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Abortion was not an issue that I had ever imagined I’d become remotely passionate about. I am a bona-fide feminist with extreme ideas and boisterous opinions. A sarcastic eye roll from me at the mention of anything that could be interpreted as insensitive to the plight of women is a good indication to all who know me that my soap box is nearby. So when I started working at a Pregnancy Resource Center, folks looked at me quizzically. And to be honest, I was just as befuddled as they were, maybe more so.
My thoughts and feelings on abortion have almost always been rather laissez–faire. I felt apathetic because the topic is so abrasive. Secretly, I’ve always felt that abortion wasn’tideal and maybe not even right. But it’s complicated to believe that when you’re a feminist, and it’s certainly not something you profess publicly. Who am I to presume to know what is right for another woman? Am I, as a feminist, willing to assert that abortion isn’t right? Would I not be robbing women of authority over their own personhood, something women have fought arduously for, for far too long? A year ago, I would have rather been caught barefoot in the kitchen, in an apron with red lipstick on my mouth, baking for all the boys, a caricature of the “problem without a name” rather than to be found in close proximity to the pro-life camp.
Working at a Pregnancy Resource Centerchanged all of this. This organization exists to offer women alternatives to abortion. The ultimate goal of a resource center is to see abortion made unthinkable to society. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my co-workers were kind, compassionate and thoughtful. They weren’t crazy, right wing fundamentalists. But I still found myself in apparent conflict with my values. As someone who defends women’s rights so definitively, wasn’t working at a place like this somehow backwards? I knew that working in a space that seemed antithetical to my ideology would not be sustainable. I’m not as naïve as I used to be; I don’t sophomorically aspire to love every aspect of what I do for work, but I can’t conceive of being in direct opposition to my values either. It all felt like an ethical dilemma. Every day, I thought, read, researched, pondered, inquired and conversed as I sought answers to my questions about abortion. I needed to know if I could truly support the organization I found myself a part of.
As I considered these issues in the last year, my perspective changed dramatically because I determined that abortion does not actually benefit women. I think that the first thing that we need to recognize when we engage the conversation surrounding the topic of abortion is that the dialogue has been very concretely set within the last forty years. We need to understand what is foundationally framing the issue before we interact with it. First, it has been engendered as a women’s issue. Second, it is highly politicized. Abortion is assumed to be predominantly political, it has been conversationally constructed to assume legislative discourse. Lastly, it is absolutely polarized. Individuals regarding this issue align themselves (politically) as pro-choice or pro-life. There is very little room for any wishy-washy in between.
I became convinced that when we acknowledge the way the abortion debate is framed in our culture, then we can understand why the debate is defined by so much dissonance. A person who is pro-choice is pro-woman and a person who is pro-life is pro-baby. And so depending on how you align yourself you’re either anti-baby or anti-woman. If you don’t situate yourself in either of these camps, you’re likely afraid of the abrasive nature of the discussion, or you’re bone-tired of the issue and an apathy-induced coma is how you masterfully avoid the topic.
But with an awareness of the framework we’re dealing with, we have the opportunity to start a new dialogue. Actually, I think it is incumbent upon us to change the conversation, addressing the topic from new and varied points of view. The conversation need not be first and foremost political. And the friction enshrouding abortion needs to be diminished. This requires that we really examine the nuts and bolts of the issue, turn it on its head and find new angles as entry points for discussion. The more I thought about abortion, the more it seemed possible that the shaping of abortion as a strictly women’s issue might be misguided. If the infrastructure that has been a crucial springboard for discourse is not sound, the entire conversation changes consequently, and for me, it began to dismantle.
In so much as this is a women’s issue, it seems that abortion actually oppresses women. Procedurally what abortion requires is the silencing of a woman’s body and the unmitigated dismissing of her gender. We’ve accepted abortion as a right that celebrates a woman’s ownership of her body. But the procedure necessarily requires that a woman deny her gender by silencing and disallowing a natural and distinguishing result of womanhood. In every other facet of feminism, we celebrate a woman’s body, we honor her identity as a female. But abortion ignores her femininity by demanding that a woman disregard her sex for the duration of the procedure. Do we, in actuality dehumanize women by propagating abortion as a choice while failing to recognize the inherently oppressive nature of the procedure?
What’s more, the reason a woman finds herself seeking out an abortion is that society holds her solely liable for pregnancy. What we’re really saying when we propagate “choice” is an unjust burden of absolute responsibility. The only choice being proffered is how to “deal with” the blame women, and only women incur for getting pregnant. Are we not further wronging women by viewing them as solely culpable with regard to the reproductive process?
