A number of years ago I was speaking with a seminary student and he was saying that one of his professors had explained Christianity by way of saying that there are all these circles where the church is concerned: the institutional church, denominational branches, conservative, liberal and so forth. He had continued to suggest that the students would need to find a place where they could fit individually amidst all those circles. I'm not sure if I was all that impressed by the analogy to be honest, because I guess...I know I'm a Christian and I figure as to whether other people are or not is ultimately between them and God. So, I guess I see circles as beside the point, regardless of knowing that the circles are there, if you know what I mean. But lately I've been thinking that circles might be a helpful way of visualizing other issues, and one issue in particular at the moment that is on my mind, namely the abortion debate, or lack thereof.
If we were to visualize the abortion issue, what would it look like? I expect that it would look something like penguins at one end and Santa Claus at the other, for lack of a diagram. You got your two poles. Oh let's see what I can do here. Something like this:
pro-choice, pro-life, and never the twain shall meet. A conformed silence, or at least the perceived ideal to the mainstream liberal culture would be silence and conformity. But then there's those pesky pro-life penguins (that would be me) that insist on popping up and waddling through what appears to be perma-freeze. But does it have to be like that? Or even, is it like that?
What I mean when I say that is to ask: is the abortion debate as polarized as is commonly assumed, or is it more that the poles are all we think of immediately before shutting down and tuning out, because those are the only voices that we hear? I understand and accept that there are always going to be people who feel strongly on both sides of this issue, but is that the average person? And what about the rest of us, do we get to play a role in shaping this issue? Stopping for a moment, but imagine if other debates were shut down because it was realized that nature v. nurture would never be decided. Are we born or are we made? Gosh I don't know, maybe it's both. But will we ever concur, was it the chicken or was it the egg, when I have yet to see either produced definitively as evidence at brunch. Maybe we should just stop asking altogether. We wouldn't want people running screaming naked to the hills. Chicken! It was the egg! No...chicken!
Now I know what you're thinking, but Marg, questions of chickens and eggs don't divide like the topic of abortion. No they do not, but typically when broaching difficult issues we tend to accept that most people are somewhere in the middle don't we? When we hear of terrorist plots or extremists of all kinds, the media reminds us that this is not the average Muslim or feminist or environmentalist, and we typically accept that conclusion. Why should the abortion debate be any different? Why can we not just accept that there are people who feel very strongly on both sides, but work to find common ground where we can? I live in Canada, and the thing that just kills me, no pun intended, is that we are apparently the sole western company of China, Vietnam and North Korea in having no law on abortion because nobody dares to touch it. Doesn't that just make you proud, to be in the company of human rights trail blazers such as the above, while disproportionately little girls are being aborted (including in this country) -and this is supposed to be about gender equality? Where is the average country, dare I ask? What is the average policy that other countries have managed to arrive at without splitting into separate life and choice kingdoms with walled exteriors? Something tells me that if we were to allow an intelligent discussion in this country, we would be able to set reasonable limits on abortion that are in line with other western nations. If the medical services claim to be doing that in place of a law, that tells me that there is some agreement in place already, so let's agree on some reasonable standards.
I came across a pro-choice website in doing some fact-checking, and may I say that I find it so discouraging as a pro-lifer who is trying to give an inch (sigh). I'm sure it's on both sides, a lack of ability to perceive that there is another side, but it's so disheartening when I read stuff that is so one sided, so much so that there isn't a thought for the potentiality of a human life, or that the pro-life side even has a case. Well, we do. I know enough to know that these are serious questions and serious people ought to take serious questions seriously, but institutionally you would never know that such ethical questions even exist. I'm not going to get into all that here, but can we just take a step back and ask if we can learn something from each other? Can we begin to admit that this is about as important of a discussion as we're going to have: the value of human life but also the need for human beings to be able to make personal choices? I would think that as a society we should be wary of losing the contribution of either side of this tremendously important discussion.
But having said that, my personal emphasis will always be pro-life, and I have been encouraged by others who have the fortitude to go against a tide of expectation in standing up for the value of human life. What do we have as a society if we don't see human beings as having intrinsic unending worth? If we don't see people as being ends in themselves, everything becomes a commodity, doesn't it? Should we be surprised then, when these pro-life voices are mocked and scorned to realize that slavery is on the rise, as well as organ harvesting and the price of clean water that people need to survive? And that's where I remain hopeful that there is common ground to be found here, because the left also cares about the quality of life of people. If you stop to think about it, every human rights issue that the left raises hinges on an assumed value of life, especially the intrinsic worth of human beings. When I hear reports coming out of other parts of the world, I am reminded that we have more in common than we like to admit sometimes. So let us remind each other that our human value may be at an all time low, and this undoubtedly affects a host of human rights issues. Do you know the price of a human being on the human trafficking market these days? $90. Yup, if you're lucky that price might get you a decent pair of shoes, but if you're a little short maybe you can get yourself a human being instead. Life-sucking isn't it? Makes you wonder where supply and demand get off.
I'll give it a rest, but in closing may I just say that I've struggled with the reality of the difficulty of this issue for years. Lying in bed, hearing those conflicting voices rioting in my head in the middle of the night. Enough to finally accept that we're never going to win this. There's no winner here, just a very painful issue for a lot of people. But what if we stopped trying to shut each other down and admit that both sides have a point and begin to work together to better the lives of people? Back to the issue at hand, but how can we support women through a difficult decision? How can we offer women more information, counselling, supports and services, so that they know their options, so that they don't feel backed against a wall? How can we give women more choice within a reasonable time frame, while accepting that ultimately the decision has to be her own. Is that reasonable? For me those dark nights of the soul were also the beginning of asking, so where do we go from here? That's the question I want to explore, in asking where is the average person on this continuum? If we were to put those conflicting circles together, where might they overlap? What would that inner space look like? I'll leave you with that thought for now.