I’m a 49-year-old adoptive father, an atheist and religious ‘Speaking of Faith’ fan. I’d describe myself as politically independent, leaning at times to socially liberal and fiscally conservative positions. I’m both pro choice and pro life. In fact, I believe all life on Earth is sacred, and that if you save a life, you assume a responsibility for it from that moment forward. My views on abortion, like anyone's, were formed though a lifetime of experiences and observations.
A lifetime ago, my first wife became pregnant when we were in our late twenties. Her own history of sexual abuse and uncertainty about being ready to parent a child led her to choose abortion, which I agreed to with reservation; after all, it was her body that would be involved.
During the 1980s, I worked extensively with abused and neglected children as young as 2 and as old as 18, many of whom had been utterly rejected by their biological parents—most of whom bore emotional and physical scars one might naturally associate with torture. I wanted to adopt them all, but that wasn’t an option.
I now work routinely with rural Idaho communities, and run a toll-free hotline for Idahoans experiencing housing instability and/or homelessness. A large percentage of the 25,000 callers I’ve spoken with personally over the past ten years are single mothers and pregnant teenagers (as young as 15) rejected by their own families and larger society. They share a mix of bad judgment and bad luck that leave them jobless, carless, and homeless. I have talked with self-proclaimed 'good Christians' who cast out their own children or their partners when an unplanned pregnancy is involved.
Prior to the 2004 election, I was fortunate to take part in the PBS Deliberation Day. This national event brought together voters from all perspectives to explore the landscape of ideas and values. One of the most meaningful conversations I had during Deliberation Day was with over lunch, with a woman who would be considered ‘pro-life’ by any standard. She taught theology at an evangelical Christian charter school in conservative Idaho, and in many respects represents a typical socially conservative perspective informed in part by a literal interpretation of the Bible.
We spoke at length, not about our differences, but about our mutual interest in reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion. We both embraced the ideal that all children should enter this world wanted, loved and safe in order to reach their full potential. I think a turning point was when she learned I was an adoptive parent and had spent my time caring for children in distress. I came away with a renewed hope in the power of respectful conversation.
I believe that the commonly used terms ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-abortion’ are neither accurate nor productive. The discussion of abortion essentially revolves around whether women in this country have a right to their own reproductive choices, and whether we as sexual beings will make better choices with accurate and unbiased knowledge of sexuality, reproduction and the public health issues involving sexual activity. Reproductive rights and education are recognized as the most effective measures to ensure human rights and to reduce poverty, but there is tension when religious beliefs enter the equation.
Many self-identified ‘pro-life’ folks also consistently support the death penalty and/or the Iraq war, and tend to dismiss or ignore issues of global poverty, climate destruction, human trafficking, and genocide. Few support social programs that help the mothers and children resulting from unintentional pregnancy, and view ‘abstinence-only’ curricula in lieu of comprehensive sex education. The same ‘pro-life’ lawmakers and groups that speak passionately about the rights of the unborn tend to abandon interest in them once they have left the womb.
On religion in general (with all due respect to faithfull readers)This is a tangent, but relevant in that most ‘pro-life’ folks seem to assign religious values to their thoughts on the beginning of life. I’m fascinated by the human inclination to impose meaning, values, or the concepts of justice and balance to what appears to be an indifferent universe. I believe the part of our brain that makes us prone to gambling also causes us to invent religious belief. It is human nature to feel that a ‘run of bad luck’ must be followed by ‘getting a break’ of some kind. Thus suffering must be followed by salvation.
I have no quarrel with others forming their own opinion of how and why we exist or our ultimate fate; but I get a bit snarky when someone attempts to impose his or her values on me or my family and friends, to limit what we can read or say, or who we can love. And I’m alarmed to know how many Americans subscribe welcome the destruction of the Earth. This seems insane.
My thoughts on religion were largely formed at the age of twelve after consuming Twain’s ‘Letters from the Earth’ and Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ (my personal frame of reference prior to this was Mormonism). I realized how many religions claimed to be the ‘one true faith’ and simply applied something akin to Occam’s Razor: they can’t all be right, but they can most definitely all be wrong.
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