Saturday, January 29, 2011

When I Was a Pro-Choice Atheist ... Part 3

Opening with the same old thing ... Because I know that some of my friends' kids sometimes read my blog, I'll start with the same caveat I used in the last post: If you're young enough that your mother ever 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.

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.

11 comments:

Jennifer said...

I totally agree with what you are saying. Which is why I do my best to support my position with science - because I know "they"(for the purpose of this conversation) will not listen to Christian reasoning. But that's what BUGS ME MOST (sorry about the yelling!) because the science is on the pro-life side. I hope that the next post in this series will explain how people persist in ignoring even the latest evidence of this.

Faith said...

A remember a long time ago a friend of mine saying that pro-lifers and pro-choicers can't even talk because they are both protecting a different victim. The pro-lifer sees the baby as the victim and the pro-choicer sees the woman as the victim. That's why it is a wonderful development in the last few years that pro-lifers have started to talk about supporting the women and helping them. In the beginning way back when there was often very harsh rhetoric.

I was talking to another woman I know who is pro-choice but Catholic (yeah, I know) and she threw up that old argument that pro-lifers don't really care about the woman or else they'd be doing something to help this poor woman stuck in this situation. I said that is not true, and I started listing all the support I knew of in our own diocese. She'd never heard of any of these things!!! I think she was ignorant of them because 1)She gets all her info from the Washington Post and Huffington Report and 2)she was just blinded by her own point of view. She just didn't SEE any of the support that was out there.

love2learnmom said...

Beautiful series, Karen, and many wonderful points! I totally agree with this important concept that we not rely on religious arguments to try to change hearts. The Gospels teach us that we bring Christ to others primarily by "being" Christ for others.

Faith, I have to say that supporting women is not a new development in the pro-life movement - my mom ran a crisis pregnancy center in the mid 70s to support women. There were many such centers throughout the country at that time. It's been a long(and often extremely frustrating) haul for the pro-life movement, especially in a world where the media has always loved to focus on the loonies (and we've known plenty of those too - they sure do a LOT of damage!).

I think the pro-life movement is simply starting to be recognized for that important work in recent years, rather than it actually being a new development, and I think that's partly because of the advances in communication coming from things like the Internet.

Melanie B said...

"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."

I get so frustrated talking with pro-lifers who are unable to wrap their heads around the idea that you have to meet someone where they are at. Probably more frustrated with them than with pro-choicers. Why is it so hard for so many good souls who are passionate about life to understand that certain tactics and rhetorical strategies shut down communication and do real harm to the pro-life movement?

Faith said...

I agree that there were some centers that supported pregnant women back in the 70's but I really don't think as many as there are now. I do think now things are less hush-hush and more open and the prolife centers have gotten more sophisticated about getting the info out. However, I had a friend in high school who ran away from home and got pregnant. Her parents wouldn't take her back (they wanted her to get an abortion) so she wound up staying in a home for pregnant mothers that was something out of a horror movie. And there was nothing close by, she had to go to the next city to find it. There was nothing in our diocese that I know of. This was 1977. I could be wrong but my memory was she was out in the cold and only because of her gusty (she was 17 years old) conviction that it was her fault and not the baby's so why should the baby die? (I remember that is exactly how she put it) kept her struggling to figure out a way to survive and have that baby so she could give it up for adoption which she did. It was very lonely and many, many judgmental people who were no help at all. The pro-life climate was different.

love2learnmom said...

Faith - I see what you're saying (especially about the inadequacy at that time) and I agree that those pro-women organizations and connections have grown enormously over time (as well as both our ability to communicate and our sophistication in communicating). Absolutely! Alleluia!

