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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."

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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 think that every situation is unique and presents its own unique set of moral and spiritual trade-offs. I am a Lutheran and very much believe that my relationship to God is personal and that God and me are the only ones who need to know what that relationship is and whether or not s/he accepts me with all my brokenness. Every moral question is a choice between two or three options; none of which is perfect or simple. All choices have negative and positive consequences. Those choices should be up to families; not the government. We can't govern religion or morality.

I worked for a wonderful man who had the opposite opinion and we would have very thoughtful, respectful discussions about it. Too often people have very shallow opinions on the issue, which usually leads to raised voices and displays of anger when one can't explain one's view in terms of a deep-seated philosophy (because one does not have a deeper philosophy to explore). The question you are asking brings up images of shouting matches over shallow talking points; not my thing.

That I really do not share their world view (or other-world view) and I just want them to leave me and my family alone with our God to make our own unique decisions.

No, because people are always trying to change the names of things thinking that will eliminate the polar ends. It never does and then in a few years, the new names are just as polarizing as the original names were. I am very much hoping that one day the whole argument will be something that people study in history books, like the battles between the gold and silver standard.

Overall, I believe it is a personal medical decision, and one that should not be legislated on a federal level.

I am interested in the possibility of your show exploring the larger societal impacts of legalized versus illegal abortion. For example, the book "Freakonomics," written by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, has a section in which it explores the concept that crime rates in this country were reduced in decades following the ruling that made abortion legal. In other terms, is it harmful to force someone to bear an *unwanted* child? If the child is unwanted and causes an economic, emotional or physical burden, are we not forcing an undesired societal change by encouraging an influx of children who become adults with psychological issues? Whether a morally conservative person can imagine such a thing as an unwanted child or not, legislating this morality seems like a very dangerous slippery slope.

Likewise I would love to hear an engaging dialogue on the following question: where is the line drawn in someone's mind between life that is sacred and life that is disposable? How can one accept forcing a woman to bear a child she cannot or will not care for, while simultaneously accepting and supporting a violent war in which men, women, and children's lives and bodies are disrupted, broken, or brutally ended altogether?

Thank you for considering this topic.

The two categories of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" don't include my community's perspective on the issue of when life begins and whether abortion is permissable.

Orthodox Jews have a perspective on when life begins that is a continuum. Without condoning outright abortion, for the first 40-days after conception, if a spontaneous abortion occurs, the fertilized ovum is considered as "mere water" and no special value is assigned to it. As gestation progresses, the fetus's life grows in value, but even after birth, for the first 30 days it is not considered as a full human life, and if it should die, it does not receive the full funeral and burial rites accorded to an older infant.

In some ways, Jewish Law considers even a 9-year old and even a 19-year old as not being fully mature humans.

Abortion is allowable in cases where the pregnancy endangers a mother's life. The fetus in that case is considered a "rodef" (Hebrew for a pursuer who intends to murder). All necessary actions to save the mother's life are encouraged. But once that fetus is born (even minimally), its status changes and abortion becomes a potential murder.

"Endangering a mother's life" may include cases where the danger is psychological and not just physical.

And so, Judaism refuses to paint this controversy as a black or white issue.

If the Jewish approach was widely known, perhaps both Christian and secular Americans might see their views on abortion in a new light.

I am pro-life. I am satisfied that life is a gift from God, and we must not treat this gift casually. But--does life begin at the moment of conception? We don't know.

The Psalmist writes, ". . . it was You Who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:13-14). But King Solomon, reputedly the wisest human in history, wrote, "Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the word of God, Who makes everything." (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

So we do not know when life begins in the womb--when the fetus becomes a living soul. I cannot find in Holy Scripture any statement to justify the belief that "life begins at the moment of conception."

Conservative Christians have been accused of believing that life begins at conception and ends at birth. Once a human is born, they are on their own, facing the hazards of premature death at the hands of other humans, the result of a crime, an act of war, or a state-ordered execution. One who is consistently "pro-life" should be against war and capital punishment.

Abortion is a moral issue, and must be left in the hands of the woman who carries the fetus, in consultation with her doctor, her conscience and her God. It is not a legal issue, and the state always errs when it seeks to legislate morality. Abortion, like any other medical procedure, is a public health issue, and if the state outlaws abortion, it will go underground and become a health hazard.

