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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.

(photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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I am pro-life, both before and after someone is born.

I feel abortion is wrong, and that society should do what it can to make the procedue rare, through education, the free distribution of contraceptives, and legal limits short of a return to the bad old days of back alley abortions.

That said, I am pro-life after someone is born as well. Capital punishment is wrong. War, when not it's not self defense, is evil. Torture is wrong. Higher taxes don't bother me if they can reduce the growing gap bewteen rich and poor. And how about a "living wage". That seems to be a pro-life position.

Am I alone? I don't think so. Here in Wisconsin, one of the more Catholic states in the nation, many like me are torn between the pro-life (before birth) position of someone like McCain, and the pro-life (after birth) positions of Senator Obama. Yet the media never talks about us.

1. Each child brought into the world needs loving hands, needs to be wanted before birth, needs to be loved before birth, needs to be received at birth with devotion to moment-to-moment long-term care. Each child needs to be given a good life! This is an enormous responsibility for the parent. Each child brought into this world needs parents ready with a safe, nurturing, warm, loving environment, parents who can and want to provide the child with a good life, who will feed the child's body, mind, spirit. This is a true "pro-life" view. (Some seem to insist that a child be born but look away for the rest of its life, leaving it in the lurch).Each child needs a good life, not just any life. I'm a mother and teacher who loves children.

2. Forcing any person to go through childbirth is a form of torture.

3.Forcing any person to become a parent is endangering the life of the child."Pro-life" should mean the life of the child is nurtured by the whole society, with long-term care, as each child needs.

4. A woman with child is a woman with a lifetime of care ahead needed for each child. This huge responsibility needs to be chosen, not forced.

I am a pro-choice person. To me, this means leaving the choice up to a woman and her doctor. What right has a person especially a male tell me what to do with my body. The pro-life people would better serve society concentrating on the children who are here now with providing a secure enviornment. That means making health care, education and a clean safe world available for those children who do not now have them. Now that is pro-life.

The topic of abortion is a very difficult one for me. I have been on either side of the divide multiple times in my life. I have never had to make the decision for myself, and so I am just supposing I can be a fair essayist without the perspective of facing the decision. I am so ambivalent about abortion. I cannot help but think that it is awful the way we find it so easy to kill people in the United States. I think of capital punishment as awful for how it detaches us from our own humanity. I think of abortion in this way, too. We are precious to God among all the creatures on earth. However, I try to put myself sometimes in the place of the woman or girl who is pregnant and perilously close to setting herself on a path to lifelong poverty with the birth of a baby. The birth could so profoundly change the trajectory of some women's lives because they lack the resources that some of us can take for granted. Whether to take a pregnancy to term is not devastating for a woman or girl with great family support of her, reliable financial means, an education, and the emotional strength to withstand the stress of the unwanted pregnancy and either raising the child or living with the pain of giving the baby for adoption. I cannot make that choice for someone else. Unambivalently, I believe that in the case of rape, incest, or a real threat to a woman's health, she should be able to make the decision in her best interest without taking grief from other people. I offer you the example of the woman with serious mental illness who has a pre-school child. She cannot stop medication for her illness without risking becoming ill and hospitalized or dangerous. She should not place the unborn child at risk of developing under the physiologic influence of these medications in her body. This is a serious medical decision. I do not belong in this decision. My religion does not belong in her decision.

Yet, I surely believe that for some the choice to abort a pregnancy is absolutely cavalier. How repugnant. But, I accept that I am not in control of her, though some part of me wants to be. What will be the life of a child born to her? What about the loss of life in abortion? Surely, this unborn spirit will not go to hell. I have felt the closeness of God in dark times in my life. I feel God's compassion and forgiveness. It is not my impression of God that the unborn spirit is more loved than the living. I think the unwavering placement of greater value on the unborn than on the living woman and those who her pregnancy will impact is the imperfect judgment of human beings. Why do we try to insert ourselves so aggressively in the lives of others? Haven't we all felt that God deals with us in our right and wrong actions? So, though I would prefer that the person who cavalierly took a decision for abortion had not done so, I pray that God will touch her privately and show her another way. I genuinely hope that people who are so anti-abortion will have compassion for that woman who chose abortion and will pray for her to be in prayer about that decision even after the fact. God has forgiveness for her, if she was wrong, and has support for her, if she was right.

I think that as we think about abortion, we should also think about the death penalty. Must we do this? Is is so impossible to feed and cloth and impress humanity upon the murderer? Can we not challenge him to come to God? Why do we kill this person? Are we trying to send them to hell before they can repent and come into the graceful embrace of God?

I am concerned that the vehemence hurled at people who get abortions or perform them is not from the spirit of holiness. What we hear sometimes is absolutely hateful. I cannot reconcile to that approach to disagreement even on something one feels passionate about. I would say that people on both sides of the debate need to accept that we do not know everything. We are not God and we are not the person that has to make a decision and live with it.

I am an obstrician-gynecologist and this is my take on the abortion issue. A survey of teenage girls asked which is morally worse--to plan to have premarital sex and to have sex, or not to plan but still to have sex, and planning was worse--probably analogous to premeditated murder being morally worse than a crime of passion. But the outcome of that thought process is that girls and women who are most conflicted about their sexual behaviors are the ones most likely to get into trouble. Which may be why Catholics are actually over-represented among women and girls who choose to have abortions. In my practice, I have taken care of pregnant teens where the mother says to me "we don't believe in abortion but SHE can't have a baby." Many people who believe and vote anti-abortion clearly have some flexibility in the belief that life begins at conception. After all, if abortion were truly murder how could you make an exception for rape or incest, or even the life of the mother? You can't kill a baby who is a product of rape or incest, or because the mother needs its bone marrow for cancer treatment. Full human rights begin at birth. Through history women and girls have found themselves in situations in which abortion seemed like the only option. Where abortions are illegal, young women die from making this choice. In the 1950s and 1960s, obstetrician-gynecologists were the experts in the treatment of total body infection (sepsis) because they saw women die. I wonder whether the people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade understand that women will die because these women will still make the choice to terminate a pregnancy that is unacceptable to them. There is a difference between feeling that abortion is wrong and making it unavailable and unsafe for others. And sometimes those others turn out to be you or someone you love. I don't understand why groups who really oppose abortion don't take community actions that would actually decrease the number of abortions. Even if they don't believe in birth control, they could support mothers who choose to place their babies for adoption with places to live and free prenatal care, for example.

RE: New Frame of Reference.

Despite your pro-life or pro-choice position, the abortion issue has always been resolvable but the real issue is why we are afraid to resolve it. I introduce a frame of reference and a road map that can be used to address the issue in a short article at the following link: http://www.successthroughquality.com/Abortion_issue.htm

The basic premise and principles: People can agree on facts, ideals, and can find common cause that they can work together to reduce. They will likely always disagree on desired outcomes, e.g, legality of abortion. An ideal represents a standard of perfection (everybody wins) that one can strive for but never achieve: a fact that makes continuous improvement possible.

The U.S political system was founded upon these principles and is a system that was designed to be continually improved (if we so choose) through quality leadership (as opposed to political leadership), amendments, and new and/or improved laws.

To summarize, the abortion issue can be resolved through application of the quality leadership paradigm which can be applied immediately but may take a little longer to fully comprehend.

My personal story, Transformation to a World that Works for Almost Everyone, is availabe at the following link:
http://www.successthroughquality.com/bbl-oct10.htm

Many Americans will never move off their stances on abortion until we are willing to go beyond simply stating “I’m against the taking of life,” or “I support the woman’s right to choose.” These terse phrases are too facile, letting people off the hook on the accountability for the outcomes of their stance.

Opponents of abortion talk only about the elimination of killing, but not about obvious outcomes that will probably result with ending legal abortions. What financial responsibilities will be established for a mother’s medical necessities during the pregnancy and robust adoption services after the birth? What is the pro-family social responsibility the nation would then have of caring for those unaborted lives condemned to a marginal life with a teenage mother?

Supporters of pro-choice see abortion as a woman’s right, but only consider that right extended to the person carrying the fetus. The life essence within the womb is considered part of the mother, not an person unto itself.

While most pro-choicers could never take a life themselves, nor condone the death penalty, they support the freedom of women to make the choice of ending life in the womb as a form of contraception or eliminating a less than ‘perfect’ child, too many times cloaked in guarding the health of the mother. Whether as a form of contraception or retaining a lifestyle, too many pro-choice advocates do not consider accepting the responsibility of conceiving that child.

Until we extend the discussion on abortion beyond the action of aborting life, there will be no movement forward. Unless the fetus is seen and considered in equal standing to a human outside the womb and social legislation is an integral alternative to ending a life with safeguards of care during pregnancy and after birth, there can be no common ground on which to discuss the issue to help a woman, who sees this issue in the clear light of day, to answer the question…”What am I to do with this child?”

What we humans share with all creation is our breath. Historically, life was marked by 'the first breath'...and 'the last breath.' For me this is a key element for understanding life and our obligations. Ecology has helped me in my own understanding of the abortion issue. An infant that cannot survive on its own - that cannot breathe - is not 'alive' in the way that its mother is, because it does not breathe; it does not share the air with all life on earth, except indirectly through its mother. I recall the era before the supreme court decision and the reports of women losing their lives in botched illegal abortions. I believe that society's obligation is first to the living.
For the last thirty years, I have been an environmental educator and activist. I have sought to bring people together, especially to overcome artificially created divisions, so that we can work together for a clean and healthy environment. Science has changed and complicated our understanding of conception and birth, and enhanced our ability to save lives of younger and younger prematurely born infants. These changes have complicated our understanding of life, but the fact remains for me that concern for an infant in gestation must be secondary to our concern for the mother.

My 18 year old son walked through the kitchen this morning and overheard just a part of the discussion of abortion and the republican party. He turned to me and said, it is interesting isn't it, that the pro-life people favor the death penalty; while the pro-choice people generally oppose it. This contradiction heightens for me the sense that abortion is used as a 'wedge issue' more than it is truly a moral issue. I guess I would genuinely like to understand how people who support war and the death penalty can balance that with their "pro-life" morality.

I would like them to understand that I do not want to see abortions either. But I believe that the state should not be in the role of legislating how a mother lives and the decisions she makes. I believe the role of the state is to support the living, and the more effectively we do that the less there will be an economic reason for a woman to choose abortion.

FYI I've been thinking about these issues for quite some time. In brief, I think that a major opportunity for developing "common ground" on the abortion issue is that nearly everyone across the spectrum agrees that abortion is inherently a "bad" thing (either "morally," or at least in terms of women's psychological health, etc.); no one thinks it's a "good" thing to have many abortions happen. And there's a growing understanding and agreement that we should be working to reduce the prevalence of unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Some Christian health professionals and activists, for example, realize that increasing the access to family planning services will result in a significant reduction in abortions. (Even Catholic organizations can support "natural family planning" methods, some of which are quite effective and would also reduce the level of abortions performed.)

I have been invited to address the United Nations General Assembly this month (for a panel on "Globalization and Health," along with the Director of the World Health Organization and some other public health experts), and plan to emphasize this point.

Sincerely,

Daniel Halperin, PhD
Senior Research Scientist, Lecturer on Global Health
Harvard University School of Public Health
dhalperi@hsph.harvard.edu
(617) 432-7388

I've had 3 abortions. Over the years (the first was in 1971, the 3rd in 1986). All my decisions involved maintaining my social standing within my family and my community. I was raised in the Pentecostal faith. Parenting in my family was very rigid, denial of self, corporal punishment, passive hardworking mother, controlling father. In Alice Miller's book, For Your Own Good, there are many passages on parenting dating from the 17th & 18th century that my father seemed to repeat by heart, yet I doubt he ever read any those words. He was only repeating what he was taught.

