Frances Kissling — Listening Beyond Life and Choice
August 11, 2011

Frances Kissling is known for her longtime activism on the abortion issue but has devoted her energy more in recent years to real relationship and new conversations across that bitter divide. She's learned, she's written, about the courage to be vulnerable in front of those with whom we passionately disagree.

(photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Selected Readings

Sacred Conversations

A Christian ethicist and Evangelical scholar, David Gushee shares this smart essay about how he brings his religious values into hot-button conversations and the "sacred humanity" of the other.

Cited Research: CNN 2004 Election Exit Poll

View the 2004 election exit poll that Frances Kissling mentions regarding the attitudes toward abortion.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

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The natural sex ratio quotient doesn't add up. A stark portrayal from MediaStorm of violence against females in India.

Reconciling childhood recollections with the complexity of abortion.

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A reflection on the compassionate nature of our listeners' conversations when we addressed the topic of abortion in 2008.

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Video of Obama's speech and how it came up in our live event with Joshua Dubois.

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Our aggregated tweets from our interview.

Frances Kissling reflects on the limits of seeking common ground on contentious issues. "The pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other."

About the Image

Pro-choice and pro-life supporters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on January 22, 2007 to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion.

(photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Through the abortions and adoptions that dear friends of mine have experienced, I am acutely aware of how painful the decision was, and in many ways continues to be.

My personal sense is that a deep part of us is aware that we are ending potential, ending life, no matter the difficult circumstances. I personally feel that choosing to go through with the pregnancy, through the alternatives of adoption or keeping the child, are also difficult -- however my sense is that the scar on the parent's hearts, on the mother's psyche, is less for adoption/keeping that with the abortion option.

My step mother gave up a child for adoption 40 years ago, and it continues to affect how she parents, always feeling like she needs to compensate for having "given up" this child. However her sister chose to abort, and it seems that that pain has almost paralyzed her into not being in close relationship with anyone. A friend of mine aborted a pregnancy, and years later has lost two children perinatally... and I wonder oftentimes how those three experiences affect each other. It's too touchy of a subject for me to approach.. I just think of, worry a little, about it all.

I do not think the government is the appropriate venue to guide/restrict these decisions. It is a personal decision between the woman and her Maker. If there is an after-life sort of "making of amends", I believe it is not up to the government to do anything with this. The rights of the child belong to the mother and her relationship to the Creator.

I do not like either term pro-life or pro-choice. What do I consider myself?... pro-health of woman and child.

I think it is important to remember when considering the abortion issue the inherent paradox routinely overlooked, or worse, ignored; that is, the further liberation and, hence, power over another human life, we grant an expecting mother, the less freedom and rights the unborn child retains. So, the question becomes, why has this point been largely left in the dark when it so naturally derives from the subject matter? Why is what is oftentimes a result of irresponsibility on the potential mother's part--an unwanted pregnancy--left to the irresponsible party to make a grave/very serious decision, literally one of life or death? Personally, I think the innocent, the future human resident of this world, having played no derisive role in the decision-making process of abortion or the advent of his or her new life, ought to have the same rights currently granted/given legal sanction to his mother! I know there are always exceptions to those that take advantage of the convenience/accessibility/"safety net" of the availability of having an abortion (rape, incest, inability to care for the child, risks to the life of the mother if pregnancy is carried out full-term, etc.). For that reason, I hesitate to appeal to either pro-choice or pro-life politics specifically. Instead, I approach it as you have at the end of your comment; the terms pro-life and pro-choice make two-dimensional an issue multi-faceted in its very nature. I just urge anyone who reads this to consider the common "liberal" stance of pro-choice, juxtaposed with what the human, who would come into existence without the interference of a liberated woman's constitutionally-given right to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to full-term, is left with, as far as rights and freedoms. Just how liberal is a public policy which completely NEGATES the rights/freedoms/liberation of another human being?! It's just dumbfounding and appalling to me. Sorry to vent. The hypocrisy is just rampant in popular political ideologies, both liberal and conservative. It's just frustrating. Perhaps a major step in the direction of true liberation would be an admission both by society as a whole, and also by each individual within that society, that we are all, to some degree, hypocrites! It seems like name-calling; a bad word; slander. But, I ask you this, the only way to avoid being a hypocrite is to be steadfast in everything you believe and know; but experience and education increase our knowledge of the world and its issues, so opinion and stance on issues is necessarily a fluid entity....to not be a hypocrite, one would have to be in a state of constant perfection, void of any miscalculation or error. Are any of us without flaw, without a single wrongdoing committed in our life thus far? Can anyone honestly say that they have NEVER changed their mind about something? Has anyone NOT been influenced/affected by their personal experiences? Until the humble replaces the obstinate and the arrogant, people will continue to live in a state of denial and fear of being labeled "hypocrites". I say, we ought to liberate ourselves; admit we are all guilty of hypocrisy at some points in our lives. Only through this admission and act of humbling ourselves in the face of the vast tapestry of information that makes up our world, both spiritually and physically, can humanity ever hope to attain true liberation and freedoms provided for all. Until then, self-absorption and the need to be accepted by the community will hold free thought and altruism at bay, if not in chains. Hypocrisy has been demonized through popular culture, the political correctness and hate/slander rhetoric; it is time and again labeled negatively with naivete. To be guilty of hypocrisy is to admit one is still a mere student in this world; that one still has more to learn. When seen from this perspective, I think it is pretty clear that to NOT be a hypocrite is silly, unrealistic and completely pompous and self-aggrandizing, at the expense of the values and principles set and enforced by a society and its government.

I have thankfully never needed to have an abortion. But as a family counselor working primarily with troubled teens and their families, I am a strong supporter of the pro-choice philosophy. My feelings about abortion are simple -- it is an intimately, profoundly personal decision made by the woman (and hopefully the man) involved in the conception. No one else is even qualified to make this decision. Perhaps if the pregnant female is very young -- say 11 or 12 years old, then the parents should have some say in the matter, but only then should the parents' involvement be allowed, and certainly not mandated. I've also raised teen girls. I can say this: I have NEVER met a person faced with the decision of having a baby or aborting an embryo/fetus who wasn't personally deeply involved in and changed by the decision before them. In my experience abortion has never been used light-heartedly as some pro-lifers claim. I do have issue with having abortions later in the pregnancy. If the fetus is viable and feel this is something we need to address in the medical and human services field. If an aborted fetus is viable, I believe we should do all we can to help the child medically and find the child a good home, because as a society we owe children this much. This is something we take on in society when we judge people unfit as parents, and we should do the same for any viable child. Viability is fairly predictable, medically. I cannot feel good about killing a child once the child is born alive. BUT I am very frightened about the possibility of women losing our rights to make these decisions.

Questions are more powerful than answers. They can be the keys which unlock the answers or can lock them up under obscurity, distraction, or confusion.

In the debates about abortion, one of the least helpful questions is, "When does life begin?" The question falsely assumes there is a beginning of life which we can identify, at least in theory. In fact, life began long, long ago and is simply passed on from generation to generation.

The question we really need to be asking is, "When does human dignity begin?" The followup question would be, "How do we know that?"

Michael Hayes
Red Wing

1. The Body is only 1 of the "essences" in the locus of Being. University research in After-Death Commuication is prooving this, as well as scientists like Ervin Laszlo.
2. Also, without quality of life, physical incarnation serves devolution, not evolution.
3. And of course, there are already too many humans for earth to sustain.
4. Medical and Genetic complications must be the parents decision, not that of the physician or law.
more to come. we love you Speaking of Faith !

I consider such issues as this from the standpoint of Situational Ethics. Each situation is different and I believe that we were given free will to face such choices and make such choices, as individuals, in the context of a relationship (or not) with God. And of course each individual is a part of a larger community - so if the family influence is one way, then that individual will choose accordingly - rebellion against or simply go along with it unthinkingly - ultimately it comes back to the extent of the relationship with God

I would like to understand why they think that they have any right to ask the Govt to legislate against a practice undertaken by others that has no affect whatsoever on them here on earth - or their future in heaven or wherever they believe they will be after they have left the mortal sphere.
Are they vegetarians? - probably not but there are many many people who sincerely believe that eating meat is bad for the environment, bad for an individual's physical health, bad for a person's moral health ... wouldn't it be ludicrous to try and legislate against the carnivores in our society?

How socially active are these people - have they decried the deforestation of the Pacific North West, not to mention everywhere else in the world and the examples abound - where govts and individuals and corporations do stupid things - and millions of already born, alive people are affected - and badly - unnecessarily.

Why can't the Pro lifers describe themselves as pro choice - and state very plainly that given the choice of whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, no matter what the circumstances, they would choose to continue with the pregnancy - and leave it at that.

It would be wonderful if a woman became pregnant, and found herself torn between whether to keep the baby or not (for whatever reason - rape, fear about the future financial impications, shame ... whatever) and if she did have the choice - legally - then all that is left is the moral side of it and she would have to live with whatever choice she made - the choice would be made based on the moral conscience/ or moral consciousness of the persons involved. But if she didn't have the choice - and was forced to keep the baby or went ahead and got an illegal abortion anyway there would be defiance, resentment - altogether unhealthy stuff for the mother and the baby both.

You are referring to the vote for the next president? It is totally irrelevant. I wish all politicians would simply see it as a larger issue of choice - leave the life part out of it - this is a matter for you to choose - just as getting married is, or having a baby is, or driving a gas guzzling SUV is, or being self righteous about your hybrid is, or serving in the military or not is, or getting vaccinated or not is, or being vegeatarian or omnivorous, or eating fast food ... uh-oh you got me going here ...

When I was young I couldn't understand how abortion could be legal. Then I went to a lecture in my sister's med school given by a doctor who worked in a small Catholic hospital for women (ca 1980). He expressed that this particular hospital received about seven cases each week of young women with seriously botched abortions. This changed my view entirely. Does pro-life just mean pro-infant life?

Now I live in a different community which is very anti-choice. There are many teen pregnancies and like the Sara Palin situation....they are almost applauded. But then I look at the numbers of young people in our community who do not go to college, live on meager salaries and have unstable marriages. Those numbers are high.

I don't think, policy-wise, this is a spiritual issue. This is a practical issue. This is a political issue that I see as aggressive toward people who engage in sexual behavior for purposes other than reproduction. I see this as a political issue of embracing the sustained pregnancy so not to be labeled a hypocrite.