The government must restrain itself, limiting its activities to matters of law and social order. It is ironic to me that most people who advocate pro-life legislation tend to be political conservatives who want less government intervention in our private lives. They make an exception when it comes to requiring others to adhere to their own unique moral standards.

My son is pro-life. My daughter is pro-choice. They love each other very much and have learned to disagree with civility. We should all follow their example.

Although I am not a lawyer, I come from a family of them, and have always been struck by the difference between what's legal/illegal versus what's right/wrong.

I am old enough to know the fear experienced by someone who thought she might need to terminate a pregnancy as she contemplated the possibility of a dangerous, unsanitary, and unsupervised medical procedure which might in and of itself endanger her life. Based in part on that experience, I strongly believe that the safe medical procedure should be available within the normal medical system.

This is to say that abortion, as a medical procedure, should be legal, i.e., the society should not erect barriers to prevent it absent some clear legal consideration. And as with all legal matters, the court system exists to protect the rights of those impacted by the law.

The moral question is something else.

Whether or not to have an abortion is a question I will never face personally, but I cannot imagine a more personal kind of decision to make. This is a moral decision. Surely a moral decision has to be made by the person involved. Arguing that life has or has not begun with respect to the fetus is a consideration, but it is one of many. I do not see how someone else's version of morality can control my own. It may inform or influence it. I may or may not want to hear the opinions of others. But in the end, I must make my own moral decisions and accept the consequences.

What I see too often is persons of good conscience who hold a particular moral position for themselves seeking to impose their morality on others by means of the legal system. That is bad law and unjust morality. In our society, people are free to express their opinions so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. They are not free to impose their moral positions on anyone else.

It would perhaps help for people to read Jon Meacham's "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation." It helps to understand what was intended. History may provide a useful bridge to understanding.

I find the pro-life and pro-choice labels misprepresent a lot. I get really sickened mostly by the modern christian popular church movements and the Christian "brand" at how the leaders are trying to force it as a test of being a "real" christian you have to oppose keeping abortion legal in the US. I do support keeping it legal. I am a Christian too. I find it really disgusting how both sides, those who want not restrictions on abortions and those who want it outlawed have to use sort of dishonest language to describe the situation. Like a prochoice person calls it a fetus, but when you go to the obgyn even in thefirst weeks they say " here is your baby" and we all accept that. And prochoice cannot say, " yes, a developing human being is being killed, and quite gruesomely" becuase that is what happens. They cannot admit that having an abortion is traumatic to the woman and she can have a lot of guilt afterwards. They just cannot be honest about all the implications and exactly what happens when an abortion occurs.

And the anti-abortionists cannot admit that the person who is pregnant can be at a terrible disadvantage, and may have to shoulder the burden alone- they will not admit that all children are not a blessing to all people. It is like they cannot admit that women will die terribly getting underground abortions as they have since the beginning of time, or that women do suffer when they have to bear a child they don't want to bear. They want to decide for other people how their lives should play out when they themselves will not be responsible for the outcomes. This is fundamentally cruelly conveninet for them, because Christians have rules that manage their lives that are not part of the lives of non-Christians, and they try to force people to live by their rules without the benefits of the faith. It strikes me as insensible and sort of against the tenets of our faith anyhow. They cannot admit that they ARE de-valuing a woman's right to make her own moral choices, what is going on in her own body and her own future. Its so much easier to picket and find some group to hate and go "against" than it is to be a solution for all the women who are stuck with trouble pregnancies- it seems such a cheap, age old show of humans most troubling natural tendancy to find a group to go against in order to shore up and validate the boudaries of one's own group! It seems to be low hanging fruit.

I would like to see the discussion center on if we want the law to recognize a human embryo or pre-born human as the same as a born human and give it the same rights and protections under the law. I honestly don't think we as a society do. I believe that if a government can tell us we cannot have an abortion, then we give them the rights also, that they can tell us we must. I like to think I would not have one, but I have considered it once. I like to think I would be strong enough to live out the rules of my faith. But I don't think I have a right to tell someone else what they must do with their lives. My mom had one when my dad was just in really bad shape and we were all living on a thread, she had 4 kids already. Was it right or wrong. We will never know I guess. My sisters had them and I am glad they could do it at a doctors office rather than a back alley.

