Seeing the issue of abortion differently

In recent days, the issue of abortion has been front and center – oral arguments at the Supreme Court, new legislation restricting abortion access in dozens of states, opinions and pronouncements being expressed on virtually every media platform. The rancor is almost impossible to avoid, and for most of us, at least for me anyway, the issue has seeped into the soul, where it fitfully resides.

The loudest voices in the ongoing cacophony promote a binary that has framed the issues for decades: pro-life or pro-choice. One or the other. And for those who are the most strident, the choice is that stark. Not for me. Typically, my soul doesn’t subscribe to an either/or position; it is more likely to wrestle with a both/and; which can be confusing, if not frustrating. It is tempting to fall in with one or the other binary choice – armed with all of the supporting arguments, and then be done with it. But my soul won’t let me.

The issue of abortion presents a series of profound intimacies. Pregnancy is the result of perhaps the most intense physical intimacy that two human beings can engage in. The physical intimacy may be an expression of love or lust or force. It may be desired or resisted.

Pregnancy itself is deeply intimate, between a woman and the potential for life that she carries. As a man, I don’t know that intimacy; men don’t have that intimate biological intrusion, but I have an appreciation for it, and the challenge and opportunity it fosters. I don’t know of a woman anywhere who has intentionally sought to be in a position of having to consider an abortion. More often than not, the option of abortion comes as an unwelcome surprise, due to a failure or mistake – of birth control or coital timing; or as a result of rape or incest. And in my experience, as a pastor to and friend of various women who have found themselves to be pregnant, whether or not to have an abortion generates spasms, if not floods, of internal turmoil.

Which then leads to yet another level of intimacy: What to do? What are the risks? What are the options? How much time do I have to decide? How do I decide? Who can I seek out for support and guidance? These are wrenching questions that grab at the depths of the soul. For so many women the reality of an unwelcome surprise pregnancy poses an intimacy with oneself that has never been explored before.

‘My body, my choice’, and ‘abortion is murder’, are the clear and simple clarion calls from the two ends of the binary world. To my mind and soul, they are rigid templates that intrude on the intimacy of the situation. These slogans, and the ongoing debate over whether life begins at conception or at 15, 20 or 24 weeks, add to the confusion, and demonstrate little or no respect for a woman’s context. A one size fits all approach, as many legislatures have enacted or are considering, disrupts, if not destroys, the intimacy.

Niels Bohr, one of the founders of atomic physics, (1885-1962) once said that the opposite of a fact is a lie; and the opposite of a truth is a competing truth. For him, the competing truths of the day were about the nature of light: was it a particle or a wave? For us today, we are challenged with many competing truths. To wit — more guns make people safer versus more guns put more people in danger. And, abortion is lethal violence versus abortion is a woman’s right to choose.

The prospect of abortion puts women in a nearly impossible situation, crunched in the vise of competing truths. Most women want to do the right thing. For those who live in the binary world, the right thing is clear. But for the large cohort of women whose souls can’t bring them to line up cleanly with one side or the other, the right thing is much harder to discern. Truth can feel elusive. They need space. They need support. They need the opportunity to freely live into the intimacy.

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