My mother did not see her children as her own, rather we were her husbands children. She never spoke to me about being a woman, just that I would have to "sleep in the bed I made".

We read the Bible a lot. I could never find anything in the Bible that said that terminating a pregnancy was an unforgivable sin so preserving my standing in the family became most important. I did not want to live my mother's life. Outwardly I was a model child. I had started going to college and having a child would not only destroy my dreams but an out of wedlock birth at 19 would have brought much shame to my family. Once I became aware of abortion as an option, there was no other choice.

Later abortion decisions have different contexts, yet all include maintaining social norms, either mine, or the father's, or both.

I don't believe one can speak of moral and spritual aspects outside of social dynamics of the family. It seems to me that the decision to terminate a pregancy will always include how the woman is and will be perceived her community.

People look for God but they cannot comprehend the infinite. Nevertheless, some people presume to speak for God or even to give commands and condemnations in God's name. Many times what is spoken in the guise of a message about God's love is actually a symptom of the hatred felt by the speaker.

The limit cases are always instructive. Some people regard both the protection of any viable fertilized ovum and support for the death penalty as sacrosanct. Albert Schweitzer was correct to observe that we should have reverence for all life. Even the potential for life is precious. But, in the limit cases, can we consistently believe and act to actualize all potentials for life? Must every fertile woman govern her life so as to maximize the actualization of the potential lives represented by her viable ova? Must every fertile male preserve and donate sperm to contribute as needed to fertilizing those ova? I doubt that very many people would accept that extreme case.

On the other extreme of life, should the state have the right to terminate any life that it decides should end? Or, are there no circumstances when it is ethical to end a life?

A non-extremist position toward abortion, execution, and euthanasia says, again, that all life is precious, but that humans need to make decisions to shape their imperfect lives. When the environment does not permit everyone to procreate without limit, then something must be done to limit fecundity. What is the range of limits and what values may humans attach to those limits? If abstinence is the ideal (which may not be a universal judgment), when individuals fail to abstain is it better to provide contraceptive strategies or to bring a baby into life with statistically very low prospects personally and the additionally the sure promise of contributing to over-population and all its consequences for the welfare of all life?

Some people will make the decision to practice infanticide. Some people will make the decision to seek an abortion. All of these courses of action have bad consequences. The objective of good planning should be to minimize the damages. A late term abortion is better than infanticide. The earlier an abortion is performed, the better it is if all other circumstances are equal. A "morning after" pill that prevents an embryo from implanting is better than any procedure needed to deal with an implanted embryo. Prevention of the union of ovum and sperm would be preferable to that, and so on. We do not live in an ideal world, and reverence for life will move us to deal in a loving way with all eventualities.

The same reasoning applies to execution. How much better it would be if nobody ever became such a threat that authorities judge the safest course for the community is to end that person's life. Perhaps there are cases when it would be a mercy to end the lives of some individuals whose violent impulses cannot be remedied and who hate themselves because of what they are. But the ideal would be a society that values all life so highly that it is willing to pay in money and time what is necessary to minimize the possibility of the individual's going wrong, and to do everything possible to correct problems as soon as they are manifest. It makes no sense to me to protect the lives of all individuals from the time of their conception and then abandon them to an uncaring and even hostile environment as soon as they are born.

I also fail to see the logic behind an ideology that holds that it is permissible to end a human life as an act of vengeance, but it is not permissible to end a human life as an act of mercy. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," but mercy is enjoined upon all of us. The realistic danger is euthanasia is that it becomes a disguise for ending the life of an individual whom others value negatively.

My biggest challenge with those who are "pro-life" is that so often the conversation begins and ends right there, that the life of the child after it's conceived and then born into very likely an incredibly challenging situation isn't really taken into consideration as a crucial topic for moral and spiritual people to delve into as their responsibility in a just society.

The religious right is happy to bring forward women who regret their decision to have an abortion because now they see their lives would have turned out just fine. But at the time of their original decision they didn't feel that way, they felt they had no choice, and perhaps that their child would have even fewer.

As an adopted person one might think I would be pro-life across the board, but no, I'm far too aware that I was simply lucky to be adopted into a loving family as an infant. Too many children aren't so lucky. Our orphanages and foster care systems in this country and around the world are packed full of children in desperate need of love and care, many of whom are simply too old for the majority of the world's population to even ever consider taking home and loving as one of their own.

Rather than glaring at each other across the abortion divide why don't we all looking more closely at the appalling numbers of orphans and fostercare children who end up unceremoniously on the street at 18, and the huge number who commit suicide?

I would love to live in a world where abortion is rarer than rare, but until men and women are treated equally in regards to the great responsibility and ramifications of sex I believe women need to have the ability to choose a legal and safe abortion. Across the world, across religions, men and women are held to different standards of behavior, and it is women who are judged the most harshly when an unwanted child is conceived (even, sadly, if it's from a rape).

My own birth mother was raped and advised by a friend who was a cop not to press charges - even though she'd been beaten black and blue. You see my birth mother was an attractive divorcee in her mid thirties, and in 1963 nice women didn't accept a ride home from college boys from a bar. The cop advised her that the attack would be seen as her fault for accepting the ride home in the first place.

My birth mother was so distraught when she learned she was pregnant she tried to kill herself. I would like to think times have changed and that such a scenario doesn't happen now, but I read the news. The current over the top sexualizing of youth, most especially young women, with barely a thought to responsibility and ramifications of it leaves me queasy, as queasy as the state of our unwanted unloved and abandoned children already stuck in the system.

**How do you think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion?**

I have taken pains to develop a political as well as personal stance on abortion that can make sense to people of all faiths and none, and thus is admissible to the public sphere.

My stance on abortion--like my stance on women's equality, disability rights, racial justice, environmental protection, war, and a wide variety of other social justice concerns-- is deeply shaped by Buddhist and Christian values of reverence for all life, and for the web of interconnections among all lives.

I oppose abortion because I believe unborn lives are sacred--but already-born lives, including the lives of women, are equally sacred. Women should not be forced by social conditions into situations where they have to sacrifice the lives of their unborn children and parts of themselves in order to "resolve" grave problems.

And so there is an enormous and inescapable responsibility, at every level of society from the individual to the global, to ensure that (1) women have the knowledge, the means, and the power within intimate relationships to prevent unintended pregnancies and (2) women who conceive, along with their children, have the utmost social supports, before, during, and ever after birth, in avoiding abortion and finding real, substantive alternatives in parenting, guardianship, foster care, or adoption. Both prevention and surprise-pregnancy support of course must include substantial male responsibility.

My deliberations are deeply shaped by my own experiences of bearing and raising an unplanned daughter in immensely difficult circumstances including my own disabilities, and bearing witness to many, many women's stories of unplanned pregnancy.

**What would you genuinely like to understand about the perspective of people who feel differently?**

(for *some* prolifers) How is it possible to be prolife and not be for every single life threatened by violence of discrimination--including and especially the lives of beleagured pregnant women who feel abortion is their least bad or only choice?

(for *some* prochoicers) Why do you invest so much energy in defending a right to abortion, instead of channelling all that energy into making abortion unnecessary? Wouldn't that be far more constructive?

**What would you like them to understand about you? **

I would like *some* prolifers to understand that I am not somehow 'watering down" prolifer by my insistence that "prolife" applies to every life, including but not exclusively the life of the unborn child. Would not the abortion rate plummet in an overall climate of respect for life, especially women's lives?

I would like *some* prochoicers to understand that I am not motivated by right-wing patriarchal theology, obedience to authoritarian dogma, troglodytic hatred of women and already-born children, or fear and loathing of nonprocreative sex--let alone rabid judgmentality or a frenzy to commit violence against anyone who has had or provided abortions.

Those are the stereotypes, but I, and many likeminded people, thankfully do not measure down to them. We are genuinely moved by reverence for life, born and unborn.

**If the phrases "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are limiting and polarizing, can you imagine new frames of reference for new and better conversations?**

I have long described myself as a pro-every life feminist who advocates nonviolent (nonabortion, voluntary, fully-informed, abortion-reducing) sexual and reproductive choice. I see myself as a spiritual, ethical, and political descendant of the prolife feminists whose lives and works I helped to document in the book ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Second Expanded Edition.

Although I disagree with many (not all) of its advocates about abortion itself, I also have a strong affinity for the approach of the reproductive justice movement, which arises from disabled people like myself, people of color, and working-class people.

Reproductive justice goes beyond looking at individual "choices" to their social contexts, and the overlapping and institutionalized ways that sexism, racism, ablism, poverty, ecological destruction, and other forms of discrimination and violence constrain people's ability to make life-affirming decisions.

I have the fortune of being involved now with the Nonviolent Choice Directory, http://nonviolentchoice.blogspot.com and http://www.nonviolentchoice.info This is a global directory of resources that help to alleviate the root causes of abortion and otherwise promote reproductive justice. It grew out of a promise made in the ProLife Feminism book. It can be helpful for everyone for a women wondering how to get through a crisis pregnancy to policy makers to anyone who wants to see specific, concrete ways they can help to reduce abortion.

I believe that women need to have the option to choose abortion. It is not a light choice for anyone I have known, just a necessary one. My religious upbringing taught me that life is beyond physical, so I do not think that not choosing a particular fetus is necessarily the end of life options for that being. I do think of the context of the life of the potential new one – I believe many if not most abortions are done out of care for the unborn one who would come into a place that is not right for it. It’s easy to say that the child could be adopted, but the world already holds an abundance of children needed care and adoption.
I would like to understand more about how people who disagree explain forcing others to make choices against their will. That seems like an aggressive act. I understand that they see the life of the fetus as meaningful and real, but I don’t understand how that life takes precedence over the woman’s, the one who is trying to make the best of what she has.
I left organized religion in part because I was always disturbed by the suggestion that this particular one was the superior religion. Removing options from women mirrors this kind of imposition in a powerful way. It also suggests a dangerous lack of separation of church and state. Whenever one religious attitude dominates our administration, I feel that the freedom of all religious organizations is threatened.
I would like to see the conversation about abortion be discussed in this light: how can we support and promote freedom of and respect for religious practices? Perhaps because my mother is a holocaust survivor, who fled her persecuted Jewish identity and fell in love with a smaller American Christian church, I feel passionate about this fundamental value of tolerance in our country.

I was raised Catholic and participated in Pro-Life activities with my mother; I recall walking door-to-door handing out pamphlets containing gruesome photographs of aborted fetuses.
Like many people, my black-and-white understanding of abortion blurred considerably during college and beyond. Learning about the history of contraception in the United States and the current state of women's reproductive health world wide has broadened my perspective such that the basic concept that many people focus on solely-the "life" of the fetus- is now only one small piece of a very complex puzzle that we refer to so simply as the "abortion issue".

I do wonder if "pro life" people often think more broadly about the related issues- because they are rarely addressed in public debate where the focus is so often simply the number of abortions recorded in any given time period and what efforts are currently underway to decrease or defent access to clinic- do they ever think about how many unwanted pregnancies are PREVENTED in that same clinic, for example? Do they ever hear that there are fewer abortions during times of economic prosperity, and that many women seeking abortions are married women who already have children and cannot afford another?

