettered ability to choose an abortion up until the viability of the fetus seems excessibly permissive even to those who are willing to allow choice where "justified." A fetus is a life, which should not be snuffed out at the mere whim of the prospective mother. A woman unable to raise her child could give it up for adoption, as the fetus, while not yet a "person" legally, should be allowed to have a chance to live. I recently read that 90% of fetuses diagnosed as having Down syndrome are aborted selectively. While caring for a disabled child is a tremendous burden (which can be a labor of love), it is playing God to discard such a life as non-optimal. For that matter, the father, if identifiable, should have a say, as he would be liable for child support of various kinds if the child is born. A constitutional amendment on our Colorado ballot proposes to officially notice that life begins at conception, which is true, but to extend that to granting a fetus "personhood" in defiance of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court I think inapppropriate.

This is a more general reflection on how I see my role as a priest and pastor. For more detail, you can find my sermon on the subject, from a month or so ago, at http://www.stmatthewsvt.org/sermons.

It seems to me that it is my duty to preach the Gospel as I understand it within the community of the church. That relates to how we live out Gospel values and precepts in our individual lives AND as members of the community of the baptized.

What we believe as Christians certainly affects how we view the laws and actions of the state. But our role as citizens is different from our role as church (synagogue, mosque) members, in this way: In those latter roles we are called to act for the good of the community of faith. In our role as citizens we are called to act for the good of the polis, the community of all citizens. So I can urge my congregation to behave in a certain way as church members and Christians (which might mean I'd urge them not to have abortions, and also, positively, to do all in their power to prevent them through positive means such as aid and support to pregnant women). But I must not demand that they vote for Politician X or Law Y as a way of enforcing Christian principles through state coercion, unless they discern that such a law would be for the good of the state/polis/body of citizens. I personally, as a citizen, do not believe that a law forbidding abortions would make for the peace and good of the body politic, and therefore I, as a citizen, am opposed to such laws.

I took an Ethics course at Seminary last fall, and the topic thread that ran through the entire course was on Abortion. We looked at all different aspects of the topics to explore basic ethics. At the end, we were to write a position paper. I am including the one I wrote:
Abortion: An Ethical Position

The subject of abortion is a complicated and emotion-laden topic. There are a few who take absolutist positions on either end of the spectrum: I place myself somewhere along the middle of the spectrum of opinion. As a woman, mother and physician, I have had experience with the many and varied consequences of abortion. Experience, scripture, and other ethical writings all inform my pro-life position. Safe, legal, affordable early abortions need to be available for women.
Scripture has little to say specifically about abortion. Scripture supports life-giving activities and equates life with the care of the least among us. “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you… (Deut 30:19-20)” That may mean different things to different people in different circumstances. Though scripture says little specifically about abortion, it says a lot about a God who creates us, loves us, and anguishes with us in this life. It repeatedly calls us to look with compassion on our fellows, to care for those least able to care for themselves.
As a physician, I am fully aware of the awesome nature of the developing human. The series of events beginning even before conception are nothing short of miraculous. Within weeks, the first few cells have multiplied and begun to organize into a form that is startling familiar to us as a human form. Modern day advances in imaging and video technology bring home this fact in stark and beautiful pictures. Yet this embryo is still highly dependent on its connection to its mother for continued life and will be far beyond birth. Modern technology has also transformed premature birth from the foregone conclusion of death. Infants born as early as 22 weeks old can survive, though not without significant, prolonged and expensive intervention and risk of permanent disability. One normal, healthy child can profoundly change the lives of a family, let alone a child with significant disabilities. Families with multiple children can be even more affected by the addition of a newborn. The economic and personal resources required to raise healthy and happy children are enormous. Families large, small, and alternative often find creative ways of meeting multiple needs. There are also heartbreaking examples of resources spread too thin, poverty, disability, neglect and outright abuse.
Ultimately life is more complicated than the simple miracle of dividing cells becoming organized. Though sacred in its own right, it is not the only aspect of life that is sacred. It is easy to glibly mouth platitudes such as “God never gives you more than you can handle”. It is a profoundly different experience to live out these kinds of challenges. Women and men come with varying resources, not just economic but emotional, spiritual, intellectual and relational. Not all families are equipped with the same energy. News of new life does not bring with it the same amount of joy to all who hear it. For some it brings fear, others dread, and still others, simple depression. The sacredness of their lives and those around them will be affected.
No woman takes this decision lightly. All the women I have counseled who have contemplated an abortion – whether because of a fetal anomaly incompatible with life, or a third pregnancy in three years even on birth control, or a pregnancy during college – have anguished over the decision. All have arrived at decisions that were right for them, in their particular circumstances. My role has been primarily to ask questions and to help women explore what options are available to them – “Are there resources they haven’t considered? Will their parents prove to be more understanding? Will their boyfriend be able to find a better job?” I have then watched women live with the not insignificant consequences of choosing an abortion. They have all coped in varying ways, with or without a partner, with or without counseling, some going on to have children very soon afterwards. I have known women who deeply regretted their choice later, as well as women who were very able to say they made the right choice at that time in their lives. The woman who lived out the most anguish belongs to a faith tradition that categorically opposes all abortion. Though she wasn’t judged by others, she carried the decision heavily in her own heart as a result.
Experience with women in all stages of life informs my view on abortion, and is regularly confirmed by my readings on the topic and by scripture. Abortion is a weighty and significant act in and of itself. Whether the final decision is to move ahead with a pregnancy or an abortion, I experience women to consistently make choices for themselves and their families that on the balance are life affirming.

