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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


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.


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


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


Our aggregated tweets from our interview.

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

About the Image

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

(photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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I just have questions: Why is it so hard to focus on the causes rather the resulting abortions? When is abortion also make the men responsible for their actions? Can't we help young women who often say they want a baby so they have someone to love them? -- Help them see they are destroying their ow young lives- -- Help them see they are committing their children to poverty-- etc. -- Help them see their own worth, ability to make good choices. The Old Testament made reproduction necessary for survival, but the times have changed. Isn't human intimacy and comfort also a legitimate reason for sexual intercourse between committed individuals? But this is not the casual sex young folks see in the media. It is not another form of "hello." Poverty limits a young girl's hopes and opportunity. Help her get out of that terrible whirlpool. Educate the young men also to their responsibilities. A local high school has a nursery which the boys call the "Trophy Room." How can medical ethics and moral judgment keep up with scientific discoveries of human life?

Abortion is wrong. It's that simple. To take an innocent human life is an abhorrent moral wrong, and there is no way such the choice to kill should be protected by law. I have not been able to vote until this year, but I have always supported the Republican candidate for president based on the pro-life issue.
Yet, I vote in two days, and I am strongly considering a vote for Barack Obama. There are so many other issues at stake—an economy in the trash, many without healthcare, a war that lingers on. Obama is appealing to me. He strikes me as a man trying to live the Gospel—a crucial value for me as an active Roman Catholic. But I hesitate to give him my vote because his message of hope excludes the unborn. The change he brings is looser restrictions on abortion. This is not the change we need.
But I agree with him on so many other issues, my pro-Obama friends argue. This is true, and I don't want to be a one-issue voter, but the fact is that the pro-life issue is central to any just society. A just society must protect its most vulnerable members. Abortion destroys our society's most vulnerable members. If we are to build up a just society in our country, we must defend those who have no voice, no defense of their own.
I realize situations can be tough. Senseless acts like rape can cause crisis pregnancies and put women in miserable situations. I cannot possibly understand the pain these women go through. But I can say there must always be a more viable option than death. Whether it be economic support programs for pregnant women, early-childhood education programs, or adoption incentives, there must be a better option in death—an option that promotes life and a just society at the same time.

I think human life does not turn on and off like a light switch, but grows gradually, just as it sometimes (in old age or prolonged illness) dies gradually, like a perfume slowly losing its scent, when you miss the full and eventually even the trace of the spirit of the human life still physically there with you. The beginning of life is the wonderful inverse of this -- like a perfume base gradually getting a scent, a growing body and growing spirit, really very amazing. The whole process seems to me morally significant from its very start, from conception -- so much so that I think you always need a reason to interrupt it once it starts. Lesser reasons might do within the first few hours of conception, say, since there is truly less of both the body and the spirit of the life present. But as human life grows and becomes more fully present, you need a better and better reason to stop it.

I like to think we are all pro-life in the sense that we all value and encourage human life. And we are all pro-choice in the sense that we value and encourage freedom. Perhaps pro-responsibility? We want to make responsible choices about growing human life.

I'd like to hear us talking more about how we can allow choice but use non-judgemental education to encourage options other than abotion. I have to trust that no woman just lightly decides to get pregnant and have an abortion. I am sure that the decision to abort is painful and difficult. I am not sure, however, that help is at hand for other options. I'd like to see a woman be able to go to a clinic to receive good information about options, then be given a few days to think. If she still wants an abortion, then one should be allowed. If she chooses to put the child up for adoption, as an example, then social workers should be at the clinic able to help with the procedures.

Not being a traditionally religious person, I do not come to my views based on scriptures or doctrines. Instead I come to my pro-choice views based on a sense of practicality, and a hope that whatever Divine presence there is does not ascribe to the strict black and white views that generally go along with this topic.

I believe that it would be nearly impossible to find a person who believes that abortion is a "good thing." I, like many who call themselves pro-life, wish we lived in a world where every child conceived was wanted and would be loved and cared for. But unfortunately we do not live in that world, and so we must come to terms with abortion.

What has always baffled me is the unwillingness to compromise that many pro-life people exhibit. The easiest way to prevent abortion is to prevent unintended pregnancy. And yet the same people who want to outlaw abortion also fight against contraception and comprehensive sex education - two things proven to prevent unintended pregnancies. I find this approach to be as useful as hiding one's head in the sand. The reality we face is that humans are sexual beings - try as we might, there will always be teens who have sex. There will always be adults who have sex. Telling people not to do it as the only answer to preventing unintended pregnancies is a denial of reality.

As long as those in the pro-choice movement are the ones fighting for greater education, more access to contraception and health care for women of low socioeconomic background (statistically the group with the highest incidences of abortion), I will stand with them. To me the pro-choice movement is more truly "pro-life" as it seeks to address life as it is, rather than some unrealistic ideal held by many of the so-called "pro-lifers."

At the same time, I think it is important for people on all sides of the issues to engage in real conversation. Compromise and progress can only be made when people truly understand one another. When understanding is reached, we could use the best of both sides to drastically reduce the number of abortions which occur, and help the status of women in America and the rest of the world.

Prefacing my answers I have to state that before I saw SOF's outreach for fresh perspectives, I had asked myself a few months prior that:

"If I were running for office, how would I honestly answer this question?"

In being a male I first thought that my moral and spiritual perspectives would be mute however, my introspection led to a clear and concise conclusion.

Outside of context, the moral aspect of abortion and the potentiality of spiritual consequence of going through an individual seems to weigh against it.

I would like to understand of those who feel differently what context or lack of context makes this a choice. I would further like to explain my stance on what I believe can be simply classified as: an accidental pregnancy versus a forced or life threatening pregnancy.

Pro-life and pro-choice are black and white. In the terms of media it means one is for abortion without reason and the former is against abortion for one reason or another.

There needs to be a more granular conversation regarding abortion and those who stand somewhere between Pro-life and Pro-choice: regardless of agreement or disagreement.

This is a complex issue, but the complexity lies on the individual going through such a procedure and it is the voices of those that have undergone this procedure that should be heard amongst those that are caught somewhere in the middle in terms of being for or against such a choice.

Jesse Benedict

When our first child was born in 2002 our annual household income was less than $30,000 and since we did not have employer-based health insurance, we were under a load of debt from medical bills. But even though we were under great financial stress, we never doubted our decision to carry our son full term. Ever. Even when we got pregnant nine months later and then had two kids to care for and--when compared to our friends--relatively little money, it never occurred to us that our lives would be less fulfilled because of these two boys.

See, we’re pro-life Protestants who agree whole-heartedly with the recent popes’ arguments that a culture of life is central to creating a just society, and that outlawing abortion is a foundational element in any society’s law code if it wants to be truly just. When Rod Dreher told Krista that the 19th century evangelicals wouldn’t say, “'I believe black people are humans but if you don't believe that, well, you know, I'm not going to force my belief on you in the South’,” we were right there with him.

A couple weeks ago I voted for John McCain. And, for many reasons, I believe I voted for the right candidate. But in the months and weeks leading up to the election I found myself debating with fellow evangelicals about the importance of electing a president who would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. I put tons of energy into these debates, because I believe that we need to help move our society to the point where our laws state protect the unborn with the same vigor as they protect the born.

But then on November 4, I took the exit poll on Beliefnet.org. The poll had a question about how to get a real reduction of abortions.
I had two choices:
• “Best way to reduce abortion is through legal restrictions” or
• “Best way to reduce abortion is by preventing unintended pregnancy or providing financial assistance to pregnant mothers.”
Without hesitation I clicked the first choice, but before I continued to the next question my heart skipped a beat. I realized that I don’t really believe that. In fact, I knew in my bones that real change--change that makes a difference in people’s lives--rarely, if ever, comes from the top down, but rather it comes from the bottom up. Overturning Roe v. Wade fixes things--foundational things--but it won’t make the real change that is needed. Even without legalized abortion on-demand, there will be women and men out there who, when in the situation we were in when we first got pregnant, will continue to think that abortions are a viable answer to stress in their lives.

