The Constraining Abortion Box

I’m an evangelical, homeschooling, anti-choice woman.  And with that description, you may think you know a lot about me and my understanding of abortion.

I’m also a feminist who is against the death penalty, voted for Ralph Nader every time that was an option, and supported Obama in each of the last two elections.  And with that description, you may think you know a lot about me and my understanding of abortion.

But contrary to the description of evangelicals found in Bob Seidensticker’s post about abortion today, I don’t fall neatly into anybody’s abortion box.  Neither do most of the people I know.

Today, I’ll briefly address a few of the comments in Bob’s piece, and then tomorrow I’ll say more about my own understanding of abortion.

1) Bob writes that “..the pro-life argument does seem a bit like a game, despite the serious consequences. The Slactivist blog and Valerie Tarico’s blog have shown that today’s foaming-at-the-mouth pro-life stance by evangelicals was not held by their predecessors 30 years ago.”

Leaving aside the nasty tone of the comment (which makes it hard for us to really talk to and hear one another), the fact that most evangelicals felt differently about abortion in the past is not relevant to whether or not it’s immoral.  After all, fifty years ago plenty of evangelicals also supported anti-miscegenation laws.

The specific arguments that some evangelicals have made in the past to support abortion rights, however, are interesting and demand an answer from today’s anti-choice advocates.  So instead of mocking us as though we have never heard this critique before, you might ask sincerely, “What has changed in your thinking and why?”

2)  Bob writes that “I’ve raised babies (with help, of course), and that makes me something of an expert in identifying babies. As an expert, let me assure you that a single invisible cell isn’t a baby.”

I re-read this section a few times, trying to decide if he was being facetious and I’m still not sure. Is he really claiming to be an expert on when life begins because he is a father?  Or  is he mocking those who claim to be experts on when life begins so that they can make abortion illegal? Either way, the statement misses the essential point for many of us.  I’m not looking for an expert – on either side of the debate.  I want to hear the voice of God.  I understand that many fellow citizens have no such desire.  I respect that and understand that means that we come to the conversation from different starting points.  The difference, though, is not about precisely when life begins.  The fundamental difference is that I want my heart to be shaped by God’s heart and he believes no such God exists.

You may wonder, then, how we can have  conversations about abortion.  After all, if every time you make a well-reasoned argument I say, “Well, that’s not what God told me,” we’re not gonna make much progress.  But I believe that God reveals himself in many ways, including but not limited to science and experience.  I believe that God can reveal his truth to me through a clear argument made by Bob.  It’s just that I will see Bob’s arguments and experience, when they are convincing,  are the result of truth, not the source of it.

I discount neither Bob’s experience of fatherhood, nor his feeling that when his children were zygotes they were not babies.  Nor do I discount my own experience as the mother of five children: one whom I aborted in college, one of whom I delivered stillbirth, two of whom were born alive and are named Zach and Ezra, and one of whom moved in with us two years ago when her mother died.  All of those experiences, and my evolving relationship with God over the years, have shaped my understanding of abortion.  But our experience, neither his nor mine, does not make us experts on anything other than our own experience.

We need to go into the conversation understanding that there is no easy way for us to make collective decisions about abortion.  One man’s expert is another woman’s hack.  Even a clear scientific definition of what constitutes a baby will not bring us to consensus.  His post implies that this is precisely what he finds frustrating, but I don’t think there’s a way around it and I’m okay with that.

3) He writes, “An acorn is not a tree, a silkworm is not a dress, a water molecule is not a whirlpool, a piece of hay is not a haystack, and 20 chicken eggs are not a henhouse of chickens. Similarly, a single fertilized human egg cell is very different from a one-trillion-cell newborn baby.”

Yup.  That’s true.  And I don’t know a single person who disagrees.  But that hardly settles the question.  Thoughtful Christians often disagree about precisely when life begins and still advocate an anti-choice position.  (See Tim Dalrymple’s piece for an example of this thinking.) Third-wave feminist Naomi Wolf wrote in Misconceptions that her experience of pregnancy and her research about the modern commodification of fetuses complicated rather than solidified her understanding of abortion.  Acknowledging that there is a spectrum of meaning between zygote and college graduate does not mean, as Bob suggests, that one would need to be pro-choice.

The funny thing is that I often hear anti-choice advocates using his line of thinking against the pro-choice position.  “If you are pro-choice because there is some time before which homo sapiens are not babies worthy of protection,” anti-choice advocates wonder, “how will you define when that time is?  Is it at birth?  Why?  Why not a day before birth?  Or three months before birth?  What about after birth but before the umbilical cord is cut?  Why not a couple weeks after birth?  What’s the difference?  And who are you to decide?”

