“Abortion Is…” Maybe It’s Time for a New Narrative.
Ugh! To be honest, this was not a topic that I was looking forward to writing about. In fact, I actively avoided writing about it. Why? In a nutshell, it makes my brain hurt and my heart afraid.
This hot topic makes my brain hurt because the concept and phenomenon we call “abortion” is much more complex than we we care to admit. My heart is afraid because I fear an article like this could result in the opposite of the desired outcome by creating even more division among people. From where I stand, much of what I see and read concerning abortion seems to either fan the flame of an already well-lit fire or become just more white noise chocked up to ignorance and immorality. This article is intended to do neither.
The main point of this article is to encourage you to rethink the narrative that plays on loop in your mind when it comes to the issue of abortion, particularly when it comes to your feelings about others who hold an opposing view. Currently, I hear a lot of narrative that says “baby killers” and “baby murderers” from those who hold the pro-life position. From the pro-choice crowd, I hear speech that suggests ignorance, suppression, and inequality. But what if none of those are accurate descriptions of those who hold the opposing view? What if those who see it differently than you actually come from a place of morality? What if they have a passion to protect life? What if they are also striving for equality? What if the issues of abortion is much more complex than you ever imagined? Would you be willing to go down that road; or, do you prefer to bask in the certainty of your potentially outdated, but comfortable narrative?
In the Christian community I grew up in, the issue of abortion was presented as a concept that had plain and simple logic — life begins at conception; abortion results in the termination of that life; therefore, abortion is sin, because abortion is murder.
I bought into this logic of human life; and for years I, too, adhered to this principle surrounding the issue of abortion. However, as time went on, I started to really pay attention to the stories of others. It may have been a bit easier for me because, as a mental health therapist, I have been trained to go deeper and push beyond common schools of thought in effort to help one truly determine what they believe and why they believe it. As I listened and truly considered their position, I began to understand that the issue of abortion is much more complex than I had ever realized.
That is what this article is about — the complexities of this phenomenon we call “abortion.” If you are hoping for a lot of research and statistics in this essay, then you will likely find yourself disappointed. I am not interested in regurgitating a bunch of information most of us have heard a thousand times over. I want to get real with you. In this article, I aim to challenge you to think about this issue in ways that you possibly have not before. I want to take you deeper into the complexities of abortion in effort to help you see that not everyone finds it as simple as saying “it’s wrong; don’t do it;” yet, not everyone finds it easy to see a path for it being permissible either. This brings me to what I call the “either/or phenomenon.”
The “Either/Or” Problem
A problem I often see when it comes to people and relationships is that we seem to like to make things simple. That’s normal; everybody does it to some degree. Simplifying certain aspects of life is what helps us keep from driving ourselves and others bonkers! However, most things related to human behavior and functioning is complex. I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to simplify this part of life, too; but, I am suggesting that it is important that we recognize when simplification simply isn’t going to cut it. In other words, we need to do a better job of knowing when it is time to set “simple” aside and dive into the complexities of any give matter.
One thing we do as humans to simplify matters is to divide things up in groups. We particularly like pairs. This is what I call the either/or phenomenon — you’re either in this camp or that camp. The either/or phenomenon is helpful if you are picking kickball teams, sifting through the produce at the grocery store, or even when you’re trying to make a decision by making out a pros and cons list. That’s all good and well; however, it is not a helpful approach when it comes to people.
“The reality is that people are rarely all of one thing and none of the other.”
The either/or approach is designed to simplify our lives by making an issue or situation black and white. For instance, either the apple is bad or it is good. Sure, there might be some parts of a “bad” apple that are still good, but that makes the act of selecting produce way more complicated that it needs to be, right? The problem is that when you apply the either/or phenomenon to people, you often end up with a dichotomy where one group has the moral high ground over the other. Of course, the irony is in the result of the either/or phenomenon as both groups tend to believe that they themselves occupy the moral high ground. When we apply the either/or phenomenon to people, we end up with dichotomous groupings such as:
- Either Good or Evil
- Either Right or Wrong
- Either Smart or Stupid
- Either Loving or Hateful
- Either ______ or ______ (fill in the blank)
Can you see the dilemma here? What happens if you are facing a complicated, hot button issue like abortion, and you see the person with the opposing view as evil, or better yet, plagued by evil or an evil being? Or maybe you see that person as ignorant or stupid. In either case, do you feel compelled to truly listen to their point of view? Probably not.
