Everyone has a reason for believing what they believe. In many cases I find that this is usually the most enlightening part of many discussions, where the most debates are resolved. For while it is true that everyone seeks to rest an argument purely on evidence, it is equally true that it isn’t evidence itself that inspires people to present an argument.
Thus it is always good I find to read not only the arguments of another, but also how and why they came to this conclusion. In so saying, on my weekly trawl through the internet for interesting tidbits and inspiration in matters pro-life, I came across this short but sweet musings of a former pro-choice activist who has since changed her mind.
I wasn’t always pro-life.
In the early ’90’s, I was a card-carrying, sign-waving, Clinton-campaigning pro-choicer. I held to the notion that a fetus couldn’t fully be life, since it was dependent entirely on another for its existence. And I believed the notion that abortion is unfortunate, but it wasn’t any of the government’s business.
I wish I could point you to a specific point on my journey where my views shifted entirely. There was no dramatic morning where I woke up suddenly pro-life. My thoughts on the subject have meandered down many roads before winding up where they are today. I’ve been asked to tell you why I believe the way I do.
I will, and I invite you to come to this conversation with respect and courtesy. There’s too much yelling over this issue, on both sides, making it impossible to hear each other. I understand (because I’ve been there) that pro-choicers stand their position firmly because they believe they’re defending the fundamental value of choice.
And I understand (because I’m there now) that pro-lifers stand their position firmly because they believe they’re defending the fundamental value of life.
Volumes and volumes have been written on the subject, and smarter people than I have debated it for years. Time and space will not allow for me to address every imaginable facet of this debate.
But I will address the two issues that ultimately were responsible for changing my heart on the subject of abortion: that of a embryo/fetus as life, and the issue of choice.
The embryo and fetus as life
I’m no scientiest, but I pay enough attention to know that defining life is no black-and-white matter. For many years, I made myself comfortable with the definition of life as that which could be sustained independently from another human.
It was a tidy argument, I thought, until I began to expand it outward. If only independently sustainable life really “counted” then what would we do with the Alzheimer’s patient who would wander off into danger without constant supervision? Or the mentally disabled child who could not eat without being fed by someone else? Or the young mother dependent on dialysis for survival?
By my old definition, I was discrediting the “alive-ness” of people who needed help to exist. The slope was so terribly slippery that I found myself flailing as I slipped down it. If I could no longer consider dependence on another a pre-requisite for being human, then where would I draw the line? Science seemed to be making things more ambiguous, but my heart craved a more concrete answer. After reading and looking investigating and comparing, I realized I had to admit to myself there was only one un-ambiguous start of life that satisfied me:
But there was that slippery slope again. Where did this put that important issue of a woman’s right to choose?
The issue of choice
Choice is a beautiful thing. It is a fundamental part of what makes us humans. I passionately defend a woman’s right to choose a career or schooling or housing or any number of life avenues. I defend her choice to decide whether to have sex, and with whom, and how often, and whether or not to use birth control.
But absolute, unhindered choice is not a guaranteed human right. Think about it: civil society already tells us that we cannot “choose” to abuse a child or “choose” to steal a car. There are legal consequences to those actions, because “choosing” to burglarize a home infringes on the basic liberties of the person who lives there.
The precedent is set. When our right to choose bumps up against the right of another to exist peacefully, our choice is blocked by civilized law.
And it is with this in mind that I realized, as I came to terms with the validity of the human-ness of a embryo and fetus, that I had to accept there was a moral point at which a “woman’s right to choose” ended. Her right to decide what to do with her body bumps up against the right of that baby’s right to exist.
The only place I could arrive after looking at the medical/legal/social/civil/constitutional issues was that something had to give. A woman’s right to choose an abortion cannot logically co-exist with a embryo/fetus’ right to be born.
Simply put, life trumps choice.
And no, to answer the question that inevitably arises when this issue is brought up, I don’t think the pro-life movement is perfect (then again, is any movement?). I cannot be responsible for everything every pro-lifer does, but I can be responsible for what goes on in my own heart and head. I recognize that crisis pregnancies are very real and very serious, and pro-lifers who dismiss the anguish of such situations are unkind and naive. We, as pro-lifers, should be at the forefront of helping women in very practical ways to navigate unplanned and crisis pregnancies. Many pro-lifers, to their credit, already do this. More should.
Perhaps, if both sides of this debate stopped shouting, we could focus better on the people at the heart of the issues: babies and pregnant women. Both deserve our respect and our best efforts to help them live with dignity.
— Shannon Lowe