Abortion: A Word Fraught with Emotion

It is no secret that we live in a time of some pretty divided and acrimonious political debate.  As the presidential campaign barrels on to its conclusion in the next few months, we may very well find ourselves at the peak of division.  Economics, international affairs, domestic policies…they all have the potential to start major arguments around the dinner table and in the public square.

Perhaps the most immediately emotional and contentious, though, is the topic of abortion.  I think that people tend to have a gut reaction to the very word–often  one that can be quite strong.  As a nation we’ve thought a little more about the topic in the past few months, as the Susan G. Komen foundation sparked some controversy a little while back and a senatorial hopeful recently said some painfully stupid things.

I certainly have a stake in the debate (I would consider myself a person who is pro-life), but regardless of my position I think that the two main sides need to stop the trench warfare that has persisted for decades and consider some things.  So unwavering are positions on the subject that discussion often turns into angry venting, which though yielding psychological release is ultimately unhelpful.What I’m calling for is not agreement, but a little more understanding.  Consider:

  • Those on the “pro-choice” side of the debate assume that “pro-lifers” are simply out to control women’s bodies and deprive them of rights.  What they fail to deeply consider, however, is the fact that those who stand opposed to abortion really believe that it is the same as murder.  Since murder is considered one of the most severe human crimes and no one has the right to murder another person, it makes a great deal of sense why those in the pro-life camp argue as ardently as they do to stop the practice of abortion in the United States (over 1 million per year).  If someone was going around shooting teenagers in anywhere near these numbers, society would be up in arms.  Understanding the pro-life perspective on this issue helps to clarify what is at stake for them.
  • The pro-life camp, for its part, is often so strident and ultra-ist in its position that it fails to take into consideration some aspects of history and reality that complicate matters.  Roe v. Wade, after all, did not create abortion in American; it was happening long before that.  But it was sometimes unsafe, sometimes forced, and could often be linked together with a repressive patriarchal scheme.  Comments like those recently made by Todd Akin and positions on abortion that refuse to consider exceptions for medical reasons or in the case of rape only serve to alternately frighten and infuriate women who feel their agency is being denied because of a moral belief they’re not even close to holding.  Women have hard decisions to make, they will say, and philosophical or religious arguments they don’t agree with ought to have no say in those choices.  And so, as fiercely as they can, many in the pro-choice camp feel compelled to argue for the legality of all abortions for any reason.

In the midst of both positions, whose emotions and unyielding “ultra-ist” logic has drawn the lines in American culture, might there not be some room for understanding?  Might those who are pro-life, instead of sometimes going for “all or nothing,” agree that from a non-religious perspective abortions in the early days of pregnancy or in the cases of rape and the mother’s life might be a bit more of a grey area?  Might pro-choice partisans agree that because of the potential viability of the child in utero, later term abortions make little sense as well?

Conversations like this would certainly not paper over the disagreements and would absolutely not end the debate, but it might mean that we have more dialogue on a topic in which common sense ought to have more say than it does right now.  Yielding to such consensus means both sides need to give a little and realize that some progress for each is better than no progress at all.  In a certain sense, then, wouldn’t it be better for each side if we had less late term abortions AND protected abortion rights in ethical grey areas instead of “all or nothing?”

As a person who is pro-life, I wish I lived in a world where abortions didn’t happen and didn’t need to happen…but realizing that I live in a complex world, it would be encouraging to know that  we as a society could decrease the number of abortions by any number.

Bill Clinton is famous for once saying that he wanted abortion to be safe, legal, and rare.  Regardless of the political calculation in those words, isn’t that at least a starting point?

I welcome your comments.


6 comments on “Abortion: A Word Fraught with Emotion

  1. Tamar says:

    I have often thought the problem was with the terminology, pro-life and pro-choice. I mean, I would think if we removed the context, then everyone would be pro-life, and everyone would pro-choice. I consider myself pro-choice, but that does not mean that I am pro-abortion, a moniker probably no person would accept for themselves. I agree with Bill Clinton’s words, but I think EVERYONE who is pro-choice does as well. I think everyone in the world would like to limit this necessity. Likewise, I don’t believe someone who is pro-life is trying to hurt women. However, many of the policies that are used to deter abortions in general (like forced ultrasounds, mandated overnight stays, etc.) also make it harder on those women who have been impregnated through rape or incest, which is not a burden they should be forced to additionally bear. I think a lot of the anger is fear of the slippery slope, in which necessary abortions are nearly impossible.

    • Thanks for this, Tamar. I really hesitated calling myself “Pro-Life” in this post, because of the connotations this carries with it.

      And I do definitely agree that the slippery slope is , on both sides, the underlying reason for a lot of fear.

  2. Tamar says:

    I also think it’s important to not assume that religion is the only factor driving people towards or away from policies, so I appreciate your talking about the non-religious aspects of the conversation. Most people who are not necessarily religious still have a moral compass, and it has bothered me that being pro-choice is correlated with immorality. Likewise, the pro-life camp is not only comprised of religious zealots; one can feel that abortion is ending a human life without looking towards any religious text.

  3. I think the quote from Bill Clinton has a lot to do with birth control.

    The loudest people and groups who are against access to abortion, should understand that access to honest information about birth control and open access to needed devices to prevent pregnancy is the best way to achieve the goal of making abortions rare.

    When the point is to force unmarried females to refrain from sex or take their ‘punishment’, the issues go much farther than simply feeling that abortion is murder. As long as controlling women’s personal health choices is a part of the compromise one is looking for, it isn’t compromise.

    All females and males should be free to make simple choices about birth control at drug stores, and more complicated choices about medical procedures in a doctor’s office with a doctor’s assistance.

    Abortion isn’t “murder.” I couldn’t do it, but it isn’t “murder.” It’s an awful procedure that needs to be addressed by valuing women’s rights completely. It would become rare as a result of that, because only the insane would choose abortion over simple, affordable prevention. It would become the rare last resort for the few whose birth control fails (and who choose it) or for women who suffer health problems or have been raped. And many of them wouldn’t choose abortion either.

    • This is an interesting perspective, and one which begs the question of the evangelical world: would you rather have people have lots of unmarried sex with protection, or have lots of abortions? I know the answer is “neither,” but on the scale of things there would definitely be a preferred option here.

      • There’s a third more realistic possibility — a similar amount of unmarried sex without so many unwanted pregnancies and so much disease. The evangelical world has never been able to control personal decisions about sexual activity, only, unfortunately, a lot of the access to information.

        I don’t have an interest in the evangelical world except to keep it from making decisions for everyone. No one should be under its control unless they truly want to be.

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