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

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

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

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

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

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

In relation to politics, there shouldn't even be *any* discussion of people's personal beliefs. Talk about abortion all you want, its morality or not, etc., but please do not continue to encourage nonseparation of church and state by tying it in with politics thus government, ie, the state.

All this talk goes against the Constitution. Separation of church and state means that it is irrelevant what your neighbor believes as long as he or she does you no harm, period. I would like people who feel differently about abortion rights (both sides) to keep their opinions out of any discussion of politics, ie, the state. I am appalled even at the coining of the phrases "pro-life Democrats" and "pro-choice Republicans" as it furthers the nonseparation of church and state.

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."—Thomas Jefferson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again - Abortion should not be a legislated issue.

Thank you.

Sara Breeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my story- as a woman who has been raped, more than once,
controlled most of my life by a male world; constantly beset upon by
promoters of all religions, I keep remembering the founding fathers
and our original reason to create our great failing country-
TO KEEP YOUR RIGHT TO FOLLOW ANY FAITH
AND KEEP IT OUT OF POLIITICS
Doesn't that mean anything to Amy Sullivan, Sarah Palin and 60 million other
fools who think they have the right to tell anyone what to do?
I am horrified at this country-
and what is happening-
if God was speaking to George Bush- the connection must have been intercepted
WAKE UP
THIS IS WHAT IS MAKING US HATED AND MAKING US FAIL
IT'S A SMOKE SCREEN TO FLEECE EVERYONE
we have become a country of stupid people
led by a few powermad smart ones

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

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

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

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

Dear Producers, I enjoy your views and respect you on what you say. You are gifted person. I made a special DVD of artifacts for 2009. This is the first atfer 25 years time I 'm sharing with you . I spent time in the mountain of the himalayas. My faith and meditaion has been answered. What I have will benifit all mankind. In the future all human being will humble and what have will comfort for humantiy we are all in the same benwagon. I hope I can share with you and learn from each other. I preserved artifact from different cultures and national and divine treasure. This is for the 21 first century it is the sign of the time for education and science. Take a look at what im sharing with you. You are a gifted person to share with. I need help setting this up, I wondering if I could get help. It is the sign of the time. Who will be the gifted person? I hope you are enjoying the American History. I want to help people of America and those whose in Texas and Louisiana. These are also personal belongings of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.. The Heaven stone is 4.6 billion years old. In 2008 Ill be ready to share with the world. Im planning to make a documentary about the artifacts history. If you would like to be part of the making history, please let me know. Many other artifacts are presenting different cultures. Some of them are breath taking, garment and clothing, pen of someone for you to guess who was born in c 6 B.C- c. 30 A.D. And other person in c.4 A.D. -c 64 A.D. Also c 280-337 A.D. Many other of first human languages and the time of anicentand many other relgion like Islam , Buddha and hindu and many others.. These are lost horizon wisdom. When we all humble then well have comfort for humanity. We all are seacrhing for the truth. Please let me know. Peace, Love, and Good Karma. Take a look at what I have. Sincerly, Karma Shah

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

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

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

Sue Szymanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Sorry - this isn't directly answering these questions, but I couldn't find anywhere else to voice my frustration that you and all the media seem to totally ignore the large number of Christians for whom other issues are FAR more important than abortion.

Listening to your program tonight I realized that even though you interviewed Amy Sullivan as an example that the media concept of an 'Evangelical Christian' is stereotyped and over-simplified, it still excluded me and millions of others by falling back on the common habit of equating all Christianity with evangelical Christianity.

The media is shortchanging the entire discussion of faith when they repeatedly discuss Christianity only in terms of abortion. Christianity and morality encompass many issues, and different individuals or congregations make different choices as to which issues are most important.

For me, some of the strongest teachings have been the belief that the 'Christian' thing to do is to take care of those who are in need (fortunately, that's a belief that's not limited to Christians). This is closely tied to the belief that all people are children of God - not just the ones who interpret His word in the same way I do.

I can't claim that I live up to those goals, but since my understanding of faith stresses these values, it leads me to political conclusions that are very different from the ones the media claims are 'Christian.'

I do not dispute anyone's right to make their own decisions about which religious beliefs are most important to them - but I strongly dispute the media's tendency to disregard the millions of people whose faith leads them to believe that the most important issues are concern, respect and help for others, and to make political decisions based on that belief. I'd really like to hear a discussion about that aspect of Christianity, and its affect on political choices.