I find those arguments against abortion frustrating for the same reasons I find Bob’s argument frustrating.  The truth is that few of us can make a consistent argument here.  Except for the Peter Singers of the world, most of us are profoundly uncomfortable with abortion at eight months.  Except for Catholics, very few of us are uncomfortable with condoms.  Despite hist post’s tone, I imagine that Bob, like many of us, has a hard time knowing for certain when human life begins and when it is wrong to limit the potential of life to blossom.

That doesn’t mean that I think arguments can’t be made for and against abortion.  It just means that I don’t think that church history, experts, or truisms will serve as trump cards in those arguments.  They don’t carry the day because the abortion box that Bob tries to construct, and that too many anti-choice proponents try to construct, isn’t big enough for real people to fit in.

  • sstrong

    Tertullian:

    “How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,–how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death?

    “As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword.

    “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth.

    “That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.”

    - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.iv.iii.ix.html

    I believe in ancient times, children were simply left to die if they were unaffordable or unwanted. The evil of mankind doesn’t change. Only the methods.

  • Jada Edwards

    I like things to be simple, and this subject is a simple one for me. When I’ve allowed my egg to begin its miraculous transformation with my husband’s sperm, I am IMMEDIATELY responsible for that. Sex is its own responsibility, and the consequences a natural and expected result that we learn in 6th grade biology. My 3rd baby is my “surprise” baby. My “bonus” baby. I was on the Pill, had a 11 month and a 3 yr old, and wasn’t ready for him…but he was on the way. After one evening of shock and more than a few tears, I woke up the next morning ready to be a mom again. Was he a zygote or a cell? YEP. That’s how ALL of us start out! He’s a 7 yr old rascal now, and I thank God everyday for His “surprise”.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    I’m glad that all your pregnancies turned out happily. It’s not that way for lots of women, as I’m sure you know.

    As for responsibility, we could tell the guy who shot himself accidentally that he needs to immediately take responsibility for his actions—in other words, don’t expect any help from society. Tough it out.

    But of course we don’t. We stitch him up, consuming medical resources that could’ve been used on someone else. And we almost always pay for it, as co-contributors to his insurance plan, for example.

    We could do the same for a pregnant woman. “Tough,” we might say. Or, “Welcome to reality.” But we don’t. We allow her medical treatment as well.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Bob, Was your comment in response to my post? Or to Jada’s comment?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        In response to Jada. I should’ve clicked Reply.

        • Tara Edelschick

          Got it. And while I understand Jada’s general point, I am also uncomfortable with language of responsibility. It’s not that I take my responsibilities (or yours) lightly; it’s just that it doesn’t tend to move the conversation forward. Everyone is in favor of responsibility, both personal and corporate, so it’s more helpful, I think, to talk specifics than to say, “Take responsibility.”

          • Bob Seidensticker

            I agree, and I’m not sure what, if anything, you’re disagreeing with in my comment.

            Guy comes in to the emergency room with an accidental injury, and we patch him up. Yes, we need to take responsibility for our actions, but society provides a safety net (like emergency rooms) to help us along. I propose the same response for the pregnant woman who really, seriously doesn’t want to be pregnant.

          • Tara Edelschick

            Hey, Bob. I wasn’t disagreeing with you at all. Full agreement.

          • Bob Seidensticker

            :)

  • Pingback: Do All Conservative Arguments Lead to Abortion?

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    I think you are the coolest homeschool mom ever. Reason and balance, love it.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Aw, thanks.

  • mike

    First of all (this is directed at Christians like many misunderstood verses of the bible) we were bought with a price. We are not our own. As Apostle Paul said, our “resonable service” is to be filled with His Spirit. And, whether or not we all get the same amount I don’t know, to be filled with The Spirit is to have less self. To have less self is to have the double portion, to have the double portion is to have power, the “abundant life”, and, I believe, to EXPERIENCE being seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. No more “do our best for Jesus”? The bible describes as a dirty mentral cloth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu Ambaa

    This is one of those issues that I am unable to make any political statements about.

    I know for me personally that I will never have an abortion no matter the circumstances. But that’s me.

    Having friends who have chosen abortion, I found that I could not condemn them for that. I would not choose that, but I still loved and respected them and felt they did the best that they could.

    It does help a lot that I believe in reincarnation, so I know that the child’s soul will get another chance at life. Without that, I might be more firmly anti-choice.

    Like you, I don’t feel like I fit into either of these two boxes that are out there now. I’m democratic, very liberal, and part of a religion that is less than 4% of America, but am also personally against abortion.


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