I`m for pro choice, not because I agree with women having abortions but whether I like it or not,women who find themselves in unwanted pregnancies will expose themselves to butchers in back alleys or do it themselves and put themselves in danger.
I wonder why it`s not ok to curtail life in the womb but many of the same people would think it`s ok to send young people to wars and have their lives cut down in their prime.

Pro-choice to me is the moderate position, endorsing making choices possible and leaving those choices to the individual. My background is that of a Christian (Presbyterian variety) grounded in free choice, born by choice and through use of birth control to plan my birth. Pro-choice is a term that is just fine, one that is pro-life. Forcing women to bear children is not pro-life, but rather anti-choice. No one should force a woman to bear a children or to have an abortion; we do not force women to have abortions, so why would we force women to bear children not conceived by choice. This position is consistent with my Christian faith and is expressed through my politics.

Humanism does not develop until the third trimester. Individual right to choose should be prevented until then. Am agnostic so do not believe in the valildity of of spiritual invocations. Nothing sacred about "man". Their justifications for their position. How they feel about extending their principle re unborn child to other beings and environment. Same as above. Pro Humanity

I want to start out by expressing my deepest sympathy and concern for any woman with an unwanted pregnancy. (Yes, I'm pro-choice, and a feminist) Many of the women here have written commentaries far more moving that I can, at least today. However, my feelings immediately return to anger for obvious reasons:

The deception inherent in addressing the abortion debate is that it is or should be about abortion at all. I believe that the only matters worth discussing, indeed in desperate need of discussion and responsible action are sex education and birth control. Responsible sexuality, in other words. And, it should go without saying, this should include males. The concern is or should be about unwanted pregnancies, and the answers have been known for years.

Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 -- about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these teen pregnancies are unintended and 79 percent are to unmarried teens. (2004 data)

If 34% of teenagers had been seriously injured because of say, seat belt failure or non-use, our society would be totally outraged.

If any consumer product in this country had a comparable failure rate, the manufacturer would have been sued out of existence in a very short period of time.

Statistically, few things indeed have a lower correlation than abstinence education, and abstinence. Indeed, at times a negative correlation has been found. Our government is lying to us about abstenence education, and we (well, most of us) have been taking it lying down.

When I go to SIECUS, http://www.siecus.org/ their lead article is entitled "SIECUS Reviews Three New Fear-Based Curricula"

I spent the first weekend of Oct. volunteering in Souix Falls South Dakota volunteering with a local organization to work to stop an anti-abortion ballot initiative that would be unenforceable at this time. But I did not, per se, prevent any unwanted pregnancies.

My wife and I have felt for many years that abortion is NOT the decision to be made by government or law; it is a deeply personal decision, in which spiritual support, parental and family support, and Christian love all play a significant role.

Unfortunately, this issue has been politicized and thus has become a flashpoint for those on "either side" of the debate. And some commentators, either conservative or liberal, have chosen to inflame the rhetoric in order to justify their position as well as enhance their political standing.

In the last few years of increasingly hostile debate about "conservative vs. liberal" issues, America has struggled to regain our sense of civil debate and compromise, one of the cornerstones our our republic. I believe we are seeing the unravelling of this divisive approach in the changing attitude reflected by Sen. Obama in the most recent debate, when he offered that "we can disagree without being disagreeable and try to reach a position based on mutual and shared ideas". For too long, toxic rhetoric has poisoned our national psyche, and the results are plain to see; the "if you're not for us, you're against us" fingerpointing during the run up to invading Iraq; the Swift Boat attacks during the 2004 campaign; the senseless and vitriolic attacks by Right against Left over abortion ; and the inflammatory speaches by Pres. Bush and Sec. Rice which had us on the road to attacking Iran. Has all of this anger and hatred moved us one step closer to addressing the problem of abortion, or any other of the serious issues we face? No.

It is clear to many that abortion is a bad thing; it is also becoming clear that the reasons for abortion are much more complicated than as portrayed by certain right-wing factions, and that abortion is not a civil right as guaranteed by the Constitution, according to the Left, but a legal act as affirmed in Roe v. Wade.

