By Alex Macias
Abortion is one of the most incendiary topics in the country and church. But you can feel free to breathe a sigh of relief; this post is not about beginning a political debate. It’s about finding a different way of engaging each other.
There are two major camps on this topic, those who self-designate as “pro-choice” and those who self-designate as “pro-life.” The pro-life argument insists that no one has the right to take the life of an unborn child, while the pro-choice argument insists that no one has the right to control a woman’s body.
I’ve never been satisfied with abortion rights language. The terms themselves contribute to the polarization and allow for unfair assumptions. On top of that, they are both based on fear. Fear that the (patriarchal) government will have the power to control a woman’s physical health, wellness, future, stability, etc., on the one hand; fear that society will adopt a disregard for life that leads to nonchalant pregnancy terminations based on lack of convenience, on the other. And while these are both valid concerns they tend to talk past each other.
I have never felt comfortable with subscribing to either camp, because the argument seems to get stuck over whose rights are more important. While I certainly support the rights of women, for me, pro-choice arguments have always felt a bit too flippant, too eager to deny the personhood of the life within. (“Pro-women” is another term gaining support which I also find to be insufficient because of its failure to acknowledge the life of the child.) Yet I also resist the evangelical pressure to align myself with pro-lifers. The term certainly sounds positive – of course, I value life, but I have felt disappointed with the church’s stake in the pro-life camp, because this has been a group in which harassment and shame seem to be the modus operandi. The group so often fails to recognize the vulnerability of the mother.
There’s nothing that made me feel more like a child than when I was pregnant with one. I was surprised, to say the least, with the realization that I would be having a baby, and it was the most terrifying feeling I had had to date. I was 25, had finished two degrees, had a full-time job and had been married for three years. I was hardly in the situation that many find themselves in with unplanned pregnancies. In fact, though many women are choosing to delay having children until well into their 30s and 40s, some studies say I was in the best possible condition to have a child. And it was still terrifying. I still felt like Ellen Page in Juno. Just a kid. Ill-equipped.
In general, pregnant women are in a vulnerable state, and the vast majority of women seeking abortion are especially vulnerable. They are more likely to be single, below the poverty line, marginalized. I believe that to truly be pro-life, issues of the availability of contraceptives, poverty, education, and health care (and many other issues) must be included. To ignore them is to be hypocritical.
But the church is the very group that should be capable of taking a different angle.
As Christians, we care about life because it is sacred and good. We recognize that the image and breath of God is present in all human beings. We, of course, want fewer abortions. But the means in which we go about addressing a problem are just as important as the outcomes. In fact, the Christian life is always about the journey, not just the destination. When we address the issue of unplanned pregnancy we must do so with grace and compassion. And we must recognize that when a woman decides that keeping this child is the best decision, the journey does not end with a birth. This is just the beginning. Support and compassion must continue through the life of the child and the mother.
Holding my child for the first time was an experience that I will never forget. It was breathtaking to touch her after all that we had already been through, to realize that I knew her so intimately and didn’t know her at all at exactly the same time – a tiny, familiar mystery. This is a love that I would certainly wish for any pregnant woman, but for too many women, it is a joy that they cannot fathom because the outlook seems hopeless.
It’s time to abandon labels that further divide us, labels that lead us to demonize the other side and dehumanize us in the process. Instead let’s choose pro-compassion, and recognize that we have a common goal: life abundant for child and mother. Pro-compassion is something I can get behind. Pro-compassion can hold the words of the Psalmist, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” in tension with the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.”
I know one ministry in Chicago is already working with this sort of language and mission. My hope is that more will join.