Part 1 of this series is here
Part 2 is here
I finished the last post with this:
Arguments about the baby, a right to life, fetal pain ... they bounced off me when I was twenty years old and obsessed with working out the details of what 20th century sexual freedom meant.Working out the meaning of freedom was clearly central to my position. Because I accepted premarital sex and birth control as givens, everything proceeded from those givens: "If I choose to have sex, and choose to use birth control but my birth control fails, the only way to remain free (i.e., to continue with my life as I have envisioned and structured it) is to remove the pregnancy from the picture." Period. End of story. If I did not have access to abortion, I couldn't do that. And anyone proceeding from the opposite premise ("You shouldn't have been having sex in the first place!") lost me. I wrote them off as religious fanatics. They lived an entirely different morality than I did.
And that leads to one of my main points: the abortion debate is often framed in religious terms (Nat Hentoff is a notable exception.) Arguing for a right to life, and for the dignity of the human person because he is created in the image and likeness of God ... got you nowhere with me. I didn't believe in God. (Note the "Keep your theology off my biology" chants at counter-protests during the March for Life.) It was just like when a Christian tried to convince me that Jesus was my Lord because the Bible said so. Whoa, I'd reply -- first you have to convince me that the Bible is worth believing in to start with. Such circular arguments struck me as ridiculous. If I didn't believe in your version of God, I wasn't going to accept your version of the way I should live my life.
I was not a Christian. You could not make Christian arguments against abortion and expect me to accept them. Since we were living out different moralities and had battling worldviews, I thought that my opponents on the issue would never understand why a woman might need an abortion. There was no point in talking to them. I saw them as hypocrites ("Where's the Christian love?") and louts without compassion.
For many who hold a prolife position, it may sound absurd to characterize a pro-choice position as compassionate, but that's exactly what I (and many of my friends) did. We saw ourselves as the compassionate ones -- we cared about women. We cared about the fear that accompanied an unexpected pregnancy. We cared about the financial inability to care for a child. We cared about the health concerns that might make carrying a baby to term precarious or impossible.
But what about the baby, you say?
Indeed. What about the baby? As I've said before, the baby wasn't on my radar screen. (I hadn't yet examined arguments about the baby's development, though those kinds of arguments did eventually have an impact on me.) But it's important to understand that I saw my position as rational, loving, and supportive of women. I did not see myself as advancing the cause of killing babies. You may laugh at my self-deception, but that was where I stood. I felt compassion for women in crisis pregnancies. I now see it as a tragically misguided compassion that failed to take into account the third person in the equation (the first two being the mother and the father), but it was an honest and sincere compassion and I believe that is still where many people fall in the pro-choice spectrum.
It's important to think about this when we who are pro-life talk to our friends who are pro-choice. To acknowledge that level of compassion and then build on it is much more helpful than labeling someone a murderer. Because -- and I realize that I'm sharing only my own past experience and I can't speak for all who are pro-choice -- once you condemn someone as a baby killer (or as a supporter of baby killing) they will stop listening to you.
Especially if they've had an abortion themselves or they love someone who has.
Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.