Why are we letting men off the hook? Why are we comfortable with nullifying their responsibility in sexual engagement? Our society is not demanding that men take sexual responsibility, so we offer women a perceived “right” when in reality we hold her justly chargeable, thus allowing for men to be easily released from sexual obligation.
It also seems to me that abortion has a lot more to do with sex than we might have thought. Pornography, sexual crimes, and abuses against women cannot be disconnected from the issue of abortion. We cannot delineate between these things as easily as we always have. We have believed a lie that sex without consequences is a possibility. Don’t hear me saying, “You had sex, you got pregnant, you made your bed, now sleep in it.” That is notwhat I’m saying. What I am saying is that a sexually unhealthy society produces sexual misguidedness, violence and abortion. We learn to engage in disembodied sexuality which allows us to more easily dismiss our own holistic personhood, as well as the body of a child in the womb.
Sexual liberation has made slaves out of women, it has only perpetuated and glorified their objectification. The worst part is, these women think that they are free. We think that being subjugated sexually is our wild and provocative prerogative, when the sad fact is that we’re willingly giving our bodies to men who do not deserve them. We think that the “right to choose” is about deciding what happens to our bodies when really, the responsibilities of pregnancy are placed upon women. Pregnancy is often seen by culture as an inconvenient burden and an indicator of irresponsibility. This cultural perception results in the likelihood that women feel shamed over their potential loss of autonomy and blamed for their apparent carelessness.
Sex that is void of relationship, honor and respect is why we’re here, be it the woman who is raped or the teenager who gets pregnant. A misguided shaping of a healthy sexuality is precisely why we find ourselves in this circumstance. This is egregious. By tolerating or celebrating male sexual dominance in the media, in our homes and in culture we are passively promoting violence against women. We get upset when a child is raped, and we should, but our anger should be extended to a cultural of disordered sex, because all of these things are connected. The teenagers who engage in sexual relationships that are selfish and not wholly honoring of the person they are consorting with, or themselves, are an inseparable part of the same systemic problem that outrages us. Sexual violence is present in nearly every case of disembodied sexuality, male sexual dominance, and the denial of sexual consequences, and this violence includes abortion.
So, what do we do? First, we need to stop operating under the assumption that we know which lives are and which are not worth living. The child born to the drug addict or into a loving, healthy trust fund are equally deserving of opportunity. I’ve walked by mothers speaking cruelly to their children and felt sad for their children. I’ve thought that these people shouldn’t be parents. But just because a child is born into tragedy does not mean that his or her life is destined for a tragic ending. Regardless of circumstance, we as Christ followers must possess hope that any situation is redeemable. That’s what Jesus does, He redeems things.
And we get to be a part of the redemption. We are privileged to participate in the Kingdom of God by being bringers of hope and healing. To be honest, I’m a fledgling where this conversation is concerned. I have really only just opened the door on this issue, and while my thoughts have evolved with relative rapidity, my perspective on how we can be involved in the redemptive process is still being formed. My encouragements here are presented as just a beginning of a larger conversation. We can start by talking about the communal implications of sex and the concentric circles of sexuality that impact our culture. Let’s do this by more fully, educating our children about their whole personhood, sexuality included. Let’s examine how our sexuality impacts those closest to us, as well as our communities. Let’s get proactively involved in all the issues of life. We cannot be advocates for life and absent from the foster care system. We cannot advocate an abortion-free society and condemn unwed mothers. Let’s mobilize our churches to support young mothers and families. We must be bringers of life to the unborn and to the born.
This is a critical conversation because we have misguidedly adopted a polemical framework for how we discuss abortion. Maybe it’s time to begin questioning all of the assumptions surrounding this issue that have been made since its conception: that it’s a women’s issue, that it’s necessarily political, or that apathy is an acceptable response. This matters because it’s all life. The man whose sexual formation is incomplete and ridden with cultural values which ultimately dishonor his sexual wholeness directly impacts the woman with the similar disadvantages. And they both directly impact the children born into tragedy as well as the children who do not ever get a chance. We cannot disregard this issue. We can no longer allow for the continued unquestioned oppression of women to persist. We need to reclaim healthy sexuality for ourselves, our children, our communities and our culture. And we must defend the weak, the defenseless; the children who might not be born.
Julia lives in the not-so-sunny-City of Portland, Oregon. On any given day, she’s likely to be found consuming obscene amounts of coffee, running in the beautiful northwest, cooking delicious food or yapping incessantly about women’s issues. You can read more of her musings at eatingstorieslikegrapes.blogspot.com
Illustration by Seth Hahne.