Saturday, July 11, 2009

Compassion, Not Inquisition

Abortion. If it can be said that there is one issue that polarizes us, it is this. It pits science, reproductive health, politics, and religion against each other, in a cage match that is a continuous ball of fury, with no clear victor, but many losers. If it can be said that abolition was a major causative factor in The Civil War, in that is was the call for the abolition of slavery that drew a line between the North and the South, and ignited the fuse which led to Fort Sumter, then abortion carries the hallmarks of the next great divisive split in American society. The problem in this interpretation, is that the battle lines are not so clearly drawn, as the battle is waged across the length and breadth of the nation, in small hamlets and large cities, every single day.

The problem with the "debate" (a term used very loosely) is that there is no common language, no agreed upon mutual framework to allow for rational discussion. On one side, stand those who believe ardently in a "right to life"; on the other, the "pro-choice" forces. Right there is the initial contradiction -- each side approaches the question of pregnancy and abortion from its own ground, by labeling their cause for their fundamental belief. The "right to life" group can be better termed the "anti-choice" group; despite the range of individual beliefs held by members of the group, they are united by their desire to see the ability to "choose" abortion as a reproductive health option completely removed. On the other side, it is hard to see the "pro-choice" movement as "anti-life"; the group does not advocate the utter destruction of living things.

If we decide to use roughly comparable terms for the groups (pro-choice/anti-choice), we are not out of the woods. The anti-choice group has taken to calling those who perform abortions "baby killers" or "child murderers"; their position is that from the moment of conception, when sperm meets egg, a "baby" exists, a living being which has a soul, and which is the subject of the depredations of abortion providers. The pro-choice group aligns more with the definitions delineated by science, where gametes meet to form a zygote, which begins a long process of division that forms a fetus, which eventually reaches a stage where it is as developed as it can be in the womb, and must be expelled to live on its own, independently of the mother. The stages of development are well-defined, and it is possible to say how developed the fetus is at any stage in the process.

The gulf between both sides broadens and deepens as you take the debate outward, until, as during The Civil War, you have two sides, poised behind their barriers, shouting, harrumphing, but not communicating. Battle cries uttered, shots fired, and in the end, mindless casualties.

To a woman who has become pregnant unexpectedly, it is like being trapped in the No Man's Land between both sides, as they fire fusillade after fusillade of invective ordinance. It is not enough that she suffers from her own doubt and uncertainty about the life growing inside her, but now she is assailed by voices professing her doom if she "kills that baby" or telling her that "she is in good hands." What right has anyone, outside of her deity or her own conscience, to tell her the fate of her soul? And while abortion, when done legally and under proper conditions, might be a safe and effective medical procedure, where is the assuaging of doubt or guilt? Can it be so clinical or cold, so easy to do? And how can someone else tell her it will be all right, when she does not know if she should be doing it in the first place?

Lost in the cacophony of the fight, is the piteous cry of a woman who does not know, in her heart, what is best. Perhaps it easier for some women, for what woman would wish to carry to term the seed of a rape, or a child that will definitively be shouldered with some horrible malady that will lead to early death? For many, it is not so clear cut. For many, while they understand the mechanics of abortion and know the risks of pregnancy, there is a sense that there is something larger at stake. Whether they are afraid of their own guilt, frightened by the thought of losing the support of friends and loved ones, scared of being cast out of their chosen belief system, or even simply muddled by the glow of potential motherhood, they carry with them an angst not so easily dealt with, or assuaged by reason and logic. It is they, who are ultimately the casualties, souls wrenched by the gravity of the decision they know they must make. In a time of confusion, when the answer is not clear, they need to know that there is no right or wrong answer, only what they feel is best for them. In the end, compassion should rule the day.

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