Wednesday, February 02, 2011

When I Was a Pro-Choice Atheist ... Part 4

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 
Part 3 is here

As I mentioned last time, Christian arguments against abortion didn't work on me when I was not a Christian. I wish I could say that unadulterated science is what did the trick in an unadulterated way. Not exactly, but the science did play a part.

Initially, part of my pro-choice position was based on the idea that a first-trimester pregnancy was nothing more than "a blob of tissue." It was a common phrase, commonly believed (and, unbelievably, still commonly used today.)  It was easy for me to justify a simple medical procedure that cleaned up a blob of tissue and solved a woman's problem.

Then I saw Lennart Nilsson's photography.  I was honestly stunned. I'd had no idea what a baby in the womb looked like at six weeks ... eight ... ten. The tissue looked like a baby. I was horribly shaken.

I'd like to say my position changed overnight. It did not. There were still a lot of "Yes, but," discussions with my prolife friend, and still a lot of prioritizing of rights:

"Yes, but, if the fetus can't feel pain, shouldn't the mother's rights trump the baby's?"
"Yes, but, what about cases of rape and incest?"
"Yes, but, even I become pro-life myself, do I have a right to tell other women what to do?"

Because my friend and I sat and talked over coffee, because we were respectful of one another with a sincere desire on both our sides to reach the truth, we were able to talk through the intricacies of these issues. For example, I remember arguing once that the baby was not a sentient being. He countered that logically my argument should then extend to all who are not sentient. Was sentience the definition of humanity? Of a right to life? What about a two-year-old in a coma? "That's different!" I protested. "Why?" he asked, "Because given your position, the logical conclusion is ...." At that point I'd say something like, "Shut up and let's order some cheesecake." But, I'd head home and think through the things we'd discussed. 

What I am very grateful for is a friend who did not shout me down, cut me off, or dismiss me. He, a fellow imperfect human being, a fellow sinner, held me accountable for what I said I believed. He walked through the logic (or sometimes, the lack of it) in my positions. When I posited arguments, he kindly challenged me to consider their validity, to examine whether or not I was creating straw men. He was not only performing a spiritual work of mercy, he was challenging me to brush up on my grasp of a logical fallacies.

My conversion to a pro-life position was, in the end, a combination of many things: my conversion to Christianity, my understanding that God can separate love for the sinner from hate for the sin, the scientific evidence of the baby as a separate human being, my emotional reaction to learning about the various methods used in abortions, my acceptance of the fact that a child's complete dependence does not grant a mother or father absolute rights (and, if anything, places the child firmly in the camp of the defenseless and voiceless), and my realization that an authentic feminism is one that doesn't harm women or embrace the flawed philosophy of sexually irresponsible men.  Along the way, I witnessed some beautiful things: a woman I worked with who got pregnant, selflessly carried the baby, and then gave it up for adoption; a young woman I know who was pregnant as the result of a rape -- she carried the child to term and found the perfect couple to adopt him. The self-sacrifice of these women was an inspiration to all who knew them. 

I feel the need to offer a disclaimer: I have no idea what the answer is to the question of finally ending abortion. It's not purely a scientific argument, or we'd be there. It's also tied up with moral and spiritual problems, and our sexuality (which humanity is known for messing up royally on a regular basis.) I know only what changed my mind, and I know that it took a long time, and required overcoming a huge amount of denial and personal experience and feeling. I know that it took having someone in my life who cared to talk to me about it.

I know that my personal experience is not universal; I don't pretend that it is. I cannot offer final, concrete answers to the question, "What do we do?" I don't know what we do. But I can offer this -- When you are talking with someone who is pro-choice, don't forget that she quite likely has personal experience with abortion. When you talk about "those pro-aborts" (and I still remember, after several years as a prolifer, hearing that phrase from a priest and shuddering, because I knew that not all who called themselves pro-choice were as hard-hearted as he assumed they were) you are talking about her sister, her best friend, her mother, her daughter, herself. 

I often wonder if we can turn this tide only one heart, one friend, one co-worker, one relative, one post-abortive woman, one person who loves another person, at a time. Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians, 4:15).

I wish I had a simpler answer.

(Part 5 of this series is here.)


  1. Karen, I hope I wasn't that priest, but I have a strong feeling I was... I am sorry if I offended you on those occasions. I cannot bring myself, even in dialogue with those who favor that abortion remain legal, to use the terminology of "pro-choice," because I believe it submits to an intellectual deception (beginning, of course, generally speaking, with the "pro-choicer" of him- or herself). As I have said elsewhere, I believe there are actually a large number of people (although a small minority of those who would identify as pro-choice) who are very dynamically pro-abortion in the direct sense. Those "pro-choicers" who do not fit this description could still be identified, through logical analysis, actually to favor abortion on some level.

    However, I will, in response to your insights here, refrain from using the word "pro-abort" in any public (and most private) fora, using instead at least the least flippant and nasty "pro-abortion," or, preferably (when it can be managed), "those who favor legal abortion." I think many who read here can see that the feelings and perspectives that lead many to favor legal abortion, as you once did, stem from a misguided compassion. But it's still a movement of love, and priests like myself and some others who favor the pro-life cause perhaps have to be more sensitive in meeting people where they are. I humbly promise to try harder to do so myself.

  2. Dear Father, you were not that priest. :)

    And the priest who did use the phrase did not offend me, exactly. I knew just what he meant, and I know why he felt (why you feel, why I do) so strongly about it. It was just that such a difficult, painful subject can't really be reduced to nicknames, and I think that's what I was reacting to internally and emotionally. He meant no harm, and he knew he was in prolife company but it felt like a moment of soundbites, and I usually don't favor those. :)

    God bless you!

  3. Karen, you may want to check that last link. I tried to click over and my anti-Malware wouldn't let me.

    Could just be a temporary glitch!

    And on a non-related, far more affirming note, this series has been very thought-provoking for me. Still digesting...still praying...still wondering what the best approach for ME should be.

  4. I just checked it, Margaret, and it clicked through to the site for me -- will you let me know if you continue to have trouble getting it to work?

  5. Karen, this series is absolutely fantastic. I just made time to sit down and read the whole thing. What a gift you've given us by so articulately sharing your journey! Thank you!!

  6. Thank you, Jennifer. I'm sure there are parts of it you can identify with. :) Thanks for reading.

  7. Karen, I know this series is old, but I'm just now reading it, and you describe so clearly the position taken by so many of my friends and even close relatives - it really does come from a place of compassion, misguided though it may be. And your point that many of us have these experiences, these relatives, these friends, is well taken. We never know what baggage others bear. Thanks for this!

  8. Thanks, Nancy. I love getting feedback on old posts, so thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!