Years ago, when I was receiving training in community organizing, we wrestled with the tension between personal and private. Expressing the challenge of being a parent of teenage children was personal, and appropriate; but going into the details of that challenge, and exposing the confidentiality of one’s children, was private, and therefore off-limits. Referring to one’s experience of being demeaned, diminished or dismissed was personal — and could help build solidarity around an organizing issue; but being pressured into revealing the particulars of those stories was private, and should not be other people’s business.
Drawing a line between what is personal and what is private is not always easy. Hence, we wrestle. But there are times when an intensely personal issue has crossed the line into the private is achingly clear. As it was this past week when the leaked draft decision on the Mississippi abortion case before the Supreme Court became public.
Much of the discussion surrounding the Supreme Court case has focused on legal arguments, and their political implications. They are important, to be sure, and warrant our attention. But for me, the draft ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade is first an invasion of privacy. And a threat to intimacy.
Pregnancy emerges from the most physically intimate activity that two human beings can engage in, and which almost always occurs in settings that are intentionally private. A pregnancy that emerges from that intimacy and privacy may be desired, but is often received as a surprise, or presents an overwhelming challenge —or results from unwanted aggression. In those situations, to have have an outside entity declare that terminating the pregnancy is not permitted — because of legal, legislative or theological reasons (or some combination of all three) brings a stranger into the mix —and leaves a woman even more isolated — and further removed from the intimacy of personal and private relationships that she needs in order to figure out what to do next.
In my conversations over the years with women who were contemplating an abortion, or who had recently undergone an abortion procedure, there was intense wrestling over what to do or what they had done. As they sought my counsel, I reflected on the impossible position they found themselves in, and the difficulty they faced in coming to a decision. In all cases, they needed support.
For me, the draft Supreme Court ruling represents a demonstration of power. Power over women, yes, but power also declaring, without any ambiguity, that new life begins at the moment of conception, thus denying (and deriding), a scientifically supported view that new life is viable only at twenty weeks. Given the current political (and religious) climate, I don’t think that that stark difference will be bridged anytime soon.
There is, I firmly believe, another way to look at this highly important issue. That life, how it arrives and how it leaves, remains a mystery. We can’t control it nor can we fully figure it out. We need to respect life, and honor it— and all the relationships that flow from it; and to do so it is necessary to provide opportunities for privacy and intimacy , in order to sort out its mystery. Reversing Roe v. Wade would cancel that much-needed space.