I was raised in a decidedly pro-life household.
I read Brio magazine articles that emphasized the importance of sexual purity and lifted up anti-abortion warriors. I listened to Focus on the Family with my parents because that’s what they were listening to on the radio. I wrote a passionate argumentative speech my senior year for my speech class and was persuasive enough to earn an “A” from my unpersuaded pro-choice teacher.
For the first 18 years of my life, the abortion question was simple. The sex question was simple. God said to save sex for marriage, sex created babies, and if you got pregnant you simply needed to go through nine months of pregnancy and give up your baby for adoption if you could not handle the pressures of becoming a mother.
Then my freshman seminar professor at my moderately conservative Christian university rocked my world when she admitted to my class of purity culture indoctrinated 18-year-olds that she had taken one of her best friends to get an abortion when they were college students.
I respected her. I adored her. I wanted to be like her.
And suddenly I realized that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t understand just how complicated everything surrounding the issue of abortion, and women’s health wasn’t quite as simple as I had believed for most of my childhood.
As I moved into adulthood my views on life and abortion became all the more complicated as I came to understand both the value of all human life and the complex nature of modern science and the processes of life we all experienced from the point of conception. The Terri Schaivo case gained steam and national attention shortly after my husband and I married. It forced us as young 20-somethings to confront our own mortality and discuss what we would want from each other if we were in the same position.
I made it clear to my new husband, who was looking forward to children and decades growing old together, that I fully expected him to let me go if I was ever in the same position. Modern science has improved our lives and saved those who even 50 years ago would have lived short existences. But if modern science couldn’t save the woman he married, then I wanted him to let nature take its course.
Dark stuff, I know.
Over time, for me the abortion issue became about far more than just the ending of an innocent life. My own struggle with infertility and pregnancy, and the struggles of my friends, taught me just how complicated the world of childbearing actually is. For the first time I didn’t just see the struggles of a helpless little one to survive, but the physical, mental, and emotional struggles of the women who choose to give those little ones life. I learned that first trimester ultrasounds were not as simple as putting a little jelly on the belly, that laws requiring rape victims to have an ultrasound before an abortion did in fact mean an uncomfortably invasive procedure which could cause additional emotional trauma. And as I watched friends struggle through the pain of losing their unborn children, it both challenged me to ask how a woman could make that choice and forced me to realize that regardless of the reason and the aftermath, the decision to end a pregnancy was neither easy or painless.
I became increasingly frustrated by both the legitimate love and concern for the unborn and the complete denial of the reasons why women choose abortion in the first place. I started to see the reactive nature of the actions of anti-abortion groups with little discussion about actual prevention and the preventative argument of the pro-choice groups with no discussion of the life being ended. With friends on both sides of the debate, I began to see the legitimate arguments and harmful ignorance on both sides.
I also came to see that if the belief that all life was precious from the womb to the tomb, then the life of the unborn could not be our only concern. If we truly believed that God was the creator of all, if we truly believed that Jesus called us to love our neighbor, then we couldn’t ignore all the ways “life” was challenged in our country.
If we say the chronically ill babies deserve a chance at life, then we also have to care about their parents having access to affordable health care options to care for them. If we care about healthy babies, then we need to acknowledge the difficulties women of color face related to maternal health care and the infant mortality rates that plague their children. If we want to end the destructive cycles that keep families in poverty, threatening their health and ability to provide generational care, then we need to do what we can to lift their babies out of poverty, ending the cycle and benefiting all of society. If we believe that all children need a loving environment, then we cannot prevent LGTBQ couples from providing loving and financially secure homes for the many children in our country desperate for stability and emotional security.
And I finally came to see that a Christ-centered pro-life ethic wasn’t just about abortion.
It was about lifting up the work of anti-racism, reformation of the justice system, humane treatment of refugees and migrants, an immigration system that is both compassionate and just, protections for the lives and safety of our LGTBQ friends and family, a health care system that works for all Americans, and so much more.
I’m ready to leave behind the language and baggage of the pro-life movement to explore a politically unattached whole-life ethic. I’ve stopped looking to parties to solve problems and the promises of individuals. I’m looking to the selfless actions of people and groups who have dedicated themselves to the work of helping others and robust discussion of policy instead of unforgiving laws. I want to see “pro-life” become a way of life as opposed to a buzz word, to see it focus on making a healthy and robust life from womb to tomb possible instead of just a roll of the dice.
Because if we really believe that all life is a precious gift from the Creator, we need to start acting like it.