My Journey through Understanding Abortion Rights
This feels like the most vulnerable thing I have ever written.
I am neck-deep in a community of family, friends, and church community who comfortably call women who get abortions irresponsible, baby-killing murderers. To say anything outside of that narrative is sort of social suicide. But I feel compelled to put this out into the ether.
I used to feel a lot of cognitive dissonance about voting for candidates who were pro-choice. I didn’t think I ever would. Then 2016 came along and my choices were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I cringed at the thought of voting for Clinton, but not for the usual reasons. It wasn’t because of the emails or the fact that she was a woman or even her bland policies. It was because of abortion. But I couldn’t rectify voting for Donald Trump and calling myself pro-life either. He didn’t seem like anything close to an advocate for human life. I was afraid at the notion of a Trump presidency. Now I know I was right to be afraid. Still, I felt an unbelievable amount of dissonance casting my vote for Hillary. I hadn’t even fully made up my mind that I would actually select her name until the moment I did it at the polls that day.
Now I’m heading to the ballot box again and, well, to make a long story short, I don’t feel any dissonance at all. Actually, I feel more confident in my alignment with pro-choice policies being “pro-life” than I ever did when my basic political ideology was “overturn Roe v. Wade.” I have started to feel sort of gross looking back on my former line of thinking. It makes me cringe to think about how I thought I was taking some kind of moral high ground by revolving everything around abortion so that I could boast a pure conscience. Because as soon as I cared to actually learn about abortion, the answer was clear: sex education, ending poverty, expanding healthcare and access to contraception. I also began to notice how little pro-life politicians seemed to care about life and saw the term as a misnomer. Now I tell people that I’m pro-life, but in the pro-choice way. What I mean by that is that I care about life and not buzz-words used to trap evangelicals into voting down a party line. I care about results, not propaganda. It means nothing for me to tell people that I’m bound to a high moral ground and must vote pro-life when I know for a fact that those policies will do nothing to reduce abortion, promote abundant life, or protect the voiceless.
That is the thing I could always get behind — protecting the voiceless. I respect that anti-abortion advocates feel they are protecting the voiceless. But it means less to me when anti-abortion promises are paired with stripping away every measure in place to reduce unwanted pregnancies. It means a whole lot less when the same folks not only fail to speak for, but also actively silence the voiceless in our society. In means nothing to me when people who are eager to protect the unborn have no interest in protecting women.
I used to think that pro-choice meant no churning over abortion. No feelings of conflict when picturing a woman making the life-changing decision to end a pregnancy. I saw it as very cut and dry: if you are pro-choice, you have no feelings about abortion at all. I know now that’s not true. I know that there is a wide spectrum of opinions and emotions around abortion among people who support pro-choice policies. I don’t feel that I have abandoned any of my religious convictions as I’ve moved through my thinking on this topic. I think I have just made more room for both reason and empathy.
One story that challenged my thinking a lot on this topic is that of Shannon Dingle, a widowed mother of 6 who discovered she was pregnant right after her husband died in a freak accident. Formerly a pro-life speaker and advocate, she knew her pregnancy would likely kill her because of her chronic illnesses and did not want her kids to lose both of their parents. In her recent op-ed in USA Today, she writes, “The pro-life movement can make up all the caricatures they want about people who didn’t plan well, but I was happily married to a living husband when I got pregnant. If I could have planned for him not to die, I would have. Caricatures make for good propaganda but terrible policy. People, real people, become pregnant. And those people each carry their own stories, nuanced and unique.”
Real people. That’s what I’ve begun to leave room for in this conversation. I’ve begun to make space for the trauma involved in pregnancy, fear, and having to decide whether you want to end it or not. I’ve begun to leave room for the people who have dangerous pregnancies they know will kill them if they carry to term, and I don’t think I could ever call those women murderers for using scientific advancements to preserve their lives. I’ve begun to let my mind wander to 17 year old girl bleeding out in back alleys. I’ve painted the mental picture of the couple who had a late-term abortion and had to paint over the walls of the nursery room they had already decorated. And I’m begging that we can have conversations about abortion that include all of this built in nuance.
I was taught to view abortion as a very black and white issue. You are either a murderer, or you’re not. But I completely reject that idea now. And I’m not interested in standing on my pedestal of conscience by shaming women who have situations I know nothing about. I’m not interested in having my spiritual beliefs co-opted by a political party. I am interested in having conversations in which we don’t name call each other or dismiss others as baby killers. The pro-life conversation is so suction tight. There is no room for nuance. I haven’t traded my conscience here. I’ve just created space. Space for what this topic really entails. And it’s so much more than I ever knew.