We need to engage in civil debate as rational, moral beings, and try to come to some shared position on this issue. For too long, it has been exploited by the ultra-right wing faction of the GOP, which lead folks to vote for a president who recklessly and untruthfully lead us to war. Voters have been treated with contempt by those who knew that some would vote for a candidate solely because of his/her position on this issue, regardless of their ideology on other issues. As one post above asked: "Does being pro-life involve ONLY infant life?" People of faith are tasked by God with respecting His creation, and that means ALL creation, not just the unborn. We are heartened to see that many folks are beginning to see and undertsnad that we are stewards here, of ALL life; one responsibility of stewardship is to guard against too mush passion in one case, and too little in another. We pray that this will one day be so in America.

I see abortion as a moral/spiritual belief that cannot be easily shaken by scientific or rational understanding. Just as people have strong beliefs in Jesus as Lord and savior, the existence of God, or even the righteousness of our current wars, abortion is based more on deep-seated beliefs, not scientific proof or rational thought.

Politics can often trump value beliefs, though,when practical considerations are factored in. For example, most Americans abhore children and other innocents being killed in war. However, most of us would probably agree that "collateral damage" is necessary but unfortunate in order to maintain a cetain degree of freedom and security (although we may disagree as to the degree).

If Roe V. Wade is overturned and some states decide to ban abortion, the practical outcome may not be one that most Americans would tolerate. Consider an outright ban in some of the poorer states. It could, in all probability, lead to higher levels of poverty and higher welfare rolls if poor women choose to keep their babies (especially in light of the fact that currently poor women have a 400% greater chance of having an abortion than other women). Converesly, if more women chose to give their baby up for adoption, many of these children are not likely to be adopted considering most couples seeking adoption want a healthy, white child. Unadopted children will add to the financial burden of these states and to America as whole. These are just two scenorios. While uncertain, the practical results of over-turning Roe v. Wade may eventually play out in favor of providing greater access to abortion than many imagine.

As a pastor, I have found that people who do not know me well enough to have asked what I think immediately assume that I am politically pro-life. I receive emails with pro-life agendas and assumptions from congregation members and neighbors and family members. I am politically pro-choice, though do not appreciate either of the terms that we use. Or perhaps it is more that I do not appreciate the assumptions that come along with both terms--that people who advocate for the pro-life agenda are opposed to choice or that people who advocate for the pro-choice agenda are opposed to life. It is rather a mixture of both. Pro-life advocates, in my experience, already realize that by the time a woman makes a choice of whether or not to go ahead with her pregnancy, she has already had to choose between whether or not to have sex and whether or not to use protection (assuming the pregnancy resulted from a consensual sexual experience). Pro-choice advocates, such as myself, do value life--and in particular, the life of the mother.

What I wish people would realize is that this is more than a theoretical debate issue with real, practical, life-long effects on all who are involved, and even on individuals who are not forced to make this decision. I wish people would ask me what I believe and how it fits into my faith as opposed to assume that my career and faith would dictate my stance on this issue. I wish people would see that life is more than just birth and that people on all sides of the debate should be held accountable for their position. Someone who votes pro-choice ought also to vote for policies and laws and programs that offer prenatal care, affordable childcare, and support to mothers and fathers who most need it. Someone who is pro-choice ought to be held accountable to making sure women are educated and supported throughout the process. They are also responsible for realizing that abortion is only one choice of many, and ought to fight for appropriate and good education of the variety of choices available to women.

I approach abortion as a woman who had one when I was 20, who knows that I ended a life (not a human life, but a life.) I understand it as a sin -- something which separated me from God. In other words, I always think of abortion as a concrete experience, rooted in real dilemmas of life and faith. But I also take my Christian faith seriously enough to know that I have been forgiven: that my relationship with God was not ended forever by my choice. Many years after my abortion I met a woman who'd had an abortion the previous year and said, "I know this was a sin, but I know it was also the right thing to do." A wise Episcopal priest once said to me that there were two situations where there was no "good" choice -- a marriage that was falling apart and an unwanted pregnancy.

