Because of New York’s expanded protection of abortion and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, abortion has been in the news a lot this past week. That means my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with memes and articles and bumper sticker thoughts about abortion and life, about women’s choices and babies’ heartbeats. This week has been another reminder to me that I have quite the heterogenous group of Facebook friends! Also that some topics are nuanced and complicated and don’t fit neatly into boxes, no matter how hard people try to force them.
But we like boxes. We like labels. We like to categorize people. How else will we know if a person is part of Us or Them? Because in the United States in 2019, we sure seem to divide ourseves into teams or camps — The Right, The Left, Christians, Others, Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals. Often, there’s a colorful adjective placed before each team name — Snowflake Liberal, Hardhearted Conservative, Greedy Republican, Bleeding-Heart Democrat. We stick to our side, shore up the defense, hurl our insults or passive-aggressively post our team memes on social media. We aren’t very good at listening, and we aren’t very good at looking for common ground.
We also aren’t very good at seeing the gray areas, grasping nuance, admitting that some things are just complicated.
But I like to think that there are a lot of people who live somewhere in the gray middle. People, like me, who don’t fit easily into a box or a label. The poles, the widest reach of the pendulum, seem to get the most airplay, the biggest microphone. They post the most emphatic comments under news stories. But I’m not convinced that’s where the majority of us reside.
See, I consider myself to be pro-life. But I don’t think that means what many people assume it means. I’m in favor of life. Physical life and emotional life and vibrant, abundant life.
To me, this means I care about the lives of inmates on death row, immigrant children at the southern border, old people in nursing homes, lawbreaking kids in juvie. I care about the lives of sick people who can’t afford their medical bills, single moms who work three jobs to make ends meet, teenagers who don’t know how to pay for college, children who are stuck in a broken foster care system, young people who got addicted to the opioids flooding their small towns, people who are stuck in generational poverty and don’t know how to climb out. I care about the lives of refugees fleeing hometowns destroyed by war or gang violence or corrupt political systems.
I also care about babies in the womb. I believe they are alive, fully human, created in the image of their Creator, worthy of value. I’ve been pregnant six times. I felt the flutter of their early movements, heard the thumpity-thump of their racing hearts, felt the stuttering jolts of their hiccups, the pressure of their kicks. I felt their response to my voice, to music, to the spicy tacos I ate for lunch. When my newborn daughter snuggled down for a nap holding her arms behind her head, her legs scrunched up – positioning herself the same as she had in ultrasound pictures – there was no doubt in my mind she was fully a baby inside me.
And I also care about the women who find themselves pregnant facing obstacles I’ve never had to face. You see, I’ve lived a pretty charmed life. I’ve been pregnant exactly six times, and I’ve birthed six healthy babies at the end of six healthy pregnancies. Every one of my children was hoped for, eagerly anticipated. I was married. We had health insurance. I had access to prenatal care and education and support. And though we didn’t have loads of money and we definitely sacrificed some material things in order to have kids, I wasn’t worried about how I would feed them or meet their most basic needs.
Never have I been faced with the torturous decision of having a baby under heartbreaking conditions or aborting a baby. Never have I been faced with the torturous decision of carrying a baby to term who would not live past birth or ending that pregnancy early. Never have I been faced with the torturous decision of risking my own life or my health, along with my ability to care for other children or continue in a job, or aborting a baby. I’ve been fortunate. Some women face these choices — impossibly difficult choices. And it’s easy for those of us who have lived blessedly fortunate lives to sit in judgment, posting arguments against abortion that are high on passion and low on compassion, sharing a clever meme that lacks empathy. But when we do, in our attempts to show how pro-life we are, we devalue the lives of the women who have faced heartbreaking difficulties. And our lack of compassion breathes hot death to relationships. That isn’t pro-life.
Approximately 24% of women will have had an abortion by age 45. And the numbers for women who attend church aren’t really different from the numbers for women who don’t. That means – even if you are nestled in your conservative Christian community – you probably know plenty of women who have had abortions.
So how can we have these conversations in a way that values life – the life of the women, the life of our friendships and relationships, the life of the baby in the womb? There must be a way. There must be a way to talk about this issue with compassion and love and empathy and the acknowledgement that sometimes things don’t fit neatly into a black or white box, sometimes these things are messy and complicated and stretch our understanding and challenge our beliefs.
Honestly, I think one thing we can do is begin to look at the data of when the abortion rates have been the lowest. It’s fascinating to me that as countries have loosened restrictions on abortions, abortion rates have fallen. As of 2015, the abortion rates in the US had fallen to the lowest since abortion became legal with Roe v. Wade. Is it because of state’s restrictions on abortions? Maybe. But the number of unintended pregnancies has also gone down from 51% in 2008 to 45% in 2011-2013. That indicates maybe implementing policies that require insurance companies to cover contraception and increasing the number of women who have access to affordable insurance and educating young people about birth control – all may play a role in lowering the number of unintended pregnancies and the number of abortions.
If our goal is to reduce the number of abortions, then it would be wise to look at this information and see how we can support policies that actually lower the amount of abortions. These sorts of policies demonstrate value of the lives of women and of babies in the womb. So it seems that these are the sorts of policies that are the most pro-life of all. That’s why I find it so ironic that many of the people who are the most vocal about being pro-life are also the most vocal about opposing policies and programs that expand insurance coverage, teach about birth control, and subsidize education and training. Of course, too many people who claim to be pro-life don’t seem to be very much in favor of the lives of inmates on death row, immigrant children at the southern border, old people in nursing homes, lawbreaking kids in juvie, sick people who can’t afford their medical bills, single moms who work three jobs to make ends meet, teenagers who don’t know how to pay for college, children who are stuck in a broken foster care system, young people who got addicted to the opioids flooding their small towns, people who are stuck in generational poverty and don’t know how to climb out, or refugees fleeing hometowns destroyed by war or gang violence or corrupt political systems. So how pro-life are they really?
So I’m pro-life. I’m for life. Abundant, vibrant life for everyone. I’m for compassion and empathy and love for all lives.
And if you’re a woman who has found yourself faced with a horribly difficult decision of whether you can continue with a pregnancy and deliver a baby, I want you to know that I’m sorry you ever found yourself in that situation. I’m not judging you. I’m just holding space, telling you it stinks that you ever ended up in that situation, that I’m sorry for the impossibility of that decision. And I’m sorry for the hurt you may feel when people so passionate about the abortion issue forget to have compassion for you. I’m pro-life. And that includes your life too.