How does this sound? "live and let live"

This old axiom can be read and understood in many ways which allows room for many points of view: to be in favor of all life, to be in favor of freedom for all to make life choices which effect them personally, and, most importantly, to be in favor of making available all resources deemed prudent to inform those decisions. I say live your life and let others live theirs.

In our current political climate, clarity on this issue is absent. During a challenge to Senator Obama I heard it stated that he was por-abortion and against life. He corrected the speaker to say he was for life. There is a middle ground. I am not in favor of abortion, per se, but I do not walk in others' shoes. In the area of childbirth, neither I, nor the government, should dictate another's responsibility (the root of this word is "the ability to respond").

I expressed my views in a letter to the editor published on Tuesday, Sept. 23 in the Post-Dispatch. Abortion is not the underlying problem; we shoudl be speaking of poverty and other issues which increase the number of abortions. Also we don't seem to care about the child AFTER it's born, so sometimes people are not pro-life; they are only pro-birth. thank you

In my Catholic college education of the late 1940's abortion was not on the agenda as such. I do recall that in theology classes we discussed the dilemma of "the life of the mother versus the life of the child." The conclusions were far from clearcut and the outlook very compassionate. Marrying late in life and not having had children, my viewpoint has become anti-abortion, pro-choice–the quintessential waffler. I think of women I know who struggled with large families, one of whom once said, "Keep the politicians out of it!" It seems that when legislation is signed, a row of men, pens in hand, is pictured. Keeping women from family planning information because it is "artificial" is astounding to me, when we use every artificial means to keep a barely-breathing, clearly-dying elder alive as long as possible. Churches urge the use of "natural methods." In our work with poor families in Guatemala, I've pondered their lack of opportunity, education, and health care. Lastly, one question, crucial for me, if abortion is murder, what would be the penalty? So far no one has answered that question, at least with any kind of rational compassion.

I could not call myself "pro-abortion" or "pro-life" although I think all women should have access to abortion and am appalled at the act itself. To me, the question comes down to that of free-will. We each make our choices in life--influenced by our own intellect, education, social, cultural, and economic circumstances. To decide that "we"-whether that we is the government or a religious group, can make the most personal of decisions for all is to take away the responsibility for our own choices that give our life meaning.

Maybe 'pro-choice'isn't the best term to show the diffference in points of view re abortion, 'Choice' says you may choose to abort or you may choose to give birth. Better terminology, it seems to me, would be to say therapeutic abortion or contraceeptive abortion.
Therapeutic abortion would be a decision between the pregnant woman and her doctor, and not at all the business of any one else - certainly not Congress.
Contraceptive abortion is another matter entirely. I very much like the position President Carter stated when he was on an SOF program a few months ago. He was obligated to uphold the law, to which he was elected, but personally, he was very much against abortion. In an effort to resolve this conflict in himself, he did everything he could to make life good for the child that was born. There were organizations formed to help get the baby off to a good start.
In my own familly, a granddaughter made great effort to do the best she could to find an open-adoptive family, and they are doing a super job of parenting. Our biological family is grateful for the care he is being given and for our easy access to enjoying his growing up.
On the other hand, I think what I would want, if I were a fetus being born to Mrs. Simon and her drunken husband and her uncared for brood of 6 or 8 unloved chldren. I believe I would choose to be aborted rather than being born to a miserable existence and an early death.
Theologically speaking, God is good to have given us the intelligence and means to make the better of two bad choices.

I learned in the 3rd or 4th grade in a Catholic school, what abortion was and what birth control was. I formulated immediately in my own young mind, that abortion was wrong and birth control was not(Which differed with the Church's view).

I learned in the courses of a science education in a secular University that life begins at conception without question or nuance.
The causes of all other opinions are nuanced by the value of one human life over another, theological differences that say real personhood begins with first breath, and pure ignorance of the truth of the biological sciences. Violating absolute truth has its consequences, no matter the innocence or guilt of the perpetrator of the act. (And for those around the perpetration of the act.)

The five year old who finds a gun and kills a friend, is totally innocent of the act of murder because the child is not old enough to comprehend the enormity of the act. The act remains a burden for the child and those involved for the rest of their lives.

The woman, who enters an abortion clinic, may have failed to make the right decision when she truly had a choice or may have had no choice at all in the present circumstance, but the life with in, is an absolute truth, that will impact her and those involved for the rest of her life. The healing of which is carried as seriously in the hands of the Church (Project Rachel)as the absolute stand against abortion is.

I have watch the face of a young man, who thank his wife's mother for carrying her daughter to term and raising her. The mother had been a victim of rape and with all the love in him for his wife, and children, he thank her for raising her daughter as she did.

In the worst of circumstance, the child is the most innocent. Fetus means "young one". So the little one in the womb was recognized in the Greek language at the dawn of medicene.

I do not know how to speak to the heart that is very troubled and needs a quick solution. When we, as women, have concieved a child,we are in position like no other human being. Our bodies were meant for this. It requires the body to provide for the child. We need to care for ourselves like an athlete cares for their body. We are about something very important. The human body is actually programmed to provide for the baby. I believe God has a plan for the baby within.

Mother support and the accidents of life can be factors in the success of the plan. Baby's left in cribs, fed and changed, but not nurtured will fail to thrive and probably die. (Mother support is vital.) Nurturance can be given by an adoptive mother, if the natural mother just cannot raise the child.

Nutrition and injury or disease can affect the development of the child, but Stephen Hawkings and Helen Keller should give you pause before you believe that decisions about the relative worth of lives can be determined easily. Even Beethoven, was the fourth or fifth of siblings with serious impairments. We would not have had his music, if Mom had thought about herself over him and had easy access to abortion or thought the danger of him being deaf was more than she could risk.

We have stepped so far away from the basics of life. Bearing babies into the world seems so burdensome for some today. The biological imperative to pro-create seems like something for the masses but not for ME. So we have lost one third of our population since the legalization of abortion.

I would like you to understand about me that I do not want to criminalize women who go for abortions without understanding the full import of what they do. I want a world where abortion facilities go out of business because women get so smart, the facilities close because no one goes there.

I want you to know that I want the world to value the lives of children, like the year that little girl was down the well in Texas and guys going to Alaska (to drill at the beginning of the Alaskan Pipeline), dropped off big diamond bit drills in her front yard, so the guys trying to get to her, could do it faster. That little girl had no claim to fame. She was just a child in trouble in these United States. We need to get back to that. I want the busi-ness to stop, when a child is lost, and everyone who can goes to look for that child.

I work in a Church office. The staff is going to dinner Monday at Chili's, because Chili's is donating its profit that day to St. Jude's Children's hospital. Pro Life means commitment; anytime, anywhere that we can make a difference.

As one of our men said on retreat recently. "I am "pro-choice". I just believe the choice is a lot sooner than the decision for abortion." If you feel that you do not know the truth of when life begins go to any university and take a biology class. It is at conception. The genetic package of the first fertilized cell, if read, can tell you more about the adult to come, than staring in the nursery window when the baby is born. We all need to be educated on this one.

Men and women are walking around dealing with the issue of an abortion in their histories and do not understand how heavy a burden they carry, if they have not addressed it. To have an abortion or help someone have one, does not end that day. That baby is a reality in your physical and spiritual life. If you experience sorrow, you can know forgiveness. We are more and more becoming aware of our spiritual reality. True freedom is in our soul. God gave us intellect and free will. Or if you care to dispute that, who ever gave us free will and intellect is God. My Judeo Christian belief just tells me God is creator and author of my human freedom, which at its best is disciplined and accountable.

New names for all of us? I think we found the best. I am pro-life. In my Church's social teaching it is a seamless garment from cradle to grave. Life at all stages is charged with human dignity from its creator. It requires our most accountable behavior if we even think about putting it at risk. Our countries founding Father's recognized it. Our rights are inalienable from our creator. Alan Keyes says he wants his freedom given to him by no mere man. He has it from his creator and there is no variable in that.

Pro - Choice. I believe in the heart of most of these folks is a distaste for the act of abortion itself, if they understand what it is. But the face in front of them receives the tenderness of their sympathies. They will not tackle the monumental task to explain to a young woman in terrible trouble that the baby will one day stand in front of her and loving her with all that is in him or her, hold her in their arms; whether she raises them or someone else does. My religious opinion is that that will happen even if she goes through with the abortion.

My Grandson is a part of the 40 Days for Life project. He is 17 years old and a senior in High School. He tells me from his times of prayer at our local abortion facility downtown that homeless people who come up to them as they pray are pro-life. One came carrying a baby doll. The worn down man put the baby doll by the door in the mulch of the planting bed. He said to my Grandson, "Maybe that will stop someone from going in." My Grandson thought that was amazing in a society that thinks abortion is an answer.

In jury trials, the juries have not understood the DNA evidence and found people innocent who perhaps were not. They have sent people to jail and only the DNA evidence could free them. The Law and Order Series on TV and the CSI series, I have been told are about educating our jury pools so they can come up to speed on DNA and forensic evidence. Someday I hope we have the courage to educate for the truth about the abortion issue.

John Paul II called us to make a culture of life and not a culture of death. He had experienced so much in his own life as one group attempted to take power over another. I think he had a wisdom that resonates in a lot more people that Roman Catholics.

First of all, "pro-life" must include death penalty and war. "respect for life", in my opinion, would be a better category that would encompass both positions. I am personally opposed to abortion..as a choice...for myself. I could not do it. However, were the pregnancy a result of rape/incest or other unsavory forces and were the life of the mother in danger, then ONLY the pregnant woman, with the assistance of her someone of her choice, can make the decision. I guess that makes me "pro-choice". If you support a war in which over 100K innocent people have died, (and that's most of the wars), or if you support a death penalty then how can you claim to be pro-life? This is a religious issue, best left out of government control. If most people were to research abortions, how many and the reasons, I think they would be surprised at how few there really are....and becoming fewer. My daughter had a pregnancy (twins) that was extremely and daily painful and frightening. "We" have wonderful 10 yr old twins, but had she decided to end her pregnancy, it would HAVE to be her choice with my full support. NO ONE can place themselves in the position of making that decision for another person. Teaching sex education, production, safety, birth control etc. needs to be in our schools with the choice to opt out of those classes for those that wish to. Due to ignorance/shame or whatever, I was not taught at home. Too many do not have that available at home and youngsters have no appropriate access to knowledge. Keeping our children informed is a duty for the entire country, no different than teaching about drugs. There seems to be an inordinate amount of emotion on the subject of sex, birth control, etc. Unbelievable in this era and in this country.

