Offered with deep trembling: thoughts on the (lack of) conversation about abortion in our society.

I’m feeling the need to clarify something so that I can get on with my day and loving people as I should. And remembering recent lovely conversations with the marvelous human beings Sine Wave and Andrew St. John.

Conversations about abortion trigger me because I feel threatened. I am usually considered progressive in my theology, ethics, and politics. When I hang out with progressive people, it seems like a no-brainer that everyone in the room would support a policy of abortion on demand. Anyone who challenges this is part of the problem and deserves to be dismissed. I know that I have a great deal of privilege–but I have also some deep concerns born out of my experiences of oppression, exclusion, and misunderstanding.

I am a gay, disabled man. And believe me, even in religious circles, I hear things like this–sometimes as part of conversations where people forget, momentarily, to whom they are talking–: “If I were going to have a severely disabled child, I would abort.” Or (particularly chilling when coming from the mother): “If I had known you were going to be queer, I would have had an abortion.” Eugenics and murderous hatred of queers is alive and well. So, please, let’s not assume that only one kind of voice should have total say (white privileged women) or that one kind of voice should be totally excluded (white privileged men).

I won’t get into theology here–it would take too long and fail to reach a great many ‘secular’ people with whom I want to speak. I am not pro-choice. I am anti-“abortion should be illegal.”

I wanted to tell one story that still (perhaps irrationally) moves me to this day. I was at a very calm pro-life educational event, and there was a video presentation about abortion (I was an older teenager, probably 17). As I recall it, there were no violent images, but instead images that showed clearly the humanity and childlike behaviour of the growing unborn. But it was set to haunting music in a minor key, with the singer’s voice rising and falling: “A curse, a curse on those who take away our children.” I remember looking over and seeing a good friend, whose son I taught in Sunday School, with her hand over her mouth and tears streaming down her face. I have never forgotten that experience, because as harsh as it is, a curse felt exactly right for that moment.

Again: I am not pro-choice. Nevertheless, I oppose making abortion illegal.

Studies of Western nations clearly show that legal and medically supervised abortion decreases the number of abortions overall. Pro-choice advocates who use a coat-hanger as a symbol of what happens when abortion is illegal have the facts (and an evocative image) on their side.

I am not blaming individual women for their choices. Individual acts of abortion are symptoms of much larger and deeply inhumane problems in our society. I believe that abortion is a social travesty; it means that we as a society have failed to work systemically and simultaneously on issues like women’s and children’s health, good sex education, poverty eradication, access to medical care, homophobia, transphobia, disability rights, racism, sexism, eugenics, and a whole host of other intersections.

We live in a society driven by productivity and usefulness. So when children, the disabled, queer people and others don’t make the cut, their lives are honoured less. We also live in a society which does not have (and often doesn’t *want* to have) consensus about what a human being and human person is (even assuming we should make that distinction, which I find problematic).

Yes, I agree with friends who have recently expressed deep anger: children should not be carrying around signs that show the results of various kinds of abortions. But if older teens and adults were the only ones present at protests, would we be able to have a civil, non-violent, and deeply passionate conversation about if/why/how the practice of abortion is a form of (brutal) violence? Could we have a discussion that goes beyond the important but reductive statement, “Abortion is solely a choice between a woman and her doctor”?

Could we re-start the social conversation about the practice of abortion in our communities of justice and goodwill/faith with the assumption that we all want to be heard, understood, and done justice? Where would that get us? Could we stop to think, soberly, about the (obvious?) link between the unborn who are carried to term and the children we celebrate and legally protect? Why and how do we protect vulnerable and voiceless beings, and when do other considerations override this basic concern?

Literary theorist Stanley Fish once wrote that “you’ll only agree with me if you already agree with me.” I hope he’s wrong. I hope people and voices that don’t usually sit down together can do so, especially around an issue, and a practice, that speaks so deeply to the heart of what it means to be human and to have individual and social integrity.


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