Polls indicate that the majority of Americans are in favor of keeping abortion legal, but with limits. That would suggest we are not so absolute on this divisive issue and that there is room in the middle for discussion.
But we never seem to get around to that discussion. Politically, we’re still hunkered down in our respective moral trenches, re-enacting the Maginot Line from WWI. It didn’t get them anywhere then and it’s not getting us anywhere now.
A couple of years ago, my favorite radio interview show, On Being, showed what a more nuanced discussion sounds like during its July 25, 2013 broadcast, “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue,” with David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia (books include A New Evangelical Manifesto and The Sacredness of Human Life) and Frances Kissling, president of the Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy and president of Catholics for Choice (1982 to 2007).
You can visit OnBeing.org and listen to the episode or read the transcript, but here’s a sample of what authentic dialogue sounds like:
“Abortion very late in pregnancy, abortion of disabled fetuses, these to me are very, very complicated questions. Even though I don’t think fetuses have an absolute right to life, I think fetuses have value. And I don’t think you can make the fetus invisible.” (Frances Kissling)
“What the main activists in the pro-life or anti-abortion community want is an overturn of Roe vs. Wade. I am not at all convinced if that were to actually happen that they would like the world they would see on the other side.” (David Gushee)
Another media source I frequently mention in this column — and strongly recommend — is Sun magazine, which in the December issue, ran a page of quotes about abortion, representing a variety of perspectives that form a virtual forum. Here’s a sample:
“We are not here to advocate abortion. We do not ask this Court to rule that abortion is good or desirable in any particular situation. We are here to advocate that the decision as to whether or not a particular woman will continue to carry or will terminate a pregnancy is a decision that should be made by that individual.”
Lead prosecuting attorney in Roe v. Wade, 1972
“I certainly supported a woman’s right to choose, but to my mind the time to choose was before, not after the fact.”
“Miss Julia Throws a Wedding”
“No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.
“You can’t win. Either you have the baby and wear your pain on the outside, or you don’t have the baby, and you keep that ache in you forever. I know I didn’t do the wrong thing. But I don’t feel like I did the right thing either.”
“Handle with Care”
“Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family, and not entrusting that decision to anyone wearing the authority of government.”
“I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
“In my world, you don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and be against common-sense gun control. … You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency. … You don’t get to call yourself ‘pro-life’ and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. … The term ‘pro-life’ should be shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity of life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
“The product, abortion, is skillfully marketed and sold to the woman at the crisis time in her life. She buys the product, finds it defective, and wants to return it for a refund. But it’s too late.”
“I am politically pro-choice but personally pro-life. I have my faith but refuse to force it on the world at large — especially this world, so brutal and unjust. I cannot make these wrenching personal life-and-death decisions for others — nor do I believe they should be made by a Church run by childless men.”
“Society does not need more children; but it does need more loved children. Quite literally, we cannot afford unloved children, but we pay heavily for them every day. … All society should rise up in alarm when it hears that a baby that is not wanted is about to be born.”
I think these comments capture the “grey” middle ground pretty well, which is where any dialogue must take place. My own feeling is that pro-life issue #1 is global climate change. Pro-life issue #2 is gun violence. Pro-life issue #3 is encouraging the use of contraception.
But I’m willing to dialogue about abortion with anyone who isn’t blindered by absolute certainty. I am anything but certain on this issue, and I find it refreshing — and hopeful — whenever I encounter others who aren’t certain about it either. Humility is a prerequisite to dialogue. Having the courage to experience the vulnerability of uncertainty makes dialogue possible.
This country is starving for dialogue. As Lutheran pastor Peter Marty put it, “Loving others is more important than being right. Isn’t that one of the gifts of love: to bring the arrogance of certainty to its knees?”
We need to surrender our certainty so we can talk — and then, together, we will be able to more fully embrace the sanctity of life.