I am very pro-choice. I march in on of the largest Pro-Choice Naral Women march in the late '80's. I actually found myself later on in 1999 making such a difficult position of an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 32. Despite my being older than many who are in such a position, I actually found myself considering whether or not it was in the interest of by myself and my unborn child if I was even capable of not just being a capable and responsible parent but if I could be a source of empowerment for my child. I wasn't sure I would actually like being a parent. I didn't spend much time around children when I was a child. And even though I like children not sure I had social skills to be a parent. I didn't want to bring a child into the world and having to face and insecure parent throughout her life.
I was actually still considering terminating the pregnancy until about 24 weeks and when I was making calls around to different clinics and the price was continuting to rise as I contemplate such a discision. I emotionally couldn't go through with it. I chose to keep my child for what I consider selfish reasons in some ways. I did't want to be wondering "what if" years down the road wondering what my child would have been like when it was 5 years old. I am so glad that I made the chioce to have my beautiful daughter. I am still to this day very pro choice however!! There is not enough support for women in general by any particular side on so many levels except perhaps the feminists side but even that side has its extreme ways and still we are all at odds on how to create a better place for a woman to be when she has become pregnant accidentally regardless of how or why. Years ago I sort of flirted with the campaign of Pro-choicers for Pro Life because folks from both sides will tell you that know one Wants to have an abortion! There is another side of this though that troubles me greatly and yet perhaps is none of my business but perhaps this is where pro choice for pro life could come in as well. I have also been know women who have had multiple abortions because they have had multiple unwanted pregnancies. All of these women were working women with children of there own who in for some reason or another just didn't use birth control. Some of these women were in monogamous relationships most were not. I wonder about there risks of HIV/AIDS and why they aren't even worried about these things. Let alone have to live with the idea of denying my daughter other siblings to be with in the future. Yet every woman should have the right to make her choice. Why are women choosing to continue to get abortions over and over again instead of taking responsibility to use safer sex methods. They run the risk of not being around for the children they already do have should they become infected with HIV/AIDS.
As long as Pro-lifers aren't willing to supply housing and financing for unwanted children who may end up in foster care for life and for the pro choicers who could possibly help come up with ideas to allow pro choicer more options to choose life because ...this dialogue could provide a table that where we aren't so far apart from a more supporting solution for women who must make these kids of deciscions regardless of their choices.

I look at abortion in a large context of Bible teaching on the nature of God and the nature of human beings created in God's image. I have earned a PhD in Family Studies and MA degrees in Marriage/Family Counseling and Theology and have taught human development in university and college settings for 20 years. If we apply the ordinary use of language to the human fetus, we say both that it is "alive" and that it is "human." Common sense and common language tell us that. While none of us can 'prove' when essential human life begins, I think there is ample evidence from a broad range of Old and New Testament passages that one valid Biblical view is that it probably begins when a baby draws its first breath. Not only is reference to "the breath of life" made in many places, but the penalties under Old Testament Law for accidentally causing the death of an unborn child are limited to the damage done to the pregnant woman. I think we might talk most productively about this important subject if we look at underlying interests and concerns. I see at least three: a concern for a woman's welfare, a concern for human life, and a concern for society/community built on law. Law describes the ways we have decided to live together. It must bridge a concern for the individuals with a concern for the community itself. I believe that the decisions around a difficult pregnancy are not simple. They are much like decisions around war – in some cases there are no really good alternatives. As a society/community we need to care for and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Both a woman and a child at the edge of medical catastrophe are unable to speak for themselves, and logic has always held that the mother's life represents more potential to the family and the community for either help or hardship than the infant's does. When the difficult decision must be made to save one or let both die, I would choose to save the mother at the terrible cost of the infant’s life. In all other cases, I have two values that inform my thinking. The first is that moral choices have a deeper base than the convenience, preferances, or even needs of any individual. Our society has come to hold the individual and that individual's power to choose as the most important value. In my understanding, the real "sin" of many abortions, is not murder, but selfishness, pride, and the determination to take control of one's life rather than trust God for solutions that may be costly, but ultimately respect God and God's creation as well as the wonderful ability to choose that the Creator has given to humankind. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have over 60 years of personal experience that God provides and protects out of God's extraordinary, self-giving love for humankind. There are always solutions to problems beyond my immediate fears and limitations. I can trust a loving God, I don't have to control all of my world. As a counselor and former pastor, as a single-parent of four children, as a poor woman for much of my life, I understand that pregnancy makes a woman hugely vulnerable. Emotional and mental health are often just as precarious as physical health. The needs of a woman who has more than she can handle physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, relationally must be addressed by her community. The community that outlaws abortion must contribute to the care of the people affected. If we would humble ourselves and come together to listen to one another's concerns and fears and pain, I believe we could come to solutions around this issue that are far more moral than allowing the ending of human life for any but the most dire of painful choices between mother and child's survival. If we would humble ourselves and ask God to show us a way, the Creator has promised to respond to the creation. If we can learn from history and look around us, we will see that a society that takes human life lightly at its' beginning will soon take it lightly when it is damaged or difficult, when the society needs expendable lives for warring, and when it is near enough to its end to be considered non-productive for the society. Whenever individual convenience and choice is the top value, the society is in fatal trouble. Whenever there is no respect given to the needs and dignity of the individual, the society is in fatal trouble. We have the great blessing and opportunity in this society to come together to find ways to support one another through all manner of hardships and difficult circumstances so that all human life can be valued and protected.

While I no longer identify as a Christian, I do understand their teachings and observe how they are put into pratice. I myself have a hard time with the logical inconsistency of the 'pro-life' group.

If you subscribe to the idea of 'original sin', then you would believe that the soul of an unborn child is pure, and should the child die before birth, then that child goes directly to heaven.

That being the case, the true sinner then are the adults, the doctor and the pregnant woman, who actually terminate the pregnancy. It logically follows that they are sacrficing their salvation for the salvation of another. Over the course of a career, a Doctor could ensure thousands of souls get a free pass to paradise. In fact, the Germans colloquially refer to this specialist as an "Angelmaker".

Of course not all faiths subscribe to this extreme view. If the did, then every miscarriage would prompt a funeral, and this is rarely the case, even for those that are strongly pro-life.

I personal not subscribe to this at all. I feel this is a woman's issue and it is her choice and her responsibilty. She can sort it out
when she meets her maker

Dear SOF, There is bad new for you and good news for you. First, there can be no subjectivistic solution to the ethical problems Your efforts, unfortunately, will be largely in vain because they are not founded on truth, but on the very premise of subjectivism ("first person" approach). However, if you found them on philophical anthropology (i.e. reason and evidence-based Revelation) then you could do untold good proclaimin the infinite Divine Mercy of God. But of course in the context of public radio, it will probably cost you dearly in terms of the feeling-based, subjective reactions of your audience, however tenderly and tactfully--I imagine Ms. Tippett might be more tender and tactful than me :)--you present your instrinsic love for all life. But please consider these noble words: 70. At the basis of all these tendencies lies the ethical relativism which characterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who consider such relativism an essential condition of democ- racy, inasmuch as it alone is held to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the decisions of the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead to authoritarianism and intolerance. But it is precisely the issue of respect for life which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terrible practical consequences, are concealed in this position. It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in the name of "truth". But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of "ethical relativism". When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a "tyrannical" decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus? (John Paul II "Evangelium Vitae")

Dear SOF:

Here is the rest of that article 70 of "Evangelium Vitae". This is also excellent.

Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a "system" and as such is a means and not an end. Its "moral" value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behaviour, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to be considered a positive "sign of the times", as the Church's Magisterium has frequently noted. 88 But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the "common good" as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored.

The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable "majority" opinions, but only the acknowledgment of an objective moral law which, as the "natural law" written in the human heart, is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience, an attitude of scepticism were to succeed in bringing into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for regulating different and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis. 89

Some might think that even this function, in the absence of anything better, should be valued for the sake of peace in society. While one acknowledges some element of truth in this point of view, it is easy to see that without an objective moral grounding not even democracy is capable of ensuring a stable peace, especially since peace which is not built upon the values of the dignity of every individual and of solidarity between all people frequently proves to be illusory. Even in participatory systems of government, the regulation of interests often occurs to the advantage of the most powerful, since they are the ones most capable of manoeuvering not only the levers of power but also of shaping the formation of consensus. In such a situation, democracy easily becomes an empty word.

(Pope John Paul II "Evangelium Vitae")

As a loving mother,sister,daughter, aunt to 5 little girls and grand daughter, I STRUGGLE to understand why this remains such a issue in our society. I was a teenager in the 1970's when I purchased the book "Our Bodies, Our selves." I remember the chapter on abortion and the picture of a woman in a hotel room, dead from an illegal abortion. I remember thinking how terrible,to die alone and naked in a dirty hotel room, soaking in your own blood. I sometimes wonder if that picture should "argue" with the other pictures that are brought up in the discussion of abortion. As a nurse I took care of a young girl who shook up a coke bottle to induce an abortion, and had to have fragements of glass removed from her vagina. Why can't our priorities be for existing life and not potential life. Why isn't this a personal decision that only 1 person can make, namely the mother who has to live with the decision. I love your show Krista. You have opened my eyes to some amazing stories. I look forward to your discussion. Sincerely, Anne Nagel

I am an Evangelical Christian who recently published a theology book called Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, along with a study guide exploring contemporary issues from a Christian perspective. It was a tough call, but I decided to exclude abortion from my list of issues in the study guide since the conversation has turned into a shouting match with little hope of middle ground. People get too emotional, and it's hard to have a fruitful discussion.

Recently though, I have hope since Evangelical activist Tony Campolo recently shared on the God's Politics blog his role in writing the Democratic platform, adding provisions that outline plans to reduce the number of abortions. This most clearly represents where I stand today and how I hope the pro life group can move forward: make abortion the least desirable choice for a pregnant woman by making it possible for her to keep the child. We should also throw our effort into pregnancy crisis centers, where women can get the support they need. This will not save every child, but it will save many, not to mention helping the mothers and saving them from a potentially harmful procedure.

