Talking About Talking About Abortion
Fiona: I haven’t met Laura, but she is someone whose writing I have respected for a while. We fell into a conversation on Facebook, sharing discontent about how the discourse around abortion is currently playing out in our feeds and sometimes in our churches. We wonder if this topic is best explored as a conversation and so we want to invite you into ours.
Why do you know that this issue is complicated?
What is the story that broke you open to it?
Laura: The birth of my first child was the joyful end to short battle with infertility. After spending the first season of marriage trying to avoid pregnancy, it came as a shock that a baby did not instantly result from our change in plans. It was good for me. Waiting embedded in me how much I wanted children. A month after a small surgery, two blessed pink lines finally appeared. I wasn’t able to see my usual doctor, but when I announced my happy news to one of her colleagues he looked at me deadpan and asked, “So what do you want to do about it?” In the moment I didn’t understand the question. And still, when I look at my beautiful bright eyed eldest son, I am sickened and haunted by these words.
I don’t want to live in a world where new mothers are asked this question. Yet we do. It breaks me that any baby could be unwanted. A younger me once thought anyone seeking an abortion a monster, but as I’ve gained more awareness of the poverty and systematic oppression suffered by women worldwide, I have come to realise abortion is a symptom of a deep social injustice, and to apply an absolute pro-life ethic and make abortion illegal doesn’t simply result in lives saved but can cause trauma, harm, and even death for women and babies. I sit painfully in this tension and continue to wrestle with it.
Fiona: Not being a mother, I come at this from a different perspective and I recognise that this brings a limitation to how I can talk about the issue. I remember as a very young teacher having two students who had abortions within weeks of each other, a fourteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old. Their stories are not mine to share, but for me it really brought home what you said about abortion as a symptom of deep social injustice. It broke my heart when I sat with them and heard their stories and it opened my eyes to the impossibilities of their situations. There is no way that a fourteen-year-old is old enough to carry on her the full weight of this decision. There is no possibility that a sixteen-year-old can be labeled as a monster when she is a victim of neglect, lack of education, and a society that has placed unfair sexual pressures on her.
Laura: These realities are gut-wrenching. It’s shocking, the underlying layers of disadvantage and abuse that can entrap women, even in privileged Australia.
What is frustrating for you about the current debate?
Laura: I get frustrated when rather than wrestle with complexity and acknowledge common ground, both wings of the abortion debate barricade themselves with ideology and demonise anyone who questions their standpoint. Meanwhile, women and children suffer and die at alarming rates both in places where abortion is legal and illegal. Political powers aligned with the pro-life camp tend to minimise the social welfare which could reduce social injustice. With state funded healthcare, education, and support for families in all their diversity, a pregnancy could cease to be life-sentence of vulnerability to abuse and poverty for women. Being pro-life without supporting these measures seems to both set people up to fail and make failing illegal. This isn’t justice. Defending staunch pro-life ideology comes across as more important than actual real life caring for women and children.
Fiona: I find the parable of the Good Samaritan a helpful framework here. Jesus asks us to consider the broadest possible definition of neighbour. I think often those in the “pro-life” camp try to do this with great integrity, making an unpopular standpoint that life does not begin with the category of wanted, capable, valued or able to contribute to society. Yet often this argument is made at cost the mother, ignoring her as our neighbour too. It’s particularly troublesome to hear cheap or ugly statements made about who is at fault or simplistic ideas about actions having consequences delivered as blanket truths. We play the mother off against the baby rather than seek radical inclusion for both. To be a Christian is to know we are broken, not only as individuals but as a community. Sometimes I find pro-lifers want to pin blame on a single person.
Laura: Yet when pro-choice voices insist that the life of the unborn child only has value as a human when wanted and potentially productive, this sets an ethical precedent the same camp would balk at applying to all stages of human life.
Fiona: Yes, and as Christians, we have such a rich theology to draw on when considering the value of all lives and the importance of human dignity and choice. The Bible paints such a beautiful picture of not only the importance of women but also their voices, capabilities (not just reproductive) and valour throughout a patriarchal dominated world. We have a rich moral framework to share with pro-choicers and pro-lifers about the value of human dignity, and as part of that, the value God places on individual choice and free will.
Laura: Absolutely. And brushing aside disagreement, deep compassion is the common ground between these two camps. One for the mother and the other the unborn child. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if acknowledging this compassion was where we began this conversation, and compassion dominated the tone and content of this debate?
So would you describe yourself as pro-life?
Laura: Yes, but pro-life at all stages of life. All life is worth of tender care and protection. I’d love to see children raised by villages, free first class schooling and healthcare, epic community support for parents, endemic gracious masculinity, and a culture where women are safe in public spaces and in their homes. I’d love to take part in an economy that values quality of life above profits, and so values all caregiving work, both paid and unpaid. I’d love to see our society dismantle male privilege and foster gender equity. It is convenient to claim to be pro-life by simply being anti-abortion, but this just isn’t true.
Fiona: I think this has to extend beyond our borders, how can we be caring for those who live in much more precarious situations than ourselves, those women for whom the forces of colonisation and economic corruption have caged them into systems where they see no options but abortion. Commitment to fair trade, education for girls, and thoughtful, justice lead development are all a part of an a consistent ethic of pro-life.
Ideally what would you like to see the church doing?
Laura: I’d love to see the church be the outcrop of the new creation God resurrected us to be in Jesus Christ. Churches could be havens desperate women run towards rather than flee from. Christ followers should at the forefront of building a world where the arrival of a child could never wreak the life of a mother, never destroy her physical and mental health, and never condemn her and her children to a life of poverty, struggle, and oppression.
Fiona: What a beautiful picture of who we can be. That is a church I want to belong to! The Bible calls us to be people who love even the least amongst us, whether that be women without options or it be the unborn, let us be people who love radically, practically and thoughtfully, modeled on the manner that Christ has loved us.
Laura: Amen! How to do this isn’t simple. But if can plug into God’s radical gracious love for all humanity, and the power of his spirit, we are at the right place to begin.
Fiona is a follower of Jesus by identity and by trade a teacher of Science. She studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
Hello, I’m Laura Tharion, and I am passionate about spreading the joy and wonder to be found in living a resurrected life inside Jesus Christ. I enjoy tea, cake, history, hammocks, wild bushland, gardening, reading, and gifting my favourite books into the hands of others. I had the pleasure of studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College before my three lovely little boys arrived to fill my days. Here I picked up the pet soap-boxes of mission advocacy and teaching the Bible as one unified story. I have a heart to write—sermons, studies, articles, meditations, poetry, and epic novels, all which aim to explore theology and encourage everyone to fully realise all they have been given and commissioned in Christ.