Woe v Raid
Thoughts on love, listening and civilisation
Journalist: What do you think of Western civilisation?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
Let me be clear from the start of this essay, I am pro-choice. Not just where it concerns abortion, but for any medical procedure whatsoever. Our own bodies are our own responsibility, and if we do not have the final say on what happens to them we are living under a dystopian dictatorship, as those in the USA are beginning to realise. Unelected judges are making decisions that affect the physical, mental and emotional health—and the fundamental freedom—of hundreds of millions of people. No civilised society would tolerate this, indicating that our (western) societies, questionably civilised at best, are deteriorating rapidly.
Let me also be clear, that when it comes to choice I am only pro-informed-choice, and very much anti-ignorance, anti-coercion, and anti-entitlement. Informed choice is a term barely heard in the current debate, as if choice is a given, no matter what, leading swiftly to the idea that each of us is fully entitled do whatever we choose, and it is no one else's concern, a notion I take great issue with. Our decisions are very much other people's concern. We live in community. What I say or do affects you, and many others, and visa versa.
When I was twenty-seven years old, my then-girlfriend, unexpectedly pregnant1, unilaterally decided to get an abortion. I felt ready to be a parent.2 I was devastated by her decision, and powerless to alter it. My choices were only to reject or support her. I chose the latter, reluctantly it must be said. I accompanied her to the clinic, and returned to meet her there the following day, all the time mourning the loss of the tiny life we were ending. I gazed at pictures of foetuses at twelve weeks, marvelling at the detail, the perfection, and I gave way to tears. It hurt for a long time afterwards.
She made the right decision though, for her. She was not ready to be a mother, and she sensed that with her whole being. I believe, as much as was possible at the time, that her decision was an informed one. It was not without consequences though, and also not free of suffering in the following months. That's the part we tend to neglect. Abortion is quick and easy now, and when legal almost entirely safe, The aftermath of abortion though, not so quick, not so easy, and to a woman's mental health, even not so safe. The initial relief is often followed by feelings of guilt, shame, isolation and sadness; the sense of regret and remorse can persist for months or even years after the operation.3 No doubt society takes some responsibility for the guilt and shame inflicted on the woman, simply for, well, being a woman, but within that is also some personal hurt, some doubt perhaps.
I am pro-choice, and I am also pro-life. I use that latter term not in the way the "Right to Life" movement uses it, the majority of whose membership (with no sense of irony or contradiction) also uphold the death penalty laws of their respective states, or argue to have such laws restored in the more progressive4 states. I am pro-life in the sense that all life is valuable and the state must do all in its power to love and care for each individual, no matter the circumstances. Too often, babies are born only to be maltreated, neglected, or through desperate circumstances malnourished, even starved. For many right-to-lifers, this "right" stops at birth. What happens after that, well, who cares? Track the life path of the unwanted baby, forced by brutal, self-righteous law into being born and you will often find the young killer, waiting on death row.5 Their 'right to life' ended a long time ago. A distinction is offered between "innocent life" and "guilty life", which justifies, in the speaker's mind, the double-standard, but any Christian justification for this is at best empty, at worst cynical and ignorant. Jesus takes a different view altogether,
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. — Matthew 5:44-45
Still, I am not without compassion for the 'right-to-life' perspective. In essence it is a true, genuine care for another life, a voice for the human who has no voice. At its best it extends to every human being, no matter who they are, what their perceived intelligence or mental capacity is, how unorthodox their appearance, what they have done in the past, how utterly different they may be from ourselves, or even, perhaps, how many minutes, hours or days old they are. Pure love extends to every living being, equally. Do we have a "right" to life. I don't believe so. Life is a gift, not a right. Collectively we could all get better at gift-giving (and gift-receiving) and move past the destructive passion of entitlement.
Woe: There may be great sadness in terminating a life, but there is perhaps a greater and more pervasive pain in being forced to carry (and then raise) an unwanted child to term, or to surrender your child to the state. Each side in the "Pro-" debate can claim woe as an outcome of the other's policy.
Raid: In my own (albeit once-removed) abortion experience I had the sense of opening the gates of Troy from the inside, and allowing the marauding Greeks free rein of the city, to murder and pillage as they pleased. Not a kind metaphor, I know, but accurate for me at that time. There would have been a different kind of raid had I forcefully denied my girlfriend an abortion.6 I would have raided her psyche and stolen her autonomy, dignity, freedom of choice—even her very soul. And that is what I fear the state is doing to our women when they pass laws such as the recent one in the USA, and the even more violent law passed two years ago in Poland.
The V in the title is just part of the word play, nothing more. In reality these things are not in conflict, it's more like each side claiming that the other is raiding their rights and causing them woe. Both sides claim righteousness, and each side has hatred and disdain for the other, which inevitably explodes into angry violence.
Although I have compassion for both pro-choice and pro-life advocates I am not on the fence here. If my wife and I accidentally conceive again, my preference (I speak only for myself) will be for us to carry to term, birth and raise the child, to chose life over termination. I would like others to do the same, but not in a climate where the state cares only for the unborn child, and discards the born one—and its parents. Still, regardless of my own choices I will not stand in judgment of the choices of others. I will always promote education, always encourage informed decision making, always want people to look at the big picture—the self, the family, the community, the state. Each of us must take responsibility for our choices, and choosing life sometimes means choosing our own life, over the potential life of an unborn child.
Abortion, like so many issue of importance, is far from a binary (yes/no, right/wrong) issue. Let's move away from such a puerile attitude, and begin acting less with hatred and anger towards those not like us, and more with love and a desire to understand, to learn. Progress towards actual civilisation is only possible through love, never through disdain. It starts with listening.
It's never really unexpected though, is it? We can claim ignorance, or error, or blame faulty contraception, but we all know that sex equals babies. It always has done, it always will. Babies are the natural consequence of the act. If we choose to have (heterosexual) sex we must take the responsibility that a baby may be created, and we should be willing then to do all we can to make an informed choice about the continued life of that child-to-be.
In hindsight, and in truth, I wasn't ready to become a parent. I would not have made a very good one at that stage in my life, but this doesn't alter the emotional pain I felt at the time, whatever its source.
Influenced by Grief After Abortion: healing from unspoken loss, 16/01/2015. There are certainly counterpoints to this view, and depending on the researchers it seems that ‘evidence’ can be found to both support and deny this perspective, e.g. Prolonged grieving after abortion, by Brown, Elkins & Larson and its counterpoint Doesn't everyone grieve in the abortion choice? by Rosenfeld & Townsend, both from 1993. I recommend The abortion and mental health controversy by David C Reardon, 29/10/2018 for a meta-analysis of the academic literature on both sides of the argument.
"Progressive" is of course an opinion, and a matter of perspective. There are many that see (liberal) progress as irresponsibility, or even violence, a backwards trend towards lawlessness. I’ve never liked the term, any more than I like the term “liberal”. Rather than applying these judgmental labels we could instead ask, is this decision being made in the best interest of those it affects, or to satisfy the lust of the powerful for control, coercion or, worst of all, revenge? Sadly, too often our laws are created for these latter reasons.
Intuition only, believable, and even likely, but not researched or evidenced.
Only possible through threat, guilt and intimidation of course, not recourse to law.