Unfortunately some Evangelicals are convinced that since abortion is murder, the only way forward is to outlaw it. They fail to realize that banning abortion, however unlikely that may be, will not necessarily stop the more determined from having one. So while we fight to pass laws, we are missing opportunities to help mothers in need along with their unborn children. It's as if we haven't collectively realized that we can simultaneously be pro-child and pro-woman.

RELIGION, MORALITY AND REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE
Richard S. Gilbert – Planned Parenthood Conference – UR – September 27, 2008

The public pregnancy of Bristol Palin, daughter of Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and her own decision to give birth to a Down syndrome child, has thrust reproductive issues to the front burner in this election. In one stark admission we visit the issues of comprehensive sexuality verses abstinence education, abortion verses out of wedlock pregnancy. I empathize with the Palin family and the choices they have made – difficult ones. However, what disturbs me is Sarah Palin’s conviction against choice – a devout Christian, she opposes abortion even in cases of incest and rape, the imminent death of the woman being the only exception. The point here, of course, is responsible choice. The sad thing is that she and her running mate, John McCain, would deny it to others.

One pro-choice blogger related the political campaign to domestic life in an article, “How my 7-Year-Old Learned about Pre-Marital Sex from John McCain.” When Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced, Karen Dolan was asked by her 7-year-old son: “But how can she be pregnant if she isn’t married?” and “Does a girl get pregnant every time she has sex with a boy?” “Thus ensues,” she writes, “the revelation that sex is possible before marriage.” She concludes, “In a way though, McCain and Palin have done us all a favor as they now have removed the chastity belt which hampered honest discussion on sex education in schools and realistic, effective ways to prevent teen-pregnancy and STDs.”

While I do not believe that intimate family matters should play a significant role in political campaigns, it is fascinating to see how they do impact social values and public policy. And this episode once again reminds us that reproductive choice is a moral, religious, and, yes, even political issue. I discovered that reality years ago.

I was minister at the First Unitarian Church of Ithaca and a Chaplain at Cornell University in the winter of 1969 when my colleague David Evans, minister of the First Baptist Church, called me. In those days abortion was essentially illegal in New York State and problem pregnancies were rampant. In 1967 the Rev. Howard Moody of New York City had formed the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS), a counseling service for women with problem pregnancies. David asked if I would be interested in forming a similar group in Ithaca. I was.

We brought Howard Moody to Ithaca and subsequently launched the Upstate New York Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies in March of 1969. In preparation, we met with obstetricians and gynecologists to learn something of human biological development; with psychiatrists to explore the psychological dynamics; with lawyers to apprise ourselves of the potential legal ramifications; and we had our own theological/ethical discussions.

We developed a counseling discipline, not only to provide effective consultation, but also to maximize our legal protection should that become necessary. We counseled only at our church offices. We required that all women seeking our services must have a note from a doctor indicating in weeks the length of the pregnancy and must complete a counseling form: "(1) My reasons for wanting an abortion at this time; (2) My reasons for or against parental or other family involvement in this decision; (3) The involvement and decision of the other person in this choice; (4) My experience with and feelings about contraception."

In each case, we explored with the woman (sometimes accompanied by her partner) all the options available to her: bringing the pregnancy to term and keeping the child; placing it for adoption; abortion. No specific information was given until we were convinced she had firmly opted for abortion. If the man who impregnated her was there, we tried at some point to speak alone with the woman to be sure this was her decision.

In every case we tried to determine if the woman might qualify for a legal therapeutic abortion in New York State, but that was only if the "life of the woman were threatened" and that had to be certified by two doctors. Through the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion we had a list of safe and legal alternatives for women seeking abortions. We used only physicians licensed in the state where they were practicing. Each physician had been checked out by someone in the CCS. We would not refer women for non-hospital abortions after 12 weeks. There was England, where abortion was legal. And Puerto Rico. There were doctors in other states where abortion was less restrictive than in New York State. We went over the list of doctors, their requirements and their fees. Some of the women were poor, but we were seldom able to provide adequate financial aid. Arrangements were to be made by the woman herself directly with the doctor. Upon her return, we advised a physical examination by her own doctor, discussion of contraceptives and their use to prevent further unwanted pregnancies. We asked that they report their experience to us.

Our caseload grew quickly. I counseled with 50 women in our 15 months of operation, 17 in one unusually hectic week. It was not pleasant business. Each of us took a week on call, leaving our office phone number on the answering tape of the service. Women from all over New York State and beyond called us. Those who appeared in my office seemed a microcosm of the nation's social problems: a young college coed whose parents were so sexually repressive that she feared telling them of her pregnancy; a young Cornell couple, seniors heading together to medical school, both intending to be doctors. Their contraceptive had failed; pregnancy now would scuttle their plans for one if not both; they wanted to have children when they completed their professional preparation - to some an abortion of convenience; for them potentially a lifetime career decision; a couple both near 40 who already had five children and could not afford more. There was a Native American woman who had failed to obtain a legal abortion. It turned out we could not help her obtain an abortion; she left my office in anger, threatening suicide. I counseled women whose stories were so heartbreaking that I knew an unwanted pregnancy was only a symptom of much larger personal problems.

From the beginning we agreed that we would combine counseling with advocacy work toward legalizing abortion in New York State. Local Republican Assemblywoman Constance Cook had introduced legislation to repeal the then-current restrictive abortion law. The debate on the Assembly floor was bitter and the vote was close. The legislation passed when Auburn's George Michaels, whose son I knew as a Cornell student activist, changed his mind, risked his career and cast the deciding vote, legalizing abortions as of July 1, 1970. In the next election he was swept from office. To this day I regret not having worked in his re-election campaign.

With a great sense of relief we disbanded in June 1970. It had been heartbreaking to speak with desperate women forced to sneak about like common criminals to exercise their right to control their own bodies. We assumed that the new law would make our consultation service unnecessary. Our relief turned to hope when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We could turn to other issues, or so we thought. In April, Connie Cook went to the office of the coalition that had supported her efforts. On the locked door she found a sign that said simply, “We Won" - as if to say that the battle was over. That was 1970. The lesson is too painfully obvious in 2008.

The 2008 political campaign has surfaced reproductive issues in yet another way – at mega-church pastor Ric Warren’s now famous interviews with John McCain and Barack Obama on how their faith influences their politics. When Warren asked each when life begins, McCain said without hesitation, and to the cheers of the audience. “Life begins at conception.” I thought it must be nice to have his utter confidence in the rightness of that conviction on an issue that has baffled saints, sages, scholars down through history.

Obama, in typical liberal fashion, said making a decision like that was, in his words, “beyond my pay grade,” meaning beyond his capacity to know for sure. He now believes these words were a bit too flip and acknowledges differences of opinion, all within the right of choice for individuals to decide. The Democratic Party platform has moved from Bill Clinton’s words that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare” to an effort to reduce the incidence of abortion, while preserving a woman’s right to choose.

Where are we in this conundrum? Values are born out of fundamental religious convictions - the beginning of life is at its root a theological question. And on theology there are bound to be striking differences. Knowing the same essential biological facts, we cannot agree when a single human life begins. That is not susceptible of empirical proof. In arguing from this perspective, anti-abortionists are perhaps without knowing it joining hands with materialists who reduce the human to the biological. Thus it is impossible to argue from the "is" to the "ought" - from facts to values - what ethicists call the "naturalistic fallacy." We might better talk of “person” which includes not only the biological, but also the social and moral status.

Though abortion is a terribly serious issue, there is a "Ziggy" cartoon that gets to the nub of the matter. Ziggy is patiently listening to his pet parrot: “Well, if you go by when my egg was laid, I'm a Sagittarius. But, if you go by when I was hatched.” When does human life begin, or, since all sides acknowledge the fetus is human tissue with at least the potential for human life, the more appropriate question is when does human personhood begin?

The Roman Catholic position has been debated over the years, from Augustine to Aquinas to the 19th century papal encyclical which made abortion a mortal sin. One can sum it up in these words: “It is not up to the biological sciences to make a definitive judgment on questions which are properly philosophical and moral, such as the moment when a human person is constituted. Even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is a grave sin to dare to risk murder. The rationale is that since we don't know the exact moment of ensoulment, we must assume it is at conception. On the basis of that theological assumption we have the abortion wars that so divide our nation.

If human life begins at conception, does that constitute a moral equivalency among a just-fertilized egg and a mother of 35? How do we balance these rights? At a meeting of the American Society of Christian Ethics, one ethicist confronted delegates with a case of a three-year-old child and an 18-week fetus, each with a dread disease for which there was only a single portion of life-saving medicine in Chicago, whose airports had been closed by a blizzard. John Swomley wrote: "We unanimously concluded that the three-year-old child should get the injection. The moral difference is that the child is among us in a way that the fetus is not. It is a claim based on relationship, rather than a legal point of birth."

I cannot attribute full personhood to a fertilized egg one mili-second old, which is what the "life begins at conception" argument requires. I cannot equate a fetus 1/5 of an inch long at 4 weeks, 2 inches long at 8 weeks, 3 inches long at 10 weeks (by which time nine out of ten abortions are performed) with a fully human being who has a whole web of relationships with other human beings.

Abortion is an unyielding dilemma. No one person, no one group, has a firm handle on the issue, no matter how emphatic their claims. Each articulation of value is marked with ultimate uncertainty. We do not know and will not know who is "right." It is incumbent upon us, then, to accept the mystery that inheres in human existence, work out human problems as best we can and accept the finitude of our judgment with awe and humility.

Roman Catholic theology is absolute – no abortion save in cases of the so-called “doubt effect” – in trying to save the woman’s life the fetus may be destroyed. Some bishops would deny Communion to politicians who support a woman’s right to choose – just ask Senator John Kerry or Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Nebraska. One pro-life former political advisor to Ronald Reagan has asked “how can we not support Barack Obama?” He feels the McCain Palin ticket would enshrine the state quo, whereas Obama and the Democrats advocate actually reducing the number of abortions by comprehensive sexuality education and better birth control. John Smiec was admonished for this position at a Catholic Mass as he was denied Communion in person.