My focus on the legal side of the abortion debate had led me to act as though laws matter more than people.

So, I am now taking the election of Barack Obama as the start of a new day for me. It appears as though as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the legal question will remain at the point it currently is for years to come. So be it. I did what I could on that front, but now I need to change my focus from laws to women’s lives.

Poor women who get pregnant are scared. I know this because we were scared before both pregnancies, not knowing where the money would come from or how we would stay afloat. But we remembered the lilies in the field and knew with certainty that children are a blessing that it would be worth the financial cost.

And although I’d like to credit that to my moral/religious anti-abortion convictions, if I’m honest with myself, I know we never considered an abortion because I believed that the Lord would provide for my family. Even though having children would mean I’d have to buy less stuff and make redefine what it meant for me to “follow my dreams,” I always believed that it would be worth it.

I am now just beginning to realize that the problem I see in America is rooted in the reality that most people in financial dire straights--many of whose are much much worse than ours were--do not believe that they will be provided for if they have another mouth to feed. They do not believe that the child they are carrying brings hope, but rather see it as a burden. They are so trapped in a world where a flourishing human being is defined as one who has financial freedom, that they can’t help but do cost analysis on their pregnancy and conclude that more financial constraints means lower quality of life.

That is sad. And worse yet, I have done little to help people become liberated from this bondage, either through charitable donations to alleviate their poverty or by helping people see that investing in the lives of babies and children is the most fulfilling activity human being are blessed with the opportunity to perform.

Our third child is now three weeks old today, and although I hope that someday he lives in an America where aborting children just three months younger than him is legal, my bigger prayer is that he will live in an America where conventional wisdom does not trap men and women into living as though financial considerations are more important than new life. Until that mis-perception changes, nothing will change.

Abortion has been blown all out of proportion. People use it today to attack the ideas of others twithout hinking things through.

I have been friends with one lady who considers herself a murder for having an abortion and another who considers herself a torturer because she couldn't have one.

This is an ethical issue that must be settled by the woman involved. I can never feel the pain because it will never happen to me. I can only advise and support the womans decision

If GOD wants a child born that child will be born. If the LORD does not want a child born it will not be born. We humans cannot tell the almighty what child should or should not be born. Therefore abortion is a mote point from that angle

In the end the state must decide when abortion becomes murder. Current efforts seem to be that the shift occurs when the medical proffession can keep a child alive outside of a women. As we get better at dealing with pre-mature babies this time comes earler and earler in the pregnacy. Evetualy we will not need abortion at all because we can keep an embro alive from conception.

The two sides of the abortion question—pro-life and pro-choice—have become so entrenched that healthy compromise seems out of the question. And how do you compromise, anyway, when one side believes abortion to be murder and the other sees its elimination as government control of a woman’s own body?
I believe there is an opportunity for greater understanding between the two camps, and the ball is in the pro-choice court. Can it really be that difficult to admit that abortion is a practice to be avoided whenever possible, an act of last resort? Yet the insistence on the abortion option, without acknowledging its dark side, reads, on the other side of the equation, as utmost callousness, even cold-bloodedness. Abortion should not be a form of birth control.
During the recent presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama made a step in the right direction by acknowledging that abortion occurs all too frequently. I applaud him for his comments. Now it is time for the pro-choice camp itself to address the issue honestly and realistically. I say this as a lifelong (liberal) Democrat, who, like many women, shudders at the thought of my government telling me what I can and cannot do with my body, but also as a single mother who once contemplated abortion. I believe my story illustrates the dangers inherent in a blanket endorsement of abortion.
Just before my 18th birthday, a few months after graduating from high school, I discovered that I was pregnant. I acquired this terrifying knowledge during a visit to my local Planned Parenthood office in a midsized Texas city. I found the women at that office to be extremely supportive of my situation, and understanding of the considerable fear it aroused in me, given my single, adolescent status. Yet it seemed to me at the time, based on the information I was given, that the only plausible course of action was abortion.
This was in the 1970s, just a few years after Roe v. Wade, at a time when abortion was not only legal, but subsidized, among low-income women, by the federal government. Before I knew it, an appointment had been scheduled for me at a Houston abortion clinic, and I was purchasing a bus ticket for the trip. No one ever sat down to explore with me, in any depth, my feelings about this choice, or to offer any option besides abortion. What makes my story even more remarkable is the fact that I had already passed the first trimester of pregnancy.
I rode all night, alone, on the bus to Houston, where a friend picked me up and drove me to the clinic. It was early morning when we arrived, shortly before the clinic opened, and we sat in the parking lot staring at the clinic’s front door. My friend, sensing my underlying distress, asked if abortion was what I really wanted and offered her support regardless of my decision. It was a long time before I could answer, though I had discovered on the long bus ride my true feelings on the subject: I did not want an abortion. I did not know how I would possibly raise a child on my own, but I was certain I wanted to raise it.
I want to emphasize my gratitude that I live in a country where I had the right to make that choice for myself. At the same time, I look back on that chain of events even now with a sense of horror over what nearly happened—namely, that one of life’s gravest decisions, the choice to become or not become a parent, was almost made on the fly.

Before the person is born, I consider it more of an issue of its being a part of the mother's body, in which case, it is between her and her family, her doctor and her clergy, since it is at least her life (to be 'pro-'). Life actually began well before anyone's particular life, continues through it well into the future. Your life, your particular set of cells and ideas started well before you or your parents were born, conceived or whatever and they lead directly to you--choosing any point of origin is arbitrary and needs some justification for being selected.

It is the "pro-lifers" that make it a public issue. Making it a public issue is a simple way of developing a 'moral' sense, especially in morally ambiguous times. If you were really "pro-life" you would be busy promoting prenatal counciling centers, school nutrition and after-school programs, lobying your government to support international health and education efforts--not inhabiting them. Not to mention natural resources conservation programs and issues.

Perhaps pro-life should be phrased anti-killing and baby-rights for that is the true issue is pro-lifers are trying to protect the babies, or the Latin term for baby a "fetus." If the baby "it" is just a "fetus" then they are not really accepting the fact that the baby is just a glob of tissue when the word "for an un-baby" in Latin. People try to justify killing babies claiming that nobody wants "it." When there are several people I know that would be delighted to adopt a baby. In several towns I saw that the people that wanted to adopt a baby out numbered the abortions preformed and that does not count the natural occuring multiple births aborted also, for one out of eighty women do have twins,and one out of 100,000 have triplets. The number of abortions occuring out number the people serving in the military and yet people complain more about people fighting for freedom then they do about millions of babies killed each year.

I am a pro-choice woman and mother, who leans heavily toward the progressive side politically. As I don't believe in the supernatural, all concerns of when souls are engendered or "life" really starting seem beside the point to me.

I think the fight goes beyond "is it cells or a life" and "do women have control over their bodies" and is a matter of fundamental disagreement people have over how family situations should be.

I think it upsets people to consider that some people have chaotic experiences that would not be optimal for a baby to born into, that economics, safety, health and personal interest are not always aligned to welcome a new child. I think a lot of pro-life people are advocating for a world they think we should have - where people are in control of their lives to the point that adding another family member is feasible - and they desperately want this world.

I want that world, too. I wish I could say that what goes on behind the closed doors in my community was all healthy, nurturing and loving. But I just don't know that, and I can't assume that we're getting to that optimal place any time soon.

I've experienced pregnancy and birth. I would not trade my child for anything in this world. But I know how difficult it was to be pregnant and to bring her into this world, and I know how difficult it is to be a parent, every day. So though I wish our families and personal lives could all be arrayed to choose "life" as it were, I am forced to accept the reality that we have and believe in giving the choice to the individual woman.

