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The language barrier at the heart of the abortion battle

The language barrier at the heart of the abortion battle

I’m sorry for a long lecture/sermon about abortion laws today today, and if this is a trigger for you, please just pass on by. Especially if you don’t want to hear about it from yet another man.

But this is one of those deeply divisive things that is forcing our country to take sides (and believe me, our leaders are exploiting our dissension.) And with as many who are worried about these laws, I feel I have to say something, that being quiet is not an option any more.

I think there is a way for us to coexist and stay out of one another’s way, if we will only start talking with one another in the same language. (and yes, I believe I’m going to take some heat for this post, probably from both sides. But our democracy doesn’t benefit from us being quiet. Even if I say it wrong today, and I’m sure there’s something I’m getting wrong, if it helps even one person look at something slightly different, I believe its worth it.)

I believe that the debate—no, the battle—about abortion in America will never end, nor will the different sides reach any common agreement, unless we start talking about the same thing.

One side is talking about it in terms of every fetus being a person, in terms of killing, and the other side is talking about personal autonomy, and the federal government regulating what a person can or can’t do with one’s body. Two entirely different domains of thinking.

And one side that says, I don’t care about your rights or your choice, it’s a child, and the other side that says no it’s not a child, but even if it were, the government has no business telling me what to do with my body—particularly men who will never be pregnant.

If we want to find any common ground, we could start talking the same language.

Of course people who are pro-choice by and large understand the arguments from the pro-lifers (pardon the use of the popular nomenclature when talking about pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights activists/politicians). It’s not a giant leap to imagine that others feel that way.

I think most people understand that there are people who believe life has started and should not be stopped. Frankly, I’m one of them. Not everyone who is pro-choice understands how deeply the conviction to stop abortion runs for some abortion opponents, and how the argument of “if you don’t like abortion don’t have one” falls on deaf ears for someone who feels that they are saving thousands even millions of lives by fighting against it.

But they at least get why people would be opposed to abortion. It’s a difficult and complex decision even for anybody who decides to have one.

And truly, the state or ensoulment of an embryo in the first few weeks of pregnancy is itself complex and arguable—it’s certainly not a viable organism apart from the woman’s body--which is one of the reasons the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the mother’s choice in the first trimester. And also why it is  perfectly reasonable for a male politician being quizzed about abortion to say it is above his pay grade, and that it is really a decision for a woman to make privately with her doctor.

But a bigger argument that everyone who is in favor of liberty should be thinking about is about personal, bodily freedom.

How much control do we want the government to have over the functioning of our own bodies?

In other realms, proponents of liberty warn us against government intervention. Take gun control—it’s a very imperfect analogy, but I’ll try. No one wants to say they want to use a weapon against an intruder (or tyrannous government), but once someone tries to suggest that there is any restriction between a person and buying a gun, we hear all these slippery slope arguments about how controlling one gun means possibly controlling all guns, which means disarming the populace, which means the government has all the power over a people who can’t defend themselves.

It’s a terrible analogy, but if we apply the same logic to abortion, we can say that if the government can restrict a woman from ending a pregnancy, then it can prevent her from using birth control, or prevent her from refusing sex, or even punish her for having a miscarriage, essentially making her body the property of the government, and reducing her purpose to a breeder, whose rights are less than the fetus she carries.

Now, I don’t believe that well meaning people who want to stop abortion actually consciously want to control women’s bodies or curtail their autonomy, although the end result is the same (just as people who want to control guns don’t want to unleash tyranny on the country—they want to save lives too.)

But is it that hard to step back and look at the far-reaching legal implications of the decisions we are making today?

I struggle with going out and marching under a banner supporting abortion rights, but I also have a hard time standing in their way.

I’m fine with opponents of abortion using the pulpit, or the media, or any tools at their disposal to counsel and teach and try to convince people not to have abortions. They should get their voices out there, just as those who protect those rights do!

But driving the battle to the Supreme Court and trying to create a federal restriction against abortion is exactly the kind of thing conservatives have warned us against for years: giving the government too much power and opening the door for complete eradication of our personal liberties.

I for one am a proponent of letting it be, and letting people make their own decisions. I have heard countless cries of lament over New York’s latest sweeping abortion legislation, and erroneous accusations that it supports infanticide. With so many signals that the current political moment is driving toward striking down Roe vs Wade, New York created a law that was so sweeping—way over what it needed to be—as a defense against that. No one is lining up for abortions at 40 weeks.

But built into that are the very real protections absent in laws like the one proposed this week in Alabama, including protections for women who miscarry, or who have to make difficult decisions after a rape, or in situations when an embryo clearly has huge health problems.

Can you imagine going through the heartbreak of a miscarriage, then having to answer questions from a bunch of largely male police officers interrogating you about what could possibly have happened, all in the name of someone being “pro-life?” I can’t.

Even women who would never themselves have an abortion are terrified about what the newly proposed laws say about how the government and their country views them, their worth, and their ability to make decisions about their own health. It’s not a giant leap to imagine how terrifying this is.

I think the best thing for us to do, even those who call themselves Christians, is step back, teach what we want to teach, and convince who we want to convince, but keep the laws off the books. The law has never been able to dictate morality anyway.

It only creates more problems, including the people in despair who will hurt themselves or even die if there is no safe way for them to get an abortion. And the people who will be punished because their body ended a pregnancy on its own.

If we are truly pro-life, we will use education, birth control, improved health care, and resources to support families—the very tools that helped contribute to reduced abortions throughout the Obama era. In fact, we might go so far as to try to promote peace, ecological safety, and gun safety, as we really try to promote life from birth to death.

Photo by Josh Johnson on Unsplash

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