I sometimes wake up in the mornings after writing articles here and think, “What have I done?” I feel that I have a voice of reason, that must be shared. I will state again, my purpose is peace, not further division and my MO is using logic and evidence, not emotional convictions to sort this out. To dislodge the conversation from emotional reasoning, I prefer to speak in philosophical terms, certainly not political or religious. Philosophy is simply the love or study of knowledge with the aim of finding truth. Pure philosophy does not have an agenda beyond that.
I’m going to start with a look at the pro-choice side of the argument. I find this side much easier to define and explain than the pro-life side. However, there is a caveat. By writing about pro-choice, I will be attempting, as a man, to explain how women feel about men thinking for them. It creates a philosophical quandary.
I must start by saying that there is a wide spectrum of reasons for why people support a pro-choice or pro-life position. However, the most outspoken, the most visceral reactions among the pro-choice side are those who define it as a woman’s right issue. I want to avoid painting either side with a broad brush, however, for the sake of brevity, I must focus on the loudest voices in the crowd.
It is no coincidence that the champions of pro-choice (eg. Gloria Steinem) are also champions of the women’s rights in general. It is also no coincidence that those pro-choice people standing outside the Supreme Court and screaming are usually people deeply convicted and moved by women rights issues in general.
Pro-Choice as a Women’s Right Issue
I must admit, that indeed it is a women’s right issue. I would have never said that as an evangelical because we believed in a simple, black and white world. Women who were pro-choice were morally evil.
But, I think women in general, are tired of old gray suits stuffed with old gray men, telling them what to do. These same men, many of whom have probably fathered fetuses (I say “fetuses” because these men made sure they didn’t make it to term) and taken no responsibility for them. That’s my hunch knowing human traits.
Most cultures on earth are patriarchal, at least in their histories. The simple reason, from an anthropological standpoint, is that men, on average, are physically stronger than women. So men began to dominate women even during their hunter and gathering stages. Religious societies then justify the oppression of women by cherry picking their religious texts and teachings.
I cannot speak for women who feel wounded by discrimination because I’m not a woman. I likewise feel deeply opposed to racism, but I cannot speak for the black experience in America because I’m not black.
So, I believe it really is a civil rights issue and I can start to understand the anger and frustration that pro-choice women must feel. They were oppressed for thousands of years and the abortion issue, to borrow a term from Pink Floyd, “is just another brick in the wall.”
Imagine people were like seahorses, then when we bred the female would deposit her eggs in a pouch on the male (ventral pouch) and the male would carry the embryos to term, and give birth to them. If this was true and the patriarchal society was otherwise the same, then I don’t believe that the evangelicals or any pro-life people would give much thought about abortion. It would be the same way that Christians (early evangelicals) before the early 1970s saw abortion, as a nonissue. The Catholic church allowed abortion up to 40 days of pregnancy for male fetuses and 80-90 days for female fetuses (don’t how the knew this before modern ultrasound) until 1869 when the Catholic church declared it murder. In other words, for 97% of the Catholic church’s history, abortion was not seen as murder. Additionally, it is factual that whether or not abortion is legal or moral has always been determined by men.
I’ve seen some evidence that protestants encouraged girls to get abortions before the 1960s as a superior moral choice than being an unwed pregnant woman, bringing shame to their themselves and families. A poll as late as 1970 of Baptist pastors showed that 70% supported abortion as a positive thing for the mental health of women. So what changed? I will talk about that when I write about Pro-life. But my point is, the rules really are different for women than men, but in a just world it should not be that way.
I can just tangentially, through the process of empathy, try to understand what women have gone through. Thousands of years of discrimination. No rights to vote, to own property, being treated unfairly by the male-dominated society, earning half as much as men in the same professions, and then a male dominated government is telling them they can’t make personal choices about their body. I hear them and their outrage is justified.
The problem with all “isms” is that they go to seed as extremism. Extremist views reduce the entire world down to their agenda, black and white. Slowly, moment by moment, year by year, the blinders encroach on their vision until they interpret the world via a pinhole. No movement is spared.
In feminism, while the basis of fighting for women’s rights in our male-dominated society is reasonable, on the extreme edges has this pinhole vision of the world. All issues are defined by sexism against women and nothing else. The new term is intersectional feminism, meaning that all issues can be defined by either sexism against women, or racism.
I listened to a sermon by a Christian feminist recently. Listening carefully to what she said, she argued that abortion is an “intersectional issue,” white men dominating women and people of color. I’m not sure how she reaches the latter point, but there must be an argument somewhere supporting that view. Being a white man, I confess that we have been ruthless throughout history in our discrimination against anyone else but ourselves. Outrage is deserved, but to define abortion as only about white men’s folly, is shallow.
From the Point of View of the Fetus
Not getting into any religious arguments yet, philosophically, abortion must also address the consideration of the fetus. Does the fetus have value? Does the fetus have rights that are also deserving of protection? Does the fetus have fully human rights, as any human?