And the polar opposite of a "pro-life" position, really, would be a "pro-abortion" position- a person who said you MUST have an abortion. If "pro-life" means you MUST carry a pregnancy to term, then "pro-abortion" would mean you MUST terminate a pregnancy (or perhaps you could appeal to a panel of judges who might allow you to continue the pregnancy if they decide to allow it). Pro-Abortion would not allow the individual woman to choose- they would gather enough signatures/votes/judges to make mandatory abortions the law of the land. And they would picket OB clinics, I suppose. I wonder if "pro life" people ever really consider that scenario; because it seems to me that is what they have been doing to the rest of the country. And by that standard, "pro-choice" starts to sound pretty moderate, doesn't it?

I would love to see people come together and really talk about the social, economic, and cultural forces that contribute to unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Really, really listen to people in whose shoes we have never walked. (I was once at a parent group with parents of children with Down's Syndrome and they began talking about whether they would have had an abortion had they known early in their pregnancy that their child would have Down's and what that would mean- every single parent said s/he would have elected to have an abortion- it was a powerful moment & very instructive) Instead of repeating the same arguments over and over- I would like to have a real HONEST discussion and come to some conclusions as to what we can really expect of one another as human beings. For example; What rights to privacy would we be willing to give up? Really?

Having had two children, I understand why people feel that "life begins at conception." Any first time mother who sees her little embryo waving it's arms in an ultrasound would have a hard time believing otherwise. I believe that for the vast majority of women, choosing an abortion is a difficult decision. However, I am absolutely pro-choice because I feel that we will never stop abortions from occuring, we will only make them dangerous. There will always be women who seek abortions and making them difficult to obtain and dangerous to undergo will not stop them. I am particularly incensed by many in the "pro-life" movement who seek to not only deny women access to abortion but deny them access to contraception as well. It seems logical to assume that ready access to contraception would decrease the need for abortion, but this argument seems to go nowhere. In addition, the people who care most about fetal (and embryonic) life don't seem to care one bit about the women carrying these unwanted babies or about the babies themselves after they are born. The right to life doesn't seem to mean the right to a quality life. The people who insist that these babies be born should be held responsible for a minimal standard of health care, education, nutrition, and housing for them once born. Lastly, I cannot understand how anyone who calls him/herself "pro-life" can, with no remorse, also call him/herself "pro-captial punishment." Isn't that being pro-life and pro-death at the same time? In this scenario, the fetus has the right to life but can grow up with no health care, substandard housing, substandard education, substandard opportunities of all stripes, sink into a life of crime for lack of other opportunities, and then be killed by the state! So much for the right to life...
While many, many people would never choose abortion for themselves, why do so many think they have the right to make that choice for others? Do they genuinely believe that outlawing abortion will end the practice? And how can any "pro-lifer" have peace in their hearts when clinics are bombed or doctors are murdered in the name of life? I wish there was more discussion of the fact that abortions happened at an estimated rate of 1.2 million per year PRIOR to legalization. A much more constructive use of our efforts would be preventing unwanted pregnancies, not ranting about the right to life. While many would like to believe that these unwanted babies could be given up for adoption, in some communities, that simply doesn't happen, one doesn't give away one's baby. Denying access to abortion means that more children will grow up with unprepared parents in poverty, with few options for bettering themselves. We can do better than that.

Knowing what I know now as a 40 year old woman about abortion, there is no difference between moral and spiritual aspects of abortion. I believe it is morally wrong and spiritually wrong. Everyone I have ever come in contact with that has been pro-choice has never had an abortion.

Those that I have come in contact with who actually have exercised that right to choose to have an abortion regret that option and believe there is a strong need for more education about alternatives and the actual stages of pregnancy. Every woman I know who has had an abortion regrets it. They did it because they were convinced that was the only realistic alternative for them in their life situation at the time. If more funding was put into providing safe places for women to go and more accessable awareness of exactly what is going on with the development of a human life inside their body chances are they would choose otherwise. I know that 21 years ago I would have.

If voters don't want the government involved in this decision then Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion outlets need to stop asking for government funding to subsidize the cost of abortion for low income women. There are safe places to go and the funding should go to those places and women shouldn't be made to feel by society that having a baby alone and giving it up for adoption because of a poor choice they made that caused the pregnancy is a bad thing to do. It is the most unselfish act anyone could ever do.

In the case of rape, statistics show that pregnancy as a result of rape is extremely rare and that in those rare cases those women more likely choose to have the baby! Go figure! In the case of incest, as I said before, more education and funding for safe places for girls to go is needed not more funding to provide them with the ability to get an abortion. They are already messed up due to the abuse they suffered, and then society thinks they should add to that with more psychological effects of having an abortion. Yes, women suffer serious psychological issues after an abortion but Planned Parenthood never discusses that it messes up two lives not just the unborn one.
Just because the pregnancy is terminated doesn't change the hormonal changes occurring in the body after the baby is removed either, the body still reacts as if it is pregnant for some time afterwards. These things are not widely known and they should be. The full ramifications of both sides should be made clear to every woman facing this situation and chances are once that is provided less abortions will take place and more loving families can adopt. There is nothing wrong with that and people need to know. Women who get pregnant and are not in a position to raise a child on their own should be made to feel that if they have the baby and give it up to a family who can't have children of their own they are a hero not an outcast to be gossipped about. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake, but an unborn life shouldn't suffer because of it. Trust me, your own life suffers worse in the case of having an abortion.

I’m a 49-year-old adoptive father, an atheist and religious ‘Speaking of Faith’ fan. I’d describe myself as politically independent, leaning at times to socially liberal and fiscally conservative positions. I’m both pro choice and pro life. In fact, I believe all life on Earth is sacred, and that if you save a life, you assume a responsibility for it from that moment forward. My views on abortion, like anyone's, were formed though a lifetime of experiences and observations.

A lifetime ago, my first wife became pregnant when we were in our late twenties. Her own history of sexual abuse and uncertainty about being ready to parent a child led her to choose abortion, which I agreed to with reservation; after all, it was her body that would be involved.

During the 1980s, I worked extensively with abused and neglected children as young as 2 and as old as 18, many of whom had been utterly rejected by their biological parents—most of whom bore emotional and physical scars one might naturally associate with torture. I wanted to adopt them all, but that wasn’t an option.

I now work routinely with rural Idaho communities, and run a toll-free hotline for Idahoans experiencing housing instability and/or homelessness. A large percentage of the 25,000 callers I’ve spoken with personally over the past ten years are single mothers and pregnant teenagers (as young as 15) rejected by their own families and larger society. They share a mix of bad judgment and bad luck that leave them jobless, carless, and homeless. I have talked with self-proclaimed 'good Christians' who cast out their own children or their partners when an unplanned pregnancy is involved.

Prior to the 2004 election, I was fortunate to take part in the PBS Deliberation Day. This national event brought together voters from all perspectives to explore the landscape of ideas and values. One of the most meaningful conversations I had during Deliberation Day was with over lunch, with a woman who would be considered ‘pro-life’ by any standard. She taught theology at an evangelical Christian charter school in conservative Idaho, and in many respects represents a typical socially conservative perspective informed in part by a literal interpretation of the Bible.

We spoke at length, not about our differences, but about our mutual interest in reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion. We both embraced the ideal that all children should enter this world wanted, loved and safe in order to reach their full potential. I think a turning point was when she learned I was an adoptive parent and had spent my time caring for children in distress. I came away with a renewed hope in the power of respectful conversation.

I believe that the commonly used terms ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-abortion’ are neither accurate nor productive. The discussion of abortion essentially revolves around whether women in this country have a right to their own reproductive choices, and whether we as sexual beings will make better choices with accurate and unbiased knowledge of sexuality, reproduction and the public health issues involving sexual activity. Reproductive rights and education are recognized as the most effective measures to ensure human rights and to reduce poverty, but there is tension when religious beliefs enter the equation.

Many self-identified ‘pro-life’ folks also consistently support the death penalty and/or the Iraq war, and tend to dismiss or ignore issues of global poverty, climate destruction, human trafficking, and genocide. Few support social programs that help the mothers and children resulting from unintentional pregnancy, and view ‘abstinence-only’ curricula in lieu of comprehensive sex education. The same ‘pro-life’ lawmakers and groups that speak passionately about the rights of the unborn tend to abandon interest in them once they have left the womb.

On religion in general (with all due respect to faithfull readers)
This is a tangent, but relevant in that most ‘pro-life’ folks seem to assign religious values to their thoughts on the beginning of life. I’m fascinated by the human inclination to impose meaning, values, or the concepts of justice and balance to what appears to be an indifferent universe. I believe the part of our brain that makes us prone to gambling also causes us to invent religious belief. It is human nature to feel that a ‘run of bad luck’ must be followed by ‘getting a break’ of some kind. Thus suffering must be followed by salvation.

I have no quarrel with others forming their own opinion of how and why we exist or our ultimate fate; but I get a bit snarky when someone attempts to impose his or her values on me or my family and friends, to limit what we can read or say, or who we can love. And I’m alarmed to know how many Americans subscribe welcome the destruction of the Earth. This seems insane.

My thoughts on religion were largely formed at the age of twelve after consuming Twain’s ‘Letters from the Earth’ and Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ (my personal frame of reference prior to this was Mormonism). I realized how many religions claimed to be the ‘one true faith’ and simply applied something akin to Occam’s Razor: they can’t all be right, but they can most definitely all be wrong.

We are three-part beings; mind, body and spirit. So if the issue is "when does life begin?", the body begins to form shortly after conception and the brain begins to form around two months, the mind one could argue begins with our first thought? Who can say when the spirit enters our being? Are we complete beings without a spirit?

I believe our spirit choses the life into which we incarnate so that our soul can evolve in the way in which it chooses.

I have been physically disabled as a result of living with Multiple Sclerosis for 14 years and it is beginning to affect my cognitive function in some ways. My journey has led me to discover meditation and I have experienced profound levels of consciousness that can only be described as bliss. I believe at those moments I reconnect with Divinity. It is these experiences that have lead me to know that I am not my body or my mind, I am a spirit that has chosen to inhabit a broken body so that I may see the kindness in people's hearts, and experience what so many of our less fortunate brothers and sisters live with.

Namaste (The divine light in me bows to the divine light in you.)

I consider myself a pro-life Catholic Democrat. Neither political party really fits my value system. I have reconciled myself with the pro-choice platform of the Democratic party because I know abortions occur whether they are legal or not. That is I have read that the legality of the procedure does not determine the frequency with which it occurs.

I believe I read a year or two ago that the lowest abortion rates are found in some western European countries where abortion is legal. It would seem, if we were serious about common ground we would study why those countries have low rates of abortion and try to duplicate those conditions. I doubt we have the political will to do so, however.

Moralisticly/spiritualy I can't imagine the weight of the grief and torment that a woman must endure who finds herself in a position where the thought of abortion enters into her mind. As a Catholic I have hope that all humans have some sense of right and wrong(I believe this is inate and reinforced by good parenting/religious beliefs) and that where abortion lies in the right-wront spectrum is very black and white- abortion is wrong- and from this understanding of abortion's degree of wrongness comes the weight of the decision. Abortoin is ultimately a greedy decision, but one I believe a woman should have the right to make.
What bothers me most about so much of politics in American- and ESPECIALLY the abortion 'issue' is that discussion about the ways to avoid the problem/issue being debated are not at the forefront. We should be focusing the abortion debate on:
1) how to get people to make better choices about their sexual activity.
2) providing options to those who don't want an abortion and dont want a baby
3) Encouraging parents to speak with their children early and often about the importance of abstinence and birth control.

What I would like to understand from hard core pro- lifers is why they focus so much on the abortion issue and not on education issues that would avoid the majority of the unwanted pregnancies? Why do they not see value in focusing there? Do they really think that teenagers will stop having sex when they put on a sliver ring?

