I approach abortion as a woman who had one when I was 20, who knows that I ended a life (not a human life, but a life.) I understand it as a sin -- something which separated me from God. In other words, I always think of abortion as a concrete experience, rooted in real dilemmas of life and faith. But I also take my Christian faith seriously enough to know that I have been forgiven: that my relationship with God was not ended forever by my choice. Many years after my abortion I met a woman who'd had an abortion the previous year and said, "I know this was a sin, but I know it was also the right thing to do." A wise Episcopal priest once said to me that there were two situations where there was no "good" choice -- a marriage that was falling apart and an unwanted pregnancy.
I actually don't need much help understanding the absolutist position; it's morally very simple. But since I don't experience my moral life as simple, I'd like to know how those who hold it deal with the messiness of life that women experience. And I'd like them to honor women who -- in good conscience -- make the decision to have an abortion. That is, to understand that women are not just carrying cases for a uterus. (Over the years, I've heard lots of stories that pro-life people have had abortions, or supported daughters having them; and that too is silenced.)
In reframing the discussion, it seems to me that we have two blind spots: the "pro-life" world tends to treat women as a body around a uterus, ignoring the ways in which a pregnancy may be a problem for a woman -- which cuts off the discussion. The pro-choice world tends to ignore the ways in which abortion does cause a death. I would say that my eight-week fetus was not human, but s/he was alive. It's probably not accidental that about six months or so after my abortion, I stopped eating meat.
I think too often the discussion about abortion is held in the abstract, so to change the discussion, it is so important to get away from the slogans and talk about how women make decisions in the case of problem pregnancy. That is, to focus on women making life choices and how they think them through. My hunch is that in that context, most women actually do understand how someone can make the other choice. And that from that discussion we might be able to do better than "pro-life" and "pro-choice", or "pro-baby" and "pro-woman".
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