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How do I think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion?
I use biology. The idea that "life begins at conception"...in a way that's true, but nature is a cruel and indifferent force, and in nature, frankly, life is cheap and comes and goes all the time. When, at 32, I wanted a child and had a fist trimester miscarriage, I was devastated and mourned the loss with my whole being. I did a lot of reading about early embryo development, trying to figure out what had caused this pregnancy to end. I found out that somewhere between 25-50% of all fertilized eggs spontaneously miscarry in the first trimester, sometimes before a woman even realizes she's pregnant (think about women who get their period late one month - probably an early miscarriage). If you ask around, almost any woman you question will have had one or known somebody who had one or more. Fertilization is not an automatic ticket to a baby, and I came to realize that what I mourned was the loss of my dreams about this baby, my hope for its future, my naivete about how easy it would be to have a baby. It was not the loss of a bean-sized blob of tissue, it was sadness about ideas and feelings I had attached to that blob. After all that reading, I have a hard time getting worked up about something like a morning after pill or even a first trimester abortion because at that point, there is the POTENTIAL to have a baby develop, but making a human means that a lot of things have to go right. Often, nature aborts embryos that have genetic deletions or don't implant properly, and nobody can know for sure whether an early abortion (before 12 weeks of embryonic growth, 14 weeks of pregnancy from lmp) is actually hastening the inevitable or not. After having a successful pregnancy that resulted in a much-wanted son last year, I empathize with the pro-life stance in a way that I did not prior to getting pregnant. It is an amazing thing, that we can grow babies inside our bodies, but the experience made me believe even more firmly that women should have control over their bodies and when and with whom they will create a family or a child. I also had an abortion when I was 19 because a condom broke. Choosing an abortion isn't something women do in a cavalier fashion. Even 14 years later, I still think about the baby I could have had, maybe on my own birthday, that I could have a TEENAGER in my house right now. But at 19, I was not ready to be a parent, wasn't even ready to make a 9 month sacrifice of my body to bring another being onto the planet. I was in school, not dating a man who would have been a good marriage partner, and I am grateful that I had the ability to make that choice. I don't regret it at all. Then and now, my moral hierarchy privileges the needs of the already-living above those of the "pre-born". Abortion has economic and social pressures that come to bear on a woman's decision, and there are moral dimensions to this issue that are often neglected in 'pro-life' platforms. I can tell you from a public health standpoint that having a child out of wedlock, especially when you are a teenager, strongly predisposes you and your child(ren) to a life in a low socio-economic status. To some extent, having kids keeps you poor and hampers efforts to get an education if they come too soon in your life. If a family already has money, parents can buffer the effects on a teen of having a child by helping with childcare, paying for schooling, all the things they would do for their kids even if they didn't have a baby at age 17. Here's a page of stats with citations at the bottom: I don't think the suggestion is that babies of poor people should be aborted, but people with more financial resources at their disposal need to be aware that if you are poor, the prospect of having a baby or an 8th child will help ensure that you STAY poor. Some people who are poor might choose to abort when they already have lots of mouths to feed, when having the baby would hinder their ability to work and go to school full-time, when they have no source of outside support...lots of poor people are very pro-life though, and lots of wealthy people might choose to abort a pregnancy. I come back to the belief that individuals should be allowed the right to determine for themselves whether bringing a child into the world at a particular time or with a particular person will be in the best interest of the already-living persons involved and the future child. And I think saying, "If you don't want the baby, adopt it out" is also more complicated than it might seem on the surface. I know that after carrying my son for 9 months, I would have physically attacked anybody who tried to take my baby away, and there is NO WAY I could have been persuaded to give him to somebody else to love and nurture, no matter what my socio-economic status. There is also the argument that telling young mothers or poor people to give their babies away is predatory (plus, come on, it's not as easy to adopt out a mixed-race child with in-utero alcohol and drug exposure as it is to adopt out a pink-cheeked white baby). It is also a tough thing to say to women: I know you only have a high school education and a job at Walmart, but don't abort this baby. By the way, you can't have paid maternity leave unless you have the sick and vacation time already built up, and it can't be more than 6 weeks' paid maternity leave if you haven't worked there more than 2500 hours and at least one calendar year, and not more than 12 weeks otherwise, and that's only if you have leave available. (FMLA is not very generous with new parents, nor with people who have sick parents to care for). There is no subsidized day care available for the baby when you go back to work at your $7.50/hour job either. I hope that people who are pro-life are also very pro-social services because it's inconsistent to say that the baby is infinitely valuable only until it exits the womb, at which point it and its mother become a drain on society.