I'd like them to understand that there has to be middle ground here, new ideas are needed- this black/white approach that we have for the abortion issue is not making progress.

I don't have an idea for terms less polarizing than pro life/choice but would prefer terms that worked at the root cause- where I think we all agree- we are all anti- unwanted pregnancy- so lets work together in realisic ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

I came of age when one had to lie ( pretending an impending marriage) to get birth control advice or pills. Finding myself pregnant after practicing vatican roulette at the age of 19, I took unknown pills given by unknown sources. When that and other silly/dangerous ideas did not work I was lucky to have the sister of a friend of mine notice my frantic distress. Even though I thought she was very conservative, she pointed me to a church affiliated underground pipeline to an illegal abortion clinic in Mexico. She and that church may have saved my life.

You, who have not been there cannot imagine the lengths a women / girl will go to terminate a pregnancy if that is her desire. I was lucky to find a " safe situation" . I had a friend who overcame extreme distress to accompany me. I was so lucky not to be in a back alley. I was so lucky not to be left infertile, maimed or dead. It was extremely scary to go to a foreign country and place my life and my friends life in this underground secret situation. But I did it. A parent may never know . Is this what we want for our daughters?

I learned during that trip and in following years that those on the east coast went to Puerto Rico for safer operations and on the west coast, Japan, was where very safe, legal care could be had for a price that very few could afford. Sadly many of these operations were late term,( saline induced labor) because cost meant parents were involved and that meant it took precious time to deal with the realities of travel and arrangements. Is that a choice we want people to be making?

Listen to young people caught up in unexpected pregnancy. The ignorance ( not to be confused with stupidity ) is phenomenal. Romance and sexuality promoted by media are a confusion for our uneducated youth that cannot be under estimated. The denial of sexual reality is the result of our refusal to accept sexuality as a large and natural part of our being. To ignore this drive is to have teenage pregnancy,abortion and child abuse. .

Abortion will decrease when real sexual education and access to pregnancy prevention prevails. Ending Rove vs Wade will simply drive abortion for the poor back underground,increasing abuse, crime and murder for the disadvantaged. The rich will continue to access other countries to get abortion for themselves and their children. Many women will be maimed or die once again at the hands of illegal procedures and myths. That will be the only choice for the disadvantaged. Can we then pretend that America is blessed by goodness?.

That facts are, that state by state mandated laws will be unfair to women. Clinics have already been harassed out of some states. The wealthy quietly take time off from work and drive or fly for needed care. The poor panic, try drugs, coat hangers and back alleys. The rich will continue to protect their own and the poor will have no control over their lives. The poor and desperate will risk all to protect their current employment and future chances of survival. Or they will be weighed down with an unwanted pregnancy, shunted further down the road to less choice for themselves and their families.

We all want to prevent abortion. Look at history. Look at countries around the world that endorse high quality sexual education. The facts are clear. Abortion goes down when sex is dealt with in the realm of reality. Education leads to good choices not necessarily sexual activity. Education and equal access to health care are the answer. This is the middle ground we seek.

Or, the so called Christians could stand up and pay for and adopt EVERY child from an unintended pregnancy. Where are the so called Christians once a child is born? How would we rate foster care in this country? Do you call for equal education, health care, elder care, mental health care, etc ? These are the issues that show our real moral values.

Abortion will decline when women are empowered with self esteem, knowledge and access to choice and control over their bodies.

I believe that abortion along with guns and gays are the issues used by the so called Christian right to AVOID social justice as taught by their inspiration, Jesus Christ. Legal execution even after it has been proven that mistakes have been made- okay, Killing and maiming of hundreds/ thousands of innocents in preemptive wars- okay. Torture -Okay. Long term ( unending ) imprisonment (of even teenagers) without trial- okay. Women as less then human - Okay. Blaming the needy,rewarding the greedy- OKAY. Assuming knowledge about "end days" against all of biblical warnings, not to do so- OKAY. Abusing and destroying "god's" creation(s) - OKAY. A nation that has a economy based on arms sales- okay, Jesus never mentioned guns, gays or abortion- but he did speak often about sharing the wealth, not judging others and treating " others" as we would treat our own. Where are his teachings in the call for national moral obligations?

A lot of slight of hand seems to be the shield of the so called christian right to avoid the lessons that Jesus bought forward from the new testament. He left most of the ancient strictures of the old testament , such as stoning, selling women/what to eat and how to cook etc. without mention. It is so much easier and politically expedient to raise a hue and cry, an outward focus on issues that Jesus never mentioned, but that play well in our media and political structure.

PS- Your guest on Sunday 10/12/08 falls into the frightening group of the willfully ignorant. Sara Palin is a person that condones witch hunting, a church run government, cronyism, slander and hate speech to win at all cost and on and on. She is not a christian she is a "true believer". Do some research. See the films of the " witch hunter" praying for her success. Read about "pastor Muthee". What kind of debate is it when the participants can say that they will "not answer questions" they will just choose to make speeches of sound bites. She is a divider, a pusher of hate and fear. Professing beliefs do not make them ours - actions do. Too many church raised people are brain washed from birth and cannot be trusted to have a thought in their heads not planted by a market driven church of business. She fits the the image of a christian when it is convenient and sadly there it ends, even if she believes she is righteous.

Thank you for your time.

Kathleen Tooke

As a Catholic (see the USCCB 2007 statement on Faithful Citizenship and voting), I don't see how a Catholic can vote for someone who is pro-choice. With euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage, abortion must be fought against, according to the bishops. Considerations of education, health care, etc., even competence of the candidate, are important but only secondary to the issue of life, since all rests on that. The only way a Catholic can vote for someone who supports any of these things is if the other candidate is a lunatic - supported slavery or world war as a policy, or segregation, etc. Or if the other candidate is even more anti-life.
I hope that Catholics read the bishops statement and vote responsibly. Also, I hope Catholics would examine the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: "Immaculate from the first moment of her conception". Immaculate doesn't make sense unless there is a human being there. Mary always teaches us.
I must say that there really is no common ground between the two sides of this issue. Like slavery, it's either OK, or it isn't. It is a most serious moral issue, and how we vote and deal with it affects our spiritual lives. In the Catholic Church, the groups that are flourishing in numbers are those that are pro-life, those that are not ardently pro-life, or compromising, are declining. It's almost a litmus test.
My suggestions about new ways to view this issue are two: the first is for Catholics to read the bishops' statements and to vote with a correctly formed conscience. We must realize how seriously immoral this act is, and evil. As it is said at a visionary site of Mary in Ohio, each time an abortion is performed, not only is the good that God had in store for that person to perform lost, but there is a vacuum, and an evil spirit occupies that space. This is possible in Catholic thought.
The second suggestion, which supports the above, is that in American history success of the pro-choice forces has always been accompanied by obvious disasters for our country. For example, abortion became legal in 1973. In that same week LBJ died of a heart attach (the day before), and the U.S. signed the only surrender in its history (Viet Nam). Within a year the Watergate affair began and caused a President Nixon to resign the next year (the only time this occurred). And New York City, which led the legalization fight, almost went bankrupt, and adopted the symbol 'The Big Apple', reminding us of the Garden of Eden. The big apple indeed.
In the early 1980s the Congress failed to pass a pro-life amendment, and the Supreme Court made a two pro-choice rulings, and the U.S. lost 200 plus Marines in Lebanon, the largest terrorist loss in the U.S. up to that point.
In 1993, when the Supreme Court re-validated abortion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the World Trade Center was attacked for the first time, and would have fallen over except that the bomb was placed a few inches in the wrong spot. Sixteen people were killed.
The U.S. passed the 40 million mark of abortions in the spring of 2001, and later that year the World Trade Center was destroyed. 3000 people died, about the same number of people killed on any business day in abortion. The number of workers of Windows on the World who died on 9/11 was 73.
A belvoed priest chaplain rushed to the towers and was killed immediately by a piece of falling rubble: his name was Michyl Judge. (We will be judged.)
On 9/11 the hospitals in New York opened in anticipation of masses of casualties. But, eerily, there were no casualties. As in abortion, the people died. It was a blue, sunny day, and all of a sudden disaster struck: and this is the experience of the unborn child. And the word 'twin' in 'twin towers' reminds us of unborn children.
And the times of the two attacks plus the times of the two building collapses, as reported in the NY Times, when added up, add to 3737: the reverse of 73 twice. 'Stop abortion' is the message.
The architect in charge of rebuilding the WTC was named 'Liebeskind' or Love Child, or child of love, i.e. love the child. And no building has been erected yet on the site, and abortion is still legal.
When abortion was made legal in New York before 1973 women would fly in to New York, stay at hotels at the airport, have an abortion, and fly back. And what destroyed the WTC was airplanes.
If President Bush hadn't outlawed further embryonic stem cell research in August 2001, maybe the towers would have fallen over, as the terrorists had planned, resulting in the deaths not of 3,000 but of hundreds of thousands of people. But God is kind: the buildings' structure was critized, but it held up long enough to get everyone out below the impact site out, and then collapsed straight down, not touching other buildings.
The number of police and fire men killed was 343: adding two digits either was gives 37 or 73.
The only hijacked plane that didn't reach it's destination went down in Pennsylvania, the state of pro-life Governor Casey, who had almost overturned legalized abortion. That morning the attack cancelled the Democratic primary for mayor in New York City, and the Democratic Party is the one that is pro-choice. The journalist Daniel Pearl was killed on 1/23/2002, the day after the Roe anniversary. In the late 1990s the Congress twice voted to continue to allow partial birth abortion, and at that time the two embassies in Africa were destroyed.
There are many other connections that make me conclude that 'The message of 9/11 was 'Stop abortion''. And later I'll post a picture also. Abortion is terrorism, and if we don't stop this terrorism, we will not stop the terrorism that threatens our country and we will have no security. Spiritually speaking, if we continue to do this crime which cries out to heaven, God will withdraw his protection from us, and since that is the source of our security, we will be destroyed by terrorism.
Finally pro-choice President Clinton took office in 1993, and then the new economics of derivatives began (with the Congress also),
which led to the economic disaster we see today. And we saw the sexual problems President Clinton got into.
Some people say we can't vote on a single issue. But the bishops write that, indeed, we can't vote on a single issue, but a candidates position on a single issue can disqualify him or her from our vote if the issue is serious enough, as in the issues of life.

Let me begin by saying that I believe that abortion is the taking of a life. I also want it to remain a choice. My reasoning is that it is impractical/immoral/unethical to force a woman to bear a child she does not want. Yes, the baby could be adopted. But if the mother doesn't want the child, can we expect her to get good prenatal care, avoid alcohol, cigarettes, drug use? Back in the 60s one of our neighbors in our small town called my mom to give her a ride to the hospital because she was hemorrhaging--the result of a "coat-hanger" abortion. My mother wouldn't give her a ride because she was afraid of the consequences.

I would like to understand what those who oppose abortion can offer as alternatives. I would like them to understand that calling abortion murder is not helpful. I think most women going for an abortion are making a difficult choice and know what they are doing. I tend to agree with the bumper-sticker slogan, "If you don't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?"

I wonder whether some of our strong feelings about abortion are tied to our attitudes about sex, sin, and punishment. For example, do some of us take the attitude that "if she didn't want to get pregnant, she shouldn't have had sex"?

I heard a terrific story once about folks who were on the opposite side of the abortion question working together for the health and wellbeing of unwanted children. Somehow we must find our common ground by focusing on common values--love, compassion, security-- and be willing to let go of black & white positions to consider all the shades of gray. We need to look at what lies behind/underneath our positions toward abortion, what our fears are.

