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Why I’m Neither Pro-Life Nor Pro-Choice

Neither side in this debate has offered much to at-risk families

I think abortion is a terrible thing to do to a human fetus, to its parents, and to society at large. It should never happen. I’ve never met anyone who is “pro-abortion.” It is, whenever it happens, regrettable. That some thoughtlessly use abortion as birth control disgusts me.

But the pro-life movement hasn’t offered very much here, it seems to me.

My objection is that they’re not pro-life. They’re pro-some-life. But not very much life. They’re concerned about only one small bit of life: the beating hearts of unborn babies. The rest of life, the life of the mother that leads up to that pregnancy, and the life of the baby and mother should that baby be born as they hope, they don’t have much interest in.

This is a problem of a one-issue ethics. When you focus exclusively on one evil, and forget the context of that evil, you oversimplify the solution to the point of nonsense. If we stop that one point of contact between abortion doctor and pregnant mother, the anti-abortionists seem to say, our job is done! What of the context in which this all happens? Poverty, poor education, one parent homes, welfare, crime, unemployment, abandonment, abuse, disease, malnourishment, slum life, explicit entertainment, general moral breakdown: these are the whole of the problem, of which abortion is but a piece[1]. No one has ever shown me how stopping abortion alone addresses any of these things, and specifically, how it would stop bringing more unwanted children into the world.

One of my friends says, “We have to stop it because it’s murder.” But once they’re born, and living life? “Everyone has a chance to make it,” he says. “It’s not my fault they raise their children in the slum and make stupid choices. I made something of myself. They have the same opportunities.”

Except they don’t. And anyone who has spent time with the poor knows that. Some of my pro-life friends appear to believe that there is a kind of laissez-faire market of humanity: you get out of life what you make of it, and if you don’t make good, tough luck. (In an earlier era it was called social Darwinism.) We saved the baby from abortion, but if at age 20 she’s dead in a crack house, or he’s decaying in prison, that’s not my problem. Nature has weeded out another idiot.

Pro-choicers are equally guilty of decontextualized ethics. Freedom of choice is laid out as the summum bonum, beside which all things fall into place. Choice is wonderful; but as it is conceived here it is an elitist value, and it promises way more than it can deliver to the poor and pregnant unwed mother. Choices haven’t presented in abundance to her, or she’d already have chosen her way out of poverty and ignorance. To give the impoverished pregnant unwed mother the single choice to get an abortion or not — well, that’s a choice, but hardly one to celebrate.

Having an abortion is often argued as the way to keep unwed mothers from sinking further under family responsibilities. The data doesn’t support that. Women who have had abortions are more likely to become pregnant again and have more abortions, and are more likely to require welfare. They have more health and emotional problems, which makes it harder to find a job, and diminishes their chance of establishing permanent relationships with a male partner — they’re more likely to never marry, more likely to divorce, and more likely to go through a long string of unsuccessful relationships. The inability to form a nuclear family reduces household income—meaning more public assistance[2].

So much for free choice.

As a Christian, I believe there’s more to life than a beating heart. The life Jesus promised was one of abundance, and that doesn’t sound to me like mere biological survival, but more happiness, more opportunities, more personal and spiritual growth.

What I’d like to see? A group of people who refuse to say whether they’re pro-life or pro-choice, but who pour out their lives for at-risk families. Who made sure troubled families have opportunities and guidance beyond what they’d get in their own social context. As for unwanted babies: what if every church were an orphanage, rather than a gathering of the righteous?

The middle class Evangelical church sitting in their padded pews fussing about abortion is irrelevant, as is the mainline church piously upholding choice. Their own children are smart, well-nourished, well-educated, and have the money and brains to use contraceptives. (Which they do. Illicit sexual activity occurs across social and religious groups.)

That cluster of Christians I’ve seem praying in front of a local abortion clinic? I keep wanting to stop and ask them what they’ve done for the people of that neighborhood lately. Those pro-choice demonstrators at a candidate’s campaign stop: have they thought about what their target population gets out of this privilege of free choice they’ve won for them?

I’ve rarely seen this issue addressed holistically, probably because it usually discussed not as a matter of people but politics. It’s an issue to win with, not an issue to help people be winners. That useless kind of ethical theory we learned in school where we were asked to decide if one act were right or wrong hasn’t helped us much, either. It’s all a lot more complex than that.

So let’s stop talking about what those others ought to do. Let’s start doing for others, instead. As Paul said, “Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

1 The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level. Finer LB and Henshaw SK, Disparities in rates of unintended pregnancy in the United States, 1994 and 2001, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2006, 38(2):90–96
2 Thomas Strahan, “Women Increasingly Receive Public Assistance as Abortion is Repeated,” Association for Inter-disciplinary Research in Values and Social Change Newsletter, 4(2):3-7 1991
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