Abortion: My Personal Stand

I have asked others to join me in a webring to encourage dialogue on the subject of abortion, instead of polarized debate. I should, therefore, state my own position in the dialogue.

I believe:

My Actions

What someone truly believes should be judged by what they do, not just what they say.

I have been pregnant three times. The first time was when I was nineteen, unmarried, unemployed, not functioning very well period, in the midst of what I only understood fifteen years later to be bipolar rapid cycling. I was not taking any precautions whatsoever when having sex. I came under a lot of pressure, from the father (whom I was living with) and from an older man who had taken on the role of "mentor" to us both, to have an abortion. The thought of it made me cry hysterically, but I was about to give in on the principle that everybody else's judgment was probably better than mine. My doctor, however, informed me that my pregnancy was now in its fourth month. I've forgotten whether that made abortion illegal at the time, or just medically inadvisable; the result was the same, no doctor would give me an abortion in the fourth month of pregnancy. I felt a great emotional relief. I concentrated on taking care of my health and nutrition and gave birth to a healthy boy, whom I gave up for adoption. For over a year afterward I felt anguish whenever I saw other women who were strung-out or otherwise not functioning very well, themselves, who had babies with them, because they had their babies and I had denied myself mine, even though I was in no worse shape than they were. Eventually, though, I recovered. And much later, when that child was thirty years old, he searched for me and found me, and I was grateful to hear that in fulfillment of my fondest hopes, he had been adopted into a good family and grew up strong, healthy, well educated, and with a good heart.

The second time I became pregnant was after five years of marriage, as the result of mutual decision. I bore the child to term and he is now a fine young man in the U.S. Navy and is, himself, married.

The third time I became pregnant was due to the failure of my IUD, and it happened in the midst of divorce. I was again in a period of rapid cycling, not yet diagnosed, and not just my marriage but my whole life was falling apart. My soon-to-be-ex husband said that he would support whatever decision I made. Intellectually I thought that abortion was probably the most logical decision under the circumstance, but emotionally I did not want an abortion. Then my doctor informed me that because my Copper-7 IUD was still inside my womb, the chances of complications endangering the child and perhaps myself were so high that he advised abortion, on medical grounds. My husband accompanied me to the clinic. I lay with my feet in the stirrups with a doctor and nurses doing things on the other side of a green sheet. After a while the doctor said, "There it is!" and held up a bit of wire in his forceps -- my IUD. I immediately asked, "Hey, if you have that out now, can we stop right here? I mean, can I go ahead and keep the pregnancy going, since the complication is out of the way?" He said, no, they'd been "poking around in there" a lot already, and the chances of the embryo still being viable were infinitesimal.

I felt grief over that for years, but not guilt. I never felt that I had done wrong by having the abortion. I did feel a sense of loss. A woman whose attempts to become pregnant were never successful might feel the same sense of loss, hopefully also without guilt.

Life and the Soul

I do not believe that human beings are bodies which possess souls, I believe that human beings are spirits who possess bodies. I believe that the only way a spirit can affect the material world is through a material body. And like anything else we do, sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes we get hit by the falling bricks from somebody else's mistakes, and sometimes the ground caves in just because we haven't learned to stop earthquakes from happening, yet.

I am not certain whether the soul pre-exists the body, is the result of life, is the result of a particular kind of life, ceases to exist when the body dies, is continually reborn, or takes off at death for Adventures Elsewhere. I do not feel compelled to decide one way or another. It's something I can count on learning by experience. In the meantime, if life does not have meaning here and now, eternity is going to be just as meaningless. Spirit is constantly intersecting with the material world, influencing it, being influenced by it, engaging, disengaging, re-engaging. This particular intersection of my identity and my body, in my life, in my world, is unique.

Lots of embryos begin and fail to come to term, for lots of reasons. Some babies are stillborn. Some babies fail to thrive, die in infancy. If every single one of those cases was a soul which had that one chance for a human life in which to decide its eternal fate, the Universe is screwy and I will spend the rest of eternity drunk.

As a Christian

I am a Christian. You have already had enough clues to realize I am not a traditional Christian, and definitely not a fundamentalist one. I regard the Bible as one part of the historic record of humanity's dialogue with God. I do not have to accept it as literally true and inerrant in every part in order to use it to inform my own dialogue with God. My own experience, perceptions, and thoughts will always be the controlling factor in my religious life. Anyone who says otherwise isn't being honest and taking responsibility for their own arguments. You can't not make up your own mind. But to disregard entirely the experience, perceptions, and thoughts of others, and the record of many others over time, is just plain ignorant.

I do respect that for many other Christians, the Bible is of paramount importance in deciding their beliefs and actions.

However, whether regarded as an historic record that can be educational, or as revealed truth direct from God, the Bible cannot legitimately be used to justify that which is called the "pro-life" position, that abortion is a sin against God and a crime against human life.

