I am for life. All of my ministry is devoted to Jesus’ axiom that he came to bring, “Life and have it more abundantly.” To many of my fellow Christians my problem is that I do not see life as something the precedes viable birth. Now, this used to be a safe and comfortable position both biblically, theologically and ecclessiologically in the church as a whole. Yet, since the advent of women’s rights over their own bodies and the political and societal power gained by fundamentalists by waging culture wars this is increasingly a position bullied to the minority.
Although, I do not question the sincerity of the lay people concerned with what they consider a pro-life position, I have lived too long amongst the centers of political power to ignore the cynical manipulation of good people for votes, money and influence on some of these issues. With people of good faith I merely disagree from the Biblical evidence, the unclear witness of church history and medical science.
Although, I am not interested any longer in trying to convince a rabid anti-abortion opponent that their opinion is incorrect, I do strongly want to counter an ungodly assumption that they have secured a corner on truth when it comes to medical procedures by advocating biblical solutions. I have changed my opinion on this issue 360 degrees from the days I too was a fundamentalist. I believe that I have primarily changed it because of the rational evidence of viability and a lack of Biblical evidence, but I will not lie in saying that emotion is a part of this decision as well. There are two experiences that I draw upon to influence my rational thinking on this highly charged topic.
First, the experience of someone who I love that suffered the indignity of having an abortion in a religious environment that had no moral care for her life. This person was deep into a much anticipated pregnancy. The preparations had been made, baby showers had been thrown and the regular prenatal care was practiced. It was during one of this woman’s routine exams that something went horribly wrong. So, horrible that the doctor told the couple heart wrenching news. The anticipated life gestating in her womb had not developed as planned. This fetus had grown abnormally and upon further examination lacked a spinal column and brain stem.
Devastated the couple was faced with a terrible decision. On one hand the woman could choose to have the fetus extracted from her womb surgically (which was the advice of the doctor). On the other hand she could pass the fetus naturally in a still birth. This would probably occur during the natural course of the day, but would not be an easy experience physically or psychologically. With their doctor’s advice and their faith strong this couple chose to have the fetus extracted from her womb to move rapidly toward a grieving process.
Yet, if that was where this story ended it would only be one of many heartsick inexplicable tragedies. The only problem was that this woman worked at Wal Mart. Along with being paid a terribly immoral salary the company’s insurance company refused to pay for the extraction of the fetus because this medical procedure was an abortion. The company had taken the moral position that it would not allow it’s insurance money to go toward any type of abortion whatsoever. The injustice of pay, the dependence on terrible insurance and the tyranny of the imposition of another person’s fundamentalist theology on this woman compounded her misery. She was labeled as immoral by her work and in extension by the insurance company that claimed to give her relief. It is wrong to become so calcified by a rigid morality that one cares little about the living here and now.
A second incident was no less of an impact upon my views of woman’s reproductive freedom and it’s importance toward an equitable society. This was during my time doing Clinical Pastoral Education at Providence, Rhode Island’s Woman and Infants Hospital. Our rounds between oncology, new births and Neo-natal intensive care units kept those of us chaplains busy.
There was not one of us who was not deeply impacted by our time learning about woman’s health issues and having our time amongst them seminally imprinted upon us. Making blessings on still births, refrigerated containers of fetal demises, praying with late stage ovarian cancer patients and counseling families who fought as their newborn was wheeled into their room was important preparation for many types of ministry that I am now involved. Still, there was one aspect that had the deepest impact on each and everyone. It was doing hospital rounds in NICU. The emotional bravery of those nurses and doctors is not something that I will ever forget. Saving lives was visceral and exhibited a power that is hard to describe.
It was there that I radically shifted my view of woman’s reproduction from morality to an ethic of collaborative trust shared with our medical communities. NICU units are constantly making life or fetal demise decisions or on the viability of life outside the womb of a woman. These counseled decisions by parents do mean that sometimes a fetus will no longer continue to grow, form and become a feasible life outside the womb. Other times the gray area is left to the parent to decide the terrible possibility of a short life span after birth or a life of terrible disability. Independent viability is only something that can only happen outside the womb during certain stages in a fetus’ development. Many of the fetal demise decisions are made amongst parents and doctors in sanitary medical structures. These decisions are acts of mercy and grace. A woman’s decision to pursue a fetal demise is not something that should be picketed, preached against or decried. It is tragedy.
Aside from these two seminal experiences I unambiguously support a woman’s reproductive freedom and the choices that she has the freedom to make over her body. I do not believe that the post-modern evangelical/fundamentalist push for regulations on woman’s bodies is at all about guaranteeing their health and wholeness. It is a cynical attempt to erode what little autonomy our patriarchal society ceded to women in the 20th century and the attempt to elevate men and their God of misogyny. It is also a wedge issue that produces votes for a political cause, party or candidate. Jesus was about liberating both men and women, he even broke societal taboos against contact with women during their sexual menstruation and was unfazed by a woman who had multiple sexual partners. This same Jesus was a Jew that never once weighed in on the modern debate about women’s reproduction. I however have and side with medicine and the messy and ambiguous history of our church on this issue. This is why I will vote NO on Amendment 1 when it is on the ballot.