When I am asked my views on abortion I always reply, “I am pro-choice and pro-life.” It certainly produces puzzled looks from my interlocutors, but I think this paradoxical place is where most of society comes down on this contentious issue.
I am pro-choice in the fact that I believe, with every fiber of my being, that a woman has a right to choose what she does with her body. I fully believe that no government, and especially no religion, has the right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body.
I am pro-life, however, in the fact that if it ever came down to brass tacks and I had to make a choice, I don’t believe I could choose to abort. Even if I became pregnant because of a rape? I’m really not sure. It’s certainly not the child’s fault that they came into being through an act of violence. If I really thought the child would be an unbearable reminder of that horrible event, I would like to believe that I would still have the child and give him or her up for adoption.
My only true conundrum would come if my life were in danger. I think, in that instance, I would terminate the pregnancy – but only after much anguish over the choice.
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I have the luxury of this hypothetical exercise because 36 years ago, the Supreme Court made a historic ruling in a case known as Roe v. Wade.
[The] Supreme Court ruled that the relationship between a woman and her doctor was a private affair, not subject to governmental interference. Written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the ruling declared that the guarantee of liberty in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends a right to privacy “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
Blackmun left room for individual states to regulate the practice of abortion, which abortion foes have been exploiting ever since, passing laws against late-term abortions, imposing parental consent for minors, or requiring counseling, or ultrasound procedures before approving an abortion.
Anti-abortion activists make appeals to both religion and science to justify their goal of turning back the clock on Roe v. Wade. Though the Bible never speaks explicitly about the sinfulness of ending a pregnancy, those who oppose abortion will quote such passages as Matthew 10:30 that assures us that God knows us so well that all the hairs on our heads are counted. They also use the beautiful words of Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations,” which, in context, refers only to Jeremiah himself. Psalm 139:13 is also a favorite: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” which, again, is the psalmist’s personal poem to God and not a universal declaration. The scientific battle over whether life begins at conception or at birth continues unabated, but the viability of the fetus outside of the womb seems to win when all is said and done.
With such weak arguments against abortion, though loudly and constantly made by the religious right, there must certainly be a deeper reason for the veracity of the passion on the anti-abortion side. I believe the answer lies in misogyny. History has witnessed how men have tried to control women – owning them as property, withholding basic human rights and even the right to vote. As the “weaker sex” women were to be protected from the big, bad world – and especially protected from themselves. Giving them ultimate control over their bodies would mean total anarchy. The act of denying the right to abortion is yet another act of misogyny – showing little concern for the woman’s independence, quality of life, or well-being.
However, between the two extremes of virulently pro- or anti- abortion factions fall many people like me. Thankfully, I’ve never been faced with the agonizing decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. A poll taken last September by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal revealed the deep struggle Americans have over this issue. Forty-nine percent said abortion should be legal either all or most of the time while 47 percent believe abortion should be illegal with few or no exceptions. The majority then, 61 percent, struggle in that paradoxical area where they believe in choice with some restrictions or no choice with a few exceptions. No matter what camp we might declare ourselves in, most of us agree that abortion is never a decision to be taken lightly or made without heart-wrenching thought and prayer.
On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is this small patch of common ground that should be our focus. Let us continue to struggle together to meet both the needs and desires of the mother, as well as keep in mind what will be best for the new life that hangs in the balance.
Cross-posted from Religion Dispatches