I actually don't need much help understanding the absolutist position; it's morally very simple. But since I don't experience my moral life as simple, I'd like to know how those who hold it deal with the messiness of life that women experience. And I'd like them to honor women who -- in good conscience -- make the decision to have an abortion. That is, to understand that women are not just carrying cases for a uterus. (Over the years, I've heard lots of stories that pro-life people have had abortions, or supported daughters having them; and that too is silenced.)

In reframing the discussion, it seems to me that we have two blind spots: the "pro-life" world tends to treat women as a body around a uterus, ignoring the ways in which a pregnancy may be a problem for a woman -- which cuts off the discussion. The pro-choice world tends to ignore the ways in which abortion does cause a death. I would say that my eight-week fetus was not human, but s/he was alive. It's probably not accidental that about six months or so after my abortion, I stopped eating meat.

I think too often the discussion about abortion is held in the abstract, so to change the discussion, it is so important to get away from the slogans and talk about how women make decisions in the case of problem pregnancy. That is, to focus on women making life choices and how they think them through. My hunch is that in that context, most women actually do understand how someone can make the other choice. And that from that discussion we might be able to do better than "pro-life" and "pro-choice", or "pro-baby" and "pro-woman".

As a retired American Baptist pastor, I have grappled with this issue and have helped parisioners and many others think through their own beliefs about the many issues in reproductive health. The materials and outreach of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice have proved very helpful in my work. The efforts of RCRC to offer comprehensive sex education in 60 African American congregations in the greater Twin Cities has made a major difference in those communities. They have found that the youth are much more responsive because they see their "extended family" in church every Sunday. With that many people concerned about your welfare, Black youth find support to think through sexual issues. American Baptists have done many "common ground" meetings to bring understanding between those who have drastically opposed views. I've found them fascinating, but I have seen little shift of opinion--we are almost hopelessly polarized. I contend we are all working toward a better life for our young people. One of my interests is with the half who receive abortions after 25, often after the birth of a first child. These women understand the realities surrounding childbirth, way beyond the experience of carrying around a 9-pound doll that wets and cries.
We ask women, "Do you think your God wants what's best for you?"

I am now sixty one years old but will always be haunted by that innocent little life I aborted at age 27, as a young married mom with two little ones. It was the hardest decision of my life, and I have regretted it ever since, but at the time I did what I thought was best for my family.

I had attempted to prevent getting pregnant after my son was born by getting an IUD placed. Unfortunately the IUD migrated through the wall of my uterus into the cul-de-sac, so it never actually came out, and I was none the wiser. We were struggling financially,our marriage was not the healthiest, and I had major behavior issues with my daughter, our eldest child. My husband travelled with his job, leaving me without relief for a week at a time. Not only did I not see how we could afford a third child, I did not see how I could cope with a third child, struggling as I was with the behavior of my daughter. I had been abusive with her from the time she was an infant, and knew this additional stress would aggravate that possibility, perhaps with all three kids. It seemed the addition of another child would cause an already unstable situation to potentially explode, and I felt it would not be fair to the other two children, much less to the new little life that might cause it.

I talked with my mom, I talked with my older sister, both on the other coast and both of whom listened and were supportive, regardless of the decision I made. I was not involved with a church at the time, and had I been, there would have been other alternatives I could have chosen, I know. But at the time I knew I could not carry a child to full term and then give it up for adoption, because I would have kept it instead, and that truly did not seem to be an option.

I believe abortion is wrong, especially when used as a method of birth control, but I do not believe any church, any government, any court or any person has the right to an opinion on the subject unless they have been personally involved in some way. I have been punished a thousand times over for what I did, and the punisher was me. But what I did is between the Lord and me, it is to Him that I am accountable, and I have no excuse, just circumstances.

Probably in most of the stories you have received there are women just like me, caught between a rock and a hard place, making the best decision they could at the time. I cannot believe that most women who do this are cavalier, because an abortion kills a part of the woman too, and in my case, part of my soul. The issues around abortion are so much more complicated than either being for or against Roe V. Wade, which passed just prior to my own abortion.

I appreciate your asking your listeners for their own insights and stories, because this has given me the opportunity to share my story in hopes that it might help others. Sadly, sharing the story doesn't seem to help the pain I will always feel, but that is OK: it was my choice and I have had to live with it. This pain is part of who I am, and has given me an empathy and compassion for others I might not have had, otherwise. But it has also made me intolerant of those who pontificate about issues of which they think they have knowledge, but have no experience.

