I hesitate to say this, but I think I have memories of being in the womb.
I’ve always been able to think back quite far — farther than most people tend to cast their mind back. I remember my father coming to look in on me in my crib, in my parents’ apartment on Walmer Road, and writing my name in the condensation of my nursery window. I also remember moving out of that apartment. I was three.
But I also remember being curled up in darkness and silence, surrounded by warmth, almost as if I was underwater, pressed up against something on my side. Knowing nothing, but just that I was an I.
No, it’s not credible. This memory could be a dream or anything. I wouldn’t expect it to stand up in court. I wouldn’t ask you to treat it as anything but an oddity. And yet it’s there. And this, along with other factors, make me uncomfortable when the subject of abortion comes up. In some ways the issue has become the lynchpin of the women’s movement. Those who defend it, defend it with a ferociousness which is only exceeded by those who attack it. Here I am, sticking my head out in the middle of a battlefield, and the first thing I say is something that probably completely foolish.
Those who know me know that I try to keep in sight the people behind the politics. I look for compromise, because I know from experience that there are few monsters in those groups out there who stand for the things you oppose; there are only passionate individuals, speaking from the heart on matters that they care deeply about. Those in the pro-choice movement are advocating critical issues, and have a serious desire to avoid going back to a terrible time when abortions were performed in back alleys by quacks, where women risked death rather than risk the shame and societal punishment of unwed mothers. Where children were born unwanted and into a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. When these people face off against a group of people who see babies being murdered, where is compromise possible?
A possible point of compromise is, believe it or not, Roe versus Wade. The legal decision which charted the path towards legalized abortion in the United States, one that anti-abortion activists in the United States are seeking to turn back, is actually a lot more conservative than its reputation suggests. Although it basically suggests that the matter of abortion during the first trimester is between a woman and her conscience, it takes more of a position of a fetus being an individual deserving of its own protections for the third trimester. Things end up being rather complicated for the second trimester.
And personally, that’s an approach that I’m comfortable with. There’s no question in my mind that a fetus in the first trimester is so undeveloped that it is best considered an extension of the mother’s body. But the brain wave patterns of a thirty-eight-week-old fetus are virtually identical to that of a two-week-old infant. I’d be a lot more concerned about late term abortions as a result of this, although I know from most statistics I’ve seen that most abortions conducted in the late third trimester are not done on demand, but are required for medical reasons that prevent the pregnancy from being carried to term. I feel that the current concerns about late-term abortions are trumped up by certain anti-abortion activists and the politicians that serve them as an easy issue to use as a wedge to further the rest of the cause. I don’t believe we’ve really had an honest debate about abortion. The loudest elements on both sides are simply too hysterical, too polarized.
But in this debate, it’s worth asking, what if we’re wrong? To pro-lifers assessing the pro-choice stance, the answer comes easily; it has informed many of their actions since this debate began: if the fetus is more than just a collection of cells, then it is a human being. And we killed it.
But what if we pro-lifers are wrong? What do we do by outlawing abortion? Well, we impose serious and life-changing restrictions upon individuals. To put it bluntly, we revoke the individuals’ control over their own bodies — akin to telling someone that he doesn’t have the right to remove his own appendix or otherwise obtain life-saving surgery.
And if we are wrong, we have done all that without saving anyone.
If the three critical values of our democratic society are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then the abortion debate is life and liberty in conflict. No wonder tensions run high.
And don’t talk to me about the moral imperative of saving potential lives. We are imposing ourselves on a very personal decision about one woman’s ability to control a critical aspect of her body. There’d better be another soul involved if our decision to object has any merit. Otherwise, we need to mind our own business and get out of the way.
But If my memories are accurate, then I had a sense of self, an individuality even before I was born. I was an individual, and were I able to express myself, I think I would have wanted the same rights and freedoms and protections accorded to infants outside the womb.
Fine, a pro-choice individual might say: if I don’t like abortions, don’t get one. But think for a moment how that sounds to an individual who believes that abortion ends a human life. That’s saying: if you don’t like murder, don’t do one. We have been taught, from the very beginning, that killing is wrong, and we should not stand idly by when it happens to someone else. We have been taught the need to help those who cannot help themselves. You are asking individuals to go against their own natures. So, I will continue to hold these doubts.
But I’ll go no further than expressing those doubts to those who will listen. I am pro-life. I am not anti-choice. Those who take their defense of life too far separate themselves from the morality of being pro-life. We pro-lifers are here because we believe in life, no exceptions. True pro-lifers value the life of the mother as much as the life of the fetus, not to mention anybody else who is standing in the vicinity. Any deviation from that point of view, any expression of support of those who would take life to supposedly defend it, who would bomb abortion clinics, shoot abortion doctors, renders these so-called pro-lifers into anti-choice hypocrites. Are you pro-life? Do you support the death penalty? Then you lose the right to the title ‘pro-life’. And as a Christian, I firmly believe that those who would take up a gun to kill those performing abortions are themselves bound for Hell.
The pro-life movement could do much to clean up its image, and even do its cause substantial good if it changed tactics. Instead of pursuing the course of recriminalizing this procedure, and of harrassing and punishing the women who face this tough decision, it should turn its attention to encouraging individuals to choose life. And on this, the pro-life movement has been frustratingly silent. Most of the statistics I’ve seen suggest that abortion is an act of despair — a belief by the would-be mother that she cannot provide a good life for her child, so where do the pro-life groups go after the child is born? Where are the pro-life groups advocating for a national daycare program? Where are the pro-life groups advocating for improvements in our maternity and paternity leave legislation? Where are the pro-life groups working towards the end of child poverty?
I’m sure such individuals exist, but if so they need to advertise themselves more, so that the fanatics don’t end up speaking on their behalf. If any would-be mother who chooses life has to drop out of high school or otherwise sacrifice her future in order to maintain her tenuous grip on the present, then we as a movement have failed that woman and her child. If we lend support, it would firm up the moral ground on which we pro-lifers stand.
I write this post primarily to get these things off my chest. I doubt that I’ll change minds, on either side. The debate is just too polarized, and it turns on a question that neither side can answer to everyone’s satisfaction. Debates conducted under these conditions just tend to continue, getting louder with every word. So, from here, I’ll probably put my head back down again, because as a political issue, there are other matters which are more important to me. Like making it easier to raise a child in Canada, for one.
But I would like it to be known that there are pro-lifers out there who don’t make a hypocrisy out of their name, who don’t forget that there are two lives which need protecting here, not just one. Who can function normally in society and not let this question dominate the political aspect of their lives. It’s always worth reminding everyone that normal men and women wrestle with the issue as well. And then they have to go and make dinner.
P.S. A word of warning about comments, as I know this is a contentious issue: this is my soap box, so if you have a lot to say (like, say, over 1500 words), or a desperate need to vent that includes swear words, I encourage you to do so on your own blog. Drop me a line, and I’ll link to you.