Yesterday I ran into this article by Caitlin Flanagan over at the Atlantic. She always induces writer envy in me, so that I am both intimidated and jealous at the same time. It is a great piece and you should read it, but I hope you won’t agree with her conclusion.
She takes a look at some of the deeply personal, emotional reasons that compel women to chose abortion, and some of the cultural pressures that make that choice seem worthwhile. In particular, she looks at older advertisements for Lysol that, not even subtly, contributed to the emerging cultural consensus that pregnancy is inconvenient and bad. A woman has a responsibility to cleanse herself from all after effects of the sexual act, postulates much of this advertising, which Lysol, for a profit of course, was prepared to help her do. There is a particularly heartbreaking picture in the center of the article of a woman with her head in her hands, and the caption reads, “I just can’t face it again.” The thing she can’t “face” is another pregnancy.
Flanagan looks at the statistics and pulls out three horrifically botched Lysol abortions, one in which the mother died. She concludes,
And here is one truth: No matter what the law says, women will continue to get abortions. How do I know? Because in the relatively recent past, women would allow strangers to brutalize them, to poke knitting needles and wire hangers into their wombs, to thread catheters through their cervices and fill them with Lysol, or scalding-hot water, or lye. Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion. When we made abortion legal, we decided we weren’t going to let that happen anymore. We were not going to let one more woman arrive at a hospital with her organs rotting inside of her. We accepted that we might lose that growing baby, but we were not also going to lose that woman.
The whole piece is worth your while, as I said, but there are several problems with it, not least that the premise of abortion goes entirely unquestioned. Because women will do it, therefore they should be able to do it safely, because otherwise we, all of us, don’t care about women. This is always the end of the line, the place where the pro-lifer says, ‘No no, we really do care, and we think that abortion actually makes everything worse. We care very deeply about the woman, and know that her life doesn’t have to be pitted against the life of the child.’ ‘Yes it does,’ says the pro-abortioner. ‘She will only be happy if the baby is no longer there.’
In this way, the title of the article is disingenuous. The abortion debate, I think, is very honest. I really don’t think a living soul is purposefully lying about what they think and believe. Pro-abortioners think that the woman’s life is more valuable than the baby’s. It is not that they don’t value the baby. But the value of the life of the baby is conditional upon the value of the life of the mother. Furthermore, there are no real consequences with doing away with the life of the child, or, if there are, they are not equal in weight to the consequences of letting the child live. The mother’s choices have so narrowed that doing away with the child is a good and right option and if she regrets it for a while, those regrets will not be as great as the trauma of having to keep the child.
Pro-lifers, on the other hand, would say that the consequences of taking the life of the child will be even more traumatic than keeping the child. Of course, there is trauma associated with giving birth and raising a child. No one disputes that. But introducing death into an already fraught circumstance only palliates that trauma without accomplishing true and total healing. Because it is death, and in many cases a violent death, the mother will not go on to live a healthy and happy life. Outwardly she may, but inwardly she never will, not if anyone is willing to admit the truth. Culturally, when you mount up all those deaths, you have a deep spiritual wound that cripples not only individual mothers, but their families, their communities, everyone.
I want to put it in even more dire Christian terms. The body of the woman has to die in one way or another. She either dies to give life to the child, and in this way, as some small, mysterious salvation, she rises again, or she dies in the killing of the child, and that death is forever—unless she clings on to Jesus.
Men die too, of course, but they have no such small, such private, such horrifying choices. If they are going to die for the sake of another they are going to do it with a gun in their hands, on the battle field, or rushing into a burning building. They are seen and known.
They never have to face the pain of having a living being come out, their own bodies wrenched again and again, the steel jaws of the nursing baby clamped down on the tenderest place. These kinds of deaths are intimate, private, essentially unknown.
The person who dies for the sake of another experiences a small taste of the cross, which is the place where death and life contend and life wins. When you die for another, rather than for yourself, you live. Jesus does that, of course, for the whole world. A woman who gives birth to her own child only does it for her child, and it is painful, and, perhaps this isn’t said enough, for many it is traumatic. But if she chooses not to give life, she embraces a further death, even of herself, that is never spoken of by the people who promise her a false, unencumbered, childless life.
The thing that every person—man or woman—needs to grapple with is that death will always come. We all go down to the grave one by one by one, some in unendurable suffering. There is only one solution to this great horror, and that is the life saving work of Jesus on the cross. You have to cling onto him, before you yourself die, in order to live.
If you are a woman, you get to taste his life-giving death in your own body, over and over again. It is painful. It is traumatic. It inflicts wounds from which you do not recover in this life as you limp forward. But the greater and more perfect healing of Jesus’ saving cross, because of what you have endured, is more intense, more true, more bright because of your bitter taste of his own work.