All argument that abortion is sin seems to be based on the Biblical injunction "Thou shalt not kill," combined with the claim that a fetus is a human being, therefore to kill it is to violate the commandment.

If a fetus truly is a human being, then the pro-life movement is right in opposing freedom of choice to have an abortion. We do not have freedom of choice to kill each other.

But the Bible itself does not give the fetus the status of a human being.

Exodus 21:22-25 says that if a man strikes a pregnant woman so as to cause a miscarriage, he must pay a fine to the expectant father. But if he otherwise injures the woman, he must be punished accordingly. If God regarded a fetus as a human life, the punishment for causing the death of a fetus would be the same as that for taking a human life.

Numbers 5:11-21 says that if a man suspects that his wife is pregnant as the result of intercourse with another man, he must take her to the temple, where the priest will give her a drink that will, if she is guilty, cause the fetus to discharge -- abort. If a fetus is a human in its own right, separate from its mother, then the fetus should not be punished for the sins of the mother.

A fetus is not a human being. It is potentially a human being. But the rights of the human being already in existence take priority over the rights of the human being not yet in existence, just as the living woman is valued more highly than the fetus she carries, in Exodus 21.

We Have Higher Ethics than the Bible

On other subjects I have argued that our social ethics have advanced since Biblical days. We no longer practice slavery, which was taken for granted in both the Old and the New Testament. We are horrified by genocide, which was not only condoned by the Old Testament God, but outright ordered. In the United States we don't stone people who commit adultery, nor put to death people we consider "witches."

There is no Biblical law saying, "Thou shalt not exploit thy children, neither by forcing them to labor for your profit, nor by using them for thy sexual pleasure." But we regard child labor and child pornography as unethical, and we have made laws against them.

The same argument could be used to say, "It is true that a fetus was not regarded as a human being in the days of the Old Testament, but we were as children then, our ethics have advanced, now we know that the fetus is as much a human being as the mother, and we will be held accountable for acting accordingly."

Any such argument, though, cannot use the Bible to justify it, and must use other evidence to prove that a fetus is a human, has all the rights of a human, that those rights take priority over the rights of the female carrying it, and that society will benefit from practicing this.

Ethics are, basically, the way we figure we have to act in order to get the world we want to live in. Most of us want to live in a world where our lives and property are safe from violence; where we can live as we wish, limited only by respect for others' rights to live as they wish; where we have access to the resources to live; where life is to some extent predictable, promises and agreements will be honored; where we are not excluded from social institutions, but are a participant, with a voice in decisions that affect our lives that is equal to that of anyone else. Out of this, we have created a body of human rights precepts and civil law.

Some people believe that granting the legal right to abort a fetus makes it easier for society to accept violence toward others, besides fetuses. First abortion, then euthanasia, then horror on Earth.

I do not agree. I do not believe that the "right to life" of a fetus is a necessary consequence or a necessary foundation for other human rights. I do believe that the right of a woman to choose whether to continue or to terminate her own pregnancy is a necessary consequence and foundation for other human rights.

The majority of people who argue the "right to life" are not abortion clinic bombers. They do not make death threats against doctors who do abortions. They are appalled by and condemn the extremists who commit such acts.

But if legalizing abortion erodes the respect for life, and forbidding abortion enhances it, then no one who is against abortion would commit crimes against human life in support of their cause.

The anti-abortion stand is not justified by the Bible, nor does it seem to be an advancement of ethics beyond the Bible.

Social Justice Requires Activism

Human society is a great example of the second law of thermodynamics: any closed system will run down. Human rights don't just happen. Unless each generation has people who actively push the boundaries, human rights don't grow, they erode.

Protecting human rights and expanding human rights does not mean extending rights to the fetus. That is over-riding the rights of people who can speak for themselves, by people who claim to speak for others that can't say one way or the other.

Protecting human rights and expanding human rights means defending the right of a woman to choose abortion, and her access to safe, medical abortion, which includes public financing for abortions for women who cannot otherwise afford them.

Yes, that means that people who do not believe abortions are ethical will be taxed to pay for them. My taxes have been used to support things I disagreed with, too. That's the price I pay for living in a society where other people get an equal voice in decisions, and I am occasionally outnumbered by people who disagree with me.

I do believe that a few people can be right when the majority is wrong, and should remain vocally working to advance their views. That is how we ended slavery and child labor and got the vote for women and made other social progresses. But if I do not want my life controlled by a small number of other people, then I can't dictate social decisions when I am in the minority myself.

People who believe that abortion is murder are right in trying to convince other people that abortion is murder. I hope that they will listen to arguments to the contrary, but they are free to act according to their own beliefs.

People who believe that abortion is murder are not right in forcing that decision upon others who do not agree.


For Christians against abortion who are willing to learn more about the thinking of those on the other side of the argument, here are some recommended sources:

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