First, a bit of context. I born in Berlin, Germany and grew up overseas since my parents worked for the Military school system. My parents were devote Catholics and raised us that way -- not quite the Kennedys kneeing down to do rosary every night, but certainly doing that during Lent. I went on to get a Master's in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College, and now have a Master's in Oriental Medicine, which is my current half-time profession. The other half of my life I work for MIT. My life seems to be about balancing different perspectives, and while it creates a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, it also makes me look below the surface of things to see what binds it together.
This mindset is what I keep bringing to the question of abortion, in addition to the fact that I am female. I come out on the side of "pro-choice" because I believe a woman needs to have a say over her own body, and that if she is not able or willing to make the commitment to go through a pregnancy, she should have a choice not to do so. At the same time, I work with women who are infertile, trying to have a child. I've felt the joy and happiness when the pregnancy can happen, and the gift that life is to the parent(s). I know I've felt the energy of a little being in utero, so I do believe there is life there. That said, I usually don't feel that energy till after 3 or 4 months, and I've also worked with many women post miscarriage. Its a really sad event for most women, and tremendously hard to make peace with. I also know the women I've worked with who've had abortions, struggled with the choice but felt it was incredibly sad but necessary. It seems whether a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or an elective abortion, most women have a lot to work through about the whole thing.
It raises the issue for me: if life begins at conception, then is "God" the Great Abortionist?
The March of Dimes theorizes that 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage before the woman even knows she is pregnant. A further 15% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions prior to the end of the first trimester. This is just 5% less than the number of elective abortion in the same time period.If so many pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions, then what is "God's" role in this equation? Is miscarriage okay because God chooses it? But that would imply that only God should have a say over life and death. So what role to ANY form of family planning/birth control? Are all forms of contra-ception wrong as the Catholic church seems to say? Are we not interfering in God's plan by simply deciding not to have sex when fertile to avoid pregnancy? If God gets to decide death as well as life, how can we possibly justify war? Oh yeah -- God's on our side! Funny how both sides can claim that in a war and be so sure they are right, and how the same is true in this abortion debate.
It seems to me there is something else happening in this debate that we couch in terms of right & wrong and God and choice. We seem to be going through a developmental phase in human awareness where we are now aware that we have the power to make choices that can create or destroy life. We can make babies in test-tubes -- though we still need women to carry them, and we can create death in those same test tubes as biological weapons. We have weapons that can destroy most of human and other life on the planet and now we can prevent life from happening in the womb. This is unprecedented power, power that used to be reserved to kings or presidents or God is now within all of our reach.
We have not developed the ethical and moral decision making skills to handle these decisions, nor do we have a moral or ethical world view that can help us with them. All the major religions sprang out of agrarian societies with little control over the forces of nature. While the truths of the world religions may be timeless, the formats of delivery ie the Bible, the Koran, the Old Testament, etc. are context sensitive. In other words, Jesus saying "Pay unto Casear what is Casear's" doesn't mean we still pay taxes to Rome.
Speaking in our context, the Bible had nothing to say about preventing conception because in an agrarian society conception and fertility is what you were interested in promoting. Consequently, women, as the source of human fertility were honored for the role of giving birth and that fertility promoted. As we humans have increasingly moved away from agrarian lifestyles, we have struggled to put our current lifestyles against the strictures and teachings of our moral and ethical guides -- the major religions, and have had increasingly to read more and more into the space between the strictures and rules to cover our current situations. Rather like the Supreme Court did in reading into the 14th Amendment a right to privacy, which supports Roe v. Wade. Given that we are all on open ground on this issue, it seems people have become more strident and single minded because questioning the issue brings into question too many other areas of life -- and its really, really hard to operate without a clear guideline such as a good map in an unfamiliar area, especially if you are scared.
What then can we do?
To me, when lost, you need to first stop and assess your situation, take a deep breath, and then start talking to people. Find out where here is, and together you can work out how to get from here to there. This is hard to do in groups. We are still learning as a species how to talk across differences, to respect different points of view and realize maybe the other has something of importance even if we don't see things their way. However, it seems that this kind of cross cultural respect and communication is the only way we will start to find some way out of this together. First we have to all acknowledge that this is new territory and that while our religion(s) and teachings may give us guidance, it probably won't give us THE answer. Reasonable people can agree to disagree on interpretations of the teachings, however, we need to start agreeing they ARE interpretations not THE TRUTH. In that place we can begin to listen with respect. In that place it is safe to talk and let down our guard. In that place we can move beyond being right to being in relationship. Maybe together we can come up with some some answers.
More information about text formats