Awhile back I publicly stated on this blog that I would share my views on the subject of abortion. I’ve hesitated making good on that promise, because it is such a flashpoint issue in most households. People, including family and friends, disagree vehemently (and sometimes violently) on this issue. And for good reason, the subject is fraught with emotional, religious, moral, ethical and even political overtones. It is almost impossible to have civil discourse on the subject, without one of the aforementioned overtones taking over the discussion and turning it into an argument and even a judgement. People have very strong feelings on the subject and why not? Are we not talking about life and death here?
I was born in 1947, and grew up in the United States in the 1950’s. So I remember when all abortions were illegal in my country. Did that mean that abortions didn’t occur? No, they occurred, but illegally. And growing up in San Diego, with its close proximity to Mexico, the number of abortions taking place in my city was probably higher than the national average. That’s an assumption on my part, and not backed up by any particular research I’ve conducted. Many young women (girls really) died horrible, agonizing deaths as a result of botched abortions. The newspapers in my city, and others, covered these gruesome stories usually because they were salacious.
Abortion has been with mankind (womankind actually) since the beginning. Throughout history women have terminated unwanted pregnancies through chemical (herbal) and quasi-surgical means. Just as contraception itself has been practiced in one form or another throughout the millennia. This is not a new issue for our species. There are biblical and cultural admonitions to the contrary, but the reality has always existed. In many early cultures (and even in some primitive cultures today) a baby is not considered to have a soul until it has reached an age of one to two years. This is partly due to historic high infant mortality rates I believe (and that would include abortion). I don’t think today any educated person would argue that life begins at conception. And I personally believe that any life is immediately imbued with intelligence if not environmental awareness. Therefore, in my minds eye, abortion is always taking a life. Again, I personally believe that is a scientific fact that cannot really be challenged. Is that life intelligent? I would argue yes. Is that life socially and/or environmentally aware in a completely formed way. Probably not. Does that life have a soul? I think that would depend on one’s definition of soul, and the religious or scientific bias they bring to the discussion. My personal opinion is that all life, from the primitive to the sophisticated, has an intrinsic soul. My spiritual and scientific studies lead me to believe that all life shares the same basic reality—the quantum soup as some would call it—or God as others would define it.
But is life, in and of itself, automatically sacred? Again, what bias do you bring to the discussion? Religiously the answer would probably be yes; scientifically you might come to another conclusion. And it gets murkier, and contains more moral ambiguity, the more you peel the layers of the onion. If life is sacred, then wouldn’t it be a sin (or ethically reprehensible) to EVER take a life? And how sophisticated must that life be to qualify for the above criticism? We ALL extinguish life EVERY single day. Be it plant, bug, animal or human. And we ‘legally’ extinguish life (human life) through war and capital punishment. This is legislated killing on a grand scale. Many religious folks sanction legalized killing through war and capital punishment, and more than a few scientific types abhor the very same behaviors. The argument isn’t black and white. If an animal (or even a human) is suffering, is it kinder to to allow the suffering to continue or to terminate the suffering as humanely as possible?
So, back to the subject of abortion. Are there times when abortion might be morally and ethically acceptable? Sometimes? Never? Always? The traditional pro choice argument tends to support abortion in cases of rape, incest and health risk to the mother at the very least. The traditional pro life argument is that abortion is never acceptable. And then you also have every opinion imaginable on the abortion spectrum, for and against. I have real issues with the abortion question.
My opinion: I support a woman’s right to choose. I think that it is a human right to make one’s own decision about his or her own body. As long as an unborn fetus is still contained within the woman’s womb, that fetus is part of the woman’s body regardless of development. I believe that she, and only she, can make that ultimate decision. I don’t believe that this is a decision that can be legislated by a culture or government. This is an individual decision. I think the same holds true for euthanasia. If I ever make the decision to terminate my life, for whatever reason, then that is ultimately my decision. It is currently illegal to commit suicide in the United States, which is ridiculous because I can only be tried in court if I fail. Regardless of biblical censure or legislative prohibitions I retain that intrinsic right as a sovereign human being.
Caveats and concerns relative to my opinion: In some cases, and amongst some mindsets, abortion has become de facto birth control. To resort to abortion rather than contraception, in my opinion is reprehensible. And I abhor that kind of thinking. Late term abortions (except under the most extreme circumstances) disgusts and appalls me. That abortion has become so casual says a lot about our culture. The agenda of Planned Parenthood concerns me. The religious doctrine of abstinence only concerns me. The decision of some women to abort viable fetuses without proper deliberation concerns me. That government (mostly men) thinks it has a right, even a moral obligation, to legislate a woman’s body concerns me. Abortion should not be a first resort, it should always be a last resort. And it should not be a decision that is made lightly.
What I would like to see: I would like to see more discussion. I would like to see more education. I would like to see more deliberation and consultation. I would like to see more leadership from parents, religious leaders and medical professionals. I would like to see men brought into the equation—not as legislators, but as co-decision makers. I would like to see men step up to the plate and take responsibility for their actions. It is the woman’s ultimate decision, but way too often men are not even allowed to have input about their shared unborn child (the decision is made unilaterally). There are many, many alternatives to abortion. Women, you have the right to make the decision, but I’m doubtful that it’s always the best decision. We should all revere life enough not to lightly dismiss it out of hand.
I hope you don’t find this discussion, and my opinions, offensive. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, and it is very complex and troublesome. I am troubled by it and all of its permutations. It won’t be solved overnight, and may never be fully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but it is worth discussing. I would be surprised if we haven’t all had abortion touch our lives in some personal way. The next time the subject comes up try having a discussion rather than pronouncing judgments, informed or otherwise. Just a thought.