Is the essence of pro-choice "Free Will is a Gift from God" and pro-life "Killing is Wrong" ? ?
If so, most of us are on both sides. One side is not in direct opposition to the other!
So the real argument is which of these two widely held beliefs you put first.
I could not make judgment for a mother's decision, especially with lack of personal, financial and emotional support - pro-choice. I believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death - pro-life.
So my hope has been for supporting women who need more from all of us. Most could do more, whether it's working for adoption reform, offering direct support to individuals or working toward an encompassing view which puts LOVE first. Prayer, along with words, actions and fulfilling these women's necessities are needed. Prayer is free and available to all.

I'm a physician. I've spent the last 35 years taking care of adults and children with disabilities—working to keep them healthy and to maximize their functional ability, dignity, and self-esteem. I believe passionately that the strength of our society is in how we treat the least fortunate among us. I am strongly pro-life and as strongly pro-choice.

I was a medical student and surgical intern at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, an inner-city hospital, between 1969 and 1974, before and after Roe versus Wade went into effect. I really wanted to learn to handle emergencies and spent most of my my free evenings and weekends working in the emergency room or operating rooms. Before abortions were legal, we'd see young women coming in,perhaps 5 to 10 per week, with severe infections or bleeding following back alley or kitchen table abortions, many done with coat hangers and some after attempts to do it themselves. We'd see others poisoned from administration of whatever concoction was rumored to cause one to lose a baby, or worst of all, dead or near death from a suicide attempt. One of my most difficult tasks was telling a beautiful blond college student that her ability to ever become a mother had been taken away by the trauma she had received at the hands of the back alley abortionist who had destroyed her uterus. When abortion became legal and freely available, these stories quickly became a nightmare from the past. The rate of complications and death decreased to almost zero.

Still, abortion is not a life-affirming procedure. It is painful physically and emotionally. It is a desperate approach to a desperate situation. When I first saw tiny arms and legs in an abortion suction jar, I decided not to perform abortions, and probably would not have had one, had I become pregnant out of wedlock. My personal decision was that abortion is something that should not have to happen. Yet, it is clear to me that legal, freely available abortion is absolutely necessary in any civilized society. This has been shown again and again. In countries such as Brazil, that severely limit abortion, the abortion rate is actually over TWICE that in the United States. On the other hand, in the Netherlands, where abortion is freely available and funded by the government, the percentage of women of reproductive age having abortions is one-third of that in this country.

Here's how we can actually decrease or stop abortions. If we give girls access to first-class educational opportunities from preschool through graduate school they will learn to have dreams and they will realize those dreams. If we educate them about the science of reproduction, we will dramatically decrease unwanted pregnancy. If we offer support, education, child care and jobs to single mothers, we will keep them from having multiple pregnancies. If we are serious about actually reducing abortions, we will keep abortion legal and freely able, AND deliver first-rate education, health care, and rewarding, interesting jobs to America's wonderful children. If we make this procedure illegal, it will only serve to increase abortions and kill and hurt more women. This is just one of the reasons why I believe that a McCain/Palin ticket would be DANGEROUS and BAD for our country. Their judicial appointments would most definitely put the Supreme Court into a position to repeal Roe v. Wade, push the decision back to the states, and throw our country back into the dark ages in the areas of actually affirming life.

An Obama/Biden administration is all about getting people out of poverty, giving young people opportunities and dreams, and valuing human life in all of its forms and stages. Life is valuable. Babies should not be killed. But there are some behaviors that you don't change by making laws. You change them by changing hearts. Changing hearts is all about love, education, nurturing, opportunity, and self-esteem. Turning pregnant teens and those who try to save their lives into criminals is antithetical to that.

I was adopted by a couple in this country in 1956 that was trying for almost 10 years to have a child. Then in 1960 & 1962 they had children, on their own. I was told that my birth mother died shortly after child birth and I learned that my "father" did not sign my birth certificate. I was very angry about that and assumed that he did not care enough to be a farther to acknowledge it. It took me a few years for me to come to the realization that I did not know the truth and would probably never know the truth as to why he didn’t sign the birth certificate, maybe the “mother” didn’t want him to, maybe there were other forces or pressures at work, maybe she was raped. No answers at all. I grew up with my own issues and problems with intimacy and when I was 18 or so I made a woman pregnant. She under went an abortion, her second. We were young and scared and saw this as a way out of the situation. A few years later I made the woman that would become my wife pregnant, she also had an abortion. We then went on to have a few miscarriages, two children who are now 19 and 22 and a third child born prematurely but died a few hours after childbirth. In about 1998 I under went a vasectomy, some thing I wish I had done much earlier. In 2002 after much struggling and counseling we separated and in 2007 we finally divorced. I think that ultimately it is a woman’s right to chose to go through with a pregnancy. There are no guarantees that each pregnancy will result in the birth of a child, or even that that child will be fortunate enough to be cared for after birth. I think since he is the delivery system the man needs to take responsibility for the pregnancy and the ability to make a woman pregnant. It is not a life event that he should, with out forethought and understanding.

The focus on "life beginning at conception", mentioned by your recent guest, is a quest to identify some starting point, some beginning that is clear. But it is not clear. There is so much life before this beginning. It is clearer to point out that a fundamental conflict exists between two absolute values for us: the rights of an individual woman and the value we place on a child--which some extend all the way to the very moment of conception.

To me, what is breathtakingly disturbing is the discounting of a wholeness of experience. It is a radical individualism that renounces human connectedness, and lives in a fantasy of ultimate independence. When will scientists design vats for raising these ideal little individuals, to grow all by themselves? Since when do children flourish without a caring mother--parents? One thinks of the Nebraska man who abandoned 9 of his 10 children after his wife died, out of sheer inability to cope. And so, I acknowledge that in cases where a natural, healthy future for both is not possible, our society will have to let the woman make her own decisions about the new life, in full knowledge that her own life will never be unconnected from the existence of this pregnancy ever again. How can the State know what will make the world whole?

If doctors are forced to allow women to die in order to bring a dangerous pregnancy to term, if women are forced to bear their rapists' children, if women struggling to live are subjected to the power of police and the state, our nation has committed abomination against life.

When people insist "life begins at conception," what exactly do they plan to do with the 15 million frozen embryos currently stored in the nation's reproductive clinics, which exist only in case the first implanted embryo doesn't work out?

And let's face it. Any laws on abortion only ban abortion for the poor. The rich will always be able to travel to get one.

Thank you for your show- the phrases pro choice and pro life are limiting the conversation to stereotypes.

We need to come to common ground and that is that no one wants to have an abortion or have to be the one performing it- so why do they happen? If we are all on the same side- its easier to save lives.

I propose a converstation start from the perspective of social justice and compassion.

Under Bush the rate of abortions increased if you add in the morning after pill. Talk does nothing and saves no lives.

Obama has been a member of a congregation that meets the needs of communities- not bangs them over the head with rightious condemnation. The community and religious communities need to solve the issues- not the legislature- abortions are as old as time and the Supreme Court will not stop them.

start from more common sense issues- why do we deny health coverage for birth control and allow a huge group to have no access to health care? Why not help create jobs and a better economy instead of sending money overseas- invest in us so those more inclined to raise a child will have more options. The groups who counsel and help women through pregancy have saved more lives than those protesting on the streets. The Bible study groups that get into people's lives and build community, helpiing each other - save lives. I never recall Jesus participating in the government as a solution for moral issues or protesting against abortion.

I do not mean to pick out one faith - its just what I personally have seen - I suspect those faiths and communities with similar values of helping each other save lives too.

Palin is someone who has children with options- so her daughter was more inclined to make the right choice- will we help create a society that gives others the same options?
If Palin had kicked her kid out - would she have made the same choice? We need compassion in our legislation to give all the opportunity she has

Compassion and social justice

The way I try to understand the emotions of the abortion issue is to try and really see the people who are getting abortions as people who are walking their own spiritual path. I have yet to meet anyone, who has had to make the decision to abort, who was not forced to look at themselves and grow in conscienceness; no matter how young and irresponsible they were or what the circumstance.

I am a physician and I have seen the worst of human nature and lack of self responsiblity; I have also witnessed heartbreaking human tragedies. I have been there when couples - people who were married, educated, high income earners who had planned their pregnancies and wanted their babies more than anything else in the world - be told that there was some horrible defect, and the pregnancy and the baby that they had such expectations for and such plans of perfection and joy were not to be. All most all of these adults choose to abort, because they knew themselves and knew that they would not be able to meet the challanges of a special needs child or a child with overwhelming handicaps. How could I judge someone in that situation and tell them that they were sinning or wrong for following what their own conscience was telling them was the "right" thing for them to do in their individual circumstance? How could I not acknowlege their heart ache and devestation in hearing that their dreams were not to be?

Likewise, I have also been there to see young women make the same mistakes of judgement again and again with men that are abusive and be left alone with a pregnancy that they could not support, or become mothers that were too emotionally detached from their infants to mother them - most times due to their own psyco-spiritual wounds that needed healing. How could I tell them that "they made their bed and had to lie in it" with out seeing the distorted psyche underneath and the need for healing and a second chance?

I remember when I was a resident in internal medicine, one of my fellow residents and his wife decided that it was time to start a family. At five months of gestation, an ultrasound told her something that she had begun to suspect; the baby was not developing properly and near dead.The kidneys had failed to develop. It would be just a short matter of time before the fetus was dead and it would cause her a serious obstectrical complication called DIC ( disseminated intervascular coagulation), due to her body recognizing that the protein of the baby was foreign and would kill her. She needed to terminate the pregnancy before that happened. Since they were active duty military and in a military residency and military hospital, she could not have the abortion in our facility. My fellow resident and his wife had to travel to an abortion clinic in New Orleans and be subjected to the slurs and judgements, and unbridled hate of people picketing the enterance of the clinc. Not one of the people on the picket line ever once, stopped to think and ask themselves the question of what could possibling be going on in this couple's lives; that is how sure and confident the "right to lifers" were in their judgements of how the world and the people in it are suppose to work and how people who get abortions must be. The word devestation does not even begin to describe the blow this young couple experienced. It was the first major, adult disappointment of their lives, and to be ostrasized by people who did not know them and did not even feel the need to know them and their circumstance was the true sin.

I guess the the limiting factor in this debate is the notion of compassion, what it means and how it shows up in practice. I want to know what makes the people on the "right to life" side so sure that their view is so right all the time and that their way is the only way. I would think that in order to have compassion for the people involved in these circumstances, you have to suspend the way you think it is suppose to be and actually be emotionally present for what is in front of you. The reality of life is that there are disappointments and there is irresponsibility and mistakes and you can't help the person through the mistakes and help them learn from it if there isn't room for a second chance and some understanding. The topic of abortion, as far as I am concerned, does not allow for ridgidity of thinking or for any kind of fanatasism. To do so is to lack compassion and a sense of humaness for the people involved.

I'm sympathetic with the pro-life position to a point but have a hard time equating a fetus (not viable outside the womb) with a full-blown infant.

Here's a question to help me understand the pro-life position. Generally, people distinguish between death by accident and death by intentional violence in the sense that the latter is a crime, while the former is not. Many pro-lifers (especially those who speak of a holocaust of abortions) would identify a natural miscarriage as an accidental death and an intentional abortion as a crime (if the law were on their side). But the law isn't the only way we deal with death, of course. There are many other ways we deal with death, even of infants. We hold funeral ceremonies, we bury the deceased in coffins with name and dates on the headstone, we memorialize them through photos and mementos, we list them in family records, we identify them in conversation as one of so many close family members (e.g. I have four brothers, one of whom died young), we remember them vocally on special occasions, etc. Pro-life families want to extend full legal status to fetuses. Do they also extend full social status to them in the above ways? Given that 1/5 of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, if they did accord full social status to them, it would certainly be readily apparent in such circles. I would like to know more about the social status of miscarried fetuses in pro-life communities.