I had an abortion in 1988. At the time I was young, unmarried, without a job, and couldn't bear the thought of bringing the child to term and then giving it up for adoption. I did a lot of reading on the development of the fetus, and learned that the brain is not developed until after (I believe) the 8th week of gestation, so that before then, the fetus does not experience PAIN. This was important to me in my decision- I did not want the fetus to suffer- and had the abortion as soon as possible. (This is why I am against late-term abortions, in particular.)

My decision was a sad and difficult one. It makes me sad to this day and given similar circumstances today, I might choose differently. Still, I believe the decision is an individual one and do not condemn those who choose to have early abortions. I do, however, condemn later abortions (except in the case where the health of the mother is at stake, or when the mother is very young)because I believe they are needlessly irresponsible.

Spiritually, I believe there is a karmic price to be paid for an abortion, but there is a karmic price for any choice that brings harm to any or all of God's creation. In our choices, there are lessons to be learned.

I do not like to argue with those who are adamantly Pro-Life because they have a right to believe that all life is sacred. I would simply say that forcing a mother to carry an unwanted baby is also a form of violence. In my opinion, early on in the pregnancy, the well-being of the mother must come first.

I'm not sure that conversations between those who are Pro-life and those who are pro-choice can ever sway one side or the other. But- as Obama said- both sides can surely agree that we need to find ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to support young mothers.

Thank you for all your great programs! For me, each Saturday morning with Speaking of Faith is a spiritual renewal.
Sincerely, Karen

I'm writing as a "pro-choice" person -- although I've never much liked the terms "pro-life" or "pro-choice." I think they push us further away from one another and cheapen what should be a serious and careful conversation.
About twenty years ago, my husband organized a forum on abortion. He was managing an art cinema and whenever the theater showed a provocative or issue-focused film, he would hold a panel discussion after the Sunday matinee. I can't remember the film that inspired the Abortion Forum, but the event itself stands out in my memory.
The usual format was to invite a group of experts to speak and then have a Q&A session with the audience. But for the Abortion Forum, he invited a very caring family therapist we knew to moderate an open discussion. There must have been 300 people in the audience. There was not an empty seat in the place. As I recall, we were all, apart from my husband, women, although that may not be an accurate memory.
The woman who was moderating told her own story of abortion and then invited anyone who wanted to speak to tell her story. And one by one, women stood and spoke. Women who were extremely pro-choice, women who were extremely pro-life, and everyone in between. There was just one rule. No kibbitzing, analyzing, arguing, or one-upping. Just listening to one another with as much heart as we could muster. A lot of healing happened in that room that day. A lot of laughter, a lot of tears, a lot of connection. It was a very safe space. Women who had kept their story secret for years found the strength to tell it. Women who had never forgiven themselves for terminating a pregnancy found forgiveness from women who were fiercely anti-abortion.
It was a room of three hundred women, mostly strangers, all different lifestyles, value systems, and religions. But in the simple telling of and listening to our stories, we found the commonality that binds us all together.
And call me crazy or simple-minded, but I believe if we can work for that commonality, if we can focus on all that connects us, rather than what divides us, if we will simply listen, really listen to one another's stories, and leave all the posturing and opinions at the door, I suspect the abortion debate will lose its charge and we'll be able to find inspired resolution for all.

