By Rev. Mindi
I believe wholeheartedly in the right for women to make the
best choice about their own health and bodies. I believe wholeheartedly in a
woman’s right to choose.
But I think we in the liberal/progressive churches have been wrong in the ways we have promoted being pro-choice.
We have been wrong to promote choice and not promote actions that reduce the number of abortions. We have failed to promote education, contraception, access to free pre-natal healthcare and post-partum care as ways of reducing the number of abortions. In our effort to say that abortion is not a form of birth control, we have failed as the church to promote sex education in our churches and communities. We have failed to talk about sex and reproduction, assuming that someone else is doing it. Our brothers and sisters in the conservative camp are talking about it—they talk about abstinence. And in the case of pregnancy, they talk about adoption as an alternative to raising a child. If we understand that abstinence-only education doesn’t work, then we do need to talk about contraception and family planning and adoption. And we often, we don’t.
We have also failed to promote counseling pre-and-post-abortion for those who may be struggling with their decision or who may have regrets. We have not wanted to acknowledge this as a possible outcome of a woman’s right to choose: that a woman also has the right to grieve (see my article A Voice is Heard in Ramah about this). For many women, abortion can save their life, physically and emotionally—but it doesn’t mean it comes without repercussions.
In short, we have failed to do much to help with reducing abortion.
After forty years of Roe v. Wade, it seems like it is high time that the church start to find some common ground on abortion. Can we all say that we want to reduce the number of abortions in this country? Can we all say that while abortion is currently legal, we can recognize we need alternatives to abortion?
Can we, in the liberal/progressive church, start working to end abortion, not the right to abortion, not the right to choose, but work to end some of the causes—poverty, limited access to contraception, education, and healthcare screenings?
I don’t know that the pro-life and pro-choice camps will ever fully come together. But I think we can start crossing the divide if we on the liberal/progressive side begin realizing that there are alternatives to abortion. We can partner with local health clinics—and yes, Planned Parenthood does a lot of this work already—to provide better education and understanding of a variety of options to promote the health of women and children.
However, here is my challenge to my brothers and sisters in the pro-life camp:
Recognize that a woman has the right to make decisions about her body and her health. Stop the rhetoric about rape that blames the woman or makes false claims about biology. Tell the truth about rape. Recognize that a mother’s health can be in grave danger carrying a child to term. Ectopic (tubal) pregnancies are quite common, and may require surgery to remove. There is no possible way for a fetus to develop in the tube, it can only develop in the uterus—yet removing an ectopic pregnancy is called an abortion. Even miscarriages, happening through natural occurrences, are labeled “spontaneous abortions” in medical charts. These numbers are sometimes added to the general abortion data, inflating the numbers of abortions reported by hospitals.
Recognize that numbers on both sides can be inflated. Recognize that health includes physical and emotional health, and that some women cannot carry a fetus to term for their own health. Recognize that recent law proposals in states, such as requiring women to prove they had an accidental miscarriage, requiring women to view ultrasounds of fetuses they cannot carry to term, and other transvaginal violations, do nothing to promote pro-life values or reduce abortions. They strengthen the reserve of us in the pro-choice camp to cling to the freedom of choice even stronger.
But if we are going to draw closer on both sides, let us work together for better access to prenatal and postpartum care. Let us recognize that one can hold on to the values of abstinence while understanding that others do not, and that if one wishes to reduce abortions, one also needs to educate others about preventing pregnancy.
I think all of us have been wrong to not attempt to seek common ground. I know at times it seems it is impossible. But perhaps if we can all agree to work on reducing abortion in concrete ways, instead of prolonged legal battles now stretching four decades and beyond, we can actually promote the well-being and health of women and children in greater ways than we have before.