Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When I Was a Pro-Choice Atheist ... Part 2

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.


In Part 1, I said:

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.

My pro-choice position arose from what I saw as a civil rights issue. Women, I believed, must have as much freedom and autonomy as men do. Anything else was unjust.

I still believe that. But I have a deeper understanding now of what authentic freedom is.

Back then, I thought of "freedom" as "the right to do whatever I want, whenever I desire, with whomever I choose, however I choose it." That was the male modus operandi (or so I thought) and in order to gain equal footing, women needed the same choices and the same freedoms.

I took exception to traditional notions of gender roles. Why were women perceived as sexual gatekeepers, while men were never blamed for constant conquering, since boys will be boys? The many derogatory names for sexually active women had no counterparts in the male world. I found the assumption that women were somehow more naturally virtuous grating. I felt no more virtuous than the guy sitting next to me in my History of Film class. Why should we not all be allowed the same freedoms, without the name calling? (And not just in the sexual arena, of course. The same was true in the work world. Ambitious women were -- and still are -- called names quite different from the cheering labels ambitious men receive. )

When the abortion question was framed by these parameters, it made sense to me to be pro-choice. It was about rights and freedom. It was about independence. It was about getting out from under the constraints of being the sexual gatekeeper. I wanted it all ... or at least, I wanted the freedom to choose whatever part of "all" I wanted, in the same way I saw men choose. I wanted control.

Notice the "I, I, I" of my definition. It was all about me and what I wanted, just as (I noticed, little by little) the men I held up as my models of social and sexual freedom tended to make the world all about them. 

But what about a higher ideal? What about those people -- men and women -- who approached the world from a different perspective? What of the human beings who, before considering themselves, considered their responsibility (to themselves, their ideals, and other people) rather than proceeding from an assumption of the right to unrestrained action?

When I met people who lived their lives in that way, when I began to see the possibilities of that kind of world, my views began to change.

And do you see how, in all of my previous musings, I hadn't yet even dug into the territory of the reality or nature of the baby? And that's why I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all argument to the pro-life position.*  Because until we know why the person we're talking to is pro-choice, we can't know how our reasoning will be received. 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.

I had to start at a much more foundational place of basic human ethics and responsibility.

*That's not to say there aren't steadfast truths -- abortion is intrinsically, objectively wrong. There is a right to life.  But I do believe culpability can vary wildly within individual circumstances of abortion in a confused and murky world.


Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


  1. Excellent post and series. Thank you for putting this into words.

  2. This is excellent Karen. I wish we could chat in person. I have so many questions!

  3. Anonymous and Jennifer, thanks for commenting ... I was wondering if anyone was listening! Jennifer, you'll have to fill me in on those questions ....

  4. Hi Karen~ I just popped over to introduce myself. I have recently discovered your it! Ordered a few copies of your new book too (what a great gift it will make:-) I will spread the word. God Bless you for all you do do to share the faith and speak the truth.

  5. Oh, we're all listening... it's just a really difficult subject to discuss...

    Though I do believe in God, implicitly, I also believe that if He gives us freedom of choice, we have to allow that to others. And while I dearly love my friends in the Catholic community, I deeply disagree with not providing birth control, etc., to people -- and while I believe that abortion is an entirely different issue (as in, it's not to be considered birth "control,") it's all thorny and reactionary to discuss, and maybe it makes no difference since kids aren't probably in my future -- anyway, that's why I haven't commented.

    However, as always, you've articulated your position in ways which allow me to be thoughtful. Thank you.

  6. Tiffany, thanks so much for your kind comment, and thanks for buying the book, too! (Music to a writer's ears!) :)

    Tanita, thanks to you, too, for your kind and thoughtful comment. I don't think not having children disqualifies you or anyone from talking about it! :) I agree -- it *is* a really difficult thing to discuss. That's probably one reason I normally don't discuss it on the blog ... too much room for electronic misunderstanding and there's enough of that out there already.

    I guess I just hope to share a bit of my own thoughts and changes of heart/mind on the subject, in the hope that maybe someone who is struggling with the same things I did can see they're not alone. I also think that since the rhetoric can get so heated, and anger can build up on both sides, I'd like to talk about how there are loving, genuine, wonderful people on both "sides" and that there are reasons we have each ended up where we are. When discussions proceed from that premise, I think they can be much more fruitful.

    I honestly don't think that the clock will be turned back, legally, on abortion (and certainly not on birth control) but I do find it worthwhile to share the beauty I've found in the Catholic church's teachings on these things, and how they've played out in my own life.

    Thanks, as always, for your honesty and kindness!

  7. Stories like yours give me so much hope! Thank you for sharing. I hope you get a wide reading.