It's not an either/or situation. I'm sure there are millions who would put some other portion of their faith above both the abortion issue and the concerns for the disadvantaged, and many of us try to weigh all of these. The bottom line is: PLEASE DO NOT USE THE MEDIA SHORTHAND OF IDENTIFYING A GROUP AS HUGE AND DIVERSE AS 'CHRISTIANS' ONLY IN TERMS OF A SINGLE ISSUE.

I've limited these comments to the Christian faith simply because that was the topic tonight, and that is the term that I think is being misused. However, there are many who are of a different faith, or no organized faith, but whose moral philosophy has a dominant place in their political decisions.

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

The issue is framed in moral extremes for a reason - because it gets really muddy any other way. Here are the extremes: 1. Life begins at conception 2. Life begins at birth These positions are defensible and allow one to make reasonable decisions on a host of other issues and specific cases of abortion. For example, partial-birth abortion, fetus-rights (is it double homicide to kill a pregnant woman), embryonic research, rape & incest, etc. But science is going to blow this whole issue into an entirely new dimension. Cloning will happen as will, gene selection, screening, splicing, etc. And these new technologies will result in questions like, do clones have a soul? how did it get there? and what does it mean to be human? I think a temporary practical solution is to use the earliest saved premature baby as a benchmark for life ... this results in a moving time as technologies improve, but prevents the slaughter of viable premature lives. The pro-life position takes the side that saving the new life is weighted higher than the decision making convenience of the mother. By using the earliest survivable date - the mother would have some time to decide, but not an excessive amount, 8th month. Compromises like this are also difficult because there is a practical privacy aspect to the issue - the interweaves the privacy of the mother with the right-to-life of the unborn. These are at odds and at the heart of Roe v. Wade from my limited understanding of the case. So, there is an enforcement issue rarely discussed, and a practical matter of "it's been happening for hundreds of years - a law will just push it to the back alleys." These are difficult questions and it's a shame that these issues are given so much weight over more solvable issues such as eliminating the death penalty, another pro-life position. I am pro-life, but the practically of the issue prevents it from influencing my voting habits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, a bit of context. I born in Berlin, Germany and grew up overseas since my parents worked for the Military school system. My parents were devote Catholics and raised us that way -- not quite the Kennedys kneeing down to do rosary every night, but certainly doing that during Lent. I went on to get a Master's in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College, and now have a Master's in Oriental Medicine, which is my current half-time profession. The other half of my life I work for MIT. My life seems to be about balancing different perspectives, and while it creates a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, it also makes me look below the surface of things to see what binds it together.

This mindset is what I keep bringing to the question of abortion, in addition to the fact that I am female. I come out on the side of "pro-choice" because I believe a woman needs to have a say over her own body, and that if she is not able or willing to make the commitment to go through a pregnancy, she should have a choice not to do so. At the same time, I work with women who are infertile, trying to have a child. I've felt the joy and happiness when the pregnancy can happen, and the gift that life is to the parent(s). I know I've felt the energy of a little being in utero, so I do believe there is life there. That said, I usually don't feel that energy till after 3 or 4 months, and I've also worked with many women post miscarriage. Its a really sad event for most women, and tremendously hard to make peace with. I also know the women I've worked with who've had abortions, struggled with the choice but felt it was incredibly sad but necessary. It seems whether a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or an elective abortion, most women have a lot to work through about the whole thing.

It raises the issue for me: if life begins at conception, then is "God" the Great Abortionist?

The March of Dimes theorizes that 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before the woman even knows she is pregnant. A further 15% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions prior to the end of the first trimester. This is just 5% less than the number of elective abortion in the same time period.
If so many pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions, then what is "God's" role in this equation? Is miscarriage okay because God chooses it? But that would imply that only God should have a say over life and death. So what role to ANY form of family planning/birth control? Are all forms of contra-ception wrong as the Catholic church seems to say? Are we not interfering in God's plan by simply deciding not to have sex when fertile to avoid pregnancy? If God gets to decide death as well as life, how can we possibly justify war? Oh yeah -- God's on our side! Funny how both sides can claim that in a war and be so sure they are right, and how the same is true in this abortion debate.