At fourteen, my parents aborted Rose from my body. She would be 31 today. I wish I knew her. I wish she knew my other daughter Kirsten. I wish Kirsten knew her.

I don't know who Rose's father was. Perhaps my father. Perhaps one of his friends. Perhaps one of the men who paid him to assault me. It does not matter to me now. I just think of Rose. I just think of the ideal of having her alive now.

I do support keeping abortion legal. I hate that we can abort. But, if something horrible were to happen to my daughter, I don't know that I wouldn't want to reach for that "fix" that would keep her from further agony and keep a child from coming about that way and living through God knows what.

I went through hell as a child. I am glad that I have healed and turned out reasonably balanced, yet not without painful scars. The image I have of Rose is an ideal one: healthy, healed, happy, strong, like me. But that might be far from what would have happened.

We need to educate. Show the truth in great respect for one another. And then we need to back off. We need to surround people who are faced with these decisions with support, prayer, education, personal story, and give them the room to work with God their own way.

Death is not an end. The "pro-life" people act as if it is. No, it is not up to us to decide if this life or that life is better for anyone, but, you know, with our medical "progress" these days, some of us will find ourselves in the position of having to make that decision.

Our answer is to teach the sacredness of life, all life -- the mom who aborts, the dad who leaves, the child, the grandma who cries. We are to support, to talk, to pray, to be open, to ensure that we respect as best we can the continuing development of brain, pain receptors. Development gives us two months to make our decision if we've been irresponsible enough to engage in life-producing acts; two months if we've been assaulted. That's enough time.

And then we need to mourn.

I would like to thank you for this forum. I listen to your program while milking cows on Sunday afternoons. I have spoken out for the "flaming moderates" on the abortion debate in our local newspaper, and been condemned for that stand. My brother-in-law has Down Syndrome. I think that abortions in this day and age should be unnecessary for the most part. There is no longer any real scorning of un-wed mothers in our society. At the same time, most "partial birth abortions" are performed on the advice of a physician; and, I refuse to see an undifferentiated blastula as human. I would love to sit down and have beer with Rod Dreher, but feel that he is more a student of liberal arts training and less a student of biology. There are holes in Mr. Dreher's understanding. He is against abortion, against same sex marriage, but for organic farming.* There is more to a holistic life than being crunchy.
I was raised as a Southern Baptist but abandoned that mindset by the time I was in high school. I spent half of my life divorced from God because of critical thinking. In that time, I received a science degree in college, married and came back home to take over our family's dairy farm. It was only because my wife found a church [in my own town, amazingly] that accepted what Marcus Borg calls "post-critical naiveté" that I was able to return to religion. Biology is the essence of a chaotic system.
As a working farmer, part time student of theology, and a "scientist", I become impatient with those that shut out other sciences. We are more than the sum of our DNA. It is absolutely necessary that an embryo implant into the uterus in order to grow, divide and become a functioning human fetus. Until it reaches a point of vague medical viability, the fetus is very much a body part of a woman. From a biological viewpoint, it seems to me that a fetus evolves into a human. The resolution of this is "above my pay grade".
I was struck, recently, by a passage from Exodus that I had never heard from either the left or the right. Starting with Exodus 21:22, this passage relates that the contents of the uterus are the property of the husband [not the father], and that the value of the fetus' humanity is to be set according to a sliding scale. As a small-b-baptist, I was dumb-founded that the Catholic Church could simply go its own way on this issue and ignore this passage. As a descendent of abolitionists and suffragists, I wonder how anyone could not understand that there are inherent contradictions in the Bible that we work out according to our greater angels. We are to hold up human dignity first and foremost.
Combining these things together leads me to be mostly against abortion AND to know that we have to keep Roe v. Wade. It simply can not be black or white, red or blue.

* I have some difficultly understanding those that blindly accept things such as "organic is better". There is a range of effects. Organic production of fruits and vegetables is probably a great idea, though it is extremely labor intensive and would require hordes of migrant workers if practiced on a wide scale. On the other end of the scale, organic production of row crops is immoral. Tilling the soil merely to kill a few weeds destroys the soil, releases carbon to the air, and causes erosion. Modern No-till farming practices build soil structure and sequesters carbon by utilizing limited quantities of herbicides. Organic dairy farming is somewhere in the middle. The vast majority of the benefits of organic dairying are to be gained from grazing which increases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants in the milk fat.
By the same measure, homosexuality is a mater of biology, not choice. The Bible deals primarily with inheritance and the necessity of avoiding idolatry. The opposition of some Christians to homosexuality, gay marriage and other such issues is difficult for me to accept when we are told that nothing that is of God [God created] is evil. All of my cows are bisexual. I use artificial insemination, and observe homosexual relations between my cows to know when to breed them. If homosexuals remain "straight" in their actions, then they are going against their God given nature.

As a Radical Catholic Feminist, I believe in a consistent life policy, one which respects the dignity of all human life, including both the unborn child and the struggling mother, by seeking to provide all people with all the choices they deserve in a free, equal and inclusive society. A consistent life policy is opposed to abortion as well as war, the death penalty, human trafficking, euthanasia, terrorism, racism, sexism and poverty.

I am pro-choice-of-life, in a way, because I believe that the ultimate goal in all positions and policies on abortion should be to build up viable alternatives so that any woman who finds herself resorting to abortion will have the opportunity to choose life for herself and her unborn child.

As a Catholic, I look to the example of Jesus as well as social justice leaders like Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan and Mollie Rogers (the founder of the Maryknoll Sisters), for inspiration in my continuing efforts to help "the least of these." And I believe that "the least of these" includes minority women, single and unwed mothers, victims of rape and incest, and the unborn child. I firmly agree with Barack Obama that the most effective way of reducing abortions, and thus breaking out of the misguided binary of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life", is to "provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child" (Saddleback Civil Forum).

As a feminist from Smith College, I believe that passive indifference to the needs to women who resort to abortion is a greater form of disrespect, oppression and sexism than any legal action criminalizing abortion. But I do believe that overturning Roe v. Wade without working to provide better support and resources to women whose only choice is abortion, will only force hundreds of thousands of women into dangerous criminal situations, and will do nothing to reduce the overall number of abortions. This is why I am a liberal, Catholic, feminist, pro-choice-of-life Democrat voting for Obama-Biden in November. I truly pray that we can all work together to find an effective and progressive solution to the tragic problem of abortion.

Krista, I think through the various aspects of any subject, including abortion, by looking at its history. In the 90s I wrote a paper on abortion for my university and discovered many important aspects of it that I hadn't known prior. Two examples are: 1) the Roman Catholic Church didn't always object to abortion. I forget the dates now but during the 1700 or 1800s, the church felt strongly that terminating pregnancies were issues between the women and their physicians. 2) In America, during WWI and WWII, the "white males in charge" looked the other way regarding abortion because women were needed in the workfield. One can also look at the posters during those time periods. And when the wars ended, women were again put in their place -- in the homes -- and abortion legislation increased. I believe strongly that most pro-life people surely have no idea of the history of this topic. So I think that your discussion could be greatly enhanced by delving into the history of abortion and the various churches' history concerning it also. Norma Knapp

One of the things I personally don't understand about the abortion debate, is that in most cases the fact is ignored that at least 20,000 if not more(is it 1 every 5 seconds?)children around the world, die each day from preventable causes such as malnutrition or diahrea. There is no ethical, scientific, or moral debate as to whether these children's lives are viable, or when life has begun for them, but for some reason the fact that in our abundant world these children die as they do, is simply pushed aside or not acknowledged. This is perhaps judgemental, but maybe it is just too inconvenient to consider the loss of clearly viable lives in other parts of the world, in a country that consumes for more than its fair share, or what is necessary to sustain life. Instead the defined debate is relegated to speculative issues such as when life begins, or to unknowable moral abstractions. In my mind the terms "pro-life" or "pro choice" are simply matters of convenience in an affluent society, that obsure the larger issues of gluttany, greed, and indifference to the suffering of others already living and breathing in the real world.

I believe all people have a soul that is set on a unique spiritual course that is beyond our comprehension. I have heard and find I agree with a discussion some years back with the spiritual leaders of the Science of Mind philosophy. Stated simply, if a fetus is aborted it is possible that that experience is part of a higher spiritual experience we as human beings simply cannot judge. We can seek discernment for that soul that didn’t fully develop into a human being and KNOW knowledge was gained. We can panic less if we chose to become aware that something else is at work beyond our comprehension. What I find more limiting in the "pro-life" or "pro-choice" labeling is how that very statement (pro-Life or Pro-Choice) contradicts the actions of violence we as human beings create upon the living. We do not value life when invading a country, and we make choices for others on how their country or family or lifestyle or community will be shaped. We choose who is “bad” or “evil” and we determine what group of people is worth saving for “life”. Abortion is a distraction from the destruction of lives we consciously take and reshape or destroy on a constant basis. This however, can come back to the original idea of that soul's journey. To me, whether at moment of conception or at various ages once out of the womb, we exist within choices that are unique and necessary for each individual. Without concrete knowledge of a life after or an opportunity to come back to “do it all over again” the notion that each day has purpose and meaning is a place to start. If we are going to fight for the "rights" of the unborn then we should fight just as hard for the living and the ones suffering. Somehow, the living seem neglected in the arguments because they aren’t seen as defenseless. I would like to understand from other people's perspective why they feel so passionately about their "side" and why does there have to be a side? Where do they find unity and meaning from drawing a line in the sand to be "right" about their perspective. What do they gain by taking such a determined side? Do they see similarities that can create more of a common ground instead of a tradition of arguing? Human beings have forgotten how to have reverence for all living things. I would like others to understand about me the following: I observe what feels like a Loving and Powerful Force that has somehow shaped and sculpted each person’s mind, personality, essence and purpose (perhaps) that allow each of us to participate with and around others. We are a huge puzzle of human beings and the pieces sometimes fit together and sometimes don’t…but each person’s presence comes from the same Source. I believe the person who found a safe way to perform abortions, or speak to a woman about keeping her child, or counseled a family on a birth defective fetus and the choices allowed, or helped a rape victim reconcile her choices can all be seen as performing God’s work…they obtained their position from the same Source. They are God in action and we cannot judge the gifts God has given each human being who interacts with another around this issue of an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. I don’t believe God chooses sides…God created the sides by creating the soul in human form to make choices. It would be nice if the pro-life and pro-choice sides would trust that what is taking place is part of the flow of Life. I would like the sides to ease up and find a way to have less battles and more support for the family that is having a difficult time deciding what to do with an unexpected pregnancy.

In this country with determined seperation of church and state, I think that the origins of this conversation should be taken in a historical context. On the surface, it seems that the answer here is clear, the objection to abortion is the assumption that "human-ness" starts at conception and then termination of the fetus is murder as described in the Bible. Religion. No role for legislation of a religious belief. That leaves "moral" grounds. Much of what is considered moral in this country is based on Judeo-Christian belief. The evolution of a moral code from a religious tradtion would be an interesting conversation. What is human life? A beating heart? A working brain? How does a society decide? When is it acceptable to take a life? Punishment? Euthansia? Suicide? Once society decides, then it should be applied across the board from birth to death. But it must be on moral grounds, not religious grounds, because the state can not, under our constitution, decide which religion I practice and how I practice it.