What would I like to genuinely understand about the perspective of people who feel differently?
I would like to know why you think you know what is best for any individual woman? How can you presume to dictate what is best for her life, for her family, for her body, for her spirit? Why can't this abortion decision be something left between an individual woman and God? What gives YOU the moral authority to make this medical decision for her? If you compel a woman to have an unwanted child, how will you support her and that baby? If life begins at conception, it certainly does not END at birth, and that dyad needs a lot of support for YEARS.
My other big question: how can you simultaneously be pro-life and pro-death penalty? Has it ever occured to you that some of the people on death row might have been the babies whose lives you once fought for? Does their inherent worth depreciate as they get older?
What would I like them to understand about me?
I believe that individual autonomy is sacrosanct and that we need to respect and trust our fellow humans to make decisions that ARE RIGHT FOR THEM. As a culture, we need allow individuals the space to work out their spiritual and moral philosophies on their own, to have their own relationship with God or Spirit or whatever you want to call the divine, and not to impose our own religious or moral values onto others. I totally agree that abortion should be rare. Every pregnancy should be a wanted pregnancy, and women and their partners should have easy access to accurate sex education and a variety of birth control options to stop unintended pregnancy from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, humans are irrational and impulsive creatures, condoms break, somebody forgets that antibiotics interfere with birth control pills, and pregnancy happens when we are not intending for it to happen. Because of this and because becoming a parent is a serious matter, I think it's important to keep abortion legal and to allow people to decide for themselves how and when to start or increase families, and for women to have the right to self-determination in matters pertaining to their bodies. No woman makes the decision to have an abortion lightly, and many mourn for the baby, even if they decide that they cannot bring that child into the world for whatever reason.
If 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' are polarizing, how about this for a new frame of reference?
If life begins at conception and we have a responsibility to honor that sanctity, it is certainly not the case that this collective responsibility begins at conception and ends at birth. How about talking more realistically about human biology, sex drives, and community? How could we work to reduce abortion and make it easier for women who choose to bear children to rear them well?
1. Access to pre-conception family planning options. We should all have the ability to determine when, and with whom we will make a family. Until those who support an end to abortions also make sure that there is good access to accurate information about and options for family planning and pre-conception contraception, so that EVERY pregnancy is a WANTED pregnancy, we will always have people who wish to terminate pregnancies for medical, family planning, financial, and psychological reasons. Unfortunately, "abstinence only" is a nice idea, but for many people, biological drives win out over nice ideas, and they have sex at a time when they do not want to have a child. I think we can all agree that it would be best that they have sex (because let's be honest, that's what we illogical, impulse-driven humans do) without the possibility of accidentally creating life. It is unrealistic and asking too much of people never to have sex until they get married in a culture where many delay marriage until their late 20s or early 30s.
2. Maternity leave that honors the dependence of a young baby on his mother. That means we should have at least 6 months of supported maternity leave for all working mothers, and 12 months would be better. This is what most EU countries offer their mothers. Any mother can tell you that a 6 week old baby needs his mama to nurse, to cuddle with, to feel safe and secure. My heart would have broken into a million pieces if I'd had to return to work 3 weeks after my son was born, and at 10 weeks, it only broke into thousands, and he got to stay with his papa. Family values should support the WHOLE family - mothers, fathers, and children who are no longer fetuses. A culture of life would work to promote extended breastfeeding, maintaining family bonds, and the emotional health and well-being of all family members throughout their lives.
3. Better support for women, especially young, single women (46% of babies born to women under 25 are born out of wedlock) who do choose to carry their pregnancies to term. If conservatives advocate for women to bear their children, they cannot then turn around and say, "Well, now that the baby is out, she's just YOUR problem." I'm very much of the opinion that once a child is born, he is everyone's "problem". My aunt says women shouldn't abort babies because being pregnant is 'inconvenient', but if they are born, a baby is either a treasure or an inconvenience to her whole community, not just the woman who gives birth. If we ask women to carry their babies to term, we have an obligation to help them with being the best parents they can be, providing mentoring and parenting classes, decent housing, job training or schooling so they can be self-sufficient and be good role models for their kids. We can't turn our backs on the already-born. Fetuses are easy to take care of; it's those pesky babies, kids, and teenagers they turn into that really ask us for a big commitment, right?
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