Thursday, October 27, 2011
(This post was originally written in 2005. It was in response to a heated argument between anti-abortion and pro-choice people I knew. My own contributions to the debate made even the nominally "pro-choice" theists I had once counted among my friends turn on me angrily. My crime? Being "mean" by calling so-called "pro-lifers" hypocritical. Sadly, the topic has taken on even more urgency with the recent wave of anti-rights legislation)
So, the debate rages on. Now we get down to the nitty gritty. No holds barred. There's been discussion ad nauseum about what pregnant women should do. Now I want to ask, what should we as a society do?
What about adoption? People bring it up all the time as a viable alternative to abortion for "these women" who supposedly use abortion as a carefree method of "birth control". But what of it? How many people really are prepared to put their actions where their mouths are? Step up to the plate and adopt? And I don't mean perfect babies from white Christian mothers who have "sinned", either.
Leaving aside for now the judgement implicit in the criticism of women having sex, what about this assumption that abortion is casually treated as an easy form of "birth control"? Do any of the people having this debate have any idea how a significant percentage of young women in the western world really live? While some women may indeed use abortion in a relatively "casual" way (if an invasive and uncomfortable procedure can ever be chosen "casually"), there are many for whom it is a desperate last resort, and removing choice to punish the former could destroy the last hope of the latter. I know that some must understand the reality, but I wonder how much people really think about this?
For too many women, pregnancies are not in the least chosen. Pregnancy is often forced upon them, and then the consequences are borne alone by the woman. I say, what about her life? Doesn't her life count, too? Funny how there's not a lot of sympathy for young women, nor respect for their lives (women who were once babies themselves, I would like to point out).
For some women, a forced pregnancy and subsequent motherhood in appalling circumstances really is life threatening, and at the very least, ends all chance of any escape from a life of constant, grinding poverty, abuse and misery. This is not an abstinence issue and not even a birth control issue for many women. I think that the continued insistence on that theme is not only incorrect, but dishonest and self-serving. How easy to ignore the true plight of so many women by painting this as a promiscuity issue...that lets everyone off the hook very nicely! Except, of course, the invisible thousands of women who really bear the burden of our society's hypocrisy and cruelty to others, all under the cozy banner of "christian morality".
I believe that so-called 'pro-lifers' who object to abortion and yet are not willing to adopt or do much else to bring about social change in this country or other countries, (except to condemn the behaviour of other people) have no business foisting their opinions on others. God forbid that their views become law and could thus legally be foisted on everyone! (Update: see Mississippi's initiative #26 coming soon to a legislature near you).
Why should a self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" not be respected (by me, at least) for holding these views while not being willing to adopt ANY child (crack babies, disabled babies, babies of color, boys, sibling groups, etc etc) nor to work for real social change? Because I believe that such grandstanding is cheap, easy self-righteousness. It is very easy for people to stand around feeling smugly superior and holier than thou, saying what others ought to do, when they are never in any way going to have to shoulder the burden that their so-called "moral values" would force upon others. I think people are hypocrites if they say they are "pro-life" but only mean anti-abortion, and in fact, make no effort whatesoever to protect all lives or to respect the lives of young women in appalling circumstances or make any effort whatsoever to work for the social change which could actually eventually bring about the end of abortion.
To pick one aspect of life...pre-natal life--and elevate its importance above the importance of other lives makes no sense to me. It is not a "pro-life" stance, in my opinion. It is simply an anti-abortion stance.
People who are truly good and who really care about life, care about all life (or at least all human life), not just the cute little babies. The real problem is that the long, hard, sweaty, dirty, dangerous and frustrating job of truly helping women through years and years of systemic poverty, violence and other social disadvantages is just not that quick, easy or attractive. It feels very nice and righteous to most people to say, "Oh we don't want abortion. We all love little babies." But abortion can often be the only way out of a horrible situation for a woman, or the only way to prevent becoming trapped in an even more horrific life situation. People who sincerely want abortion to end would be working hard to end the social problems which make abortion the only awful way out for too many young women.
These so-called "pro-lifers" are conspicuously absent from the trenches of social work, yet they have just enough energy and time to rally and rage against abortion? That's a pretty easy out, in my opinion.
The way to stop abortion is to improve life for all, even the poor and disadvantaged. But that takes too much work, so most people (not all) who call themselves "pro-lifers" just opt to be anti-abortion, imply or say outright that abortion is being used as birth control by promiscuous women, and congratulate themselves on having done their Christian duty. Oddly enough, it is the pro-choice people who are most highly represented in the fields which are striving to end the social problems which perpetuate the demand for abortions; and the pro-choice people who work most tirelessly to bring about the real end of abortion.
I recognize that most people have the best intentions and are good people. But claiming we surely would offer to adopt the child of a friend or relative (though less than 2% of people actually do) is not the only thing I am talking about. I'm talking about adopting a "crack" baby, a child with severe mental retardation, a sibling pair, from unknown backgrounds, from different races. Whether or not we as individuals like to believe that we would do it, we don't. Whether the majority of pro-lifers would also like to claim that they would do it...they don't. Adoption statistics and the bulging foster rolls attest to this ugly and undeniable fact. I know we all want to be good people, and probably are good people, but, in my opinion, far too many people want to claim "goodness" for spouting a lot of virtuous-sounding claptrap with consequences that they will never personally have to face.