As a Hospice director and chaplain in he 90's - I often said that if everyone received the kind of hospice and palliative care available, that the euthanasia debate would be a mute point.

Is there something similar in the abortion issue? I think we're starting to hear a little move away from extremes in the Dem platform and the shared value of less abortions.

I also think Frederica Matthewes-Green needs to be heard on this. issue
(Frederica.com) - Orthodox writer and speaker who Krista is undoubtedly knows of. She has written strongly on true women's choices and the incredible work done by those in crisis pregnancy centers who go beyond protest to compassionate care.

LM

I am "Pro-Life", but lately I have been making a point to approach that position from a "social moral" or "social structuring" position. Too many voices push back against a supposed religious intrusion into such a personal issue. But this issue goes beyond religion, into the realm of ethics and the dignity of human life. Where do we draw the line? How can we say that "this life doesn't matter" or that "this life does"? How do the ethical implications of abortion impact how we address "end of life" issues? Does human life have value only because I think that it does, or is there an intrinsic value to human life that does not depend on what I or someone else may think? Does human life only have value because some religion tells us so?

Besides passion, the thing both sides of this issue seem to have in common is a strong sense of certainty about a subject that is not only complex but shrouded in mystery. There can be no certainty about an answer to the question about the origin of an individual life. And unless you are willing to settle for the rather limited definitions of science--which touch only on biological mechanisms--there is not much certainty about what a human life is. Abortion may be tragic, but calling it murder in the face of this mystery is not only reckless but harmful to the quality of our social relations and political discourse. And as with any assertion of rights, the claim for "choice" must take into account the responsibilities associated with chosing in the face of the mystery of our life. Both sides of this contentious debate need to realize that the frame of pro-life/pro-choice that has hardened around our understanding of abortion is set within a vast mystery. Who am I? Neither side can see through the darkness all the way to the end. Neither should lay such passionate claim to the certainty that motivates them in support of their respective position.

To me the most compelling fact has always been, is, and will continue to be that women have been ending pregnancies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Any history of abortion (not abortion rights, but the actual practice and procedure) demonstrates that methods for terminating pregnancy ranging from mechanical to chemical (using various herbs) have been known and used throughout history. Most recently, in the U.S. in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, we heard of "back-room" abortions performed by unqualified persons under unsanitary conditions using tools which included coat-hangers. These abortions not only resulted in a termination of the pregnancy, but the maiming or death of the mother as well.

We will never agree on "when life begins", so let's stop debating it and look at FACTS. A woman will find a way to abort an unwanted pregnancy if she wants to. Shall we take the woman's life in the process? Shall we leave her unable to conceive and deliver a wanted child? What exactly is to be gained by outlawing safe, sanitary procedures?

I cannot control your behavior and you cannot control mine or that of any other woman. The issue to me is not when life begins, or even the right to choose. The is issue is can our society deal with an existing condition that will not change (i.e. the fact that some women will terminate their pregnancies) in a safe, sane manner?

I have thought long and hard about the abortion issue. Here are my 3 key challenges to each side of the abortion debate:

A. Key questions for any *pro-life* person:
1. What certainty does a religious pro-life person have that the soul enters the body at conception or soon thereafter, when the fetus is made up of only a few cells, rather than nearer the time of viability or perhaps even at birth? In the absence of such certainty, why not show greater respect to people's right to live according to their own theological views?
2. There are many immoral behaviors that are not made illegal (from adultery to never giving money to charity). Such behaviors are typically those favored or condoned by a large portion of the population. Because abortion currently falls into this category, what wisdom is there in trying to outlaw it entirely? What OTHER action/behavior/belief that is supported by about 50% of the population is also sought to be made outright illegal, and if the answer is "none," then perhaps there is no wisdom in the outright outlawing of abortion?
3. If abortion is truly murder, how can the overwhelming majority of people favor abortion in the case of rape or incest?

