False Beliefs About Abortion
Every year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Supreme Court?s fateful decision on Roe vs. Wade handed down in 1973, millions of Americans celebrate the sanctity of human life. The reason is well known because the court?s decision established an absolute right of women to seek and procure an abortion, which is the termination of a pregnancy, the taking of the life of the baby in her womb. For the past decade, Orthodox Christians including several bishops and priests, have joined the March for Life on Washington DC that occurs on or near the Roe vs. Wade decision. For over the past ten years, our Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago has designated this Sunday closest to the anniversary to be Sanctity of Life Sunday for all churches throughout our Metropolis/Diocese.
With these things in mind, I offer to the reflections of an important woman. Our Lenten retreat speaker of three years ago, Frederica Mathewes-Green, a wife of an Orthodox priest, has written extensively about women?s issues including the issue of abortion. In 2003, on the thirtieth anniversary of Roe, she offered a reflection on the lessons learned since the fateful decision. I have distilled her comments into the following:
She says, that soon after arriving at college, in 1970, I knew that feminism was the religion for me. I had discarded the religion I grew up with, Christianity, as an insultingly simpleminded thing, but feminism filled the gap. Like a religion it offered a complete philosophical worldview, one that displayed me as victim in the center, a feature with immeasurable appeal to a female teenager?I was the first in my dorm to become a feminist?and nearly all feminists of the time wanted all abortion laws everywhere repealed, because otherwise women were slaves. The bumper sticker on my car read, "Don't labor under a misconception. Legalize abortion." ?Thirty years later, there are many things I regret about those years ?chief among them is how shortsighted I was about the impact of Roe. What can I say, except that I just didn't know. I thought that women would only have abortions in the most-dire circumstances. I thought that the numbers of abortions would be small. I thought every child would be a wanted child. I thought the unborn was nothing but a glob of tissue. I thought abortion would liberate women. I was wrong.
Roe has taught us many lessons which now govern our lives in ways we can barely perceive. Instead of being one small tool for women's advancement, abortion opened a chasm, and a lot of unexpected things fell in. It turned out to be an irresistible force, because abortion makes things so much easier for everyone around the pregnant woman. Before Roe, unplanned pregnancy created many problems for many people ? the woman's lover, her parents, her siblings, her boss, her landlord, her dean. Abortion changes the picture instantly: Just go get it taken care of, dear, and it will be as if it never happened. Women were expected to do the sensible thing and save everyone else a lot of fuss and bother. Overnight, unplanned pregnancy became her private problem, a burden for her to bear alone. Abortion-rights rhetoric compounded this effect with terms emphasizing her isolation: My body, my rights, my life, my choice. The flip side of all that first-person assertiveness is abandonment. The network of support that once existed had been shattered.
There were a number of beliefs I held back then, things that I thought Roe would prove true. One by one I have seen them fall over these 30 years.
1. "Abortion liberates women." ?It has become obvious that women were choosing abortion in sorrow and distress rather than as daring self-expression. They usually didn't feel liberated afterwards, but a complex of numbness, sorrow, and relief.
2. "It's a woman's choice." ?Roe didn't add more options to a woman's plate; it made one option nearly inevitable, because it would be overwhelmingly attractive to those with an interest in keeping her life unchanged. In other words, ?I didn't have any choice, I had to have an abortion.?
3. "Women have abortions only in extreme circumstances." Pro-choice leaders say?that Americans believe in abortion under only three circumstances: rape, incest, and "my situation." Under those generous criteria, the numbers of abortions has risen to over 40 million. About 3,500 each day. No one expected this.
5. "Men don't have any right to a say in her decision." Of course they do; a father has as much right as a mother to care for his biological child. But the majority of unwed dads, of course, greet this proposition with relief. Another way of phrasing it is, "Men don't have any obligation to be involved in her problem."
6. "Anti-abortion activists want to turn back the clock." ?Not true, it's abortion that pretends to turn back the clock, by offering a woman the illusion that she can push the rewind button on her life and go back to the time before she was pregnant. It can't be done. Once you're pregnant, a new life has begun.
7. "It's just a glob of tissue." ?From the time the sperm dissolves in the egg it's alive and has a unique genetic code never before seen on earth, with 100% human DNA. It's a different shape, that's all. I'm a different shape now than I was at 8 or will be at 80. When did we start discriminating against people based on their shape?
9. "Every child should be a wanted child." ?the unwanted ones were all aborted, to the tune of one abortion for approximately every three live births. So how come the rate of reported child abuse is so high? In the early years after Roe there were 60,000 cases of child abuse reported annually. Today there are three million cases reported annually, a fifty-fold increase. The reasons for this increase are debatable, but one thing's for sure, abortion didn't prevent it. Aborting "unwanted" children hasn't helped. Instead, it's taught us that an unwanted person has no right to live. A child might be wanted very much during pregnancy, and not-so wanted a few months later when she's crying in the middle of the night. But abortion has taught us that a child deserves to live only if her parent wants her.
10. "My right to control my body." When a woman realizes she is pregnant and doesn't want to be, she may feel understandably panicked?However, the unborn child has a right to control his/her body, too, and that must at a minimum mean the right to keep her arms and legs attached to her body.
11. "Women are full-fledged adults and deserve more rights than fetuses." ?It's a long way from regulating rights that come with increasing maturity to denying the right to be alive. This is an abiding fallacy in abortion discussions, and both pro-life and pro-choice advocates fell for it. We both assumed that abortion concerned a conflict between the rights of a woman and a fetus. But in no sane culture are women and their own unborn children presumed to be mortal enemies?The love between mother and baby is the icon of human connectedness, and when we complacently assume that one may want to kill the other, something has gone seriously wrong?
In conclusion, let it be said that abortion hurts. It is a classic example of acting in haste and repenting at leisure?Afterwards, there are a lot of long nights, when she goes through the day the baby would have been born, the anniversary of the abortion, the first "wanted" pregnancy when she feels her baby move, and all the years to ahead?But how can she speak of this grief? It's supposed to be "private" and "personal." She expects people would say, "Look, it was your decision, stop whining about it." She may fear that voicing regrets will give fodder to the pro-life movement, whom she has been told is an enemy trying to oppress her. All the insistent language of privacy makes her feel that her grief has no place; it should not intrude on others and disturb them, it should be kept inside. Everyone else has forgotten that she was ever pregnant. It's time to get over it. So why does she still feel so sad?
We, Orthodox Christians proclaim forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation for all those suffering from post-abortion trauma. Let us surround these women with love and support. Let us help women who are pregnant now to carry their babies to term. Let us help them find a good home, whether their own or another loving couple seeking an adoption. By doing this we help to sanctify all life. Amen!