Former Governor Mario Cuomo gave a rationale for his Catholic position that, while he personally opposed abortion, he felt as a public official he could not impose his morality on the wider community. The numbers of Catholics favoring birth control and abortion as a last resort is not greatly different from a cross section of the population. Christian evangelicals are all over the map, many opposing abortion but avoiding one-issue politics as global warming, the persistence of poverty and the energy crisis take precedence. Still other Christians believe emphasis should be not only on prevention of unwanted pregnancies, but also public services that support families having children – nothing that many anti-abortion politicians have a poor record in supporting these human services. In all this Christian theologizing about abortion it is interesting to note that Jesus says not a word about it in the Gospels.

This continuing argument between liberals and conservatives on the abortion issue reminds me of a Garry Trudeau Doonesbury cartoon captures our problem as we set our sails in a tsunami of conservatism. Zonker, the 60’s liberal, is in the radio studio watching TV. “Fox News: We report, you decide.” He responds, “That has to be the most cynical slogan in the history of journalism.” His fellow talk-show host, Chase the conservative, chimes in: “Drives you crazy, doesn’t it? You know why? Because you liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we’re right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we’re unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time.” Zonker ponders as Chase pauses, and finally says, “Actually you make a good point….” To which Chase grins and says, “See! Only a loser would admit that!”

Those of us who advocate for reproductive choice cannot afford to be “losers.” It seems to me the basic issue is whether or not each human being is allowed to follow his or her conscience – whether or not the state can mandate motherhood. We need also to acknowledge the wider picture – the thousands of women around the globe who die of aseptic abortions for want of access to abortions – and the reality of a world which even now has probably exceeded its optimum carrying capacity in terms of population.

All of this takes me back to some of the pioneers in the Planned Parenthood movement: Margaret Sanger and her incredible courage; David Rhys Williams, one of my predecessors at the Unitarian Church, who in 1934 urged the congregation to vote to use the church parish house as the Mother’s Consultation Center, the precursor to Rochester Planned Parenthood. And, yes, Carol Love, recently retired Executive Director of Rochester/Syracuse Planned Parenthood, who has had to endure the increasing militancy of the anti-abortion movement.

What I have learned over the years is that social justice is never a once-and-for-all enterprise. It is always a work in progress – a life-long endeavor. Battles we once thought were won, must be fought all over again. Look at South Dakota – another anti-choice initiative is on the ballot; look at the federal gag rule on international family planning; look at the effort to get the Federal Drug Administration to approve even a limited Plan B; look at the political power of anti-abortion forces. Look at some Catholic bishops essentially excommunicating public officials who defy church doctrine and defend reproductive freedom. It is possible, in their view, to have a “just war” in which thousands may be killed, but not to grant women the right to an abortion.

Defending reproductive freedom is hard work, but it is satisfying work. Furthermore, it is religious work, “sacred work” in a book of the same title by the Rev. Tom Davis. Working for this freedom taps our most basic religious beliefs and tests our deepest faith commitments. I am proud to be prayerfully pro-choice.

And I must remember that the important social justice work in this world is often done by people who are tired, have no time and don’t feel well. These are hard times for our movement, but I leave you with the words of Father Daniel Berrigan – a strange source it would seem at a Planned Parenthood gathering. But he spoke wise words for all of us. When asked at a Cornell University lecture if he didn’t despair of bringing peace and justice to a hurting world he said: “Despair is a luxury I cannot afford.” Nor can we. Thank you and keep on keeping on.

IN 1982 I was pregnant and happily married. This baby, while a surprise was welcome and we were thrilled. At 6 months I got septecemia and by the time I got to the hospital I was close to death but the baby was fine. An abortion was NOT a choice, I was told I had to have a D&E (late term abortion) in order to receieve the medications that would hopefully save my life but would not be safe for the baby.

My heart was broken but this was life saving. I want people to know that sometimes abortion is the best or only choice although a terrible choice and stays with you forever.

I think the most important thing to do is define terms. Once you accept the notion that "life begins at conception" you paint yourself into a corner. If life begins at conception then there is no choice to even be considered. But the position that "life begins at conception" is an arbitrary line. This is a totally secular notion. The Bible talks about life beginning with the breath of life. Further there is a reference in Jeremiah where God says "before you were conceived in your mother's womb I knew you."
The biggest mistake of drawing the line of when life begins at conception is the, then, misuse of language by calling a fetus or a fertized egg, a baby. In terms of identification, A is A, this sets up the false sides of mother against baby. A baby has the same rights as the mother. An egg is not a chicken. A fetus is not a baby. Besides a sperm and an egg are just as alive and to prevent them from uniting stops the birth process just as definitly as an abortion.
The state, the bible, and human understanding is that human life, with all the rights of personhood, begins at birth. That is when the law reconizes personhood and when we start the age process.
Abortion is when the pregnancy is terminated be it volunatary or involuntary (miscarriage). When it's a miscarriage we say it is God's will. Why is it not God's will when a woman chooses to do terminate an unwanted pregnancy? If a woman is forced to carry to term the product of rape or incest then we side against the victim. Since there are good health reasons for terminating a pregnancy these too might be considered God's will. Let's ask God?
Abortion is a medical issue and should not be a matter of political debate. The politics of life ought to involve the protection of the rights of the living.
Futher, life begins in the mind of God and when we draw the line at conception we take God out of it. We say we are in control. This leads to injustice for the living. It devalues human life.

Tell Us Your Story How do you think through the moral and spiritual aspects of abortion? What would you genuinely like to understand about the perspective of people who feel differently? What would you like them to understand about you? If the phrases "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are limiting and polarizing, can you imagine new frames of reference for new and better conversations? * Here is my answer: No. Innocent human life has an absolute value, as the Church fathers taught since the beginning. Those who have violated the moral law can be healed, as I have of related sins, but only through repentance which is the opening of the door to Divine Mercy. Abortionists,their victims, and "pro-choice advocates" like P.Parenthood people need both affirming love emotionally (see books of Conrad Baars, M.D.), and affirming love intellectually (Catholic teaching) and the Sacraments to regain their integrity. This polarity cannot be defeated by any suggestions of subjectivistic thinking. There's no mental trick, anthropological "discovery", or compromise formula to get us out of this culture war we are in. Human dignity is too central to human destiny for that. Good thinking will help, yes, but not based on subjectivism. (It must be a moral and religious absolutism:affirming the absolute value of all humans in God’s sight). In fact, this polarization you are discussing--God (and us, His image) vs. subjectivism--is there until the end of time. That's why the Book of Revelation is described in such potent, dramatic terms. Life is the battle of the infinity of Divine Mercy for rebellious human souls till the very end. Contraception (also condemned by the fathers and even railed against by the reformers) and abortion—as well as sexual modesty and chastity--seem particularly at the center of this battle.

Abortion is a tragic, wrenching and ultimately psychically devastating reality of our contemporary time and place. In all truth, as I write it is hard for me to not feel tears rolling down both my inside and out because for me the fact that our age deems abortion necessary (whether it remains legal or not) is not the province of only Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, Christians or non-Christians. Abortion's necessity in our time and place is the province of a country that will not do the hard work to determine why any woman is compelled to the truly awful state of having to make such a decision in the first place. What is the greater social and cultural reality of a country that assures any woman who chooses to abort a baby of 1.) the fact that she cannot adequately care for the child and 2.) her country will do very little if anything to aid her to that end to begin with. When we debate abortion why do we simply talk about pro-life and pro-choice? Why do we not also talk about the fact that many women have to fight to get a reasonable/if any leave of absence to have a baby from their place of employment and that when they get it, maternity leave is very often called a "medical leave" or "sick leave?" Why do we not talk of the abysmal wage compensation for child care workers? Why do we not talk of the fact that there is very little, truly excellent child care and when it is present such care is often prohibitively expensive save for the upper middle class? Perhaps our country really needs to examine the value it places on the life of its children once they are born, the value it places on the role of "mother" within our society, and the ability of woman to actually practically (as in feeding and clothing and protecting)enact that role. I find it offensive that the political and religious spheres have so debased the fuller implications of these issues-- turning abortion into a battleground of party affiliation and quantification of religious belief--because to me it all seems to be further indication of a deep-seeded refusal to confront the darker reality of what and who we really value, and who we patently do not.

When I was 23 y.o. I became pregnant and had an abortion. 20 years later I'm not sure that I would make the same choice at this point in my life-but all things considered I would have made the same choice under the same circumstances at that time. Therefore I cannot in good conscience deny any other woman the same "choice".

None of us know what brings a person to a decision that she must make. What is definitely need is more compassion and kindness and less blame and judgement. It helped me at the time-without it things could have been much worse.

I agree that the long used phrases of "pro-choice' and "pro-life" are misleading, misused and misunderstood. Though I tend to be aligned with the pro-life position philosophically, I refuse to justify it as my only reason for voting for a candidate -- and I resent religions who insist that their congregants do. While I deplore abortion I find myself almost secretly glad to see women take more responsibility for their reproductive health. I may intellectually be defined as pro-life, but emotionally pulled in another direction. Could it be that other women have such conflicting feelings? If so, isn't there more hope for understanding each other's positions?

My fundamental assumption about abortion is that it is the taking of innocent human life and is consequently never defensible. I am a pacifist and any kind of violence is abhorrence, but most especially lethal violence against an innocent person. I believe in the "Consistent Life Ethic" - a morality that excludes abortion, capital punishment, economic injustice, euthanasia, and war - and I also believe that violence done against another is violence done against the self.

One thing that I cannot understand about the public discussion of abortion is the argument in favor of abortion in the cases of rape. If you think that abortion is simply a personal choice to have a medical procedure, rape would be immaterial. A woman would just have an abortion at her own discretion, irrespective of how that pregnancy came about in the first place. If you think that abortion is the murder of a person, why would it be okay to murder a person who is the product of rape? It would certainly be a very difficult thing to bring that child to term, but would that justify murder?

Those who are pro-choice and pro-life need to understand that the others believe in their positions as fervently as they do and both sides should assume charity on the part of the other. I have heard those who are pro-choice use slanderous terminology toward my point of view (e.g. labeling me "anti-choice") and making broad and ignorant assumptions about my religious beliefs and whether or not I want to oppress women. I can understand that those who disagree with me believe in their convictions deeply and are not necessarily persons of bad faith; I would appreciate reciprocity. Also, both of these camps need to understand how the other frames the debate so they are not talking past one another: as I understand it, pro-lifers are primarily concerned with taking innocent human life; pro-choicers are primarily concerned with continuing women's liberation and personal autonomy.