There is more I would like to say, but for now I just want to thank you for making this opportunity for those of us with sad stories of our own. I look forward to hearing the program you have that will explore all these issues. Thank you.

Melissa Hutton

As a retired physician, I have dealt with patients requesting abortion information over the years (35 years) and it was almost always my experience that women didn't really "believe in" abortion, i.e. they didn't really believe that it was morally OK; but rather that they were desperate and in emotional pain, and they were willing to do whatever it took to escape from their plight, including sacrificing their baby. I agree with your guest speaker: it breaks my heart that there are so many babies lost to abortion; but it's my feeling that we aren't really ready as a society to change Roe vs. Wade until we are willing to change the social conditions that contribute to the perceived need for abortion. That is, we need to be prepared to deal better with poverty and lack of appropriate education and social backup of various kinds for young pregnant women and women at risk for unplanned pregnancy. It seems to me that so many people who are against abortion, are not willing to become engaged in reaching out to and helping these women. We need to become engaged on a personal but also on a national and societal level if we are really serious about reducing the number of abortions. And yes, the cost of any such effort would be huge, but in the long run much less than the cost of the way we are doing it now, with the huge financial and emotional costs of massive numbers of abortions.

I believe abortion is wrong. But it is a part of a network of wrongs, none of which can be fixed in isolation from the others. It is a cheap distortion to put abortion alone under the spot light. The very fact that a woman may feel 'punished' by a pregnancy says much about the lack of social and economic support for most people during their child-bearing years. Our economic system 'preys' upon young people with high rents, front-loaded mortgages, the vagaries of the low steps on the career ladder, etc. All of this while they are having babies, and are engaged in society's most IMPORTANT job: being parents.

A truly PRO-LIFE position must take this into account. Missteps while a child is young only compound social cost in years to come. Pro-life must mean not merely that a child has the right to be born, but the right to love, care, emotional safety, food, clothes, shelter after birth. A truly pro-life position must take account of the death penalty, the over-crowding of U.S. prisons, and the bombing of innocents in other countries. We must get beyond the 'pelvic politics' of puritanical moralism, that we may imbrace the far more demanding and extensive morality of compassion.

I embrace Obama's assertion, "No one is pro-abortion." My guess is that almost everyone involved with abortion considers it an evil, but the lesser of two evils. (And, yes, their position might be wrong, in most or all cases, but that is how they see it.) The common ground now could become, as Obama says, uniting pro-life and pro-choice under a common banner of reducing unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion as a Moral Choice

In April of 1973 my husband left me, pleading that he had fallen in love with our upstairs tenant and wanted to spend his life with her. I was four months pregnant. Roe v. Wade had been decided three months earlier.
My obstetrician sent me to see a social worker to help me sort out my feelings and make my plans. She began every one of her questions or suggestions with, “if you want an abortion…”, until I finally shouted at her, “I DON’T want an abortion. “ “Well, “ she observed, “That solves that problem.”
I had wanted this baby fiercely for some time, and my husband’s defection did nothing to diminish my desire. But that conversation with the social worker, and the knowledge that an abortion would have been legally available had I felt unable to proceed with the pregnancy, added depth and resonance to my desire. This was a most wanted child. I had the choice, and I chose to have a baby.
My daughter told me recently, in a discussion about her father– who has never figured into her life except as an absence, a question mark– “Mom, when I was a kid and used to ask about my father, you always said, ‘You were a very wanted baby.’” So that knowledge has been central to her sense of her self.
At another point, a few years later, I did have an abortion. I was a single mother, working and pursuing a path to ordination in the Episcopal Church. The potential father was not someone I would have married; he would have been no better a candidate for fatherhood than my daughter’s absent father. The timing was wrong, the man was wrong, and I easily, though not happily, made the decision to terminate the pregnancy.
I have not the slightest regret about either of these decisions, nor the slightest guilt. I felt sorrow and loss at the time of my abortion, but less so than when I’d miscarried some years earlier. Both of my choices, I believe, were right for me and my circumstances: morally correct in their context, practical, and fruitful in their outcomes.
That is, both choices were choices for life: in the first instance, I chose for the life of the unborn child; in the second, I chose for my own vocational life, my economic stability, and my mental and emotional health and wholeness.
Shortly after my ordination to the priesthood, I was asked to speak at the National Abortion Federation’s annual meeting, on a Clergy Panel, with the theme of “Abortion as a Moral Choice.” I wondered skeptically who would attend such a panel, but to my surprise, the room was packed with people – abortion providers and other clinic workers. Our audience was so eager and grateful to hear their work affirmed, to hear religious authorities assuring them that God was on their side! I understood that I had a responsibility, indeed, a call, as a pro-choice religious professional, to speak out and to advocate publicly for women’s reproductive rights and health, and I have tried to be faithful to that call.
To talk theologically about women’s right to choose is to talk about justice, equality, health and wholeness, and respect for the full humanity and autonomy of every woman. Typically, as moral theologians, we discuss the value of potential life (the fetus) as against the value of lived life – the mature and relational life of a woman deciding her capacity to continue or terminate a pregnancy. And we believe that, in general, the value of that actual life outweighs the value of the potential.
I like to talk, as well, in terms of gift and of calling. I believe that all life is a gift – not only potential life, but life developing and ripening with its many challenges, complications, joys and sorrows. When we face difficult reproductive choices we balance many gifts, many goods, and to fail to recognize the gifts of our accomplished lives is to fail to recognize God’s ongoing blessing. I believe as well that God calls us all to particular vocations, and our decisions about whether and when to bear children are part of that larger pattern of our lives’ sacred meanings.
The Reverend Anne C. Fowler
Rector, St John’s Episcopal Church, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

