In last night’s debate, Hillary Clinton suggested that a woman should be able to end her pregnancy up to the child’s birth, primarily in case of a tragic situation that places the mother’s life in danger. She advocates partial-birth abortion, the stopping of a baby’s heartbeat in a mother’s womb and then the violent removal of that baby from the mother’s body.
It is easy for me to take a quick, almost un-thinking approach to that idea. No. Never. A child’s life should never be taken, not for any reason. The end.
But when I take a step back and think of what I am saying, it causes me to stop and think for a moment. No one wants to tell a mother that she must lose her life. No one wants to “force” death upon another person. No one wants to tell a mother who feels hopeless in light of her circumstances that she must “suck it up” and endure this pregnancy and, in some cases, even die.
Perhaps, however, opposing abortion is not a position that insists on the death of another. Perhaps it can be a call to greatness.
My literature students recently finished reading Elizabeth Janet Gray’s Adam of the Road. Adam is a minstrel, and his father, Roger, before him. Early in the story, Roger tells Adam that “a minstrel sings what his listeners want to hear. It’s not for him to ease his own sorrows or tell his own joys. He’s to find out how his listeners are feeling and say it all for them.”
Later, Adam meets roaming minstrels who tell stories that are not like Roger’s. “They were short, exaggerated tales mostly making rude jokes about friars and monks and rich abbots.” You have to give the people what they want, the minstrels say.
At first that sounded like what Roger used to say. “But when Adam thought it over he decided that it was quite different. Roger told tales that fitted the good in people, tales about courage and danger and adventure and love.”
My students and I discussed how the deVessey’s tales appealed to the baser side of human nature, but Roger’s tales encouraged the goodness in people. He called people to the life and beauty that they were made to be, and to inhabit. And they responded in kind.
Certainly being anti-abortion is a matter of morality. But perhaps it can also be a matter of encouraging the goodness in people instead of the baseness. Perhaps we must understand a rejection of abortion not as placing a restriction on a woman’s life, but as a call to something higher, and a belief that any woman can, in fact, rise to goodness.
I can never claim to understand the hardest situations in which women find themselves pregnant: abuse, poverty, an absent father, rape, an inviable baby. But I am certain that abortion only invites despair and death. It only encourages a mother to continue in her hopelessness. It calls to the darker sides of human nature and presents itself as a solution. Yet it is only a quick “fix,” a death that sadly leads to more death: the partial death of a mother’s very being as she is torn from the child which has its existence from her own; the death of a mother’s body as she reaps the consequences of such trauma; the death of a mother’s spirit as she mourns for the rest of her life the baby that she never knew.
Abortion preys on our weaknesses. It calls to our selfishness and to our deepest fears. It presents itself as sometimes the only charitable option. Should a baby be given life only to grow up in extreme poverty? Should a baby be given life only to live for the rest of its days with a severe disability? Our hopelessness would say no. Our despair would say no. Our fear would say no.
But we are more than our darkness. While evil and sin are so very real, they can never destroy the image of God. They can never completely exterminate the goodness in the very heart of our created order. Humanity is life and goodness and beauty, as well, if only we can live into our creation.
Rejecting abortion is not a heartless imposition of a life of despair and difficulty onto another person. In fact, it is the opposite. It is a call of hope that any woman—all women, whatever their circumstances—can rise to goodness and to strength and to love. It is a firm belief in the goodness of life, and not just the life of their unborn baby, but in the life of the mother. It is an affirmation of her existence and her ability to carry this child, to love this child, to give this child life, both inside the womb and outside. That life might look like raising the child, or it might look like adoption, but her gift to her child can only lead to a multiplication of life.
I want to believe that human beings can act in a way that is true to our creation. We were created “very good,” full of the brilliance of our Creator. We were created with the capacity to hope and to love and to believe and to trust. Our world and our own selves tell us daily that our only options are smallness and baseness. Yet our very existence would say otherwise. We were all made for greatness. We were made to be co-creators, to give life and to share life. We were made to love.
And denying the woman in a clinic waiting room the opportunity for an abortion is not denying her life. It is, instead, offering her a chance to truly live. And we must walk alongside these mothers. We must sing to them the tales of adventure and of courage and of love as they, too, discover that they are capable of greatness.