"Pro-life" has always struck me as inherently polemical. As well as inaccurate. It proclaims an absolute, yet many of those who claim the label of course admit qualifications and make exceptions like most mortals do. Pro-choice is at least more accurate to the extent that it presumes there will always be those for whom abortion could never be the right decision - and it leaves that to them. "Pro choice" imposes abortion on NO ONE.

You may have heard that complaint before. And yet I don't think it's easy or simple. "Pro-life" implies willful blinders, false absolutes, that have devastating consequences.

I thought about this quite a bit during the campaign, thinking about Sarah Palin. Even *if* she and her husband provide most of the care for their special needs child, they do it with other aid from the state, such as the chef she is provided by virtue of her being the governor. And yet she was clear that she believes everyone should be forced to carry such a child to term regardless of how conceived or its prospects for life, but also that no one should expect any aid from the state. If these positions could be stated plainly to voters for what they are, I question whether they would continue to vote as they so far have. Such people are the first to take advantage of laws, for instance, that require school systems to require equal education for special needs children. Yet if their platform succeeds, no states would make any such provision.

I think the Terri Schaivo case showed this as well. "Life" is not an absolute. Plenty of so-called pro-lifers support the death penalty while, like Gov. Palin, opposing programs like AFDC that would funnel direct aid to mothers with children. Most people want the power and freedom to make such decisions about life and death in accord with their personal, private, religious beliefs. Such people include, so it would seem, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. It was I believe 2006, months after the Schaivo case had been all over the news, that WBEZ public radio in Chicago interviewed the Cardinal following surgery he had undergone for (I believe) bladder cancer. It was one of those moments where you hear on the news something utterly startling said only once, and though the interview might be repeated, the startling bit usually isn't. But Cardinal George said he did not fear dying but rather being incapacitated. A very human sentiment that I imagine most people share. But the Church's position is that life should be preserved heedless of the level of consciousness or incapacitation, so this was quite something to hear him say. It received no comment, question, or remark from the interviewer.

I once heard Garrison Keillor say that if right-wing evangelical hard-line culture-war-loving so-called Christians could realize all they say they wish to, they would be the first to regret it. And I agree. Let them wake up to a world in which meat and water are no longer inspected, where women are once again relegated to back alleys and coat hangers and unscrupulous quacks and the state decides how long someone braindead is kept on life support. And then they might regret what they've done.

I try to hold on to hope that through dialogue they can be brought to rethink some of their positions. I've long wondered how it is that such professedly God-fearing folks can claim to know what God wants, and not fear they're committing blasphemy, setting themselves as false gods. How they can square supposed concern with proto-life forms with their opposition to sex education and access to birth control. Roe v. Wade ALREADY imposes limits. There has NEVER been abortion on demand without limits in the U.S. Media programs such as Speaking of Faith could do a great service by starting simply to insist on accuracy in these matters, and not let inflammatory misleading labels like "pro life" cloud the debate.

I don't really believe that anyone likes abortion. I think simply the idea is counter to our very being, our instinct or drive for survival, however, I believe that being human makes it all so very complicated. And I believe that it is an impossible conversation that cannot be resolved, not ever. That is because each person and each person's experience is so very unique. I myself would have told you for the majority of my adolescence and adulthood that I am absolutely and resolutely opposed to abortion because it is ending the potential for life, however small and unnoticeable, of a human being. That has changed somewhat over the last few years. I still believe that morally we are obligated to protect our young, and spiritually I believe that it is our obligation to let be what is to be. But I have had the unique and, at the time, cursed, but now blessed, situation of having a baby prenatally diagnosed with a significant birth defect. Just prior, ten months, to be exact, of this baby's diagnosis, our second child was stillborn due to a true knot in his cord. He was "perfect". She was definitely not. Having felt my soul ripped from the very core of my being, and the alienation of being betrayed by my own body, twice, some might say, left me standing in the rubble of my former religious, moral, and faith values. Lost. Alone. Completely alone. I was left wondering, was my stillborn boy anyone at all? Did he exist? Was he mere tissue? Were his red eyelashes, ten little toes, shock of dark hair, chubby little tummy and dimpled chin simply products of pregnancy? Did he count? Did I have two children, or just one? And then ten months later, the doctors told us, "she has Down syndrome. This is what her life will be like and yours....." What now? Does she count? Does she have ten fingers and ten toes, does her chubby little tummy count yet? It's been nearly five years since our boy, David, was stillborn, and whenever I hear an argument about abortion, I wonder about the woman who is facing this kind of a dilemna. I wonder about whether or not she has support from the man, if he was a stranger who harmed her, or a family overwhelmed by debt or life circumstances. I wonder who she will have to support her after her decision, or if she will have to suffer either choice alone. Because what I've found through my life circumstances, losing David, and welcoming Samantha, is that once something happens, you are alone. My son died accidentally, and the pain was too much for others to bear, my husband and I were alone in our deepest grief. Samantha was born alive and well, despite the Down syndrome, and we were alone again. The pain was too awkward for others to share. So my conclusion is not that this country is "pro-life" or "pro-choice", but that we are not either. We are "pro-birth" or "choose-one-or-the-other-and-then-out-the-door". Pro-lifers don't support each other once that baby is born, and pro-choicers don't help heal the wounds that termination leaves behind. What if we supported each other fully? What if the family struggling next door, was the recipient of occasional boxes of diapers and precooked meals? What if adoption was more of a real option? What if all the crazy red tape and high fees and stigma were removed from adopting and giving your child to an adoptive family? What if the embarrassment of finding yourself pregnant the fourth, fifth, sixth time and struggling to make ends meet was no longer embarrassing, but instead finding a loving home for that child was acceptable? What if we didn't see children like my Samantha as burdens and "icky" as a society and instead saw their unbelievable and very misunderstood potential as fully functioning human beings? What if we helped our young people who have always and will always make mistakes in their quest for "adulthood" deal with the consequences of their actions without stigma and blame? What if a woman who is facing death herself, could give her baby a funeral after she has made the unbearable decision to terminate to save her life? What if she were allowed to grieve openly for her child, or her decision, whichever side you stand on? Abortion cannot be black and white. And it will not be resolved until we stop looking to the politicians to make these kinds of decisions and start looking at ourselves and seeing what we can do to help in our own lives, our own circles.

I would like to know from both sides-where are you? Where are you during that termination and in the months and years afterward? Where are you after that baby is born and the parent(s) is struggling to parent, or survive, or feed that child? Where are you when that baby with that birth defect is born and the whole family is trying do their level best for each member of that family? Where are you when that woman is raped and then has to struggle with her morals and her spirituality when she finds herself pregnant? Where are you when those kids followed their hormones instead of their heads and now college is no longer an option? Are you simply pointing your finger and laying blame, or helping them heal?

My first child died at somewhere around seven weeks. I carried her (I call the child her because it's most probable that it was female) until somewhere around thirteen weeks gestation. After a great deal of bleeding, I was convinced that a D&C was the wisest medical course.

I never got to bury my first child. I still wonder what they did - threw the "tissue" out with the contaminated waste? Cut "the tissue" up to examine with laboratory tests? I don't know. I know the medical staff did find the baby because it was set aside, I suppose to prove I had really had an actual pregnancy rather than some sort of other issue.

It has been a bit over four years since going to the emergency room at about two in the morning. I still grieve that child, the one I wasn't really allowed to grieve. I have a living son who was conceived soon afterwards, a boy that I carried in terror and still have to fight with myself to allow to be out of my sight, and we lost another daughter a year and a half ago to hydranencephaly.