I am a Baptist minister and president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice - RCRC. I am pro-choice about abortion because of my religious tradition and beliefs. I believe that God has given each of us free will and the responsibility to exercise it according to our understanding of God’s plan. I believe that women cannot exercise their God-given free will unless they can control their reproductive lives. That is why women’s ability to make moral decisions about their reproductive lives is a social justice issue – because without that ability (and the economic, medical and educational resources that make choices possible), women cannot be equal and cannot have justice.

I think we are polarized over abortion because of the framework we use (almost unconsciously) to think and talk about it: “religious = anti-abortion and secular = pro-choice.” It’s a mistake to think that all religions are against abortion. In reality, many faith traditions believe abortion must be an option for women. People who are religious are pro-choice and women who are religious have abortions.

Labels and stereotypes contribute to the polarization of views. We say that abortion is a moral issue – but then we make the mistake of thinking that the only moral position is to be against abortion. I don’t agree with that. Is it moral to have a child you can’t care for and – to be honest - don’t want? Is it moral for the government to force a woman who has been raped to have the child that results from the rape? Is it moral to require that a woman with a life-threatening illness continue a pregnancy? Is it moral to insist a young woman who has become pregnant have the child and place it for adoption? So you see, having an abortion can be a decision that is moral and responsible.

We need a radical change in thinking. We should stop stigmatizing abortion and women who have abortions and stop talking about “reducing the number of abortions” as if abortion were a plague. We should focus on improving women’s health and lives and on creating the conditions for responsible decisions about having children – including sexuality education for young people that teaches values and consequences, contraception, healthcare, childcare, and good jobs.

I don’t think it will be easy to change the conversation – the anti-abortion groups have a vested interest in keeping up interest in abortion and the media ask politicians about it as a litmus test of how liberal or conservative they are. I don’t think people who are against abortion on religious grounds will change. And I don’t think women will stop having abortions. But we have to move forward. What term do we use? I suggest reproductive justice.

Francis Kissling believes that abortion numbers need to be reduced, but that making abortion illegal is not the answer. I agree with her because even if it was against the law to seek an abortion, there would still be women who would find a way, as they have in the not-too-distant past, and often with grave results.

Kissling’s approach is different in that she has an enthusiasm for difference, which she feels is critical to change. She looks to honor the other person’s values without giving up her own. I think her approach is refreshing, and will go a long way toward bridging the gap to common ground.

When most of us are in the realm of topics such as Gay Marriages and Abortions, there is usually a line drawn down the middle. Some of us think it's wrong while the other side of the line believes it is right. These 2 subjects have had much more criticism then ever before nowadays. There isn't even a correct answer. That's what brings these 2 ideas great things to talk about. Frances Kissling talk about subjects as these and gives her input.

