God, it would be so easy to ignore this topic. No one would notice – really! But with a tinge of what the Hebrew prophets must have experienced, I cannot remain silent. History is strewn with too many well-intentioned, polite folks who did not speak up in a moment of moral turmoil. But it is simply the turmoil to which I can attest with any certainty. I have no final resolution or easy route out of our cultural arguments. All I know is life changed fundamentally for all of us forty-one years ago when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade.
Expressing any Pro-Life sentiments feels something like coming out as a gay man – scary, risky and crossing the Rubicon. I cherish my liberal, progressive orthodoxy and wouldn’t want anything I said to threaten my reputation, web of relationships, or access to people of influence. It would be so easy simply to be stereotyped and/or dismissed by cultural elites of every stripe! More significantly, I do not want to dishonor or dismiss women. Surely theirs is a privileged, though not exclusive, voice that must be freely and fully expressed.
And, we all have to remain in this together – this I believe with all my heart. Can we agree that it’s precisely the frozen entrenchment of opposing camps which we all detest, yet holds our nation captive and keeps too many of us mute? How do we begin getting past this on a topic that has held us in turmoil for forty-one years? Where to start?
Can we all agree to celebrate the origins of Planned Parenthood? Can we Catholics stop with our knee-jerk vilifying of the organization? Will we recognize a shared value in the founding inspiration for the organization – to confront poverty! I am also compelled by the “seamless garment” only most recently articulated by Pope Francis: “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” It is nothing short of refreshing to hear religious leadership calling all of us to such moral and ethical consistency! Moreover, I believe there are more than sufficient “secular” threads holding us together as a nation (e.g., Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, Pledge of Allegiance, etc.) to initiate a shared, civil conversation – if we have but the shared will and commitment. Can we commit that our dialogue remains ongoing, inclusive and non-ideological ?
Yes, this would be nothing short of revolutionary. But, do we have a choice? Is the present state of affairs tolerable? …sustainable? Besides, a revolution in cultural values, world-view and self understanding is underway in any case! The only question is whether we recognize seismic shifts and choose to exercise moral discretion and human influence in the shaping of our lives in this new reality.
All this reminds me of a profound reflection by Archibald MacLeish printed in the NYTimes on Christmas Day, 1968 immediately after the astronauts to the moon were the first humans to see Earth from the depths of space. Perhaps his concluding remarks are instructive on this anniversary of our life-changing event of 1972. I leave his blindly “sexist” language intact for the purpose of showing just how much more enlightened we might become in only a generation or two:
“The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere — beyond the range of reason even — lost in absurdity and war. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself.
To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”
The struggle to truly comprehend and consistently respect who we are – all of us and each of us, together – remains our challenge, opportunity and only worthy choice.
(Some may wish to read Archibald MacLeish’s reflection “Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold” in its entirety: http://cecelia.physics.indiana.edu/life/moon/Apollo8/122568sci-nasa-macleish.html)
I have a chapter in a forthcoming book “In Search of Common Ground on Abortion.” The book might be of interest: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472420473
And I have another piece on that subject here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1548708
Hi Richard! I appreciate you raising this topic and would like to hear more of your thoughts. I have always been a “pro-choice” person and I have had an abortion. This was not a difficult decision for me and I have never agonized about it at any point.
I completely respect those who do not want to have an abortion, who would never have one, who could not imagine having one. I don’t even care if a person or many persons condemn me for doing so. I think I understand and respect the beliefs of those who fight against abortions. I just do not share those beliefs and do not agree there should be laws hindering a woman’s right to choose.
Before I add the following comment I want to say that I understand that many people support birth control who do not support abortion. However, if aborting a potential life is murder then logic seems to dictate that birth control is also murder. And I do get agitated because birth control is a logical and realistic way to prevent abortions (which I believe all reasonable people can agree would be a great thing) and those two logical and opposing paths can drive me a little crazy.
And so the argument goes, around and around. Science does not resolve this. Faith beliefs seem to acerbate it. I feel discussions are at an impasse because at heart is a deep fundamental disagreement.
To me, abortion is a personal decision involving me, and ideally, the man with whom I created the pregnancy. No other people are involved in the decision. To others, it is a decision profoundly affecting what they consider to be another human being in the equation–the fetus.
How can this possibly be reconciled? As long as there are people who see abortion as murder that simply cannot be legally allowed and as long as there are people like me who believe abortion is a difficult but understandable decision that does not, on the bottom line, affect any other life than their own, I don’t understand how any level of reconciliation will ever truly happen.
Peggy, thank for your honest and caring comment. You have framed our dilemma very well. This is precisely the type of civil conversation we need to be having.