I think that liberals have tried to undermine the terms pro-choice and pro-life because of the obvious implications - the "other guy" is anti-choice or anti-life. While it's noble to try to challenge these implicit problems, it's also a fool's errand. These terms are not going away and really, we need to just accept them for what they are: they are a badge of pride to those who use them and essentially a political slur for the others. It's best to keep on using those terms, as any new coinages will only encourage more new slurs and momentarily derail any substantive discussion to a semantic debate or a semantic shouting match. For better or worse, these are the words we have and no alternative is going to be better.

In closing, I would also like to point out that the argument from ignorance is clearly on the pro-life side. If we don't or can't know when personhood begins, we surely must err on the side of protecting innocent human life. This is the same assumption that is embedded in our legal system: innocent until proven guilty. Pro-lifers also need to stop combating abortion by assuming that illegalizing it will just make the problem go away. They need to provide the services to induce women to not want them in the first place as well as try to convince women of the reality that abortion is murder. Many women simply will not believe that and amongst those who do, they might still sanction the procedure (e.g. Naomi Wolf "Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die.") The position of many vocal pro-lifers is essentially a ham-fisted fundamentalism that requires the government to be a blunt instrument that enforces their morality and for each individual to accept a large amount of assumptions. This is wrong-headed on a variety of levels.

I grew up in the Catholic church and was taught that abortion was wrong. As an adult, however, I would feel more comfortable holding a pro-life political stance if I knew that our society worked diligently to protect a child's development after birth as well as before birth. It is government's responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We need adequate health care, social services, and education for every child in America. Until our government can prove that it has done everything in its power to give these securities to children, I am unsettled by the idea of restricting a woman's right to choose.

I believe that at our core, all humans are moral beings who do not wish to limit life in any way. Terminating a pregnancy is not a choice that one would make in favorable circumstances. However, for many women, there is great fear surrounding the thought of bringing a child into the world. I think that many women who decide to have an abortion are afraid of being alone or overwhelmed as a parent, or of being in an environment that will have significant negative impacts on their child's development. If this is true, then we need to be doing more, both as a nation and in our communities, to ensure women that we will act as a collective to help support our next generation.

Abortion is not an illness to be addressed; it is a symptom. When we solve the underlying issues behind abortion, we will no longer have tension-filled, partisan debates, because there will no longer be an issue to argue about.

It may be my European background, but I believe the debate about abortion in this country is driven entirely too much by religion. That would not even be so terrible if we had equal access to health care for everybody, but we clearly don't, and now there's a movement afoot that wants to "protect" health care workers from being forced to provide care that may not jibe with their religious beliefs. There used to be a bumper sticker that said it far better than I can: "Keep your rosaries out of my ovaries!" I don't care what anybody chooses to believe, but I do care that they are trying to force their world view upon the rest of us. So until we have universal health care, abortions should be available upon demand to all women, with a sliding fee scale so that the poorest are not excluded.

If the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, shouldn't we start with making sure pregnant women have health insurance and health care? Then, maybe we should talk about health care and nutrition for the baby when it's born. Day care, education, parenting classes, etc., all should be taken into account. I think there are a lot of ways to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. if "pro-life" people would be willing to compromise.

A few years back I realized that if a person believes abortion is morally wrong that they probably are obligated to try and change the laws and policies associated with it. I respect civic action based on strongly held personal beliefs. However, in my world the people are more nuanced and less strident. I have had so many interesting discussions with women about abortion. Our opinions and conclusions are hard won but gently held; representing an uneasy truce among antipodal ideas.

The conversation about abortion, sex, and public funds is not improved by intellectual argument or debate. The context of a situation does matter. This is a heartfelt issue that cannot be "solved" as a problem and then dismissed. It is something our society should not rest easy with. The choices at the individual level are painful and never easy even when they are clear, therefore, it should not be easy at the public policy level either. That said, I am very sorry that the pain of the individual has been worsened by the public debate.

I wish we could offer each other the kindness of respectful listening. I wish it could be taken out of the public debate. I am very tired of this issue driving so much of our political system. It does not feel authentic or balanced. I do not think it is more important than war, greed, our relationship with the natural world, education or health care. I wish we could take all the money spent on abortion politics and create a fund that would be available to allow those women who believe they need abortions to be able to get them. Similarly, those who believe that adoption and support of children is right should set up a real safety net and a practical option for women who are in need. Let us replace the disapproval and anger of male politicians with the energy of kind solutions in hard times.

I worry about the apparent increasing insensitivity of large numbers of people in our society (although certainly not limited to our society, or even Western society) to the wonder and mystery of life -- all life, but in particular human life. But even assuming this awesome and unfathomable quality of human life does not lead one to easy answers on the question of abortion.

It is just as arbitrary, and therefore arrogant, to assume that meaningful life does not begin until the final trimester of embryonic development as it is to assume that it begins with conception. Those who maintain that we must respect the wonder and value of life as early as conception may offer, quite rightly, as their rationale that the very potential for two united cells to develop into the fullness of a human being gives us reason to regard as awesome and wondrous even life at this very early stage. Those who suggest that it is at some later stage in embryonic development, where potential becomes significantly realized and, therefore, demonstrable, and is where respect for life as human and, hence, significantly meaningful, also present a plausible argument.

However, both positions rest upon an essentially arbitrary understanding of what can rightly be regarded as 'meaningful' life, and therefore deserving of the moral or -- even more complex -- legal protections of society. This can only lead to the conclusion that we, as mere moral and finite human beings, are not given and -- by the ultimately unanswerable nature of the issues involved -- shall never be able to answer this question.

The implication, then, of this 'agnosticism', of our recognition that we are not able to determine at what point life becomes truly significant, or 'human', is that we must approach life in its early stages with an attitude of giving it the 'benefit' of our doubts. Although this throws the weight of the argument in favor of those who would accord reverence and human significance to the simple cellular union at conception, it does not share the dogmatic and arrogant 'certainty' of most who assert the same conclusion.

This more respectfully cautious conclusion shows more respect to those who differ, assuming the latter recognize the contingency of their own position. And those who hold either position on the abortion question -- that is, the question of "At what point are we morally obligated to regard life as truly human and therefore deserving of protection?" -- should realize that one's answer to this question does not immediately solve the question of when it is permissible to abort, much less the question of when legal sanctions should be invoked to enforce the protection of 'meaningful' life, or to punish infringements of this protection.

Here one has to consider the very difficult question of "Life vis a vis life" -- e.g., the protection of the life of the mother or the life of the unborn child?, where both cannot be assured. In this circumstance, perhaps we must conclude that only the mother can decide. For anyone else -- and certainly the state -- there can be no morally 'right' answer. Far more complex are questions that weigh such matters as quality of life, whether it be the future quality of life of the mother or the future quality of life of the child. 'Complex', because we have no easy answers in regard to what kind of qualitative factors are morally worthy of our consideration, and how to rank one worthy quality relative to another when they come into conflict. This is where convenience has too often been confused with 'quality', particularly by those who argue, without qualification, for 'abortion on demand.' 'Complex', also because there are many different circumstances in which the expectant mother, and sometimes society, must weigh the issues. Therefore, being neither expectant nor a female who might become expectant, I must open the discussion at this point to others more qualified.

Beyond this, the only other requisite qualification, but an extraordinarily important one, to my thinking, for entering into this extremely important discussion, is that the participants be those who have what, I think we can say, IS a distinctly human quality: a profound sense of true mystery and wonderment in regard to all life, and particularly human life.

She has emerald green almond shaped eyes – a gorgeous middle school cheerleader that’s also a devoted science student. She never shares a negative word – never a negative thought… And her younger sister, tall and strong with over-sized chestnut eyes and expressive brows. She’s possibly the best swimmer for her age in the state – and has superlative leadership and organizational skills. And she’s devoted to her brother. He is only five years old. But he already shows a prodigious ability to win over people. He’s the little Irish-looking boy that marches onto the playground and immediately develops rapport and relationships with any one and every one, ages 2-20. He stumbled into what looked like a black family’s union at the park the other day – and after a couple of gentle rebuffs, he finally succeeded in tempting several of those kids to play on his terms.

These are my children. Even as young people, each has demonstrated special skills and passions that our society will need to survive. Each could literally be responsible for the scientific or athletic or political breakthrough that could save our world from the brink of destruction.

And all were candidates for abortion. My wife and I adopted each from different birth parents and through different circumstances.

I don’t argue technically & esoterically about when life begins. I just know that without them, the world would be a lesser place. Of the million abortions each year in the US, how many of those could have contributed to a better world – but won’t get the chance?

I am a Catholic nun who has ministered to people who either have had an abortion or close to someone who has.I have worked with women who are in abusive situations that would only worsen with another child. I have worked with families whose marriages are on the brink and another child woould collapse it. I have had to think and pray over the issue. I think abortion is a terrible solution to a human problem and a woman lives with it all her life- even if it is just thoughts of- that child would be 12 now, or ready for marriage. I do not go with the thinking that a soul is present at the moment of conception.I do think it is reasonable to think that little form at 3+ months is a human life. Every seed that is planted does not have to germinate to breathing life. Though all life forms are precious and should not arbitrarily be expended. I think calling this pro choice and pro life does not begin to identify the issue. I am pro life AND pro choice. I want all life placed in our hands to be treated with respect, dignity and the supports needed to not just survice but thrive. It is too easy for my own church(and others as well) to tell its congregation not to vote for anyone who supports pro choice- then in direct or indirect ways promote war and ongoing war, not call to account congregations to support legistlation and local programs that help support the lives who are born- young, elderly infirm, handicapped, and oppressed-to be strong and viable; not to recognize and put our name and votes down on our responsibility to be good caretakers of our world; to be our brothers keeper when people are being murdered by the thousands in other parts of the world; to remove the death penalty and work toward a prison reform that addresses racism and rehabilitation support congregations that vote down be wholesome. There is the whole to be uplifted not just a frament. And I think people of faith have an obligation to put their minds and spirit to the whole issue, to ensuring practical ways that all life and all of life can be respected and supported. For all this I do not want a woman jailed or punished( of course her cosort would rarely be indicted)should she seek an abortion. I would want that there be so many supports and resources and alternatives available ( and well known) that a woman would not have to make a choice between the life of her baby and her own survical and wellbeing. Should she have an abortion I would like to see healing clinics to help her and her partners grow on with their lives in a wholesome way.