Plenty of people have "helped" in lots of ways, too. They virtuously support and promote pregnancy hot lines and clinics where the young woman is presented with a teddy bear and congratulations upon receiving the positive pregnancy test result. Then, they turn a deliberately blind eye to whatever circumstances may be making her desperate and alone and make her feel even more isolated and alone in her time of need. "Helping" by donating baby items and money to "pro-life" causes, while conveniently ignoring that babies become toddlers and grow up, long after these "good" people have moved on to the next anti-abortion rally. I would bet that most people care enough about people to "help" whenever they conveniently can. And most people forget about other people when it is not convenient - which is most of the time.
There are people who can and do adopt high risk babies, and obviously many people cannot and should not adopt high risk babies. That should not stop us from working in other ways to resolve the social issues which result in so many of these children in foster care. What is stopping us from doing that, if abortion is such a concern? Are the problems of the world not our concern? Is it enough to look after our own families and not our place to try to solve the problems of others? Do Christians ever ask themselves these questions? I don't know where Abel is, Lord, Am I my brother's keeper?
I doubt that many of us spend much time in the toughest parts of town, week after week (let alone day after day!) babysitting for welfare moms so that they can get jobs. I doubt many of us spend a lot of time at shelters, volunteering on a daily or weekly basis to try to help battered women and their children patch together the shattered pieces of their lives, find jobs, find safe housing and then to follow them up every day and then weekly and then monthly and then through the inevitable return to the shelter after they have been tracked down yet again by an abusive partner or gang....not many of us have held a young woman through the DTs and also cared for her 4 young children at the same time in a cockroach-infested apartment with no power or telephone.
Not many of us "good" people really do this or in fact ever even think about it. We'd rather think this is a very rare thing, and that people in these situations have somehow brought it on themselves, and anyway the government takes care of it. At best, most of us gather up a bunch of used clothes to drop off once or twice a year, contribute money or canned goods to the food bank and sweep by as quickly as possible in our cars with the doors locked on the rare occasions that we find ourselves on the "wrong side of the tracks".
Yet, we are all happy to spout words like, "Oh, I would never have an abortion no matter what!"...while most of us are surrounded by loving family, or have a loving partner or at least a circle of friends/church or whatever to support us in this noble decision. How easy it is to feel this way when support is all around us! How easy to condemn women who make a different choice when we refuse to know what their lives are really like! How easy it is for us to feel superior and maternal and givers/protectors of LIFE, while we loudly support a viewpoint which advocates heaping hardship on others and destroying lives, which we care nothing about.
In my opinion, what is immoral is advocating the continuation of the erosion of women's abortion rights without first working tirelessly and getting dirty in the trenches to improve conditions for the vast majority of desperate women who must resort to abortion. If there was a concerted effort by all pro-lifers for, say, 10 years to get out into the poorest neighborhoods and work, take their children with them and play with the children of the drug addicts and prostitutes and victims of abuse and homeless...and perhaps offer them jobs in their businesses and homes...and if they were willing to open their eyes and put their time and effort into improving conditions of LIFE for everyone their anti-abortion efforts now affect, then I would have respect for them. Then, I'd join with them in their fight to end abortion. (Update: Six years later, after countless anti-choice legislative feints and thrusts, endless evidence of the rampant misogyny and dehumanization of women in western culture, I must revise this last statement to read: "Even so, I will never join them in their fight to criminalize abortion.")
Once the world for the poorest and the least privileged in our society, men and women and children alike, becomes a place where some hopes and dreams and possibilities can finally survive and flourish, then I think the time will come when we as a society can live up to the ideal of rare or non-existent abortion. But, unless we all are going to truly and actively work for a better, more just society, then limiting the rights and choices of the poorest and most disadvantaged will only exacerbate and continue the cycle of poverty and misery.
This is not something that directly affects the most outspoken pro-lifers. I think it is cowardly for men who will never face these consequences at all, and unseemly for women who have protection and comforts, to ever presume to judge or to imagine for one second that their opinions or their "beliefs" should ever ever hold sway over the lives of anyone but themselves.
And one final word. Most people who trumpet the anti-choice viewpoint take pains to say that they do not judge women who must choose abortion, and that they do not try to foist their opinions or beliefs on other people, yet they do. They most certainly do. They protest in the streets - interrupting traffic and spreading misinformation where passersby cannot avoid it, they harrass young women who seek abortions at clinics and they vote for candidates who campaign on a platform promising to work to deny abortion rights to women.
In my view, that is judgmental and very intentionally planning, through political clout, to impose a belief system on others. A surprisingly high percentage of voters in the 2004 elections told poll-takers that they voted for certain candidates specifically because the candidates had vowed to get abortion banned. In a free country, they have the right to vote for someone who will work to get something they want made into law. However, to vote like this and then to declare that one is not trying to foist one's religious or moral opinions on others is contradictory and hypocritical.
Most of the people who have been the most outspoken against abortion rights have never faced the challenges faced by many women in this country, and they frankly do not seem to care about these women's lives. They are not "pro-life" because they make no effort to work to improve lives but instead opt for the easier path of pretending to a morality which is empty and meaningless in the face of the human suffering which surrounds them, but for which they seem to be utterly lacking in compassion. From the relative comfort and security of their lives, they condemn others.
The people who are in the trenches really dealing with the problems, and not just handing out baby baskets to teens in high schools, or cuddling babies in the nursery...the ones who follow up on those babies in 5, 10, 15 years and watch the horror of their lives...and the horror of their mothers' lives....these people, whom I think are the really moral and good people, say:
Give women a choice. Keep abortion legal.