Frances Kissling, just like Karen Armstrong, actually joined the convent at age 19. However she only stayed for about a year. The bad choices that Frances mom chose, influenced Frances to become a nun. Her mom experienced 2 divorces and Frances did not want to experience the same, so that lead to be a nun. Frances had different views on the Catholic faith as she grew up. Her idea was that if someone got divorced it wasn't a big deal and someone should be able to re-marry. Sexual relations are only permitted through marriage in the catholic faith. Frances didn't believe God had casted her to no sexual relations just because she wasn't married. This is what sets her apart from the faith.

Frances wasn't very supportive of marriage, however she was very active with the complications and the curve balls that are thrown from Abortions. Frances had a strong belief in values when speaking about abortions. She talked about the rights of the mother and of the child within the womb. Which rights are more important then the other? I am on the same path with Frances on one thing we agree upon. I believe that abortion itself is not always good but if it is necessary, then it must done and there will probably be positive outcomes.

One thing she says is that unlike abortions, homosexuality is engaged with the positive side of life. For example relationships among eachother and having a partner. There are people out there who do not believe this is right if you are gay. They believe these "gay" people should not have these things because they are the same sex. This idea has brought these people together and they have accepted their social identity. These "gay" people need to their place on this planet.

Like myself, a lot of people do not want to even speak the word abortion or deal with it. If one must get an abortion, she doesn't want to be stressing about it. Frances thinks that people who have just thought about an abortion or even had an abortion, do not want to be labeled with that and have it stamped across their head by people.

When we talk about these issues, its very key to know both sides of the battle. Someone who only believes in one side is a fool. If you only accept your side of the battle, then you are not worthy of even argueing about it. What is point of arguing? It's to compromise and make ends meet on both of your criteria. "Common ground." Frances had a deep belief that finding this "common ground" is not difficult if the differences are'nt much. Frances had even discovered her beliefs after understanding both sides of the fight. This is what we need in todays society. If you can understand what the person is trying to display/do and can back it up, it is okay. Take a minute to yourself and see this in someone elses shoes. You would hope people would understand.

I can't imagine the idea of committing to be a nun at only 17. Something she said really struck me, that there wasn't much "thinking" involved in being a nun. I grew up religious, but I found that there wasn't much thinking or challenging what you believed. The more I started questioning, the harder I found it to reconcile the idea of "blind faith" and what I saw as the likely truth. When she mentions her boss wanting to examine religion with the same amount of vigor as any other subject, that I how I feel it should be. I think religion should be evaluated for truth as much as anything else you study. Believing in a God is something you can never prove, or disprove, thus you have to take it on faith. But you can examine what is put forward as facts, such as the Bible is to be taken literally, or that the books were written by who they claim to be written by. I do like that she examined other religions such as Islam. I think to truly believe you need to not close yourself off to any information that might challenge your beliefs, but instead to find out all you can and at the end to base your beliefs on all the facts.

The broadcast that I chose to listen to is on abortion. I chose this topic because it is very controversial and I am always curious to hear what people have to say on the topic. Frances Kissling is best known as the president for Catholics for a Free Choice. She was one of four children to a twice divorced Polish American mother, from Pennsylvania. She became involved in abortion around 1970. While listening to the broadcast Frances made a statement about her mother that really stood out to me ‘She was aware that her mother’s life was burdened by children that she didn’t want’. That is a statement that really makes you think back around that time abortions and birth control weren’t easily available as it is today. If a woman became pregnant she didn’t have the option to term the pregnancy and really didn’t have the option to try to prevent it either, so basically you just had to deal with your situation the best way that you can. Another statement that Kissling made during her interview that really stood out to me is that “You have to approach difference with the notion that there is good in the other. If we can’t figure out how to do that we won’t have change”. I like this statement because it makes sense to me, if you aren’t able to see the good in the point that someone is trying to make you will constantly butt heads with that person and not make any progress. You have to be able to see where they are coming from too.

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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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Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Managing Producer: Kate Moos

Associate Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer: Shubha Bala

Associate Producer: Susan Leem

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

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Funding provided in part by the Nour Foundation.

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