Many years ago a dear friend and I who agree on much but have diametrically opposed views on abortion, initiated and co-facilitated a Commmon Ground on Abortion group. We tried to have equal numbers of people who did not, and did support legal abortion. The group continued for perhaps 2.5 years, with some attrition, but always interesting discussions.

The goal was for people to be able to speak their views without being attacked or even judged by others, and to move into topics where we would seek to find areas of agreement. This proved to be very difficult in a number of ways. Some people could not stick to the rules that we not pass judgment on another's views, and we often found far more areas of disagreement than agreement.

It was good for people to see that not everyone "on the other side" or on one's own side was the same; there was diversity of views and in how we got to our views on each side.

We had one notable public success; shortly after Dr. Bernard Slepian, an abortion provider, was shot and killed while standing in his kitchen by a sharpshooter some distance from the house shooting through the window, we wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, noting that though we disagreed on abortion, we all agreed that violence of any kind, most especially hurting/killing people was wrong and not the way to deal with the explosive issue of abortion.

As for labels, I would let people define their views, and try to minimize the use of short-hand phrases such as pro-life and pro-choice. The media were key in moving the nation to those simplified labels and I wish they could be part of a less inflammatory reporting and presenting of views.

I don't think we are going to get to agreement on this issue, so we need to figure out a way, in our own lives, in our laws and in health care practice, and assistance to pregnant women and new parents, to allow for some midground. Many European countries have moved to one strategy which is to promote and provide for very early abortion, but make later abortions harder, and to make sure that people understand the important role of contraception and have access to safe, legal ways to prevent pregnancy.

I am very involved in my church and my views on abortion have always been very much linked to my religious/spiritual views and my values, and my hopes for a world that is better than the one we now inhabit, so I hope the issue of abortion will not continue to be seen and approached in divisive, simplistic ways. We need also to discuss the many other issues which influence situations where abortion is sought. Ideas about sexuality, about how children are provided for and on shrinking gendered division of labor, adn media role in encouraging sexual objectification of women and irresponsible sexuality are some of the topics that we need public conversations on.

It seems that the issue of abortion has been made a pawn in the game of conservatives without the concommittant compassion that should be a part of every Christian's life. The Supreme Court's careful balancing of the rights of the woman and the rights of the fetus has been glossed over in an effort to paint the decision as simply "legalizing abortion." I wonder how many Christians have even read the decision?

My husband and I were forced to make a heart-wrenching choice. We had a baby who had microcephaly, and who died at 14 months. When we finally gained the courage to try again, and I became pregnant, we rejoiced until the devastating news that the fetus had another chromosomal defect that would be fatal. The baby would either be stillborn or die in its first year. How could we go through that experience again, and how could it be "Christian" to force us and our extended family to bear that pain? We had both suffered major depression after our son died. We are Christians. We consulted with our Christian doctor, our Episcopal priest, and our consciences. I had a second-trimester abortion which required hospitalization. We grieved that loss, and had a private ceremony and mass with our priest. We surrendered the soul of that fetus back to God.

How dare someone else tell me that we should not have made that decision! That abortion should not be legal and safe for another woman who is placed in a similar position? That a youth who is raped by her father ought to bear that child and be reminded of that horror for the rest of her life? There simply is not a way to legislate these difficult issues and it is simply not the place of government to do so. Roe v. Wade is the best balance of rights and even the more conservative Court in recent years has reaffirmed that balance. I think the formulation "abortion should be safe, legal and rare" is correct. I do not think it is a decision that should be made lightly, but the fact is that women who feel so strongly that they do not want to go through with a pregnancy have attempted to kill fetuses by any means whether safe or not in the past, many have killed themselves in the process,and they will continue to do so if denied a legal abortion. This is a serious health risk for them, and who are we to say that they should be denied a safe and sanitary procedure?

Because the Christian "right" has co-opted Christianity, I no longer attend a Christian church. I belong to the Unitarian Universalist congregation, which recognizes the validity of different religious traditions.

Although I believe that the abortion issue should be a personal decision between the woman and her partner, and my personal decision would have been to have the child (but I used contraception, never got pregnant and never tried to, and my 2 children are adopted), I have a problem with the larger issue of what being "pro-life" should mean. If one is "pro-life", then to me that means one should fight just as hard if not harder for life for human beings already born, like the elderly, as for unborn fetuses. However, I do not see that happening. To me that is hypocritical. Also, I have not seen the vast majority of "pro-life" people step up to the task of helping to care for those children they insist should be born. How many of them would be willing to adopt these children they want to legislate into being? What is supposed to happen to those children? What kind of life would these children end up with, and what kind do they deserve? All human beings are made in the divine image of God, and all deserve the same chance to develop their uniquely human creativity. It is hard to do that when you have to scramble for your next meal, or a safe place to sleep.

Krista, et al., All of the abortion debate seems to center around a definition of when life begins. That is an interesting distraction. Why do I say distraction? Simply because a lot of things are alive, my plants are alive, my cats are alive, every cell in my body (with the technical exception of my nails and hair) are alive. Does being pro life mean that I murder plants when I eat a tomato? Is having my appendix removed and act of murder? The reality is that what we are asking for is a definition of "Human Life." Theologians have wrestled with this for a long time and the first know treatise on this topic was written by St. Augustine. To Augustinian theology an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy would constitute adultery, not murder because he did not consider a fetus at that stage of development to be human -- potentially human, but not fully human. The reality, known by just about every couple trying to have a child, is that few fertilized eggs actually implant in the uterus, and of those not all make it to full term and birth. Left to the natural state of human fertility fully human life is not as simple as having an egg fertilized by sperm. Now we enter into the realm of intent. Do the people who created the child actually want the child? There is a presumption that they do, but there are a lot of unwanted children in this world -- I know because I am one of them. Yes, my parents saw me through to birth and beyond but I was often told that I was both unplanned and unwanted and a burden to them. More often than not in the phrase "I'll make you wish you were never born." Sixty plus years later there is rarely a day when I do not realize that perhaps they were right and I should not have been born. The other consideration is that many pregnancies are involuntary not simply because of recreational sex, but of coercive sex or rape/incest. Are these fertilized eggs to become humans just because the egg was fertilized even though the child is a product of and involuntary situation that happened to the mother? I do not support abortion as a method of birth control, but I do support it if the mother does not want to bring the fertilized egg into the state being fully human. Largely because there will always be a lingering displeasure with the person formed from this ill-conceived union. Finally, there is a cure to the unwanted pregnancy: Economic opportunity for both women and men. Look at the fertility rates in Japan and Singapore where there is boundless opportunity to women and men based on the education and economies available to them. In these countries fertility rates are less than one to one. George N. Wells 166 Brook Drive Dover, NJ 07801-4705 973.361.1776 (Home) 973.270.8135 (Cell) teamwells1@verizon.net

Comments on abortion

As I listened to your request for comments on abortion this morning, Saturday Oct 4, I am motivated to respond to tell how the many women in my life: grandmothers, mothers, aunts, my intersection with pregnancy, my peers in high school, my adult friends, and over the last six months my nephews’ choices.

My simple comment on how abortion intersects, has intersected my life is that it appears any possible termination of pregnancy is always present when a women is with child. In most cases the loss of a child, no matter what case, follows the arc of a pregnancy until a child is born or lost.

For me the current political debate on what abortion is or is not is Abstract, not real. I greatly appreciated President Clinton’s framing abortion as (and I paraphrase here) something that should be infrequent. Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama have kept this goal in their comments on abortion too. And when I talk with my family and friends who don’t support abortion I turn to Clinton’s axiom. This is where we can agree: keeping unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place. We also agree that all of our goals on abortion should be supporting the decline of aborted pregnancies. (Character building and self-knowledge along with education is how we can achieve this goal.)

If all of us would seek out women’s stories on their intersections of choice throughout the 20th century I think our understandings and conclusions on this reality in women’s and men’s lives would point us to: every choice is personal and private based on their specific situation. (I support a women’s right to choose based on keeping medical choices available as they are needed. Legislating medical treatments/procedures is just wrong-headed.)

The apparent absence of women’s stories, of their personal intersections with choice, in the political dialog is the problem. But I also know that the private, these private experiences, don’t belong in political discourse. Ultimately, can we conclude that the conversations on the right to life, the right to choose should occur more closely to home and not be politicized?

After setting out this preamble, I was going to proceed with stories of my intersections with abortion choices, but now I realize it is unimportant to tell my specific education. The point is that I am better educated by knowing that unwanted pregnancies occur and in hearing of my friends and families experiences with this reality helped me appreciate the biggest possible picture of what this issue is. Unwanted pregnancies are apart of most family histories and should be shared– I believe this how character is developed. It is important for the young to hear and be witness to all moral challenges– and what better witness and teacher than one’s family.

I am a pro choice Christian Democrat. I see abortion as a symptom of a problem, just as I see the use of the death penalty as a symptom, as I see the wars we are involved in as a symptom. The virus is poverty. This belief coincides perfectly with my understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach us. If you take care of the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, the symptoms will disappear. You treat the VIRUS not the symptoms. When someone speaks of the right to choose, they ASSUME there is a choice to be made. A woman with no money, health care, or support sometimes feels she doesn't have a choice. Sara Palin's daughter has a choice because she comes from a supportive, wonderful family. What about the girl in the inner city who has a poor education, and comes from a family with no education and so on? Where are her choices? The immorality lies with the condemnation of people in whose shoes you have not walked. The spirituality and redemption comes with the education, the spiritual awakening of someone who has the choice and can make the right one, because her bases are covered.

I understand the people who feel differently, I really do. I only question the intent of a political party who trolls out the abortion and gay rights issues every four years and then, alas, does nothing about it. I see the issue as a political ploy.

Others don't need to understand me for me to feel comfortable in my position. I say the things I say out of love. Love for those who agree, and those who disagree.

