Monday, January 24, 2011

When I Was a Pro-Choice Atheist ... Part 1

Today is the annual March for Life.

I've been sitting here trying to decide what to write. I think I know where this may go, so if you're young enough that your mother often says, "That topic is a little too mature for you," please click away now or go ask your mom or dad to preview this post for you.

I was pro-choice for a long time. I attended rallies, manned tables to gather signatures, marched in marches. I remember asking Bob Kerrey, when he visited our college campus, about his thoughts on abortion (I was troubled that he was too pro-life at the time; funny that we're now on opposite sides of the fence.)

I was pro-choice from the time I was a teen until I was 30 years old. The bottom line for me was that a woman should have the right to decide for herself what to do with her sexuality, her body, and -- if her contraception failed -- her pregnancy.

The contraception was taken for granted. It made sense. To delay or prevent pregnancy within a marriage, to prevent pregnancy outside of marriage .... if one was going to have sex, one needed reliable contraception, and if one's reliable contraception failed, one needed access to safe and legal abortion. Because we'd already decided that the sex would happen. We just needed to deal with the consequences of the sex.

And this leads me to a moment I vividly recall -- considering one of the consequences of sex. A child. I remember sitting in the little rental house in which Atticus and I lived at the time. I can see the ugly, green carpet on the living room floor. I remember saying to Atticus, out loud, for the first time, testing the words: "I don't think ... that people ... unless they're ready to deal with the possibility of getting pregnant ... unless they're ready to deal responsibly with a child ... should have sex."

Monumental. Those words represented a seismic mental shift. It seemed, given my background and former philosophy, almost savage and primitive, uncivilized, to say -- to even think -- such a thing. And yet I had come to believe it.

I was no longer "just" pro-life. To be pro-life had come to mean to me that if one became pregnant, one shouldn't abort. This new belief was bigger and scarier than that. I was saying that only married people should have sex. I still believed in contraception -- I was several years away from becoming a Catholic -- and was proceeding from the premise that if two people were married and their contraception failed they would at least have each other and some stability to offer their unexpected baby.

This new perspective felt so unbelievably old-fashioned, prudish, silly and impossible that I couldn't believe I was embracing it. And yet it made sense. A new kind of sense that scared me.

It made sense -- it mattered -- that if a new human being was created during a sexual encounter, the two people who created that being had a responsibility to it.  It was suddenly about more than the sex.

And yet, in this world in which a March for Life must exist, the arguments often  come back to sex. We have a right to child-free sex, we think, and if the sex ends up cheating us by producing a baby, then we have a right to revert to the child-free part of that equation.

That's the fight: not whether or not the baby is human, or fully formed, or viable or any of that. Usually, it's about the sex.

This is not to minimize the pain of abortion. An abortion takes not only the baby's life but the life of the mother's soul. And that's a part of the deal that so many don't want to talk about.

(to be continued ....)


Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


melinda said...

I so agree, the same perception came to me recently, although I have been Catholic and pro-life for a long time. But the reality as you say is about sex - wanting sex without consequences. God didn't create the world that way. The basis of modern thinking is I WANT - if I want it, that makes it ok - sex without children, a baby in old age, etc etc. Philip Ney said that the sentence "every child should be a wanted child" was a death sentence for millions of children. Every child should be welcomed. And if people are not ready to welcome a child, given that this can be very demanding and difficult, they are not ready to have sex.

melinda said...

I totally agree, the same perception came to me recently. Our modern thinking is based on I WANT, that is our morality, if I want it, that makes it right. But God did not create the world that way. We want pleasure without consequences, and what's more we think it is our right to have it!