Saturday, February 1, 2003

On Abortion

It was on the 30th anniversary of Roe v Wade--January 22, 2003--that I learned that the three previous Republican administrations “bravely” made telephone calls to the Pro-Life demonstrators that meet in front of the Supreme Court on the anniversary date of that landmark decision every year. The declared Democratic presidential candidates, as well as other Democratic leaders, took the opportunity to reaffirm their agreement with the "Pro-choice" position in public forums.

The Abortion debate seems to bring out the most extreme views on both sides of the issue. I’m not fond of extremists. Anyone who sits on the extreme end of any issue or philosophy makes me nervous. Fundamentalism in any cause or religion can lead to unhealthy fervor. Unhealthy fervor can lead to extreme measures. I find it interesting how the people in these causes label themselves and how they label each other. The media refers to them as “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice.” Two “Pros” in direct opposition to each other.

"Pro-life" people are, for the most part, anti-abortion and often refer to the Pro-choice movement as “Pro-Abortion.” Pro-life extremists would have Roe v. Wade overturned, outlawing the practice of abortion entirely with no exceptions. For them, it really isn’t about choice, it’s about the life of the unborn child no matter what. Rape, Incest, danger to the life of the mother, severe deformity of the fetus isn’t as important as the life of the unborn child--regardless of what that child’s quality of life would be. Pro-life extremists don’t believe that any single person has the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. “Abortion is wrong,” they say, “therefore no one should be able to have an abortion.” Pro-life can be labeled anti-abortion. It can also be labeled “Anti-choice.”

The Pro-choice movement takes into account the rights of the mother. Her legal right, since Roe v. Wade, to choose to have an abortion or to choose NOT to have one. The Pro-choicers aren't for mandatory abortions, they are for protecting a woman's right to make the decision herself of whether or not to have an abortion. By it's very definition, to be "Pro-choice" does not mean one is "Pro-abortion." It also doesn't mean that you aren't "Pro-life."

When it comes to my views on abortion, I look first to the policies and teachings of my religion. I am--without delving into specific denominations--a Christian. A major tenet of Christianity is the concept of free will. We all have a God given right to make our own choices be they for good or for ill. We can choose to do what is right or we can choose to do what is wrong. When it comes to abortion itself, in all of my studies of the official writings and statements of my Church, I have learned only that abortion is considered sinful. Nowhere in the official statements or literature of my faith have I read that abortion is "murder," as a lot of Pro-life extremists are apt to say. However, my Church has also made it clear on many occasions that abortion is understandable and acceptable--with prayerful consideration and with counsel from competent professionals--in cases where a woman has become pregnant as a result of rape or incest or if the pregnancy is determined by a qualified physician to represent a danger to the life of a mother. It has also been stated that abortion may be considered in the case of severe deformity of the fetus. So, what does this say about my religion's policy on abortion? Well, having and respecting free will, our right and ability to choose, can be interpreted as a "Pro-choice" position. That abortion is acceptable in certain circumstances--the aforementioned rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother and severe deformity of the fetus--tells us that the safe and legal practice of abortion should be available to women who find themselves in such circumstances. This too can be interpreted as a "Pro-choice" position, in that outlawing the practice would be unfair and cause even more distress to the victims of rape and incest. A complete reversal in the law would also mean a death sentence to women who might not be able to survive a pregnancy--preserving the life of a child but denying them the care that would have been offered by their biological mother--and would force new families to carry to term fetuses so severely deformed that they would either be still born or die soon after their birth. However, my religion also makes it very clear that abortion as a form of birth control is wrong. Abortion as a means of "correcting" a moral mistake is also wrong, especially when one considers the great number of young married couples that are unable to have children of their own. In the case of an unmarried couple that conceives a child, if it is not possible for the couple to get married and raise their family, the young lady is encouraged to put the child up for adoption and should not be pressured to keep the child as a form of penance for her behavior.

Some lawmakers have suggested the compromise of banning all abortions with the exception of circumstances involving rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. While the last exception can be determined by a physician, questions of rape or incest are not always so clear? If a woman is raped, would she be entitled to get an abortion based only on her accusation or would she have to wait for her alleged rapist to be arrested, or until her case is brought to trial and her rapist is convicted? I can't even begin to imagine what legal steps would need to be taken in a case involving incest, especially when once considers that court records are--for the most part--public records. What steps would need to be taken to ensure that the privacy of victims involved in such a taboo and embarrassing predicament would be protected?

Pro-life extremists might say that in a world of outlawed abortion, where a woman would have to go to an unsafe "back-ally" abortionist, that woman deserves whatever she gets as far as medical side effects from an unsafe and illegal procedure. I disagree. While I do believe that we must accept the consequences of our decisions, in this day of safe and advanced medical practices, no one deserves to die because of a botched procedure, regardless of the reasons that lead to the decision to go through with it in the first place.