The point here is that if we use this version of dichotomous thinking, then we close our own ears to the truly valuable perspective of the other human(s) involved. The either/or phenomenon has no place among people who have a heart for unity and love. That’s why I am of the opinion that we need to adopt the both/and paradigm.
The “Both/And” Solution
The both/and paradigm is not for the squeamish. If you are someone that is quickly turned off by opposing views on matters of moral concern, then you may find that this paradigm is much more difficult for you to stomach than you may have originally anticipated. The reason for this is because the both/and paradigm assumes some level of gray. Think of it as a territory of gray with black and white borders. The black and white reflects your convictions, but the gray represents the complexities involved in issue. It represents a part of the matter that isn’t so easily understood. It doesn’t assume right/wrong or good/evil; it assumes a gentle chaos that is in continual motion and constantly in a state of change.
The both/and paradigm doesn’t allow a lot of room for rigidity and close-mindedness either. Instead, it is very welcoming of questions and curiosity. The both/and paradigm loves sequels and returning customers. If you are someone that struggles with seeing beyond your worldview, then it is likely you will not be able to dwell in this territory for very long; but, that is okay. Think of the both/and paradigm as a muscle that you just haven’t flexed or exercised in quite some time. It takes determination and intentionality to whip this part of your psyche into shape.
In the rest of this article, I am going to limit myself to addressing only three commonly debated issues under the umbrella of abortion utilizing the both/and paradigm. My goal isn’t to change your life or your mind. I just want to get your curiosity wheels turning. Let’s dive into it.
Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Is it possible to be both?
First of all, I find the terminology “pro-choice” and “pro-life” to be odd. Do we really think these terms truly capture all the different views of any given individual? What about people opposed to late-term abortion only, but not early-term? What about people opposed to abortion in general but support aborting a pregnancy for medical and/or safety reasons. What about people that view the path to protect the unborn is to take better care of the living? What group are they in? Additionally, are we assuming pro-life people don’t believe in choice and free will? Are we assuming they care nothing for the person who carries the person?
“This effort to simplify the complex by suggesting that any one person is EITHER pro-life OR pro-choice seems like an attempt to force a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit.”
For the sake of discernment, let’s say that there are only these two ways to categorize people on the issue of abortion — pro-life or pro-choice. A problem I see here is that the terms don’t mirror each other as you might think a dichotomy would. For example, if one person is prolife and the other is not, wouldn’t it be more rational to think that that person then is pro-death or anti-life? You can do the same with pro-choice. If one person is pro-choice, wouldn’t that make the other anti-choice? The terms, pro-life and pro-choice don’t seem to line up in this regard, but for sake of minimizing confusing, I will stick with these terms throughout.
How did these terms come about? Well, I’m not an abortion historian, but my guess is that many of those who self-identify as pro-life actually believe in the right to choose, so anti-choice doesn’t accurately reflect their position. The same might be true for those who self-identify as pro-choice. Are pro-choicers really anti-life? Do they not value the lives of the unborn? Well that’s absurd! Are pro-lifers simply cold and callous when it comes to the health and well-being of pregnant women? Of course, not! The reality is that most people value both life and choice. In essence, most people are pro-people or pro-human rights. We just have a different understand of how those values should or shouldn’t manifest.
My encouragement to you is to stop listening to your preconceived notions that are embedded in the terms prolife and pro-choice, and start listening to the real-life person across from you to better understand his/her pro-people position. You still may not agree on the path, but you may realize that your desired destination is the same.
Is it the baby’s body or the mother’s body? Why not both?
One of the more common arguments made by the “pro-choice” movement is, “No one should be able to tell me what to do with my body.” It is often rebutted with a “pro-life” position of, “It’s not your body though. There’s another person involved — the life inside you.”
Again, we find ourselves at the either/or crossroads. It’s got to be one or the other, right? Sure, if you are trying to make the complex simple. What if it’s both? Maybe it’s a decision involving both the body of the mother and the life she carries. The either/or school of thought might be the path of least resistance when it comes to our own internal conflict, but the the both/and paradigm seems to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation.
After conception, it takes a few weeks for the life inside to make its presence known. The mother’s body starts a process of change to prepare for growing this child. I once heard a OB/GYN say that after the baby is born, the mother’s body looks like it just went through World War III — it’s a total wreck on the inside! In the coming days, her hormones have to adjust, her organs have to move back to their proper locations, and her body has to heal. The either/or position suggests that women must endure a pregnancy for the sake of the life growing insider of her thereby completely overlooking or dismissing the human being who is carrying the child.
