Thursday, 27 March 2008

The A Word

I really, really, really hate talking about abortion. Which is fairly unusual for me, usually I thrive on controversy, I've been known to say deliberatly controversial things just to see what people do. Its very bad. But its different with abortion, whenever anyone brings it up (not that that often happens, its not really dinner party small talk), it just makes me feel very, very nervous. Everyone is so sure they're right. My feminist friends are sure that being pro-choice is right and my christian friends are so sure that being pro-life is right. And this makes me nervous because for once in my life I really, genuinly don't know quite what I think. Life is good AND choice is good, why do I have too choose? And what makes me more nervous is that everyone is so convinced that I agree with them, I almost can't bear to say that I don't. And if people know I don't fully agree with them then they're always sure that I'll come around (yes Rebecca, I am talking to you :-) !)

So given how much I hate this conversation, why am I choosing to bring it up? Mostly, because its an important part of my journey. Its one of the very few places where my christian and feminist identity collide, its where the two communities I call home really fight it out in the public sphere. So, as part of my journey of understanding, this has to be something I think about. Even though I don't want to.

And my opinions really are mixed and confused. I remember once in one week, being at an EFN meeting and feeling sad because I couldn't fully agree with the amazing women their about on-demand abortion, then later that week throwing my Christian Medical Fellowship magazine across the room for being so oversimplistic. So this is neither easy nor simple! I can't help but think that when we do make issues like this simple we are somewhat missing the point.

I think life is important, I think its a gift from God, I think that its sacred, I think that all life has the possibility of expressing love for God, and furthering Gods kingdom - our ultimate purpose in life. So, in line with this, I find the idea of aborting potential life (a foetus doesn't have to be living to have potential) difficult. It seems such a waste. And yes, ultimatly, I do not think that God wants women to have abortions. Not because God hates women, but because God is deeply in love with all of humanity, and wants us to live life to the full. I don't see when life begins (whether at conception, inplantation, a certaint stage of neural development) as being the real point, we'll never really be sure about that. The point for me is ultimatly about potential.

However, this is clearly not the full story. When abortion is illegal, women have them anyway. However, its more risky, and women die. Seriously, it happens all the time, a recent Lancet (medical journal) edition about womens health focused a lot on legalising abortion because the authors saw so much of the harm that back-street abortions can do. So, somewhat reluctantly, I believe that abortion should be legal. But is this really a pro-choice perspective? Surely to be pro-choice I would have to come from the perspective that women should have complete bodily autonomy and not just be being pragmatic? And then it gets even more complicated, because I do think bodily autonomy for women is important! But should that autonomy come at the cost of another potential life?

I think that I'm trying to say in this post is that I'm not sure. I don't fall neatly into the 'pro-life' camp or the 'pro-choice' camp, and I'm not sure either of those labels are helpful. Contrary to what you may hear, pro-life people don't all hate women and want to take away their choices, and pro-choice people don't all want to kill babies. Its oversimplistic, and it alientates people like me (and I like to think that I'm in the 'sort of pro-life and pro-choice ish' majority). I really hope that we can begin to have sensible conversations about this, and really be willing to engage with each other. Its complicated, and there probably isn't a right answer, and nothing is ever going to get better if we just shout at each other!

Hopefully more thoughts coming soon on abortion, violence, and what christians have to add to the feminist movement.


Feminist Avatar said...

I actually think it's a bit simplistic to assume that all pro-choicers are pro-abortion. I know a LOT of feminists who would not have an abortion, but think that it should be legal for social reasons. Not just because women will have abortions anyway, but also because in the UK 2/3 of women who have abortions come from the 2 lowest socio-demographic groups, highlighting that abortion is as much a social as a moral issue. The reason they are pro-choice and not pro-abortion is because they think individual women should get to make that decision based on their own beliefs and values, not dictated to from above.

I also know feminists who don't believe foetuses are alive, but recognise that an abortion can be a horrible decision for any women and hard on women's bodies and minds, etc.

I guess my point is that you are not the only person who has a complex relationship with abortion and that perhaps we should have a complex relationship with it, because the ending of a life or the potential for life should not be taken lightly. Neither should a woman's right to her personal and bodily autonomy.

Christian Feminist said...

Thanks for your comment. It wasn't my intention to say that all pro-choice people are pro-abortion, I think you're right so thank you for highlighting that.

Feminist Avatar said...

On rereading my comment it sounds a bit aggressive and that was not my intention- sorry. I was just trying to say that this debate is much more wide-spread within the feminist movement than is often thought- so you are not alone.

I actualy think the whole issue of the sacredness of life is really interesting and is something that the Church (although not necessarily individual Christians) does really badly. I think one of the reasons that the anti-choice movement and the Church get a bad rep is its apparent lack of compassion for women and for the children once they are born. It's ability to condemn women who have abortions, but equally condemn women who fall pregnant outside of marriage and then advertise it through keeping the child. Through expecting women to give birth to babies but giving absolutely no support to those women after birth-no financial help, no free creches, no demand that women with children aren't unequally paid or restricted in their career choices. No support to ensure that children don't grow up in homes where they lack food or clothing or in environments where they effectively are denied life choices through poverty and crime. In many respects, we forget that life is sacred once it leaves the womb.

Now I know that there are Christian organisations who work hard to deal with lots of these issues, and they do very valuable work, but the Church is a still a powerful institution and it should make a stand. If it wants to be the arbiter of morality, it needs to also be the arbiter of social justice. The Bible is full of commands to ensure that the poor and needy are supported, and (indeed in the same books that say women should not be in leadership) it calls on households to have widow's lists where they financially support other members of the community. Until we are willing as Christians to make REAL sacrifices to our personal comfort levels, we cannot ask women to sacrifice their personal autonomy.

Christian Feminist said...

Absolutely!! The inconsistancy of so many (most American) christians who oppose abortion on grounds of the 'sanctity of life' and happily promote the death penalty is staggering. And yes, I can certain think of wonderful examples of christian groups and people who are are very strongly pro-life and also work hard to increase benefits for single mothers, free childcare and other forms of assistance. However, you're definatly right in saying that the balance is still very much in the wrong place, and The Church (which is really just a big community of people) should be ashamed of itself. Your challenge is an important one.

But on another note, I do somewhat struggle with the term anti-choice, I understand why so many people use it, but I don't really like it, as I strongly believe thats unfair to say that pro-life people are anti-choice and that pro-choice people are anti-life. Its like we're both saying - this is really complex.

Thanks for your comments though, I'm really excited that people are actually reading this!

Anonymous said...

I definately think that the key question at the root of this issue in the Christian camp is the differance between morality and legality: lying is wrong, but cannot be made illegal etc. As long as we live in a system which cannot be a full theocracy then the law will not enforce morality, but justice.

As a general rule, I would say that your right to make a moral decision is taken away when one of those decisions affects other being: so in that case i would perhaps be against legal abortion, as I do believe in the foetus rights as potential human beings. (Sperm is not potential, neither are eggs as alone they would never become anything, together they are potential human beings)

But then of course the key question in relation to abortion is that even if it is wrong (I think it is) then will making it illegal actually stop it from happening? Probably not. Therefore the conclusion of this comment would have to be.. I have NO idea.

Except to add that being able to abort disabled children at any stage is absoluetly heinous.


Christian Feminist said...

Paula, you figured out how to make a comment all on your own! Congratulations. And for the record, I agree with you about disabilty. Pro-choice people often (not always) try and push that under the carpet, and act like it isn't all that significant but it is!

Given that there are quite strict limits currently on getting abortions, the fact that having a child with learning difficulties is grounds for an abortion says a lot about how we see such people.