Questions for Ellen Painter Dollar on Being Pro-Choice Part Two

What restrictions would you put on reproductive choice?

Fervent pro-choice advocates face a dilemma as reproductive technologies such as prenatal diagnosis, IVF, PGD, and surrogacy become more sophisticated and ubiquitous. The ability of parents to select the gender of their children, via either preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select embryos of the desired gender for transfer, or via abortion after ultrasound determines a fetus’s gender, illustrates this dilemma well. Again, to quote from my upcoming book:

Because the pro-choice movement centers on women’s rights, sex-selection technology poses a particularly thorny problem [for pro-choice advocates]. Sex selection to ensure male offspring stems from ancient patriarchal notions that boys are more valuable than girls. American fertility doctors treat patients from Asian, Middle Eastern, and African cultures who take advantage of our unregulated fertility industry to use PGD to ensure that they have baby boys. In some cases the mothers-to-be proactively seek the treatment, and in others they appear to be under pressure from husbands and extended families to deliver much-desired male children . . . In such cases, accessing fertility treatment may be less about a woman’s freely exercising her choice than about her obligation to conform to ancient cultural and familial practices that are fundamentally oppressive to women . . .

[Journalist Liza] Mundy discussed the sex-selection dilemma with a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman who, while concerned about sex-selection technology, said she did not think it should be banned. “Her fear,” writes Mundy, “is that any effort to direct any reproductive decision made by any individual is to call into question all decisions made by all individuals, including, of course, the decision to abort.” Mundy, on the other hand, argues that “it should be possible to (1) accept a woman’s moral right to choose whether or not to continue an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, and (2) reject an infertility patient’s right to infinitely select desired traits in offspring.” But that will only be possible if those on the left are willing to question or reframe their rhetoric of choice and parental rights, and to recognize that unlimited choice can be as problematic as no choice at all.

I do not support unlimited reproductive choice or unlimited abortion rights. I do not support late-term or partial-birth abortion. I think sex selection via PGD or abortion should be illegal, and that preimplantation genetic diagnosis should be used only to screen for significantly disabling or fatal genetic disorders, not for either gender or non-disease traits (e.g., hair and eye color).

Like many who read this blog, I’m familiar with the oft-cited statistic that about 90 percent of pregnancies in which the fetus is prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated. I believe that, ultimately, parents have the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy when their fetus is prenatally diagnosed with a genetic disorder. However (and this is a big however), in my work collecting stories from women who have made difficult reproductive choices, I’m aware that the quality of information, counsel, and support that families receive from their caregivers in the aftermath of a troubling prenatal diagnosis is often poor. Many (by no means all) medical providers express a bias toward termination, and fail to offer families up-to-date information on what it is like to raise a child with a particular disorder. My own disorder, OI, is relatively rare, and I know of more than one family who was told that their unborn child had the fatal form of OI when, actually, the child had a severe but manageable form of the disorder. So when I hear of parents who choose to terminate a pregnancy after receiving a prenatal diagnosis of fatal OI, I grieve for that child and those parents, knowing that there’s a decent chance that child’s diagnosis wasn’t fatal after all. While I want parents to retain the right to make their own decisions about pregnancy termination, I also believe that significant improvements in the information and counsel parents receive after a prenatal diagnosis would substantially lower the termination rate.

Nate asked how I view scriptures that claim God’s wrath against societies that allow the blood of innocents to be shed, pointing me to this collection of passages gathered in support of a pro-life perspective:

I am suspect of any attempt to take ancient biblical texts, isolate them, and then insist that they give clear counsel on modern-day ethical dilemmas. There are many ways in which a society can support and enable the shedding of innocent blood—wars with significant civilian casualties, a health care system that fails to provide care to the poor, etc.—so I am leery of insisting that these passages make a clear case against Christians accepting legalized abortion. I’ll go back to my first point: I believe human life—human lives—are a gift from God and should be treated with reverence. To me, that is crystal clear in Scripture. What is not crystal clear is exactly how that reverence for God-given life precisely influences how Christians should respond to modern legislative, political, medical, and ethical issues. For example, scripture clearly says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet, as I discussed earlier, Christians generally accept that there are various legal and moral responses to one person killing another person, so that even this very clear commandment does not translate into every person who kills another person being imprisoned for murder.

Several of the scriptures mentioned in this link refer to Molech—an ancient god to whom people were required to sacrifice their children. Pro-life advocates have used the name of Molech as a weapon against pro-choice advocates. My faithful reader who calls me a murderer has also called me, “The high priestess of Molech.” As one of my writing colleagues pointed out, perhaps I should be flattered to be not just a priestess, but a “high priestess”?! All this to say: I don’t think quoting scriptures in isolation and referring to fellow Christians with the name of pagan gods is useful if we want to actually figure out appropriate Christian responses to the moral dilemmas facing our culture.

7 Thoughts on How to Survive Another Snow Day (and maybe even enjoy it)
Peeking Into the Womb
Thank you Patheos! (And Continuing the Conversation at Christianity Today)
My Questions About the Ethics of Embryo Selection
About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).