“People of the pro-life stance may not realize that by their either/or position, they are arguing for the humanity of the child, but unknowing dismissing the humanity of the mother carrying the child.”
However, the pro-choice rhetoric also falls prey to the either/or phenomenon — “It’s my body. I can do as I please.” From this position, we find the opposite to be true.
“People of the pro-choice stance, in their fight for human rights, may unknowingly ignore or dismiss the rights of the human who has unwilfully made occupancy in the womb.”
This is where it gets dicey, right? This is a particular piece of the puzzle where even I struggle with the temptation to adopt the either/or stance. How do we reconcile this dilemma from the both/and paradigm? You have one person, if choosing the pregnancy, opts to put her body through WWIII, not to mention the potential socio-economic concerns. She will endure all types of suffering — physical, emotional, and mental. Her body will transform. Her hormones will be a chaotic mess. And the level of uncertainty-based fear can be astronomical. But, on the other hand, there is another life. This life can’t feel pain. It doesn’t suffer. It doesn’t even know it exists — but it is still a human life! Just because we can’t see it; and just because it doesn’t a fully operational brain, doesn’t mean it is void of rights. So, what do we do?
Sidenote: I do understand that babies who are aborted late-term likely do experience pain and suffering. The “no pain/no suffering” reference was due to the fact that the vast majority of abortions are early-term (i.e., less than 20 weeks).
I wish I had an solution that carried any level of unifying certainty with it, but I don’t. But, I don’t see any real viable solutions coming from the either/or position. I believe that engaging in discussion from the both/and paradigm is how we will get there.
Is it life at conception or life at first breath? Maybe it’s both.
Obviously, life begins at conception. I don’t see how that can be argued as that tidbit of information has been backed up by science. The question really becomes, at what point in time is that life considered a person?
Again, it would be really easy to adopt the either/or stance here because, after all, how could this be both? Well, let me tell you. Science does not and cannot answer this question. Therefore, we are left to make a decision based on our own human judgment. How scary is that? Human judgment is responsible for slavery, the holocaust, the crusades, the coronavirus pandemic, and even the murder of Jesus Christ. We don’t necessarily have the best track record; nonetheless, that is where we find ourselves.
Please allow me to ask, who in this world do we believe has the moral authority and aptitude to make the call? Politicians? Yeah, right. Christians? As a Christian myself, a very strong part of me wants to take that option; but, then I am reminded of how many times in our history we have taken that position only to find ourselves to be sorely mistaken. Of course, we can say “God has the moral authority.” But again, most religions rely on some version of Holy Scripture to obtain the message from God. As inerrant as one may believe the document to be, it is still left up to extremely imperfect human beings to interpret. It’s a true dilemma; so, what do we do?
Maybe this is where the unpopular both/and paradigm comes into play — the person begins both at conception and at first breath (or some other point in time during gestation). The way this works is that each individual is left to decide for him/herself; but, this only works if each said individual agrees that it is not his/her place to decided for another. Eek!! Did he just say that? Yes, I did. Please allow me to explain.
How can any one of us say that our belief and understanding of personhood is superior to another? Sure, one can argue that “hundreds of thousands of innocent babies are killed each year! What about their right to live?” I think that is valid position. However, another person could argue that “those fetus’ may be deprived of life, but they don’t so much as know they are even alive, much less experience true suffering. What about all the living people that are suffering from poverty, medical issues, abuse, etc.? Who is looking out for them? How is forcing them to give birth making their situation better? Not to mention the possibility of that child entering the system.” So, which stance is better? Which position has the moral high ground? Answer — both and neither.
“If a person says to me, ‘Let me tell you why I believe what I believe,’ then I am apt to truly listen and consider their views. However, if someone says to me, ‘Let me tell you why you should believe what I believe,’ then I will have realized that that person is not interested in a mutual exchange of thoughts and ideas; but instead, s/he is there to play God.”
In closing, I hope you can see that most people, whether you lean more toward a pro-life school of thought or a pro-choice school of thought, have a perspective that is valid; and with that comes valid concerns. These concerns are in no way rooted in evil or hatefulness. They do, however, have some level of ignorance involved; but the only way to counter ignorance is by not only hearing what people are saying, but also by truly listening to where they are coming from. You still may not change your mind about your position on the matter, but you just might change your heart regarding the other person involved. I truly believe that an approach such as the both/and paradigm creates paths and opportunities for unity to grow, develop, and potentially flourish.