Although I understand that the D&C may have saved my life, and that we had to deliver my youngest daughter to preserve my health and that she would not have lived more than about the hour and twenty minutes that she did no matter how long she would have been carried, I constantly feel pain that I killed my children. I can't understand how anyone would purposely end their child's life; I live with the pain every day of what was medically unavoidable. Pro-choice bothers me because there are cases where "choice" isn't really part of it.

I am a white male Christian, "free range" variety.

As a white male, I do not believe I am in a position to judge what any woman does when faced with pregnancy and life's challenges.

As a Christian, I seek to inform my values and understanding using the Bible.

Many believe the Bible is silent on abortion, but it is not. In Numbers 5:11-31, God gives us the rule that, if a man suspects his wife has been unfaithful, the priest is to give her an abortificant - if she aborts (if God causes her "thigh to waste away")then she is guilty. (See, especially footnote d at http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers%205:11-31&version=NIV)

Of course, not God's most logical rule, but the simple fact is that God uses abortion as part of His rules of life.

This is not the end of the inquiry, but for Christians and Jews, I believe this passage must be incorporated into one's analysis and that, at a minimum, it throws the "sacred human life begins at conception" into disarray...."

In His dust...

I am thoroughly enjoying listening to your conversation with Frances Kissling. I am, however, struck by her description of common ground. I want to share this because the sense of "common ground" that Frances expressed on your show is not at all what I experienced. During the mid-late 1990s, I was actively involved in the Common Ground Network for Life & Choice, a project of the organization Search for Common Ground. This project grew out of concern on both sides of the abortion debate that the political conversation was leading to murders at abortion clinics. My own reason for becoming involved was a long-held frustration that the "movement" was getting no where; in fact, seemed only to be making things worse.

Frances must have had some other experience through the Public Conversations Project, because the work we did at CGNLC was *wholly* grounded in understanding the values behind why people felt the way they did. The full-day session we would hold yearly the week after the Roe v. Wade anniversary (and the week after the ProLife March) was focused entirely on helping attendees listen to and understand each other's values and experiences that lead them to hold the views on abortion that they did. Our ongoing monthly or quarterly afternoon sessions were also so focused. It was only through understanding the values and experiences of the other, that we could come anywhere near finding some space of common ground from which to work. And that common ground focused on answering the question: "How can we reduce the number of abortions?"

I was thrilled to learn of the gathering that Frances convened in Princeton in 2010, yet less thrilled that this was not covered by NPR, much less more mainstream media.

Keep up the good work, both of you, Krista and Frances.

Starting from the premise that pregnancy brings the potential mother closer to death like Kissling attempts to absolve women of some serious responsibility. This attitude is a dark result of civilization and is another attempt to further remove us from our natures, fortunate or unfortunate.

The conversation of Krista Tippett and Frances Kissling that I heard this morning
resonated with me very much. I have listened to and loved these Sunday morning
"Speaking of Faith" and now "On Being" programs enormously. They have become a weekly part of my attention to prayer and growth. Today,I found that there is much to ponder
and take into the rest of my life.

I was reminded of the wonderful little book, Ruel Howe's THE MIRACLE OF DIALOG. I wonder if Krista is familiar with it. I used it many years ago in teaching Theology to high school students and in discussing students' behavior with them, as a Dean of Students.
I find it eminently wise and helpful in the respectful context it establishes for difficult discussions and conversations.

First I am a man who some years ago agreed with my wife that we could not at the time properly care for a child and that an abortion was in the best interest of all. It was of course more painful in every way for her than it was for me. I will always feel some guilt. But I think we must confront the reality that women have and will at times need safe and legal abortion services and in my opinion we must take a pragmatic nuts-and-bolts approach. My main concern in this area and also in the areas of political dissent and human rights is pain. We need regulations that, if there is the possibility of fetal pain, prescribe medical procedures - anesthesia - which must be used to eliminate that pain, just as we must do everything we can to put an end to the practice of torture on this earth.

I am a pastor at a United Church of Christ Church in Dennis, MA, on Cape Cod. I drive about 45 miles each way,each day, to Dennis Union Church. I am fortunate to listen to "On Being" EVERY sunday morning. Today,this morning was a gift.

We are having open, intelligent discussions about "same-sex" marriage. In many ways, the issues and boundaries of abortion rights and same-sex marriage are quite similar.

Thank you for the commitment to grounded, thoughtful exchanges on difficult topics. I am considering printing copies of the text and conductiong an Adult Education Class on how to faithfully hold and address difficult topics.

You lift me up on the way to a wonderful faith community where we realize that "God is still speaking to us."

Thank you,
Reverend John C. Brink
Dennis Union Church
Dennis, MA 02638

I am a Baptist minister's widow--I wrote my first article 20 years ago for the FSU Flambeau entitled, "Is there a peaceable solution to the abortion war without compromise?" I have followed this issue through the years and have finished a book entitled, La Verde de la Vida: Wisdom for the abortion war. It is said to be the issue that won't go away; as divisive as slavery before the Civil War. Ending this conflict is vital. Causing havoc in our political process and draining our resources, this impasse touches us all and permeates our whole society--an example of the wrong way we deal with conflict. La Verde de la Vida transcends the history-laden labels of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice--it's neither and yet both. This is a book to stop all argument and can be given to the right, the middle and the left.

When we come to solutions, they are best for everyone concerned.

As a recent reader, John Santos, from Lakeland, a retired professor of political science said, "It's a book of healing--a book of common sense. I wish every American could read it. It goes far beyond the abortion issue. The world is crying out for this book."

La Verde de la Vida can be downloaded for free at www.ladylibertyqualityoflifebrigade.com
or from Amazon.com Thanks, Sheilah Hill
P.S. I have 3 children and 7 grandchildren.

I think Frances Kissling is onto something really important. If our society modeled her ideas we would heave a collective sigh of relief when we turned on the TV talk shows. Let me share a quote with you from a lecture that the scientist Richard Feynman made in 1963 at the University of Washington:

"Nobody's honest. Scientists are not honest. And people usually believe that they
are. That makes it worse. By honest I don't mean that you only tell what's true.
But you make clear the entire situation. You make clear all the information that
is required for somebody else who is intelligent to make up their mind."

So the challenge seems to be not only to be clear about our own positions, but also the
agreed upon positions of others. (Quote from "The Meaning of it All", Basic Books, 1998, p. 106)

Stephen Erickson

It was a sunny Friday the 13th of May, 1994. I was 19 and pregnant. My boyfriend had reluctantly driven me to the nearest abortion clinic earlier that morning, after an awkward series of events. With the help of my best friend at the time, a location was found and an appointment scheduled a week prior. It was the first time I was having a medical procedure without my mom nearby.

I finished the pregnancy test and paperwork, and handed over my personal credit card for the $300 charge. Then I was told at five weeks pregnant, they could not guarantee the results of the procedure, but that was not a worry of mine. I had to pretend this pregnancy did not occur, after all I had my whole life ahead. My boyfriend did NOT want the baby, and a few weeks prior my mother had voiced her very strong opinions about having a racially mixed grand baby. Yes, I was dating a man of African American descent and I was about as White as they come. The truth is: I really had no desire to have the baby. I was way too egocentric at the time. So even when the health care worker described the alternatives, I effortlessly said, “no thank you.”

My boyfriend was as supportive as was possible for a 19 year-old artiste/womanizer. He said he would pay for half of the procedure, but that was as solid as the rest of his promises. I knew in my heart he was a loser, and the pregnancy was a product of a huge mistake. However, at the time I was too selfish to even worry about regret or restitution . I only wanted to be done with the mistake; to move on.

I left the clinic that afternoon feeling very ill and bleeding heavily. However, luck seemed to be on my side: the abortion was successful. It was a chapter of my life that I closed and gratefully locked away for safe keeping.