IMAGINE...a country where the "pro-life" and the "pro-choice" forces have pooled all their time, money and energy to help reduce the number of safe, legal abortions. We know that legislating against abortions will not stop them and will have the greatest impact on people of less economic means. All the legislators and judges who might rule against Roe v. Wade will still have access to safe abortions because they have money which gives them the ability to travel to a country where abortions are legal and safe or to pay someone to do them a service...they will still have "choice". We know from history what the choices are in a country where abortions are not legal...add a child to a family who is for whatever reason having trouble imagining taking care of that child, carry a child you know you cannot keep to full term to give it up for adoption, self-induced abortions through many horrendous means, paying a 'butcher" as they used to be called to do a back alley abortion. I call myself "pro-choice" for these reasons. I would love to reduce abortions. But with so much of the energy of both sides of Winning, little is done to bring the numbers down.
Communities of faith could work harder within their own communities to educate their members and keep abortions down. They could help by encourageing their members to adopt here is the US, not from some other country. Local groups could work together to get information out about adoption, birth control, and abortions. I can remember a time when hundreds of children were lanquishing in foster care. If "pro-life" adherents want to get rid of abortion it would behoove them to have a plan for children who have no family. Who will bring them up?
We need to work together to help people in crisis in lots of creative ways. The operative words are "work together".

Yes, let’s reframe the conversation.
Let’s talk about how we can do a better job of being pro-child and pro-mother.
People on both sides of this debate can agree on that. I want abortion to remain legal in this country because I care deeply about children who are born into situations where they are only marginally wanted—where their chances for love, care, education, and the necessities of life are very slim. As a born-again Christian, I respect the fertilized egg and the embryo in the first few weeks, but I believe that God approves a woman’s decision to end a pregnancy in the early stages if she cannot bring the child into a loving home. It is sad to end a life that is just beginning, but not as sad as watching a child grow up battered, neglected, or hungry for love—perhaps lacking even food and medical care.
Some will say that a woman who cannot raise her child should have it adopted; I thought so too until a friend told me that she could not make that choice because she herself had been given up for adoption. Though Karen had had a fairly normal childhood, she always longed for her real mother. “I had an abortion because I could not do that to my child,” she told me. She loved her child too much to let it be born and never know its parents.
I am now a 60-year-old married mother of three daughters. When I was 38 years old with two children, my husband and I planned to have no more children, but our birth control failed. We then had to make a decision, which he felt was mostly up to me because it would impact my life more than his.
Suddenly I realized what it would be like if the US government told me, “You have to bear this child. You must go through another long pregnancy and painful childbirth; then you must either raise this child [and love it? does the government care about that?] or give it up for adoption.” Most mothers of two could not give away that third “surprise” baby for adoption. That means that families—no matter how stressed or dysfunctional—would have to add another fragile life with additional stress, if ending an unexpected pregnancy were not a legal choice.
With prayer and reflection, I chose to complete that pregnancy, but I resolved to do something to keep abortion legal in this country. I started a book containing the stories of Christian women who have prayerfully chosen abortion in various real-life situations. Abortion—My Choice, God’s Grace: Christian Women Tell Their Stories was published in 1994; it’s still available on Amazon or through my publisher, New Paradigm Books, in Pasadena, CA.
I would like others to understand that a truly pro-mother position would respect the decision of a woman who wonders whether completing a pregnancy will be a good thing for herself and for her unborn child. Ending a pregnancy can be a responsible decision—a recognition that she would be endangering her child if she brought it into the world in her current circumstances. If the father is unwilling to take responsibility, if she has no education or income, her decision to end a pregnancy should be honored, not condemned. Some of the women in my book had two or three children later, when they could bring them into a loving family. Others were never able to conceive again.
People who feel that they are “pro-life” often do not like the term “pro-choice.” It’s a child, not a choice, they say, believing that women who choose to end a pregnancy are selfish and irresponsible. Therefore, let’s throw out both of these worn labels. How pro-life is it to condemn an unwanted baby to a life of foster care and misery, perhaps crime?
Let us who are in favor of abortion remaining a legal option call ourselves pro-child and pro-mother. It is we who truly care about a child who is not even 18 and has doubts about whether she should become a mother. It is we who truly respect mothers when we say that motherhood should be chosen, not forced on women who have an unplanned pregnancy. Do we value mothers when we say that any female who conceives must become a mother? If a woman says, “I cannot do a good job of this very important task at this point in my life,” we will respect her decision. For the government to force her to complete a pregnancy is to devalue motherhood.
I continue to write and speak on this important issue. In June, 2008, I gave a talk entitled Christians & Abortion: Finding a Middle Ground between Extremes at a meeting of Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, which was part of the biannual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in San Jose, California. My articles often appear on the website of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, www.eewc.com. I also keep a blog on issues of importance to Christian women, www.marthaymaria.blogspot.com.

I am a Christian. That is a belief. My "Mission Statement" is to Love God and to Love My Neighbor as myself. Those are values, which come as natural and explicit results of my belief in a Living, Loving God.

I believe that each abortion is a tragedy - the end result of a tragic situation. But abortion itself is not a value. It is an action. Outlawing abortion is an action, also. But values are clear and defined in their intent and scope. Actions carry many collateral consequences.

My father and step-father were both conservative Republicans who would be in their 90s, if they were still alive. They were also good friends, going back to their Obstetric residencies together in the 1950s. Abortion was illegal then. They had both seen the results of the law. Most people think the downside of outlawing abortion would be orphanages and teenage mothers and social embarassment leading to quickie adoptions. My fathers saw septic complications from back-alley abortions. Young women dying needlessly. Girls, who saw no other option, committing suicide. This "collateral damage" was an integral part of their professional lives. They were both invariably socially conservative, but neither had an issue with abortion. That's because their experience had changed them. Changes this value.

They also knew (and apparently most of the medical community knew) which physicians did abortions. They considered many of them highly principled men (all OBs in that day were men) who chose one tragedy over another.

They also pointed out specific cases. Families I knew (back in the way-way pre-HIPAA era) who were outspokenly Pro-Life but had fallen into sudden silence on the issue. They invariably had teenage daughters.

My mother, who had four healthy children in her first 4 years and 2 weeks of wedded bliss, was afraid that she had become pregnant a fifth time. I know that my mother loves each of her children very much, but she still maintains today (at 92) that she would have "flown to Europe to have an abortion" if that had been the case. She could afford to. Most women - especially young, unmarried women - could not afford that.

I am the father of two beautiful, adopted children. In each case, their birth mothers had considered abortions, but chose to carry our children to term. I thank God for them and pray for them every night. My children are both in their 20s now, and I am not silly enough to think that they are not sexually active. I don't know what would happen if my daughter became pregnant. But I do know it wouldn't be my choice; her life is not mine to control - even if I were foolish enough to want to try. That lesson I have already learned.

Although some of these observations are "vicarious learning" they provide food for thought.

The problem with tragedies is that the root cause comes well before the painful end. If abortion is at the end of the chain, why do we focus our attention there. Wouldn't proactivity be more effective? Or is that un-Anerican?

If a law doesn't stop abortion (and it won't) does it at least slow it down? If so, what are ALL the collateral costs involved - including lives lost and ruined, careers destroyed, tax dollars spent on enforcement? Has anyone honestly done this math?

Is outlawing abortion the solution to abortion or just an action we take in a desperate attempt to enforce our values?

If my values differ from yours, what do we do? More to the point, WWJD? Or should I say: WWJI (What would Jesus Impose?) I can't honestly remember Jesus imposing anything but Love on anybody. No call to Arms. No political agenda.

I see His heart breaking and I see him sitting down to eat with prostitutes and tax collectors and abortionists and pregnant girls and girls not yet pregnant. And I see Him changing their hearts.
I see Pharacees making laws.

These have been some of my experiences. They inform how I view the world and other people and God. And myself. And I know that I am called - we all are called - to take action on our values. I am just not sure that outlawing abortion is a right action to take.

Peace,
Bill Berger

When I was in college in Indiana during the mid-1970's, a couple I knew became pregnant. They were "typical" college students; they were 18-years-old. At the time, abortions were not available in every state and the nearest clinic was two hours away in my hometown. They borrowed my map and we talked about the route they would need to drive.

I remember how scared my friends were in the day before they drove to the clinic. I remember how the girl cried. I remember talking about how she would have to face protesters. I remember the angry, dour faces of the adults at the rallies we saw on television.

Most of all, I remember thinking that the "adults" shouting the loudest would never be personally affected by a ban on abortions. From my perspective as a college student, kids my own age were pawns in the game being played.

That realization stung and has shaped my opinion on the topic ever since. As a person of faith, I dislike abortion but I feel nothing but compassion towards the terrified, powerless people that see no other choice.

I wish we could also discuss the fate of (and our responsibility for and to) those children born to parents who don't want them (in mild and in extreme forms), can't care for them decently (for economic or psychological reasons) or even hate them and end up torturing and killing them. For example, people convicted of violent crimes are not allowed to vote but no restriction is placed on their right to parent. Prospective parents aren't examined for undiagnosed mental illness. Episodes of post-partum mental illness dangerous to the child are not adequately treated. Anytime I read one of those stories in the news about some poor child tortured and murdered by its parents, I feel responsible for not protecting that child. Surely I'm not the only one who has that feeling. Yet there seems no way for me, for any of us, to protect those children adequately or at least none that works. I also think this kind of abuse is passed on to the victims who become abusers of the next generations and that aspects of our violent aggressive authoritarian culture stem from that "heritage." When I hear people gloat about those they imagine being thrown into eternal torture or see we all ignore those we are torturing right now, I suspect this inability to feel for another's suffering results from an abused childhood, manifests itself in the belief in the rightness of a cruel punishing authority (God, father, president) that must be venerated and obeyed; I think our behavior as a nation is being corrupted by that abuse, by the kind of twisted emotional thinking it perpetuates--in a sad ironic way--in its victims. My concern is that while we focus on what happens to the child at one stage of life, we don't look at (or take responsibility for) what happens in the next stages. I would like to see us talking more about reducing ALL forms of cruelty to children, including abortion as one but not the only and sometimes perhaps the least cruel of them.

ANTI ABORTION, PRO CHOICE

I would like every attempt to be made to limit abortion. I don't think I know any pro choice people who like the idea of abortion or think it is a morally neutral act. Just because we think something is wrong does not mean it should be illegal.
On a practical level there is no way to eliminate any undesired behavior through legislation and the thought of do it yourself abortions comes to mind on this issue. Many of the same people who are violently opposed to abortion also oppose sex ed and teen birth control, the tools people can use instead of abortion.
On a spiritual level I don't feel it nessecary to outlaw a decision a woman is making about her own body.
If we approach the issue as a matter of public policy with the goal of reducing abortions through education and prevention then our end result will be morally strong.

Moral and spiritual aspects of abortion

In my denomination, the United Church of Christ, we have had a pro-choice position statement since before 1973 (when Roe v. Wade decision was made). The UCC's statement on abortion reads, “to have reverence for life, does not mean to make an ideal of the possibility of life. To have reverence for life means to want the best for those children who are born. Our society needs to show as much reverence and respect for those who do the demanding work of parenting as we do for the potential life of the fetus. Throughout the Bible, scripture affirms that it is not simply the fact of life alone that sacred; it is rather our relationships, with God and with one another, that make life holy.”

This theology of relationship shapes how I understand the spiritual and moral aspects of abortion. The question of when a fetus becomes a child is not just a biological determination, it is a theological one. I have come to believe that a fetus becomes a child is when a covenantal relationship is established between a mother and the developing fetus.