Also, there have been many battles for the "soul" of the pro-life movement over the years (and the soul of the culture too - many of the bad attitudes are not the fault of the pro-life movement, but problems within the culture itself at the time which was more paranoid and judgmental about some of these things) and there, will, of course, always be pro-lifers with bad attitudes. The one that particularly tends to infuriate me is pro-lifers who try to claim that you can't call someone pro-life (and often are forceful about saying that they're NOT pro-life) until they're "100%" pro-life - that's so incredibly unhelpful to people working their way through the process, one step at a time!

There are some fine organizations, such as Project Rachel (founded in the mid 1980s) that have particularly focused on helping the women who are victims of abortion. The founder of Project Rachel (who I've heard speak several times - she's local to Milwaukee) founded the organization because she witnessed how emotionally devastating abortions were on some of her college friends.

What I was primarily objecting to was the statement that it's a development in the last few years that pro-lifers have *started* to talk about supporting women and helping them. It implies that pro-lifers didn't care about those things back in the early days. Many did and in fact started with that vision in mind, which is clearly much more of a reality today. They were a fledgling movement with far fewer resources back then. There have been many enormous heartbreaks, frustrations, failures and whatnots along the way. It can take a very long time to change the world! :)

Kimberlee said...

Karen, thank you for sharing your insight and (former) perspective. I like how you clearly explain the connection between the contraceptive mentality and abortion, which many people don't understand. But don't you think that much of what you are calling 'compassion'- that care and concern for other women and their needs - gets all mixed up and muddled with (and becomes indistinguishable from) the continuous self-deception needed to preserve one's own sanity and justify one's own actions when you are talking about 'someone who's had an abortion or loves someone who has'? Which after 38 years is an awful lot of people. I see the faces of the volunteer 'escorts' at the clinic - they think they are being so caring towards the pregnant women, but it seems mixed up with a continuous need to soothe their own consciences regarding their own actions. Does that make sense? I too am looking forward to your next post in the series, and how your pro-life conversion relates to your religious conversion. Can anyone allow the scales to fall from their eyes without at the same time having access to the ocean that is God’s love and mercy? (O praise God for His mercy!)

Karen E. said...

Thanks for all these comments.

Kimberlee, you said:

But don't you think that much of what you are calling 'compassion'- that care and concern for other women and their needs - gets all mixed up and muddled with (and becomes indistinguishable from) the continuous self-deception needed

Yes, I think there can certainly be a kind of denial going on. One who's had an abortion or loves someone who has will usually think and feel that "killing" doesn't define what they or their loved one did. (I found this old post where I mentioned this same idea.) So, there's a whole host of emotions and reasons muddled up together that can blind us to a very important fact: what about the baby?

I still think there's a genuine sort of compassion (for one's self, one's friend, one's partner or wife, for other women in the same position of unwanted pregnancy.) It's mixed with denial, or ignorance or rationalization, but it's real. Misguided, because it fails to factor compassion for the baby into the equation, but real.

Faith, yes -- both sides protecting a different victim.

Kimberlee said...

Yes, Karen, your old post says exactly what I mean: My theory is that most pro-choice adults maintain their position because they a. had an abortion themselves
b. love someone who has had an abortion c. helped a friend get an abortion.
That is my theory as well. And as time goes on and the number of people who fall into category a, b, or c becomes monumental it becomes harder and harder to change that deadly cultural air you mention. (kind of like Mordor)

Karen E. said...

"And as time goes on and the number of people who fall into category a, b, or c becomes monumental it becomes harder and harder to change that deadly cultural air you mention. (kind of like Mordor)"

Yes, so sadly, yes.

Melanie B said...

"Can anyone allow the scales to fall from their eyes without at the same time having access to the ocean that is God’s love and mercy? (O praise God for His mercy!)"

I'd think it would be incredibly difficult to accept the whole weight of the pain of what abortion truly is without knowing God's love and mercy. Who could survive that and not be crushed? I know there are some non-Christian and even atheist pro-lifers out there but they are most certainly in the minority. And I've heard stories that lead me to wonder if for many it is a decision to be pro-life that becomes a gateway to knowledge of Christ.