Almost 17 years have passed since the abortion. In that time, I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters and a loving husband. Both our girls attend a private Christian school, and we are active members at a neighborhood Christian church. I had not even thought about that “May day” in a very long time. However, this past Friday (January 20th, 2011) I listened to Krista Tippett’s interview with Frances Kissling on Being, while driving to my daughter’s piano lesson. Krista ended the show asking for reflections and stories from the audience about abortion. It was at that moment, with my two girls sleeping peacefully in the backseat, I made the decision to share my story.

As I reflect on the abortion issue, I believe it is very easy for some to sit and judge the actions of others, especially when they are not in the situation. If presented with a pregnancy today, I would not even consider having an abortion. No, not just because I am married. And no, not because I am a Christian. The reason is because the confident woman I am today is a far cry from the frightened and misguided 19 year-old girl of yesteryear. But at the time, I was confident my decision to have an abortion was the right one. Without realizing what I had done all those years ago, I practically locked away a very painful memory.

Few people know I had an abortion. It is not a case of secrecy, because if someone asked if I had one I would not lie. No, it is more of a private issue. I know abortion is a topic that causes such high emotions, and I am sure I would hurt many around me if they knew. However, I am grateful I had the opportunity to chose what to do with my body. As much as I may disagree with my younger self, I would NEVER consider not letting my girls have those same choices. Choices are what defines us as people, and choices are what are essential to understand responsibility. Regardless of what I believe is the RIGHT decision, I believe each woman should have the opportunity to find that out for herself.

I had an abortion in 1965, before it was legal in the U.S.A. I had to go down to Tijuana, Mexico, to a doctor recommended by a U.S. gynecologist. The time was getting short for my decision to have or not have an abortion as my pregnancy approached 12 weeks. This baby was the child of my beloved boyfriend, but it was before we were ready. Since he was opposed to me having the child, I felt I could not bring the child into this world if the father didn't want it. So I took a bus to the border and walked across into Tijuana and found the doctor's office. I asked to see his medical license, but was trembling so much that I couldn't read the Spanish, though I know Spanish. I paid the fee and the nurse and doctor performed the abortion, which turned out to have no harmful physical effects. I asked the physician whether it was a boy or a girl, but he said he hadn't looked. The doctor said to send my friends to him - as if I would tell anyone what I had done. I took the bus to San Diego and stayed at a motel for that night and cried all night. I had murdered my own child and it still deeply saddens me and my beloved husband when we think about it. But life has been good to us - we married later and have two wonderful, successful adult children, to whom I eventually explained what I had done. We all believe in choice, but do not take it lightly. It is a tragedy to have to make that choice.

I wish to respond to the story you recently aired with the pro-abortion advocate who was speaking about the importance of civility in the discourse about this issue.
Feel free to post it there, i am very open to my words being posted. Krista made her opnion on the subject very clear. On the other hand, i wish to applaud her attention to the problem of the tenor of the conversation, although conversation is the wrong word, since the various sides do not listen to each other. This is something that i have noticed for quite a while. One of the biggest problems with the talking that goes on is that each side sees and defines the issue in completely different terms. The pro-abortion camp is focused on what they see as the rights of women, and the problem of unwanted pregnancy, and the way that women's lives are affected. In contrast, the pro-life camp starts with the basic issue that human life is sacred, and that ALL human beings should be considered persons. We see ourselves as championing the cause of the one group of human beings who are completely disinfranchised in the current American Legal System, of having the courage to stand up for the innocent who are helpless and voiceless. The pro-abortion camp denies the personhood of unborn human beings, not as the starting point of their argument or the core of their belief system, but rather as a result of their insistance of the absolute "right" of abortion; it is a logical end result of the thought process. So the result is that when the two sides talk at each other, each is putting forth their version of the issue, and neither responds to the other. In effect there are two different conversations taking place. So it is no wonder that there is never any progress made in the discussion, because each side is holding a different discussion. I found rather offensive the little smug and demeaning dig that your guest made against us by congratulating herself as being 'gracious' by using the term "pro-life'. I do however, strongly agree with her that the issue of gay marriage and gay rights has nothing to do with the abortion issue, except that both are about basic civil rights. I personally am very strongly for civil rights on both of these issues, i support the civil rights of both gays AND the unborn. I dont understand how one can be both for gay rights and for abortion, it is illogical. This is the one issue in which the liberal establishment is solidly AGAINST civil rights. I do recognise that she is speaking the truth as she sees it. I do wish that she, and you and NPR in general would give us the same chance. You stated that both Gay Marriage and Abortion are sexual issues, and i have to disagree. Abortion is not about sexuality, it is about the basic rights of human beings. I noticed that Krista was presenting the pro-abortion issue as true, and the pro-life issue as 'what some pro-life people would say'. This is endemic in the coverage of this issue by NPR. You make an attempt to be even handed in every issue EXCEPT this one.[in fact, i am rather annoyed that in the last year or so, we have heard MUCH more about the Tea Party than we have about activists on the left]. All of NPR's news coverage of this issue hews ABSOLUTELY to the vocabulary of the so called 'pro-choice' camp. The issue is ALWAYS presented as concerning 'abortion rights'. Those of us who champion the rights of the unborn are presented as being 'AGAINST abortion rights', rather than being "FOR the rightst of the unborn." The unborn human being is always refered to as a 'fetus' which is NOT a neutral term. It is just as leading and emotionally chargeed as using the word 'baby'. While in fact, both are true, each presents a particular interpretation of the ideological status of the individual. "Fetus" is a clinical, scientific word that refers to one stage of development of a human being. Because of that, it effectively presents the idea that the individual involved is NOT a person. Noone who is pregnant and looking forward to the birth refers to the child as a 'fetus', "Oh! LOOK at the ultrasound of my fetus!" It doesnt happen. The pro-abortion camp has spent a lot of time and effort in the last few years trying to insinuate their particular leading and prejudgemental vocabulary into the public discourse, and it is very unfortunate that they have, to a great extent, succeeded, at least on NPR. This is alienating a great number of your listeners and potential listeners. When we hear what is supposedly a neutral news story presented entirely from the pro-abortion point of view, we feel that we are being ignored and being demeaned. I do hope that you will bring this issue up with your news editors. Currently it is difficult to find truly neutral terms, but it is essential that we make the attempt. The solution to the issue, as i see it, is that we need to revisit the issue and work out a way to balance the sometimes conflicting rights of the mother and the child. I know that some on the pro-abortion camp object to the use of the term 'mother' untill the child is 'brought into the world'. The fact is, the child IS ALREADY IN THE WORLD. The big problem is that currently, people on one side of the issue are willing to ignore the rights of the child, while the the people on the other side of the issue are willing to ignore the rights of the mother. The legal system exists, in large part, to balance sometimes conflicting sets of rights and potential damages. We need to bring the best legal minds to this issue and find some method of compromise in order to balance these two sets of demands. The law does this in many other arenas, why not this one? But in order to do this, the pro-abortion camp needs to let go of their idea that the rights of the mother are absolute, the child being totally disenfranchised. And on the other side, the pro-life community needs to admit that criminalization of abortion is not an answer. It doesn no good either to the mother or the child to put the woman through the criminal law system. Neither side is going to be happy with a compromise, but it is obvious that neither side is going away. The proportion of public opinian has not substantially changed since Roe v Wade. The rights of the unborn need to be admitted and brought into the legal system, some balance must be found. We need to legally recognise that the unborn are not just a bag of cells, indistinguishable from a cancer, but a human being in one particular stage of life. I wish that you had thought that the words of the pro-life advocate that you mentioned on the program were fit to be broadcast over the air. I really hope that you read this with an open mind. I really agree with your guest that the current situation is not working, and niether side is going to convince the other because each has radically different starting points for this issue. Thank you, I hope that you find some of my thoughts worth sharing with others. Please post this for me on your reflections page and feel free to quote me on your show, hopefully not taking any of my comments out of context. Roman Kozak

