Add new comment


In this piece, I will go so far as to suggest that abortion could become less of a problem if the rights of the child are given a a theoretical shape that commences before the child is conceived. This idea has emerged like a slowly ripening fruit from much thought and concern on my part about abortion in our society, though it now seems the logical end of a drawn-out thought process.

A relevant anecdote:

While walking along the sidewalk of a local street during the 2004 election campaign, I was greeted by a man who tried to give me some political literature distributed by the local Democrats. Though I've always been and remain a registered Democrat, I politely declined the offer. Continuing on my way, I was quickly stopped in my tracks by a question I wanted to pose this man, so I turned back. It is part of the story to note that the man was African-American, because my question* (see reason for question, below) to him was, "Why do you support the Democrats when their abortion policies are essentially killing off the African-American race in America?" At first, the man was taken aback and expressed shock when I told him some statistics I had read in the Washington Post that very morning, and he seemed ready to think more about the issue. At the time, I could not stay to discuss the problem with him further, and went on my way.

However, I came upon him again on my return trip, at which point he recognized and stopped me to answer my question. What he said shocked my conscience. Asserting boldly, "Sex is my right!", he gave an example that if he were in a hotel room with a woman, she might get pregnant and need an abortion. Through my shock, I managed to reply that I would not be in a hotel room with anyone but my husband, and went on my way in a state of utter perplexity as to his reasoning. In essense, he believed that a woman's 'right' to abortion gave him a "right" to sex at any time with any woman he pleased?!?

*Some background on my question to this man is that I had read that very morning a convincing news article asserting that the growth of the Hispanic-American population had outstripped the growth of the African-American population about about 3 decades ahead of what was expected, given the history of these demographic sectors. The principal reason given, with accompanying data and charts, was that a far higher percentage of African-American babies are aborted than Hispanic-American babies.

With the above anecdote as a jumping-off point, please see my answers (below) to the questions posed on the Speaking of Faith website.

1. How do you think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion?

Moral factors:

In the broadest sense, I think about the fact that when two people choose (most usually) to engage in a profoundly intimate act designed into our bodies principally to reproduce our species, that they should instead have a healthy, even overriding, respect for the fact that pregnancy could result, even when birth control is used, and that the profound nature of the act itself could impact them negatively in ways they may not have anticipated.

Then I consider that if the two people involved did have the proper respect for the potential consequences of sexual intercourse, they could and should be able to apply the brakes as necessary, prior to consummating the act of intercourse, regardless of the passions of the moment. Having gone to college during the thick of the sexual revolution, I know this is possible from a personal standpoint, having resisted the temptation to 'go too far' on a number of occasions during this period in my life. Being a warm and passionate person, this resistance was not due to indifference or frigidity on my part.