For some pregnancies, this covenantal relationship is made early and by many as we gather around and rub a woman’s belly and wait with excited anticipation for the birth of a wanted child. An expecting mother might show you an ultrasound photograph of her fetus and listen to its beating heart with great excitement. She may already have names picked out.

Whereas, under different circumstances, a woman might find out she is pregnant and never create a bond or relationship with the fetus.

This emphasis on relationship allows me to honor the variety of feelings and experiences people have related to reproduction. If a mother (and potentially a father) has established a covenant with a fetus from the moment of fertilization, a miscarriage can be devastating.

Understanding others and being understood

I would genuinely like to better understand how the pro-life movement views contraception and it's role in preventing abortion. The official Roman Catholic teaching is against contraception and there has been a lot of publicity about pharmacists refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions. But, I wonder if there are other denominations who discourage contraceptive use, and if so, what their theolgocial reasoning is for doing so.

Personally, I would like a genuine conversation about the best way to reduce the number of abortions. I do not know anyone who is "pro-abortion." And it seems like having a pro-choice position statement is a litmus test for some political candidates. However, banning abortion does little to reduce the need in the first place. We need to have a real discussion in this country about sexuality and reproductive health.

I facilitated a day-long discussion with 80 clergy in South Dakota in 2006 before the vote on the abortion ban. These were clergy with a variety of opinions about abortion. But, even in that context, dialogue was possible. And, at the end of the day, some of the self-identified pro-life clergy said that they believed there were ways to work together to reduce the need for abortion and they thought that an abortion ban might not be the best way to reduce the need for abortion. I believe that if respectful dialogue is possible in South Dakota with a looming abortion ban, it should be possible anywhere.

The only voices I hear in the abortion debate are conservative or evangelical Christians and secular feminists. I was shocked when I heard Professor Shai Cherry of Vanderbilt University state that “Jewish law requires abortion when the woman’s life or health—physical or mental—is threatened by the pregnancy; Jewish law permits abortion when the risk to the woman’s life or health (again, physical or mental) is greater than that of a normal pregnancy but not so great as to constitute a clear and present danger to her” (from Rabbi Elliot Dorff [Conservative], Matters of Life and Death, as quoted by Shai Cherry in the Teaching Company course Introduction to Judaism guidebook). Professor Cherry when on to quote the Oholot Mishnah 7:6 which states “If a woman is having difficulty in labor, one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus” (Shai Cherry in the Teaching Company course Introduction to Judaism guidebook). I have never heard any one from the Abrahamic traditions express such compassion for women. It brought tears to my eyes.

Christians legislators add exceptions for the life of the mother reluctantly and only because they fear that without those exceptions their laws will be vetoed or declared unconstitutional. I only hear Christians talking about the “rights” of the unborn, but nothing about the suffering of the women on whose life the unborn depend. It is as if the potential life of an embryo/fetus is more valued by Christians, then the actual life of a woman. I would like to hear more about what non-Christian traditions, such as Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu Jain, Native American, pagan, humanist, etc. have to say on the moral and spiritual questions of abortion.

I had an abortion when I was 19 (I am now 38). I regret getting pregnant, but I don't regret having an abortion. I was raised Catholic, but I have always had eclectic views about religion and spirituality. I am not a Christian. At the time of my abortion and now, I feel that if humans have an immortal soul that to be reincarnated is it's likely fate. The unborn child, the embryo, which I aborted did not suffer; it's soul, if it had one, went back from which it came perhaps to be reborn or perhaps to drift into the nothingness which then we all are bound. I was not mentally or physically prepared to have a child.

No one wants to get an abortion, ever. I wish the two sides of the abortion “wars” could make peace and work together so that no one needs to “choose”. While abstinence certainly can be a wonderful thing, the sex drive is real, is powerful and is not going away; so to prevent abortion, we need comprehensive sex education, affordable and available contraceptives, as well as help (health insurance, financial assistance) for low-income mothers and families since poverty is a big factor in many women's decisions to have an abortion. I do want abortion to be safe and legal, but I also don't want anyone to need an abortion.

Nobody really favors abortion but certainly many of us support its the woman's body and its her right to choose. Abortion is a deeply difficult decision that takes lots of consideration. Pro-choice folks tend to look broadly through the decision where pro-life folks frequently take the narrow view. Abortions are going to happen and the focus must be on preventing unwanted pregnancies and women having control of their bodies. Only the individual woman can make the choice.

“It’s positive,” the nurse said.

“Define ‘positive’.”

“You’re pregnant.”

OK, that was not my idea of positive! I had positive all mapped out. Positive was a four year stint in the Army followed by a four year stint at college, then a career that included opuses, and lovers, and a family safely distant – say the distance between the San Francisco and Cleveland. Nowhere in my positive did the word ‘baby’ intrude. I wanted to be an aunt not a Mom, an Auntie Mame sort of aunt, only without the money or the husbands. I would be whole in myself without the need of any other.

And then I had this whole other inside of me.

This whole other... What? That “what” is the question at the heart of the abortion debate. What is it? This smidge of tissue, this conceptus, this abstraction? To me, this is an intensely personal question. Until this tiny thing can live on its own outside of a woman’s body, its whole universe is tied up in hers. The ‘what’ is a question that only a pregnant woman can answer. Until she answers the question, her pregnancy only implies the potential for a human being, not the child that the embryo might become. Only she fully understands where she is in life and what her pregnancy might mean. A woman needs a lot of support to have and raise a child and that support is not always there. Having been faced with this question myself, I do not believe any woman has an abortion casually. Quite the reverse, considering an abortion forces her to face the issue and answer those hard questions.

If a woman already is in an abusive relationship, where is the morality in bringing a child into a place that she knows will harm her child? Another moral question that arises concerns the greater community. If we are to say that no pregnancy can be aborted, then where is the support that a woman and her child need to survive? It’s easy to place the blame on a mother – she’s the one left holding the bag that can’t be detached from her. It’s easy to say she should have been more careful, less sexual, more saintly, but here she is and here the child is, and sometimes the father is nowhere in sight. Sometimes distance between mother/child and father is the best thing. Our community is very good at placing blame, but not so good at the practical matters.

As for the spirit, maybe God can answer the question of when does soul attach to a human being, but I’m certain that no human being can answer that question. For myself, I believe that soul arises from the mind and body combined. I don’t believe an embryo is capable of supporting soul. I also believe that God wastes nothing. If now is not the right time for this child, this soul, then maybe next year, next century, the right time will come.

I think that I already do understand the position of those who disagree with me. If I really believed that an embryo was a human being, then condoning abortion would be like saying that murder is OK by me. What I don’t understand are some of the things that seem to go along with the pro-life perspective. One I’ve already touched on: if it’s so important to save the unborn, then why do they waste so much time & money on protesting outside of clinics? Why don’t they direct that energy on helping women who don’t have a family to support them so that they can have their child? Another is the question of birth control and family planning education. People who are pro-life also seem to be the same ones who object to educating young people about birth control. Abstinence only can’t be the only reply to such complicated questions. And finally, how can someone labeled “pro-life” bomb clinics and murder doctors?

Pro-choice, pro-life – I don’t like either of those terms, but I’m not sure what I’d replace them with. I can’t say that I’m pro-abortion – I’m not. I’m pro-keep-the-government-out-of-my-most-personal-decision-ever. I guess pro-choice will have to do. I chose to not have an abortion. I’m glad that I had a choice.

(The pictures are of me and my son when he was a little thing. He's 31 now and teaches art at Montana State University in Bozeman --check out his website www.rollinbeamish.net -- moms are moms no matter what their stance on abortions :-)

I must begin by saying that I am not a practictioner of any one religion -although I do consider myself a spiritual person. I am, however, surrounded by a strongly evangelical community. In many of their eyes, I am considered to have no morals (which I have been told to my face) because I do not share their evangelical faith. They believe all abortion is wrong -no exceptions. Life begins at conception. Yet, birth control pills are okay. But aren't they also technically abortion? They seem unable to accept the complex life situations that lead a girl/woman into having an abortion. The world is always black and white, never grey. I believe that the world is a very complex place. No issue is simple. Abortion can not be addressed without addressing family planning, education, the welfare system, adoption, the economy, violence, incest, maternal health, fetal viability, and on and on. I believe most people can see those complexities. And yet, there is a portion of Americans who don't want to see (or possibly can't see) this. I understand why they believe abortion is wrong. I think it's wrong as well. But, I also know that life sometimes leaves you with the worst possible choice being the only one you can make. I am posting this to you even though I am not sure that it will be read at all because I want you to understand the effect that some evangelicals have on others. I did not think that last week's comments reflected the "right-wing evangelicals" I know. I have to be afraid of saying that I don't go to church. I also have to work side-by-side at my family's business with my brother who is also an evangelical minister. I know, through things his children have let slip, exactly what they think of me. They are pro-life, pro-gun, anti-government, end-timers who will not compromise on anything. I would love to meet the evangelicals you have had on this program.

The way I think through this ever-present and polarizing issue is that both sides need to examine what it means to have respect for life. In the last seven years we have been told that one religious group in particular has no respect for human life and this statement offered by television, radio and the internet casts its shadow over an entire culture of people with no consideration for individual lives.

Contradictory to this statement about a lack of respect for human life are the following facts and questions to be considered:

1. Is the abortion of a fetus said by one candidate in the current election to have rights at the moment of conception any different from the unborn babies that fall victim to bombings specifically in Iraq? What of the millions of children born and unborn who have been killed by this means?

2. If we hold such high moral ground in the topic of respect for human life and for human rights why then do we rush new mothers from hospital beds quicker than ever after giving birth?

3. In a society that respects human life how does both sides account for the amount of children born and unborn that are homeless or living in foster care and orphanages?

4. What is the difference in the respect shown for an unborn life opposed to a life living in a war torn country such as Iraq and for the lives of these people who like us are effected by disease, disability, tradgedy, injustice and the lack of a voice in the public realm?

5. If aborting an unborn fetus is murder what is capital punishment? What is the reason/justification behind the "accidental" executions that have occured and which side of the abortion issue will take responsibility for such lives?

6. Why do both sides of the issue continue to "go forth and multiply" when they live in a world of child crimes, disease and any other number of possible birth defects that have been bred into our races of people?

7. If the righteous right wants to refuse any woman a right to abort a fetus what will that person do specifically after the birth of the child? Are the pro-life individuals willing to adopt these children or is this the responsibility of their neighbors?

8. According to the Christian creation story, man and woman were told to "go forth and multiply" prior to allegedly committing original sin. What then is to be said and/or answered for as a result of bringing forth new life knowing that one is bringing forth a life that is held to the premis that man is born a sinner and cannot know the goodness of the Christian god?

9. Today many people speak of the "end times." Why is it that the same people continue to birth children and is this not making the same choice to abort a life?

10. Where does the heierarchical understanding of life come from and is this not something both pro-lifers and pro-choicers acknowledge? Murder one, two, and three; man slaughter, involuntary man slaughter, vehicular man slaughter and murder by self defense.

11. Does the commandment thou shall not kill refer specifically to the body or does it also include the mind, spirit and emotions of human life? Is there evidence stating that not killing applies only to two-leggeds and if so, why do we not consider animal lives as important if a creator thought them so important that they were spared or at the beginning of multiple creation story floods?

12. Deciding to send young people to war to shed blood of others is also killing. How does this fact play a role in the discussion and how is it moral and acceptable to shed the blood of others to ensure one's happiness when the action results in the unhappiness of mothers, brothers, sisters and fathers of the life taken?

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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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