Thank you to both of you, Ms. Kissling and Ms. Tippett, for your humane and illuminating discussion of the tenacity and vehemence of the abortion issue.
In my view a major reason for tenacity, persistence and vehemence of the abortion debate lies in our dogged unwillingness to confront the moral fact that death is no longer an event in life, something that happens. As a result of technology, death is now, and has been for sometime, a decision, but an event.
I published some reflections on this issue that listeners and readers might find interesting in the Sept. 2008 issue of the journal Bioethics, with the following ABSTRACT:
By concentrating on abortion, the culture wars have avoided facing a crisis about the end of life. This paper explores four themes: (1) the technological transformation of birth and death into matters of decision, not matters of fact; (2) abortion as the nexus of Eros (sex) with Thanatos (death); (3) the real crisis, conveniently masked by our obsession with sex, looming at the end of life, not at its beginning; (4) the surplus-repression that protects us from assuming responsibility for choosing between life and death.
Full bibliographic refernce:
Evans, J. Beyond abortion: the looming battle over death in the ‛culture wars’. Bioethics: the Journal of the International Association of Bioethics, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK. (Sep. 2008) 22(7):379-387.

Krista, I wake each Sunday and prepare to go to Mass listening to your show and have always found it fascinating. I think you can also see where this is going. To wake to Francis Kissling on Pro-Life Sunday, as we prepare for communal prayer for the unborn is deeply offensive. However you frame the view or changing views of Ms. Kissling, they are so far from consistent with Catholic teaching that her calling herself a Catholic is doubly offensive. I hope that young Catholic listeners don't hear her as espousing a viable Catholic view, rather than an opinion. Further, to hear that she recognizes abortion as the destruction of life, though life she deems "not valuable" strikes me as a stunning example of hubris and ignorance, unworthy, I thought, for the discussions you foster. The reason that this national debate continues is that the dignity of all human life trumps any other consideration in priority, for the Church, for any right th inking person and for God.

Your guest makes a good point about working on an issue for 20 or 30 years and never, ever changing your mind. However, it's been my experience that many hyper-religious evangelical Christians do exactly that. They say the same things over and over and over and never open their minds to consider other view points. They never ever change their minds about issues they consider sacred and written in stone. It's a sad state of being.

I found your interview with Frances Kissling at once provocative and interesting; however, she spoke in gereralities about altering her views on unrestricted abortion, but conspicuously omitted any specifics that one could "sink his teeth into".

I am a convicted proponent of "life from conception" and would welcome any cogent arguments to the contrary.

I am rapidly concluding in listening to NPR,It seems that your host, Krista, is also an advocate of the "choice" mindset, as is also the preponderance of your hosts and guests.

I would welcome an unbiased comment regarding this opinion.


Joe D'Agostino

As a woman, life applies to me too. If you don't want an abortion, no one will force you to have one. Why should the government decide for me whether I can have a child or not. That is my choice and this is a free country the last time i checked. To those who are pro-life, please think about the life of the women who will be affected for the rest of her life. Think of the child who will come into the world with a mother who cannot support the child. This is not fair for the child either.

All this talk about big government having control over our lives. How is making abortion illegal not a big government move?

I listened to Frances Kissling's story with great interest and was inspired to share my story and thoughts about abortion. To state my position, I am 100% pro-choice, and have worked in various ways to support agencies that provide all components of reproductive services and have also spoken out politically, but not too much in the last 10 years due to the heated nature of the discussion, which I find intimidating.

Demographically I am 58 years old, white, and was born into an upper middle class family. My mother was an alcoholic, and I am a drug addict. I began using heavily at 16, and did all the stuff people did...dropped out, ran away from home, was a hippie, etc. I struggled to find recovery off and on most of my adult life until finally getting clean in Narcotics Anonymous in 1996. This information is relevant to my reproductive history because as a using addict I was incapable of practicing birth control. I became pregnant many times. I have 2 adult children. I also had uncounted miscarriages and 7 abortions: illegal, legal and self-induced. I was hospitalized in 1979 and nearly bled to death from aborting myself with a crochet hook. The first time I did it, I didn't die, so I tried it a second time less successfully. Illegal abortions at 16 & 17 included submission to rape by the "doctor". Legal abortions were kinder and gentler, though still not exactly a picnic they were preferable to the alternatives. All this sounds pretty awful, and it was at the time, but I can now frankly talk about these experiences objectivley. I have had a lot of support and help along the way. The "treatment" for my addiction is to surrender to a life lived on simple spiritual principles, and I have no guilt or shame about my abortions and I do not grieve for those lost babies. If there is a power that drives the universe, they are totally taken care of, and I am satisfied that I made the right decision. I am at peace.

I have watched in dismay as the "religious right" and the Republican Party have attacked a woman's right to choose over and over. I fear the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and a return to a time that many do not remember, when abortion was unavailable. Women who could afford it left the country of found the means, and those who did not have money resorted to dangerous means to end their pregnancies. A woman who is desperate will do whatever it takes, and I know this from my own experience.

Returning to the subject of women addicts and unwanted pregnancies, there is a hidden epidemic of women who have multiple children, often with multiple fathers, that they are not able to care for. I sponsor a woman in prison who has 5 children. She has never been able to support or care for any of them consistently or for any length of time. Some live with family members, and 2 were "adopted out". I love my young friend, and believe that she feels love for those children. I know she feels a lot of grief, sorrow, and loss about the children she gave birth to, but in a practical way this accomplishes nothing. Other people are taking care of them, and a lot of their support comes from public programs. Am I saying that they "should" have been aborted? Of course not. They are here now and need to be provided for. What we really need is a better way to conduct all of our discussion about reproductive rights and responsibilites. The atmoshpere has become so heated that it is hard to even broach the subject of women's reproductive rights without opening up all sorts of bitter, divisive language and emotion.

Thank you for giving me a place to share my story. No one else has ever given me a forum in which to tell it. I also enjoyed reading the stories shared by others.

How I long to have conversation that is respectful of the "other", whatever side of argument the "other" happens to be on. How I long to hear balanced, compassionate, and fair conversation. In the 60's I had an illegal abortion in the fifth month of pregnancy that nearly took my life. It was done in a barbaric way. The "doctor" involved had no respect for life, me, the fetus, or my husband. This abortion left me with emotional and spiritual scars that I carry today at 73 years old. After 50 years I still ask myself, "Who would this person have been? Would I have another son or daughter? Would this child care about me more than my living children do? Would this child be grateful to be alive? What happened to this child......this soul? Where did it go? Does a 5 month fetus even have a soul? Am I forgiven? Does the child forgive me? Does God? Should I have been punished? Maybe I am being punished. Thanks to the compassion of the emergency room doctor....where I had to go because I was hemoraghing after the proceedure.....I was not "turned in" to the authorities. I did not have to answer for the illegality of what I did. But I have had to answer all these years for the mental, emotional, and spiritual consequences of what I did. Listening to you, Krista, and Frances Kissling converse, I appreciated after all these years that there is good in me....and that if someone could converse from that perspective, I would be grateful.