Then I wonder how two people who have deliberately consummated the sex act can justify their act by saying that they have done nothing wrong, and that the woman (girl) can 'just have an abortion' if she finds herself pregnant. This denies the profound nature of the act, ignores the unjust use of the fetus as a 'whipping boy' to stand in for the couple, and it can hardly be a good consequence for either participant's psyche to see a new life they themselves created in such an expedient manner. Extrapolating from that to the broader society, it is hardly surprising that we now too commonly hear of teenage lovers discarding their unwanted newborns in trash cans. How could such a cavalier attitude toward sexual intercourse not warp our moral view of the unborn?
Spiritual factors: I think that young people can perhaps more easily embrace a culture of behavioral standards than the average modern adult currently imagines. When you consider that young people can commit themselves devotedly to such practices as vegetarianism and the even stricter veganism, for example, you see that they are able to self-regulate with respect to what they think is important, regardless of the social pressure imposed by our broadly meat-eating and fast-food society that temptingly extols the taste qualities of steak, burgers, and fried chicken. If young people can do that, they can just a readily embrace the belief that 'the body is the temple of the soul', and honor the idea that sex is for married people. A return to such a concept would not be a first! Instead of this, sex and marriage are now so disconnected in peoples' minds that there is now a broad demand to legitimize inherently barren relationships as if they are akin to marriage, which they can never be, whatever they are called!
The separation of marriage from sex and procreation that abortion permits is another spiritual factor. Birth control became a strong factor in this delinking as well, especially once the 'right' to birth control was extended to the unwed woman.
Conclusion: I see the above factors as keys to the issue of whether abortion is a right or a wrong. Because most sex acts are chosen, I believe the choice factor of whether to abort or not ends with the sex act itself, given that the very real possibility of an 'unplanned' pregnancy could and should have been forseen and prevented by stopping at 'third base'.
Other consequences: Separation of marriage from sex and procreation.
The separation of marriage from sex and procreation has also had other profound consequences for the unborn, given the rise in recent decades of a demand for 'reproductive rights'. This development raises numerous profound questions as well. Is human reproduction a civil right? If so, where in such a 'right' are the rights of the planned child? What are the rights of the child? At what point in a child's development do his/her rights begin? Another way of framing the question might be, "Is a child a commodity to which every adult is entitled under her/his own terms?"
People today are so focused on their own perceived individual and group rights that many utterly forget even to consider that the child is a human being with basic rights, like anyone else, even though the Preamble to our Constitution addresses this point, asserting:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Who is "our Posterity" if not our children? what is it to "secure the blessings of Liberty...for our posterity" if we can murder our 'posterity' at will?
With all of this in mind, I will go so far as to insist that a child's rights must begin even before he/she is conceived! This conclusion did not come to me in a instant, I will readily admit, but emerged like a slowly ripening fruit from much thought and concern about abortion in our society, though it now seems to me the logical end of my drawn-out thought process.
If you have gotten this far, you might fairly ask me why this is my conclusion, which I am happy to explain.
My contention is that the rights of a child begin when a husband and wife decide to have a child. In other words, the child's rights preferably exist at least theoretically in the minds of every prospective parent prior to any effort to conceive that child. My thinking on this matter crystalized as a result of the increasing use of reproductive technology, which has ushered in an era that I believe demands that we must now consider the rights of the child prior to any planned conception. Yet, surprisingly, many unmarried adults, single or coupled, are demanding instead what they call 'reproductive rights', a concept that tragically compromises nature's uniquely bestowed (and thus inalienable) right of the child to his/her own natural parents by substituting a notion and terminology that refers instead to the 'right' (of any person) to bear children through the use of reproductive technologies.
Thus, when I hear sympathetic stories on NPR about two men, for example, who set out to use their sperm to artificially inseminate a surrogate mother, my blood pressure goes up instantaneously. In such cases, the child is treated more like a commodity, a slave, than a human being. What after all could be a more inalienable right than that to one's natural parents?
2. What would you genuinely like to understand about the perspective of people who feel differently?
I can understand better the thinking of people who believe abortion should be permitted with strong restrictions, because I can waver occasionally into that territory myself, but I have considerable difficulty understanding the sensibilities of those who broadly defend both their own 'human rights' and the right to abortion. If a person is so concerned about her own civil rights, why can she se no further than the end of her own nose with respect to the possibility that she may be abrogating the rights of another, in this case the unborn? We should not forget that America managed to exist for centuries without considering abortion either a civil right or even right!
I hear comparatively well-to-do white people like Ellen Malcolm and Hillary Clinton insist that abortion must be available to poor women, and wonder if they really understand or care about the serious negative impact of abortion on poor communities with more social chaos and less economic stability, in which men are more likely to share the lax attitudes of the man in my anecdote, women more likely to be treated abusively. A good expositor of the salient differences can be found in the work of Theodore Dalrymple, MD, who practiced in the slums of London, England, and has convincinly chronicled his observations in books and articles.
From back cover of Dalrymple's "Life at the Bottom":
Here is a searing account—probably the best yet published—of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and in observing his patients, he is continually astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience. Dalrymple’s key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Drawn from the pages of the cutting-edge political and cultural quarterly City Journal, Dalrymple’s book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing—sometimes all at once. And Dalrymple writes in prose that transcends journalism and achieves the quality of literature.
I've become aware of the dark attitudes of some of the early birth control and abortion activists: Margaret Sanger, who advocated the elimination through such controls of the Negro race in America (as she would have put it), Bernard Nathanson and the nascent NARAL organization selling abortion to the public by vastly inflating the statistics on female death rates from back street abortion practices (which Nathanson later admitted and repudiated when he embraced Christianity), Alfred Kinsey, who used his scientific creds to defraud the public on matters sexual, and others with equally contemptible ways and ideas. Why do people who claim a paramount concern for 'civil rights' not recognize the inherent inequality of Margaret Sanger's beliefs? Or the deceitful claims that prompted support for abortion rights to begin with?
3. What would you like them to understand about you?
I think it's very unfortunate that abortion rights supporters tend to look down upon and demonize those who disagree with them. It does little more than give renewed credibility and applicability to a famous passage in Romans 1:
"21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."
I have been against abortion from the first time the idea ever entered my consciousness, prior to the passage Roe v. Wade, but the majority of my friends and acquaintances have generally accepted the idea that abortion should be a woman's right, and I still love them anyway. We just rarely talk about our differences. I do not attempt to demean abortion supporters because they are only human, as I am, and I also know that Jesus not only loved people and exhorted the rest of us to as well, and yet could still say "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." I would like to see that same sensibility towards my beliefs from abortion rights supporters, but more often they are very self-righteous, will give no quarter, and might even stop speaking with people who disagree. It's a very polarizing issue for good reason.
4. If the phrases "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are limiting and polarizing, can you imagine new frames of reference for new and better conversations?
I have never liked the distillation "pro-choice" because I think the choice is whether to act in a manner that risks pregnancy, and that one has to be pro-abortion, not pro-choice, to support it to begin with. Pro-choice is a comforting euphemism for the harsher term, 'abortion'. Pro-life is more direct, thus less euphemistic, but doesn't need to be as it is neither an ugly nor even questionable notion to support.
I think we need to move to the question of when rights begin, given my concern that birth is too late in an era in which babies can be created through reproductive technology. If we don't get a grip on this, how far off is a Brave New World morality?
Abortion may always be with us, but it strikes me that the more people who can be convinced that a child has pre-conception rights the fewer people will regard abortion as the 'choice' point, and will discover that the choice is indeed very possible and desirable to re-engage as a choice of self-restraint to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Emily C. Volz
Silver Spring, MD