It seems to me there is something else happening in this debate that we couch in terms of right & wrong and God and choice. We seem to be going through a developmental phase in human awareness where we are now aware that we have the power to make choices that can create or destroy life. We can make babies in test-tubes -- though we still need women to carry them, and we can create death in those same test tubes as biological weapons. We have weapons that can destroy most of human and other life on the planet and now we can prevent life from happening in the womb. This is unprecedented power, power that used to be reserved to kings or presidents or God is now within all of our reach.

We have not developed the ethical and moral decision making skills to handle these decisions, nor do we have a moral or ethical world view that can help us with them. All the major religions sprang out of agrarian societies with little control over the forces of nature. While the truths of the world religions may be timeless, the formats of delivery ie the Bible, the Koran, the Old Testament, etc. are context sensitive. In other words, Jesus saying "Pay unto Casear what is Casear's" doesn't mean we still pay taxes to Rome.

Speaking in our context, the Bible had nothing to say about preventing conception because in an agrarian society conception and fertility is what you were interested in promoting. Consequently, women, as the source of human fertility were honored for the role of giving birth and that fertility promoted. As we humans have increasingly moved away from agrarian lifestyles, we have struggled to put our current lifestyles against the strictures and teachings of our moral and ethical guides -- the major religions, and have had increasingly to read more and more into the space between the strictures and rules to cover our current situations. Rather like the Supreme Court did in reading into the 14th Amendment a right to privacy, which supports Roe v. Wade. Given that we are all on open ground on this issue, it seems people have become more strident and single minded because questioning the issue brings into question too many other areas of life -- and its really, really hard to operate without a clear guideline such as a good map in an unfamiliar area, especially if you are scared.

What then can we do?

To me, when lost, you need to first stop and assess your situation, take a deep breath, and then start talking to people. Find out where here is, and together you can work out how to get from here to there. This is hard to do in groups. We are still learning as a species how to talk across differences, to respect different points of view and realize maybe the other has something of importance even if we don't see things their way. However, it seems that this kind of cross cultural respect and communication is the only way we will start to find some way out of this together. First we have to all acknowledge that this is new territory and that while our religion(s) and teachings may give us guidance, it probably won't give us THE answer. Reasonable people can agree to disagree on interpretations of the teachings, however, we need to start agreeing they ARE interpretations not THE TRUTH. In that place we can begin to listen with respect. In that place it is safe to talk and let down our guard. In that place we can move beyond being right to being in relationship. Maybe together we can come up with some some answers.

The question I've been grappling with for a while now is what the appropriate response to abortion is from the position of a commitment to non-violence. I just don't know. As I've become, through my faith life, increasingly committed to non-violence and increasingly convinced that non-violence is the necessary moral response, I've become increasingly troubled by abortion. While I wouldn't say that I believe it's murder--I don't know when a human life enters the realm of personhood or what the ethical or moral status of an embryo or fetus is--it is an act of violence against a human life. As such, I think it's best avoided if at all possible. It's always better, I believe, to nurture life rather than to end it, and that is true in the realm of abortion. This was a somewhat difficult leap for me to make, as a person who for many years held the belief that abortion was a morally justifiable or at least morally neutral act, but I personally can't be honest about my belief in non-violence without taking abortion seriously as an act of violence.

At the same time, though, I also see using state power (or any coercive power) to try to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will and quite possibly about the dictates of her own conscience as an act of violence, as well. To do that is to assault a woman's bodily integrity. I cannot support the government forcing women to carry pregnancies to term against their will. I cannot believe that that act of violence is justifiable in order to prevent another act of violence. If an act of violence is going to occur, I personally have to err on the side of individual conscience rather than state power. For me, a woman choosing to have an elective abortion is a moral wrong and an act of violence against human life, but one that is less troubling at a societal level than a government committing violence against women by forcing them to continue unwanted pregnancies.

But where do you go from there? If abortion is an act of violence that we must take seriously and address, and laws against abortion are also acts of violence, what do you do? What is the non-violent solution to the issue?

I hate that those who would seek to make abortion illegal have come to own the term "culture of life," because I do believe that's what we need, but not in the way they mean. I don't want us to be a culture where people are legally compelled to nurture the lives that the state wants to protect. I want us to be a culture where we have such a deep and abiding respect for human life at all stages that abortion--like child abuse and pre-emptive war and rape and people living in dire poverty--becomes something that people choose not to choose unless there are extremely pressing reasons. I don't know how we get there. But I think that if we were a society that, in general, nurtured and respected the lives of all born persons, then we'd be a step closer to nurturing and respecting human life in its early stages.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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