When I listened to “Listening Beyond Life and Choice” on the airplane the other day, I found myself furiously scribbling down ideas like “listening for common values” and “understanding the other’s side”. More than a few times I’ve felt the discomfort of another person’s walls pushing against me, all the while holding on to belief that by staying present, staying honest, and staying open, we won’t necessarily agree, but we all grow in understanding, acceptance and compassion. My story begins with my unplanned pregnancy. Nearly six years ago I stood in my bathroom staring at a plastic divining rod which read “PREGNANT”. I dropped to my knees to beseech any God that would hear me. From some subconscious well within bubbled up my hearts deepest wishes for this growing life. Aloud, I blurted my pregnancy mission statement: “I will choose what provides the most loving and stable circumstances for this baby”. Women stared incredulously at me when I’d confide that I didn’t know whether or not I would raise my baby or give him up for adoption. After all, combine society’s still prevalent gender expectations with a (now “Jack”) Mormon upbringing where procreation is deemed my highest earthly duty, and I should have been elated. Instead I was terrified. A year before, I'd moved from San Francisco to a small resort town in Idaho to be "a mountain girl". Steve and I had been hiking buddies for a year before we engaged in a romantic relationship. He was ten years my senior, bright, adventuresome, loved the outdoors, hard working and kind. I, on the other hand, was struggling with my identity, my faith, and my long term goals. Quickly I realized I wasn’t ready for a relationship, but the train was moving, and I was having trouble getting off. When people found out I was pregnant, they would first ask me questions about my use of birth control, which I'd stopped taking after our breakup, but we had an unprotected “we feel lonely” reunion. Then they’d ask, “Did you ever consider an abortion?” The truth is I didn’t. It appears I contracted a responsibility bug ex-post-facto; I was 30 and healthy, had a job with benefits, and felt my original negligence could and should be countered by my choice to remain pregnant. I explored every other option, however. I hadn’t seen many successful long-term shotgun weddings, I saw lots of people using their kids as pawns in their own relationship struggles, and after working with a couple of pregnancy support groups, being a single mom did not match my ambitions for my baby. So what did Moses’ mom do with her son when she knew his future circumstances weren’t looking so good? She sent him to the Raft-of-Reeds-Adoption-Center in hopes he’d find a better life. This solution settled in like an irrefutable fact; finding a family to adopt my son was indeed the best choice. Two months into my diligent decision-making process I’d arranged a meeting between Steve, me and my therapist where I would announce my desire to seek adoption. My solution was met with adamant disregard. With equal conviction, Steve informed me HE would adopt our son. I later learned a parent doesn’t adopt their own child; rather, they exercise their parental rights. “But this is My body, My child, My choice”, I proclaimed. Already exasperated by shocked and shaming looks from moralistic neighbors who learned I got knocked-up, I’d now lost a say in my son’s future. I felt trapped. So began our joint-decision-journey towards my due date. Countless discussions (and dollars spent) with attorneys and mediators produced a co-parenting agreement promising a quasi-normal upbringing for our son. Before the ink could dry, however, I knew this was not “our final answer”. As the pregnancy progressed, I’d frequently awake from dreams where I would give birth and my son would then disappear, while intuitive nudges telling me I was not to raise this little boy were becoming more frequent. I kept praying I would fall in love with Steve enough to marry him. Instead of that happening, a deep sense of trust and confidence in his ability to raise our son settled upon me. I didn't know why, or for how long, or how things would all work out, I just knew I needed to step out of the picture, and all would be well. After childbirth, and three wonderful days with Steve, Dawson and I in the hospital together, I walked away from the two most significant men in my life. I cried until I almost threw-up, and then I cried even more. I rented a U-haul, packed up, and with tears blurring my view, I drove to a new state to start a new life. “Let’s see how things work out”, we agreed. I speculated Steve would meet a woman, marry, and they would raise our child. Instead, Steve was diagnosed with a tangerine-sized kidney tumor 9 months later, which would determine our next steps. During Steve's first week of chemo, I brought Dawson to my home. I’d taken off work so that we could spend time together. Each day we would go to the park and lie on blankets under trees and snuggle, but by night, him nestled in his crib, I would cry. Damn, this was still not the answer. Cancer was taking its toll; Steve's frail figure was wracked with pain and we knew time was short to make important decisions. I admitted it still didn’t feel right for me to raise Dawson. I asked Steve if based on his acquired experience as a single dad he felt it was the best option. This time, he answered “No”. At this point, we opened to broader solutions, which were met willingly by his sister and her husband, who share a great marriage and a fun-loving daughter and wanted to adopt our son. After 5 days in a morphine induced coma, I flew to Steve's bedside. Holding his hand, I assured him our son would be well-cared for, that his family and I would fulfill his wishes to cultivate relationships with one another, and I would be part of our son’s life. Sadly, the following morning he passed on. Our son turned five this summer. He lives in California, and I am a resident of Utah. My first three years of visits were painful and awkward, after all, a couple of times a year I would willingly reopen my deepest wounds and revisit my hardest losses. Yet, when I’d see him surrounded by all of that love and stability, I knew we’d made the right choice. Today, it’s much easier. A short plane ride takes me to building train sets, dancing and laughing with him. He knows he came from my tummy but calls me “auntie” and that his first daddy got sick and went to heaven. Pictures of Dawson and Steve during their few special months together decorate his home. I emailed Dawson’s mom (in adoption speak, she is his mom, and I am his birth-mom) a couple of weeks ago to tell her about an adoption conference I’d attended and how helpful it was for me to talk with other women who had given their children up for adoption. In her reply, she said she sometimes takes a step back to think about all that has happened over the past couple of years. She said, “We never even think that Dawson is adopted, it all just seems so natural. I guess that’s just how it is when you love someone so much”. When Steve and I were coming to our decision I spoke with his uncle, a social worker focused on family issues. He told me that the legal adoption documents people spend so much time and money to draw up are really only as good as the people involved. The best adoption plan may render an absolute disaster, while little to no plan may meet a healthy and positive outcome. Without a template, without a plan, we our successfully forging our way ahead. Frances Kissling's piece made my think of a phrase I tell myself when I am in a situation, and I can’t see the forest through the trees, when I’m stuck, at an impasse with ideas, or people. It’s a reminder to “Trust the Process”. In hindsight, this captures my experience with an unplanned pregnancy. Because I choose to move forward with carrying my child, to stay in my job and in my small town community, mine, ours, was no longer a private affair. As broad as I was growing, so too was the reach of the circumstances. Through the process, Steve’s family, my family, and our respective communities in Idaho, Utah, California and beyond, had to grapple with our notions of motherhood, fatherhood, responsibility, acceptance, life, and love, and we each chose to grow and expand. (The photo attached is one of Dawson, Grace (his sister) and me goofing off in Sonoma, California. If it does not show well, I can get another one) Britta Nelson Nelsonbritta1@gmail.com 801-865-4366

I just wanted to say that the interview with Frances Kissling was particularly good. Subtle and nuanced, both on her part and on Krista's. It is so rare to find a discussion of the abortion issue that aims for, if not common ground, at least a modus vivendi.

A comment on this spectacular program. In the program with Francis Kissling, Krista said "...rights are foreign to the Bible..." I disagree, Moses' conversation/debate/pleading/demanding for freedom was about rights (imvho). In the commandment requiring animals to be fed first is about animal rights. Property rights are clearly articulated including that of women.
More examples are evident :-)

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.

For me, once the fetus feels pain ,there is just no justification to inflict pain unto death on the fetus for the sake of benefiting the mother. This is just basic ethics 101-a being is not an object and if and when it feels pain it is a being.To inflict pain unto death on an innocent being for the sake of another is unjust.

That it is a difficult decision for the mother is a smoke screen and irrelevant to the fact that it is unjust.To look for the goodness in the pro-choice position, the position that believes in keeping abortion legal for all stages of gestation] is to attempt to lessen the obvious injustice of inflicting pain unto death on an innocent being. What is more evil then to believe it is all right to do that (the pro-choice position)?

Though it is good that the pro-choice position cares about the well-being of the pregnant woman and illegal abortions hurt the woman as well as the innocent fetus, ethically you cannot make a trade off between the life and well being of the pregnant woman and the life of the being that feels pain unto death.That is inhumane and how can any ethical person and a Catholic accept this? When the life is not developed enough to feel, that is a different discussion.

