A Letter on Abortion
Where does the great debate really begin for us? What is the foundation?
I wrote this in response to a few articles by Caitlin Flanagan and the podcast featuring her by Bari Weiss. They are honest and brilliant people and I respect them so much that I decided to write a letter to Bari that she will probably never read. It was worth it.
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While I certainly identify as pro-life, my main intent in writing you is not to make an argument for the cause. I am writing because I believe that we pick up dialogue and debate on the topic of abortion a few floors above where the pro-life movement truly lays its foundation, and our foundation is so central to that dialogue and debate that it renders much conversation ineffective when we fail to begin there.
I am 25 and hold a political science degree from the University of Georgia. I have sat through many classroom abortion debates, given and listened to presentations on the pros and cons of both the procedure and abortion legislation, and have studied the shifting political perspectives of candidates through the years. That was the pro-choice world. My very best friend is employed at a local crisis pregnancy center, providing resources and support to women and children who need it most. She is loving and kind, and has dynamic relationships with the women who come to their center for help. I have friends and family that volunteer with Young Lives, a ministry focused on walking alongside single mothers. My parents have given their time and money to countless pro-life causes for decades. That is the pro-life world. I provide you this background because my conclusion regarding our foundation, and how often we begin our arguments beyond it, is derived from these conversations and relationships, along with the time I have spent pouring over resources separate from my immediate experience.
I have listened to your Honestly episode with Caitlin Flanagan. I’ve read her pieces, “The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate” and “The Brilliance of Safe, Legal, and Rare”. In fact, I recently subscribed to the Atlantic, as I continually hit my five article limit attempting to access more of her work. I appreciate her nuance and candor, especially when she so vulnerably shares her experience battling cancer. Humor is more important now than ever, and she is generous with it. I always end her pieces wishing we could share a meal, sometimes to ask her more questions and dig a little deeper, sometimes just to celebrate our similarities in thought. We agree and we disagree. It’s amazing.
As much as I appreciate her honesty in approaching and writing about the abortion debate, I still think we are starting at very different places. I don’t think we should pick up with women, however important their stories are, or with legislation. Pro-life people begin solely with the value of human life itself, in its most simplistic form. This is the foundation. The heart has become the new battleground. Is one heart worth the same as another? How we answer that question changes everything we discuss afterward.
I am deeply moved by the stories she shares of women in crisis, women who have sought abortions illegally and lost their lives or lost their freedom, women who can’t imagine bearing a child or bearing another child, women who are in poverty, who are addicted, who are abused. I have traveled to developing countries and met women who truly have no choice but to bring another child into unfathomable situations. My best friend hears many of these stories every day. Also, I am a woman. While I have no firsthand knowledge of that kind of fear and pain, I sympathize. Being a woman is wonderful and hard. It is our bodies that carry the child. I absolutely see why it makes sense for many people to advocate for the young woman who can express her agony, her sorrows, and her fears, though I firmly believe one can be an advocate for both women and the children they carry. She will be responsible for life, and is there a higher, more demanding calling? I have often thought of throwing up my hands because sometimes it’s just not fair, it hurts too much, it's too sad, it’s too difficult, but I can’t do so without denying the logic that forms my foundation.
At the very root, at the very bottom of our digging, are we not placing greater value on one human over another? What moral rubric are we using to do this? In the end, if a child is aborted, we have made a determination of value. We’ve given the upper hand to the woman already born. We’ve found a way to justify that kind of favor, often using incredibly compelling cases, but we’ve justified favor nonetheless. There is certainly a choice. I just don’t think it’s really about a woman and the government, or a woman and her own body. It’s between two humans. One heart beats on and one does not. We don’t allow our pain and sorrow, no matter the depths, to drive that kind of choice outside of the womb. In these cases, we just decide to use a different rubric and rarely examine why or how we can so easily adjust our moral framework.
Maybe this is a sort of argument in the end, but I mean to discuss the beginning. Before we talk about legislation, punishment, or support, we examine what we truly believe about life. In all the complexity and nuance, acknowledging all the sorrow and pain of women, I am pro life because I don’t believe in stopping a beating heart, or the “electrically induced flickering of a portion of embryonic tissue”, if we are taking the ACOG’s definition from their September Senate hearing.
As an aside, maybe I am also pro-life in part because of my identification as an eternal optimist with a dose of realism here and there. Others would say I am just a naive, privileged young person. That’s fine. They’re probably pessimists. But who knows what will happen? What will that woman become? The child? Where will they go? What will they be for each other? We can find help. We can work hard to make life better. So can they! Let’s give it a shot, because we can do a lot of things, but we can’t bring back that flicker once we’ve put it out.
I want to discuss legislation. I want to discuss how making abortion illegal affects women’s health. I want to tell the stories of people who are under-resourced. I want to talk about taking responsibility. I want to talk about culture. I want to talk about where pro-lifers fall short. I want to talk about where they don’t. I want to talk about science. I want to talk about contraception. I want to be honest about all of it, always, because ultimately I want all parties involved to be well. In choosing to protect one heart I don’t seek to break the other.
I just want to start conversations where they really begin for us: a choice between two hearts.