I am always disturbed by the protests I see on television between Pro-life advocates and Pro-choicers. These people feel very passionately about their beliefs, which is fine, but all too often their passion leads to violence. More so from the Pro-lifers than the Pro-choicers. Oftentimes, these Pro-life advocates invoke their belief in Christianity as the basis for their anti-abortion positions. Then they go on to bomb planned parenthood clinics and murder abortion providers. Very UN-Christian behavior, to say the least.

I think the time of the Pro-life movement would be much better spent if they would work harder to educate people about alternatives to abortion instead of trying so hard to outlaw it. In the event of an "unplanned" pregnancy, encourage a young woman to give her child up for adoption. Help her to see that she can help make a young family get its start and make them happy. That something good can come out of her situation.

I remember seeing a story on television once of a family that was told their unborn child had a severe deformity and would not live long after it was born. They were advised to terminate the pregnancy but instead they opted to go through with it. The child only lived for a few hours after it was born, its brain developed on the outside of its body. But the mother and father decided that even though their child wouldn't live for long, they would still have it be a part of their lives, even if it was just for a few hours. They had a birth certificate, they took photos of the child, wrapped in a blanket, as they each took turns holding it and when the time came they said goodbye. It was a beautiful story, and while not every couple would be able to deal with such a situation in the same way, it was still inspiring.

It took me many years to come to a point when I felt that I had a clear understanding of the abortion issue. And a little longer before I felt comfortable and confident enough to articulate my feelings for others. Along the way, I've encountered many viewpoints along the entire spectrum of the abortion debate. At one point I was working for a marketing research company and interviewing people, asking them their opinions about this and many other issues. I remember one man I spoke with who was a Pro-life extremist. He felt that a woman should not have the right to have an abortion even if her life were at stake. Another woman I spoke with was 100% Pro-choice, feeling a woman should be able to have an abortion no matter what the circumstances because in her life, she wanted to have an abortion because her child had a severe deformity and she was not permitted to. Like the story related above, her child's brain developed outside of its body and died soon after it was born. But this mother was emotionally traumatized by the experience. In another interview, a man I spoke with said to me, "These questions are making me very angry." I told him that I could understand that. That these issues stir up a lot of emotions, then I reminded him that this was his opportunity to express what he thinks about it and he was able to finish the interview. When I started working at that job, I was pretty much on the fence as far as abortion was concerned. After talking with those people, I was still on the fence but I felt better informed. I had a better understanding of how people felt about the issue. I knew that I could not agree with that first interviewee, and I wasn't as sure about the Pro-choice side as the woman I spoke with, but I certainly had much more compassion for what she had gone through.

There is also the matter of my place in history in relation to Roe v Wade. I was born just over a year after that decision was made. Like many other people in my generation, Roe v Wade had a profound effect on my very existence because it empowered women all over the country--including my mother--to be informed about what all their options were in the face of being pregnant. The course they took with their lives was no longer predetermined. What did that really mean for my generation as a whole? I can sum in up in one word: "Decimation." And I'm not being hyperbolic.

In ancient Rome, it was not uncommon for the Roman Army to discipline its men through a technique known as "decimation."
"A unit selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were given rations of barley instead of wheat and forced to sleep outside of the Roman encampment. Because the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in the group were eligible for execution, regardless of the individual degree of fault, or rank and distinction."
I was looking at some statistics regarding my generation--Generation X--including live births between 1961 and 1981 as well as the number of abortions that were performed within that period once Roe v Wade legalized the practice in 1973.

I find these numbers to be both interesting and disturbing.

My generation was decimated at the hands of members of the generations that preceded it--the Baby Boomers, Silents and GIs--before we were even born. Our numbers are 87% of what they could have been. Not a small margin. More than one in ten--decimation.

Weighing all of these opinions and generational and historical data over the years--and knowing that, as a man, it was a decision that I would never have to make for myself--and later reading and rereading the official position of my Church, I finally found a place in the spectrum of opinions on abortion where I feel comfortable, without conflict and with a clear conscience.

I adopt a position I genuinely feel is compatible with the teachings of my faith. While I personally abhor the reckless practice of abortion outside of the aforementioned exceptions--the impact of abortion on my own generation being no small factor in my thinking--I cannot, in good conscience, adopt a position that would attempt to take away a woman's legal and God-given right to make the choice for herself of whether or not to have an abortion. Having free will gives us the ability to choose, Roe v Wade guarantees us the Constitutional right to make a choice about abortion, even if that choice is interpreted by others as "wrong."



***No data for '81: Average of 1980+1982

This article was revised on December 28, 2010