Thank you very much for your interview with Frances Kissling. I found her perspective very helpful as someone who is pro-choice AND pro-life. I particularly liked the discussion about not getting lost in the desire to find points of agreement beyond respecting the humanity of the person with whom you disagree. I'm one of those people who talks to myself out loud (more often than I like to admit and frequently in public). Since listening to that interview, I find myself practicing out loud)how to talk about the points where I am uncomfortable about my own deeply held beliefs. I am willing to risk being vulnerable enough to try this with someone with whom I strongly disagree. I was also stunned and profoundly moved by Ms Kissling's comparison of an organ transplant to communion. That discussion took my breath away. This was one of my favorite interviews.

Kissling said, "People who have strong disbeliefs cannot come to a common ground."  I think this is very true.  If you truly are passionate about an issue, there is no possible way anyone can persuade you to think otherwise. The only thing that can really be done is to try and understand what the other party is feeling or believing and why.

She compared the abortion issue with the current issue of gay marriage.  She said the difference between the two is that the gay marriage issue has movement (meaning it is making progress), whereas the abortion issue has no movement.  I completely disagree with this.  The gay marriage issue has had absolutely no movement.  As Kissling said, when you have two sides who both have a passion for their belief, no common ground can be made.  I think this is true in both instances.

Kissling also said that when referring to gay marriage there are positive aspects that are recognized such as love, happiness, partnership, etc.  When speaking of abortion, you are always talking about the destruction of life.  I took this quite literally and it's true.  However, you are dealing with the destruction of life, as well, when you prevent a family to be recognized as a family.  Can you imagine the impact it must have on the children of same-sex couples?  To have your family who is loving and accepting and perfectly normal in your eyes, be looked at by others as inferior or "not a real family"?  If that's not destruction of life too, then I don't know what is.

Questions are more powerful than answers. They can be the keys which unlock the answers or can lock them up under obscurity, distraction, or confusion.

In the debates about abortion, one of the least helpful questions is, "When does life begin?" The question falsely assumes there is a beginning of life which we can identify, at least in theory. In fact, life began long, long ago and is simply passed on from generation to generation.

The question we really need to be asking is, "When does human dignity begin?" The followup question would be, "How do we know that?"

Michael Hayes
Red Wing

I consider such issues as this from the standpoint of Situational Ethics. Each situation is different and I believe that we were given free will to face such choices and make such choices, as individuals, in the context of a relationship (or not) with God. And of course each individual is a part of a larger community - so if the family influence is one way, then that individual will choose accordingly - rebellion against or simply go along with it unthinkingly - ultimately it comes back to the extent of the relationship with God

I would like to understand why they think that they have any right to ask the Govt to legislate against a practice undertaken by others that has no affect whatsoever on them here on earth - or their future in heaven or wherever they believe they will be after they have left the mortal sphere.
Are they vegetarians? - probably not but there are many many people who sincerely believe that eating meat is bad for the environment, bad for an individual's physical health, bad for a person's moral health ... wouldn't it be ludicrous to try and legislate against the carnivores in our society?

How socially active are these people - have they decried the deforestation of the Pacific North West, not to mention everywhere else in the world and the examples abound - where govts and individuals and corporations do stupid things - and millions of already born, alive people are affected - and badly - unnecessarily.

Why can't the Pro lifers describe themselves as pro choice - and state very plainly that given the choice of whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, no matter what the circumstances, they would choose to continue with the pregnancy - and leave it at that.

It would be wonderful if a woman became pregnant, and found herself torn between whether to keep the baby or not (for whatever reason - rape, fear about the future financial impications, shame ... whatever) and if she did have the choice - legally - then all that is left is the moral side of it and she would have to live with whatever choice she made - the choice would be made based on the moral conscience/ or moral consciousness of the persons involved. But if she didn't have the choice - and was forced to keep the baby or went ahead and got an illegal abortion anyway there would be defiance, resentment - altogether unhealthy stuff for the mother and the baby both.

You are referring to the vote for the next president? It is totally irrelevant. I wish all politicians would simply see it as a larger issue of choice - leave the life part out of it - this is a matter for you to choose - just as getting married is, or having a baby is, or driving a gas guzzling SUV is, or being self righteous about your hybrid is, or serving in the military or not is, or getting vaccinated or not is, or being vegeatarian or omnivorous, or eating fast food ... uh-oh you got me going here ...

When I was young I couldn't understand how abortion could be legal. Then I went to a lecture in my sister's med school given by a doctor who worked in a small Catholic hospital for women (ca 1980). He expressed that this particular hospital received about seven cases each week of young women with seriously botched abortions. This changed my view entirely. Does pro-life just mean pro-infant life?

Now I live in a different community which is very anti-choice. There are many teen pregnancies and like the Sara Palin situation....they are almost applauded. But then I look at the numbers of young people in our community who do not go to college, live on meager salaries and have unstable marriages. Those numbers are high.

I don't think, policy-wise, this is a spiritual issue. This is a practical issue. This is a political issue that I see as aggressive toward people who engage in sexual behavior for purposes other than reproduction. I see this as a political issue of embracing the sustained pregnancy so not to be labeled a hypocrite.

I expressed my views in a letter to the editor published on Tuesday, Sept. 23 in the Post-Dispatch. Abortion is not the underlying problem; we shoudl be speaking of poverty and other issues which increase the number of abortions. Also we don't seem to care about the child AFTER it's born, so sometimes people are not pro-life; they are only pro-birth. thank you

In my Catholic college education of the late 1940's abortion was not on the agenda as such. I do recall that in theology classes we discussed the dilemma of "the life of the mother versus the life of the child." The conclusions were far from clearcut and the outlook very compassionate. Marrying late in life and not having had children, my viewpoint has become anti-abortion, pro-choice–the quintessential waffler. I think of women I know who struggled with large families, one of whom once said, "Keep the politicians out of it!" It seems that when legislation is signed, a row of men, pens in hand, is pictured. Keeping women from family planning information because it is "artificial" is astounding to me, when we use every artificial means to keep a barely-breathing, clearly-dying elder alive as long as possible. Churches urge the use of "natural methods." In our work with poor families in Guatemala, I've pondered their lack of opportunity, education, and health care. Lastly, one question, crucial for me, if abortion is murder, what would be the penalty? So far no one has answered that question, at least with any kind of rational compassion.

I could not call myself "pro-abortion" or "pro-life" although I think all women should have access to abortion and am appalled at the act itself. To me, the question comes down to that of free-will. We each make our choices in life--influenced by our own intellect, education, social, cultural, and economic circumstances. To decide that "we"-whether that we is the government or a religious group, can make the most personal of decisions for all is to take away the responsibility for our own choices that give our life meaning.

Maybe 'pro-choice'isn't the best term to show the diffference in points of view re abortion, 'Choice' says you may choose to abort or you may choose to give birth. Better terminology, it seems to me, would be to say therapeutic abortion or contraceeptive abortion.
Therapeutic abortion would be a decision between the pregnant woman and her doctor, and not at all the business of any one else - certainly not Congress.
Contraceptive abortion is another matter entirely. I very much like the position President Carter stated when he was on an SOF program a few months ago. He was obligated to uphold the law, to which he was elected, but personally, he was very much against abortion. In an effort to resolve this conflict in himself, he did everything he could to make life good for the child that was born. There were organizations formed to help get the baby off to a good start.
In my own familly, a granddaughter made great effort to do the best she could to find an open-adoptive family, and they are doing a super job of parenting. Our biological family is grateful for the care he is being given and for our easy access to enjoying his growing up.
On the other hand, I think what I would want, if I were a fetus being born to Mrs. Simon and her drunken husband and her uncared for brood of 6 or 8 unloved chldren. I believe I would choose to be aborted rather than being born to a miserable existence and an early death.
Theologically speaking, God is good to have given us the intelligence and means to make the better of two bad choices.


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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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