This is a wonderful-written article. As the past leader of a Ivy League college pro-life group, I struggled with how to present well-reasoned articles to pro-choicers who violently objected to my position, thought it idiotic, and argued exactly from the position you’ve identified: that the baby was an unfair burden to some poor woman who bore no responsibility for it, or that the baby was destined for a life of "inhumane" suffering. Your arguments are a thoughtful, realistic and considerate response to those pro-choicers. I would love to know how you respond to those who argue in favor of abortion for those who have been raped. I imagine it was an issue you wrestled with yourself in your conversion. The best I could ever articulate was to argue that a further act of violence was not truly going to solve anything for these women; it was not truly going to empower them (victimizing others who are weak and defenseless -as rapists do- is a false power) and would likely give that woman a worse psychological burden than she already has to carry. What’s your perspective?
Christy, Pleasanton, Calif.
Very well reasoned and personal account. Though I wonder, now what? Does your "pro-life" extend to others, to taking away their choice? What a pregnant woman decides is a unique situation. Now, worldwide, 40 percent of all abortions are illegal. A law against abortions does not eliminate this practice. And who am I, a man, to tell women, especially those I don’t know, what to do with their bodies? So I agree with what you present. Yet I have concern for women who are faced with a difficult choice in today’s contraceptive culture. Women have to choose within a short time span and may be physically sick. They may hear mainly the message, including from the man involved, to terminate the pregnancy. Christ says to reach out to the vulnerable, not to legislate against them. So I am a pro-choice pro-lifer. Do what we can to help pregnant women want to give birth, but don’t take the easy and uncaring way of banning abortions and see that as Christ-like. Caring for the unborn involves caring for those who give birth. It’s not either/or.
Jim, Minot, ND
I like your comment on ’sex as something disconnected from the idea of creating life;’ or ’sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential;’ or ’that we are to treat the sexual act with awe and respect.’ I agree with you on those points. What I find missing is sex as violence, as in rape, gang rape, rape as act of war, molestation or incest. Where is the outcry of the Catholic Church in those cases? Where is the condemnation of those indulging in such horrifying acts? I am working with homeless and drug-addicts and find many times that these people have been abused sexually as children. Their life is hellish. What about the lack of education of youngsters and teen pregnancies? I see the result of teen pregnancies. Not good. As I read your article, I imagined a lovely woman, filled with grace, in a world where life is safe, with a nice home, a kind and loving husband, and adorable children going to a good parochial school. This is the kind of family every child should be born in. I was born in such a family. Now, I am a grandmother and find that I am drawn to those people who are not as fortunate as I am. There is a whole different world out there, much darker, much tougher. As long as this world exists, I will remain pro-choice. I am not for abortion. I am certainly against partial birth abortion. But some women need a choice. I refuse to grow self-righteous and feel good about ’being good.’ Some day, when everyone can live the way fortunate folks can live, I will stop being pro-Choice. That will undoubtedly be one of my happiest days.
Claire B., San Juan, PR.
BEING A PRO-CHOICE PRO-LIFER
Jim, you asked: "Does your ’pro-life’ extend to others, to taking away their choice?" It depends on which "others" we’re talking about. First and foremost, I believe that everyone should have their own choice about whether they live or die, that that is not something that someone else should decide for them. You also asked, "And who am I, a man, to tell women, especially those I don’t know, what to do with their bodies?" Again, I think it depends which women we’re talking about. If we are truly opposed to telling women what they can do with their bodies, how can we then advocate for outright destroying the bodies of young women who are only a few weeks old?
I’m not trying to be flippant: your questions really pierce to the heart of my conversion on this issue. Basically, I once I finally took an honest look at what it means to be human, I realized the importance of respecting everyone’s life, whether the person is 100 days or 100 years old.
And as for this statement: "Christ says to reach out to the vulnerable, not to legislate against them. So I am a pro-choice pro-lifer. Do what we can to help pregnant women want to give birth, but don’t take the easy and uncaring way of banning abortions and see that as Christ-like. Caring for the unborn involves caring for those who give birth."