B. Key questions for any *pro-choice* person:
1. Isn't a fetus more accurately said to be "IN A woman's body" rather than "A woman's body"?
2. If a fetus has considerably more worth than a toenail, isn't what happens to it of considerably greater consequence and thus of greater concern to society than what a woman does with her toenail?
3. Arguing that a woman who wants to carry a fetus to term has a fetus of great moral worth, but that a woman who wants to have an abortion has a fetus of no moral worth suggests that the woman's thoughts and wishes are the only factors that determine the worth of a fetus. Isn't such an argument morally untenable?

Faith has no place in politics or our government. it only divides the American prople and is used as a weapon. All people should have the Freedom to practice whatever faith they want. And having this freedom is what makes our nation special not mixing it with politics. There are people of numerous faiths in our nation and those who do not believe in God at all. When the word Liberal and conservative are mixed with religion it is a divisive tactic that is destructive to our Democratic way of life and because it focuses on the Christian faith is bias and distracts us from the more important issues that we face. There was a reason the founding fathers separated church and state and we are seeing the harmful effects unfold right before our eyes.

Government should not be invloved in the topics below

I, first and foremost reject the phrase pro-life. I am pro choice, meaning that I believe that a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, including whether or not to have an abortion. I also believe in life - I am against the death penalty, which so many anti- abortion people are for, and yet claim to be pro life. I have two children that I chose to have. I am an atheist - I don't believe in god and I very adamantly do not believe in organized religion. I have had an abortion - after having two children and knowing that i could not handle another. I have no regrets, no apologies. I respect the right of every woman to do what she chooses when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Your guest today is incredibly hypocritical when stating that we are not the 'cops of the world' in regard to spreading our values - he has no business telling me or any women what to do with their bodies.

Although I am a very strong advocate and supporter of protecting human rights, I do not believe that human rights begin at conception. Conception joins two cells that begin to further divide and grow. Until the nervous system forms, self-awareness is impossible. For some time, no one is aware that conception has taken place. If these few cells are destroyed, there is little or no loss; the cells are unaware, others are unaware, and conception can usually be readily repeated.

While replication, such as cell division, is the signature of life, self-awareness is the signature of sentient beings. Human rights certainly arise whenever the developing human becomes self-aware, or others begin to know and care about the fetus, infant, or person. Specifying when this takes place is complex, if not impossible.

In considering abortion, the rights of the mother, father, and family have to be balanced against the rights of the unborn child. This is a complex assessment that must consider the circumstances of the pregnancy, the extent of development since conception, the health of the developing fetus, the fertility of the couple, and their love, resources, plans and preferences.

Discussions about abortion often focus on preserving human souls. I believe that self-awareness emerges as our brains attain a certain level of complexity, perhaps as an infant approaches one year old. That emergent self-awareness is often confounded with the notion of a divine soul that originates externally, and may outlive the body. While the emergence of self-awareness is extraordinary and awe inspiring, it is not evidence for a divine soul that can exist without human consciousness. Frankly there is no evidence for such a divinely created and sustained soul. To claim there is a “ghost in the machine” is extraordinary, and that extraordinary claim has to be substantiated by extraordinary evidence. There is so much we do not understand about the origins and nature of the universe. It is authentic to admit to what we do not understand; it is speculation to hold firmly to an unsubstantiated explanation.

Is it possible to be both pro-choice and pro-life? How about calling it pro-women and children. Now get ready, 'cause I'm about to get brutally honest.

As a 44 year old woman, I was faced with the awful choice of ending two pregnancies that left me with tremendous hurt and pain. I have a daughter who, if she ever found herself with an unwanted pregnancy, I would encourage her to have it and either give it up for adoption, or I'd help her with raising it. If my now 20 year old son fathered a child, I'd help him with that one too.

Not too long ago, the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC had a guest who was pro-choice and she said something about women who've chosen to have abortions never feeling life-long hurt or guilt or something (I don't remember off hand) and I called in to correct her (gave a different name). The first abortion I had was when I was 19 and despite my pro-life beliefs, I had no support from the father (who was trying to deny it), his family or my family, so I capitualated and afterwards lost most of my friends, suffered from post-abortion depression, self-destructive and suicidal thoughts for years. I directly attribute that experience and my lack of getting proper emotional support as the reason I married my first husband who I later felt was on the verge of phyiscally abusing me. In addition, these self-loathing feelings interferred with my finishing college and were feeding my terrible self-esteem, again, for years -- possibly even until now to a lesser degree.

That abortion sent me down a road of drug abuse for a few years and man-hating promiscuity. Eventually I decided I needed forgiveness and I got involved with a questionable religious group called The Way International, which is where I met my ex-husband (he seemed to accept all of me at first). TWI's interpretation of the Bible suggested that abortion may not actually be murder since the Old Testament did not require the death of someone who maliciously caused a woman to mis-carry, but instead the husband could set a price. This was liberating to me and allowed me feel slightly above unworthy for the first time since having ended that pregnancy.

Some years after having ended my first marriage (we had a son together), I had a car accident that injurred my back to the point of my having a limp and nerve damage. About a year after that I met my current husband and we had an unexpected pregnancy within the first few weeks of seeing each other. My delemma or Sophie's Choice became trying to figure out if I was going to be seriously disabled by this pregnancy and thereby unable to continue caring for my learning disabled son (he's dyslexic and I've been his only advocate). Despite the fact that I wanted another child, my husband and I didn't really know each other and I vowed I'd never terminate another pregnacy, but I hadn't had enough time yet to heal my back sufficiently, so I felt I had to choose my 11 year old son and preserve my health -- not to mention that I didn't have health insurance at that point.

My coping mechanisms are a bit better developed by now and I found some relief through traction therapy and activator chiropractic. My husband and I had a wonderful little girl 6 years ago (October 22) and she has healed my heart tremendously. My back was worse for a while after having her, but not to the point of being disabled.

I look at my son as saving my life, because when he was 3 months old, he was the motivator for my seeking out and remaining with a psycho-therapist for 4 years. The birth of my daughter then brought us all back to life after some terrible experiences by bringing new love to all of us.

What I wish people would do is to stop arguing about this topic from an idealogic stand-point, and instead talk to the real people who have walked the walk to find out the reality of what's needed. If so-called pro-life people want to stop abortion, then universal pre-natal and post-natal care should be automatic, as well as actual options for young women and girls who have an unwanted pregnancy. It's as if they want to shame these women by not supporting them in having these children and then calling them baby killers if they terminate the pregnancy. Why is it that they're so concerned with the unborn, but seem to have total contempt and condemnation for the living. Newsflash: From what I've read about God, he's a God of forgiveness and if we're supposed to be more like Him, then it's a no-brainer. As for pro-choicers, they try to say that there are no long-term emotional scars from abortion -- well I'm here to tell you that there are and the truth of this conversation needs to finally be told.

I believe that abortion should remain a choice, but that real alternatives should be more available for all women of all classes. However, I will never let my daughter live with the guilt, sadness, grief and hurt that I will always feel. There is no easy way out of pregnancy, it changes the life of the parents no matter what route is taken. I just hope to God that those other two babies will forgive me.

Please contact me first, if you're thinking of publishing this story.

I would like to suggest two interesting and important new angles on the abortion issue:

1. Men and abortion.
In this context I would recommend that you interview Dr. Arthur B. Shostak, author of the 1984 book "Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, Love."
shostaka@drexel.edu
http://www.futureshaping.com/shostak/

2. The idea of Choice as it might be applied to men.
An unwanted pregnancy can have very significant effects on men's lives, often interrupting or completely derailing educational plans and career options, tying them to eighteen or more years of economic obligation for which they might be totally unprepared. Pro-choice advocates give women the right to make their own life choices, but they seldom give any consideration to life options for men.

Best wishes for an important and enlightening program.

Conversations on abortion quickly become contentions for a number of reasons.

People arrive at their strongly-held beliefs using a variety of approaches that are rarely discussed and not often understood. We each use some theory of knowledge to decide what to believe. It can be helpful to directly discuss our theories of knowledge See: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/theoryofk.htm

People aggressively assert their own firmly held beliefs, even when those beliefs do not have a firm foundation. See: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/belief.htm

People use a divisive tone of communication when dialogue would be more helpful. See: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/tone.htm

People establish false dichotomies that make vital parts of the solution space invisible. See: http://knol.google.com/k/leland-beaumont/false-dilemma/1oqldl2m8prj5/8#

People are unskilled in the practice of dialogue. See: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/dialogue.htm

And people are unskilled in resolving conflict. See: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/conflict.htm

Improving our skills in these areas can lead to more enlightened dialogues on the difficult topic of abortion. I hope these web pages, that I have written, can be helpful in moving the discussion forward.

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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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