I tend to dislike labels but feel they are sometimes necessary. I do not, however, think that pro life or pro choice actually describe the issue. The pro life movement EXCLUDES the rights of the LIVING and the pro choice movement ASSUMES a choice. They are both wrong.

Fully embracing a woman's right to choose, I wonder where the men are in this conversation.

We do not make ourselves pregnant, yet the burden of abortion is exclusively female. Shouldn't men somehow be 'morally' involved in this debate?

I suspect the reason for this is partially within the culture practice of 'blaming' the woman, expecting her to live to a higher moral standard, and excusing men from their behavior due to their cultural power and also because culturally we allow 'boys to be boys'.

I also wonder, however, if just as much as men view women as either 'Madonna' or 'whore', women see men as either 'abuser' or 'savior', with no middle ground. And I believe solutions / answers are quite often found in this middle ground.

Thank you for your thought provoking dialogues. My life has been greatly enhanced since I discovered your program. I organize forums for non-profits and quite often look to your programs for assistance with respect to structure, forming questions, and a standard of excellence.

about the show on abortion. you wanted new perspectives. I would like to suggest that any discussion of the termination of a life in utero, whenever it starts, be coupled with the death penalty question. A life is a life. Once any exception is made [heinous murder, suicide, war, ["collateral damage" = "fetus as an innocent" arguement, doesnt it?], insurance decision to not pay for life sustaining medication/procedure, etc, etc], then everything is open for examonation. Hmmm. Why havent those that are Pro-life been vocal about protesting ANY lose of innocent life? Unless white, Christian embryos are more important than all other innocents. Just some thoughts

When I hear those who oppose abortion expressing themselves with such force and confidence, I wonder what they know about the lives of the women they are condemning. I spent yesterday volunteering as a chaplain in the recovery room of a Planned Parenthood clinic. I don't think I met a single woman there who did not see her abortion as a life-changing experience. Many women were there because they were physically unable to bear another child due to high blood pressure, spinal deformities, and other issues which made childbearing against their doctor's orders. There were a lot of tears, and a lot of faithful Catholic women praying that their priests would be able to help them heal from this experience.

After women leave the recovery room, they have a family planning consultation to help make sure they do not have another unwanted pregnancy. Only 5% of Planned Parenthood's work involves abortion. The other 95% is directed toward family planning and women's reproductive health. The goal is to reduce the need for abortions to zero. We can all pray that this goal is achieved.

It would be helpful if the federal government would join us in this work, instead of limiting federal funding to abstinence-only sex education, which has proved to be a remarkable failure and a waste of funds that could have been better spent to reduce the need for abortions.

I would like to see us abandon the polarizing phrases pro-life and pro-choice. Instead, how about using a phrase we can all agree on: pro-family. This would include all aspects of nurturing and sustaining families, instead of focusing only on the abortion issue, which is a small part of the total picture, and a great distraction from what could be a productive discourse.

I respect the intention to connect and consider the unborn; but ultimately, it is the decision of the mother to nurture the fetus or not. The debate does not recognize the magnamity of being a parent nor does it respect the needs of the mother which have to drive the decision nurture or not. No mother makes that decision lightly: it is agonizing and it has dire repercussions for the future of that woman.

I want to understand why the "pro-life" movements thinks that society has a collective right to override a woman's decision on such an intimate and life-altering decision. The way I see it, government legislation over fertility sets dangerous precedents in family planning issues like access to procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligation and in end-of-life care issues such as DNR orders.

Why should government be so involved in these kinds deeply personal health and family issues?

I grew up with no information about birth control and with a deep need for the love and protection I didn't get from my father. I am deeply familiar with the kinds of emotional needs that drive women to make poor choices in intimacy. At 23, I was still not using birth control, and became pregnant. Deeply depressed and alone in my life, I chose to have an abortion. The clinic visit for the abortion was the first time I had any comprehensive review of birth control options, and I went on the pill.

At 20, I was raped by the uncle of a friend in a foreign country; I did not go to the police. Fortunately, I did not become pregnant. I simply cannot fathom a society that would force a woman to have a baby originating in a rape or incestuous relation.

I think that human sexuality is a complex issue, that there are so many intricate factors that play into whether a woman has an unplanned pregnancy. I believe that the conversation should shift to policies that lessen unplanned pregnancy. Men should be included in the discussion. Centering the conversation on abortion criminalizes a women's role in sexuality. And in criminalizing that role, we are left with an environment in which it's okay to kill doctors who perform this procedure, in which women don't feel safe sharing their stories, and which doesn't look at the very depressing statistics of women raising children alone.

Two in five women have had an abortion. It's a open secret and those of us who have had abortions don't talk about them and can't talk about them. The frame of reference should include privacy, whether women have a right to own their uteruses or whether the government gets to legislate that. It should also include the impact on women's equality - unless women can control their family planning, they can't achieve economic and social equality.

I am a practicing Buddhist. I do not believe that life begins at conception. And I believe that this decision is for the individual who will have to answer for whatever karma derives from abortion.

Thanks for opening this dialogue. I am 47 now, and I am raising two children alone. Being a parent has compelled me to do a lot of healing work to be a better parent. But I have resources most don't have.

I am perplexed as to why the pro-life movement never voices an interest in protecting the life of death row inmates and victims of war. I have trouble trusting the motives of people who only seem to be interested in protecting life when it relates to abortion.

It also seems like some representatives of the pro-life movement would also like to limit women's access to birth control, and I'm not talking about the morning after pill. There was a Frontline a few years ago on the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. By their account reduced access to abortion in Mississippi has lead to reduced access to affordable birth control and has resulted in even more unwanted pregnancies. I am sure increases in the number of woman and children living in poverty are so to follow.

Abstinence only sex education is another policy that increases the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I am a Buddhist, pro-choice, RN, mother of 4, democrat who would like to see fewer abortions and more limits on late term abortions. I would especially like to continue living in a country where you rarely hear about a desperate woman dieing from a botched abortion.

I was interested to discover in my Buddhist studies that there was a period in the largely Buddhist nation of Japan's history when access to birth control was very limited despite it's availability in the west. This resulted in many Japanese women using abortion as their primary form of birth control. Buddhist often feel uncomfortable killing bugs so I imagine this caused some ethical anxiety. The practical issues of unwanted pregnancies must have out weighed the ethical concerns. They seem to have dealt with this in an interesting way. Jizo (the Bodhisattva of the unborn, travelers and children who have died) is very popular in Japan. Japanese woman often participate in Jizo ceremonies to honor and ask for assistance for the souls of their water children who were lost to abortion.

I prefer to use the term anti-abortion instead of pro-life. As I explained before, there are more situations where life is in need of protection than just abortion.

My great-aunt Nellie died from abortion-induced peritonitis in 1913. My grandmother told me this when I was 19. She also told me that in 1925 she - my grandmother - became pregnant with her 4th child, my mother. My grandmother was a busy grocery store owner. In the Roaring Twenties women were feeling their independence and their rights. All her friends, she said, urged her to have an abortion. There was no mention of sin (she was Catholic), only decisions to be made. My grandmother remembered her beloved Nellie and was scared to die... so she went ahead... my mother was born... and I am here.

Later I got the transcript of the coroners inquest for Nellie's "homicide": http://www.madinpursuit.com/Family/Barrett/FlanaganNellie02.htm. It's a chilling tale and my heart aches for Nellie's last desperate hours. But the rippling of her story through my history gives me more questions than conclusions. It reminds me that life is fabulously complex and decisions echo wondrously through history.

i strongly believe that the language of used concerning this matter, by you, by others who i thought were more thoughtful, more progressive, helps in keeping this a polarizing issue.

this is and always has been a matter of privacy. period. dot. the end.

even moving from 'anti abortion' and 'pro-life' (we now have a self proclaimed pro life candidate for VP who is not pro moose life, or pro wolf life) to 'anti-choice' is not going to get where we need to go. continuing to use 'anti abortion' leaves no room for someone who may have chosen abortion and doesn't consider it an easy choice.

regarding your questions about moral and spiritual aspects - another matter of privacy and choice concerning a vast array of circumstances that must be made case by case by individuals - is one prepared emotionally, physically, logistically, healthwise, financially to care for and support in every way another human? what is the likely outcome for everyone involved? that something no one but the people directly involved can answer.

thank god the state i was living in when i was a pregnant teen was more progressive than most since roe v. wade had not yet come about. My state had a constitutional right to protect the health (mental and physical) and welfare of the mother. and thank god i had parents who knew how to support the decision of a scared and confused child.

unless and until journalists and politicians as well as anyone who wants to have a thoughtful and intelligent conversation about this begins speaking about PRIVACY, the polarization and vehemence and divisiveness will remain.

Thank you for having such a wonderful program with fabulous guests. I look forward to it every week and always learn from it.

I enjoy listening to your program on WAMU Sunday mornings. I come from the liberal end of the spectrum. I can not believe that the monks in South East Asia are not people of God and so I find any religion that holds that you have to believe in Jesus are destined to eternal damnation. So I like hearing the exploration of other religious traditions. In this morning’s program you asked us to share our beliefs about abortion. I have long been frustrated about how limited the debate has been. I understand that in the Jewish tradition they do not have a conflict between the commandment not to kill and early abortions and that is the position that I can support. I find it much more difficult to square the commandment with capital punishment or, more importantly still – the Bush administration’s concept of preemptive war. I believe life begins at conception, but human life does not. I do not believe that a zygote of human cells is human. Until the sole enters the body human cells do not constitute a human being. The question is when does a collection of human cells constitute a human being? Perhaps the definition of the beginning of human life should be the same as the end of human life – when organized brain activity begins. Certainly that could not occur until brain cells have differentiated from other cells, so stem cells by definition would not be human beings. It occurs before birth since late term fetuses respond to music and other external stimulations. The beginning of brain activity depends on the fetus; some fetuses are born without a fully developed brain. Because of these differences and the health of the mother and child, it should be up to the doctor and the mother to decide whether a fetus should be aborted or not. Government should be involved.

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Voices on the Radio

is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and served as the president of Catholics for Choice until her retirement in 2007.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Managing Producer: Kate Moos

Associate Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer: Shubha Bala

Associate Producer: Susan Leem

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

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Funding provided in part by the Nour Foundation.