I completely agree that caring for the unborn involves caring for those who give birth (truly: it is something I think about a lot, and I am a supporter of a local organization that offers aid to women in crisis pregnancies). I also couldn’t agree more that we as Christians must reach out to the vulnerable -- including newly conceived human lives, some of the most vulnerable in the world. I think that the most obvious way that we as Christians can reach out to the world is to speak the truth. So, once again, we are brought back to the fundamental question: what is an abortion? I think that one of the most "easy and uncaring" things we could do would be to take a back seat while misinformation about this critical issue abounds, leaving both mothers and children as victims.
RAPE & INCEST
To the questions about abortion in the cases of rape and incest: this issue is a difficult one for me and one that, as the first commenter guessed, I struggled with very much. Without going into any details, let me just say that I am close to people who have been touched by this unimaginable level of evil, and it makes me physically ill to think about it.
The main reason I converted to Catholicism is because I came to believe that the teachings of this Church are guided by the Holy Spirit. So I defer to Church teaching, i.e. the Holy Spirit, on this one. However, I understand that many people have deep reservations about this issue.
The only thing I would offer on this one is that, when we discuss this most horrible of issues, we need to clarify our terms. Because of the vile nature of the act of rape, it’s easy to let our emotions cause us to rush past one of the fundamental pieces of this debate: if conception occurs, are we talking about a human life or not? If so, does this human life have its own dignity? If not, why not? Etc. I don’t really think I have the time or the capacity to fully flesh out that issue in this space, but I would just note that it’s especially important to maintain a laser focus on the fundamental truths of the situation when discussing something so emotionally charged.
As for the question about why there seems to be a lack of distinct "outcry" by the Church in cases of sexual violence such as rape, I think that the big outcry happened about 2,000 years ago. Life for women in many pre-Christian cultures was not pretty (if they even made it to birth -- I recently saw the statistic* that of the 600 families whose family trees were inscribed at Delphi, only 1% raised more than one girl). One of the shockwaves that Christianity sent through the world was the message that every life is valuable -- even the lives of women.
I think that the reason we see the Church publicly discussing the issue of abortion more than the issue of sexual violence against women is because one is an evil that is widely accepted by modern society, and the other is not. But I guarantee you that if the sexual abuse of women ever becomes legal and accepted, the first outcry will be from the Catholic Church.
Claire: first of all, God bless you for the work that you do. Though I have not worked directly with the poor the way you have, I do have some close friends and family members who come from extremely difficult backgrounds. One of them grew up outside of the U.S. in poverty that is far below U.S. standards. Her father was murdered when she was young, leaving her mother to care for her and her six brothers and sisters on her own. They lived in a dilapidated house with a roof made out of leaves. Starvation was a constant threat. their main source of food was the rotting leftovers from the local fruit stand since they couldn’t afford to buy anything fresh. The children had to work long hours by selling trinkets in the town square. But what’s interesting is when this friend talks about her childhood, she radiates happiness. She tells of a life filled with love and joy and God. She considers herself to have had an incredibly blessed life. From what I can tell, she and her brothers and sisters were vastly happier than most of the kids I knew growing up in the ’burbs.
Another person with whom I am very close was born into a family of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. She was only slightly less poor than my first friend. Her life growing up was often hellish. She doesn’t look back on her childhood with warm memories, and I’m not sure she’s fully come to terms with it. However, one thing she does have in common with my first friend is that she doesn’t wish she’d been killed when she was young. I am certain that neither of these ladies think that it would have been a favor to them to prevent their births altogether.
To your statement: "Some day, when everyone can live the way fortunate folks can live, I will stop being pro-Choice." I am completely with you that if I could wave a magic wand and have every child born into a stable, comfortable family, I would. But I don’t believe that having a "fortunate" life by modern America’s definition is the very meaning of life. I disagree that people who don’t have grace-filled mother, "a nice home, a kind and loving [father]" who are "adorable" and go to "a good parochial school" would be better off dead. As for the mothers, I will defer to your experience working with the poor, but do the mothers really end up better off after they have abortions? Honest question. I don’t have the same amount of experiential data you do on this one, but my impression is that moms who choose to have their babies, even in crisis pregnancies, rarely regret that decision.
One final note for this post: since I am "liveblogging" these posts and need to get my answers up quickly, I apologize if anything I’ve written sounds antagonistic or too forceful. I really do appreciate everyone who has put so much thought into asking these great questions, and if I sound at all brusque it is only because I am trying to tackle these most difficult of questions on a very limited time budget. Thank you in advance for understanding!
* I believe that was from the book Bare Branches by Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer.