Bridging the Abortion Divide, in conversation with Ellen Painter Dollar

Last week I wrote for her.meneutics about the woman with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome who decided to carry her pregnancy to term after a priest intervened and offered to find adoptive parents for the child (A Real Happily-Ever-After for Babies with Down Syndrome). In my post, I critiqued the website Jezebel, and with it many voices within the pro-choice movement, for a derogatory attitude toward everyone involved in this story:
This attitude extends beyond one post or one site. It serves as a prime example of the pro-choice movement becoming increasingly blinded by ideology. Years ago, perhaps this case could be one that both sides would have applauded: a mother retaining her right to choose and even being presented with another option, adoption, through the priest. Yet the tone turns defensive, as the writer assumes the woman has succumbed to social or religious pressure. Certainly we aren’t going to be so dismissive of women’s agency to think that this woman didn’t have any say in the matter just because a priest reached out to her?
It seems in the contemporary, pro-choice mindset, there was no choice other than abortion.
My friend Ellen Painter Dollar responded to my post with her own: I am Pro-Choice, But Jezebel Does Not Speak For Me. Ellen adds her voice to my critique of Jezebel’s attitude toward this situation, but she also challenges my argument that this post represents a larger problem within the pro-choice movement:

Perhaps Ms. Baker’s extreme, factually inaccurate views on abortion, choice, and Down syndrome are representative of some in the pro-choice community. But they are not representative of my views. So as much as I appreciated Amy Julia’s telling both her own family’s story and that of the baby in Virginia, I worry that her inclusion of the Jezebel post will serve to further entrench the two sides in the abortion debate (I told her as much, and she read this piece before I posted it). I imagine Christianity Today’s largely pro-life audience patting themselves on the back for holding the obvious moral high ground in contrast to those evil pro-choicers so blinded by their godless ideology that they can’t see the good in a woman choosing adoption over abortion. Amy Julia included the Jezebel post as an example of the “contemporary pro-choice mindset,” but it doesn’t at all reflect my mindset, or that of most pro-choice people, including those who are Christians.

The contemporary pro-choice movement writ large is certainly guilty of, at times, favoring ideology and rhetoric over thoughtful, fact-based discourse that respects the other side in this debate and values practical solutions more than political point scoring. But so is the contemporary pro-life movement, such as when they portray pro-choice voters as murderers, or caricature women seeking abortions as bimbos who just want to have lots and lots of sex with no consequences. But research consistently shows that most Americans are somewhere in the middle on abortion, rather than in agreement with these and other extreme arguments made on both the pro-choice and pro-life sides.

I agree with Ellen that most pro-choicers I know would be as appalled as she was with the Jezebel perspective. In that sense, my sentence about the “contemporary, pro-choice mindset” was inaccurate. But the public representatives of the pro-choice movement tend to talk in extremes and refuse to entertain ethical concerns. The politicians who gain media support and attention are those who advocate for abortion rights that most Americans (even pro-choice ones) abhor, as Kirsten Powers has written (I Don’t Stand with Wendy Davis). In this sense, I do believe that Katie Baker’s rant for Jezebel was representative of the pro-choice movement more generally, even if not of most pro-choice individuals.

With that said, Ellen is right that the same accusation can be lobbied against the pro-life movement, with politicians making ignorant and insensitive statements about “legitimate rape.”  I was with two pro-life friends over the weekend. When we discussed abortion in the case of saving a mother’s life, both agreed that the abortion was a tragic but necessary option that needed to be left to the woman and her doctors. Yes, it gets ethically murky very quickly. But individual pro-lifers tend to live in those murky waters and hopefully recognize that wisdom requires moral discernment rather than a list of rules or set of regulations to govern every possible instance.

Although I defend my assertion that the Jezebel perspective goes beyond this individual writer to the larger pro-choice movement, I regret any implication that pro-choice individuals would categorically agree with this perspective. Perhaps what the media calls pro-choice really is pro-abortion, but most pro-choice Americans are not pro-abortion? And perhaps what the media calls pro-life is really idolatrous of life (or some other catchy label?) while most pro-life Americans are not? As I said in the piece, I think this is a case in which pro-choice and pro-life could rejoice together: mother and baby both live with apparent positive outcomes for everyone involved. I hope the her.meneutics audience sees this not as a political victory but instead as a victory for a mother and her child, for both of the vulnerable individuals involved in a scary and urgent decision.

So here’s the challenge–if most of us are somewhere in between what the media calls pro-life and pro-choice, how can we have a conversation about abortion that goes past legislative battles and political ideology and actually does some work to care for women and children?
My Questions About the Ethics of Embryo Selection
7 Thoughts on How to Survive Another Snow Day (and maybe even enjoy it)
Thank you Patheos! (And Continuing the Conversation at Christianity Today)
Peeking Into the Womb
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).


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