Regarding the value of the fetus, you must look at the pro-choice advocates’ philosophical presuppositions. Based on surveys, just 3.8% of people in America are atheists. I would extrapolate that to women as 3.8% are atheists. As I’ve said before, from a pure atheistic view, it is impossible to assign value to a fetus, because nothing has value or meaning within that narrative. The cosmos came into existence out of nothing and for no reason. Therefore, on the granular level, nothing can have value.
The rest of women hold to some from of spiritually, Christian or other, that assigns value and meaning to life. That value for a fetus can be small (human potential) to full (fully human from conception). Those women face a tremendous personal dilemma in an unwanted pregnancy and for them, the choice is never easy.
So, if you consider the atheists (some atheists impose meaning and value where they cannot be) and a small sliver of the women with some spiritual orientation who devalue the fetus, you arrive at a very few women who see abortion as just another form of birth control. For one thing, an abortion is far more complicated medically than just taking a birth control pill. Almost Twenty-four percent of women have had abortions. This includes evangelical women. For the vast majority of women who get abortions, it is one of the most difficult choices in their lives because they do see intrinsic value in the fetus. It is because they are in a profoundly difficult quandary, and often at a very young age, that they make this difficult choice . The typical girl has very little support, virtually none from the male accomplish. The men often walk away free from the situation.
I’m going to conclude my discussion on this part here. In summary, the “shallowness” of the pro-choice position is defining it simply as a woman’s right issue, or in the case of “intersectional feminism,” racism. It must be defined as an issue of women’s rights plus the consideration of the intrinsic value of the fetus.
Since I’ve had personal involvement in the abortion issue, I wanted to add a story to illustrated some of the points. In medicine we call these case reports. I’ve encounter the issue of abortion in my personal life (friend), and much more in my professional life, especially when I provided student health for a major university for a year. I will add, when I was an evangelical, we (Denise more than me) were involved with a “crisis pregnancy” center. The story I’ve chosen below is true. It is abortion within the evangelical subculture, and often that is the case. When I was providing medical care (not abortions) at the university, I had several women with unwanted pregnancies and more often than not, it was their religious (often evangelical) boyfriends that were pushing them to get an abortion. Anyway, this story below is option as I know this article is long already. I will be back in a week to continue this series. There’s a few people who visit this site from my past who may recognize this story. The part I’m telling is of public record and I will not disclose anything that the women did not tell others. I will fictionalize some of my stories to hid identies.
Peace, Mike the Hermit at Loch Eyre.
I met Angela when I was in graduate school and also part of a very serious evangelical discipleship group called the Navigators. For reasons that I can’t remember, Angela and I became good friends. However, it was the nature of that evangelical group that we did not date and the men and women in the group did not spend a lot of time together. So while we were friends, it was a distant relationship.
One day, in front of several other people in the ministry, Angela announced she was pregnant. I asked her to repeat what she said several times because it made no sense within our discipleship training center, which was about like a monastery.
Because of her pregnancy, Angela immediately lost favor within our group, being somewhat ostracized. I felt sorry for her and spent more time with her, playing racket ball several days per week. I became her only friend in our group.
Angela said that this was her second pregnancy. The first was while she was attending Moody Bible College in Chicago. She reported that abortions were very common at Moody because, like with our group, there was a tremendous pressure for girls to be “pure” and caste and a pregnancy would ruin that image. The men carried no such burden. She described an abortion clinic just off campus of Moody where she would often see classmates seeking care.
She had not taken her previous pregnancy and abortion lightly. When we were together, I saw her break down and cry many times about that choice. I don’t know how far along she was when she had her abortion, but she had felt the baby move. It was two years previous and still she cried. She described that if she had gone to a secular school, rather than an evangelical school, the abortion would never had occurred. For one, birth control pill would be readily available. At Moddy they had to pretend that they were all virgins. Secondly, she says she would not have felt so much shame with the pregnancy.
She reported that her new pregnancy was the result of a one time stand with the leader of Campus Crusade at our university, in a car outside a ministry meeting. When she told him about the pregnancy, he because very embarrassed and angry and told her that she could NOT have the baby as it would ruin his reputation. He pressured her to have another abortion. She ignored his demands because of the pain she carried with the previous pregnancy and abortion.
I watched as her ranking in our group plummeted, her eventually dropping out. While I was still her best friend, the director of our ministry called me to a private meeting. He told me that my friendship with this pregnant girl was “ruining my witness,” and he wanted me to avoid her. I told him that I could not because besides being her best and last friend, I had agreed to be her birthing coach. He said he would remove me from leadership of the group for that reason.
My point with this story, is that abortions often come within these messy contexts of extreme embarrassment for the pregnant girl her family, and other social costs. Besides being a life-alternating decision to carry the baby to term, it will often mean the girl giving up her ambitions for a career, and live her life in want. None of that happens to the man. However, the men are the ones (via politics) who will determine if she can get the abortion. How fair is that? I’m not saying here that such pressure justifies the abortion, but the abortion does not happen in a vacuum. The good news, is that this gives many intervention points of preventing unwanted pregnancies or supporting women to do carry their baby to term.
I don’t think the Navigators would behave that way today, but who knows. I’m no longer an evangelical and I don’t know that culture the way I did.