the post where chip monk loses friends and followers

The topic of abortion is such a complete shitstorm. And it is so, I believe, not for any of the reasons that either side of the debate claims, but because our number one value is autonomy – the freedom to do whatever we as individuals think is right.

The trouble with personal autonomy is of course that nobody is actually an individual but rather everyone is a member of a community, and our autonomy leaks into the public sphere, bleeding out of our very pores, and then our convictions clash. Nobody cares what the hermit thinks of abortion, as the hermit will never need one, and will also never vote one way or the other. The only context for virtue is relationship.

I will never be in favour of abortion. No doubt, nothing I say here will change the mind of anyone who disagrees. But it is a profoundly violent act, committed against three parties: mother, baby and community (community includes Dad). Choosing not to view it as violence unfortunately doesn’t change its violent content. Where not carrying out an abortion also has violent consequences also doesn’t empty abortion of its violent content.

In cases where the violence suffered by the mother is greater than that suffered by the child were nature to take its course then dogma can be set aside and we must fight to save Mum’s life. An ectopic pregnancy (eccysis), for example, will never be viable. Mum and baby will die. So the baby must be removed from the fallopian tube in order to save Mum. But we are not talking about ectopic pregnancies, because there is no moral dilemma there. Ectopic pregnancies are surgically dealt with as a matter of course in Irish society. We all know someone who has been through it and nobody bears judgment for such a mother. In 99% of abortion cases we are not seeking the end of such a pregnancy, despite what anyone may say.

I am, as I have said here before, a committed reformed Christian. My position on non-violence is coloured by this. My anti-abortion stance however pre-dates my faith conversion. My mother is a pro-life atheist: yes, such people exist. And my position was compounded not by anything I have ever heard in a church (in 15 years’ church attendance I have never heard a sermon on the topic of abortion – I have also never read a Christian book on the subject nor been involved in a bible study that discussed it), but by my foray into the world of ethics. It was the raging arguments in philosophy class that ultimately led me to the position that abortion is morally indefensible.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Reformed Christians do not believe in mortal sin. Sin is sin, as far as scripture seems to be concerned. In fact, the message of scripture as far as I can discern is that the astonishing grace of God cannot be blocked by our sin. Therefore I do not argue that abortion will send you to hell: no more than any other violence. This means that my actions and decisions are not motivated by fear, but gratitude.

Do you hear judgement? If you do, it might be because you you view me through the post-Christian lens. My passion, as I have also said here, is prison ministry. I work with male sex offenders. I have a strict policy of non-judgementalism. I neither judge them personally nor judge what they have done. Their offences are no barrier to my friendship, care or love. Many of them have confessed horrors to me that you could only imagine in your darkest nightmares.

If you’ve had an abortion, I do not judge you. I do not even judge what you have done. That isn’t my job and I am grateful for that, because I would make a biased, foolish and selfish judge. However I will use my vote to legislate against any move that means that violence is normalized further in Irish culture. Many women do not regret their abortions. I am glad that they are not riddled with guilt: guilt is a luxury we cannot afford and serves no purpose, and shame and secrecy only breeds pain and darkness. But many women do regret them. Very few women on the other hand regret having their children.

I believe that women who are firmly convinced that abortion is the correct path for them will find the means to procure one. In 2010, 4,402 Irish women crossed the water to do just that, joining with 189,574 British women. But I subscribe to the unpopular belief that it is a good thing when destructive options for our lives come with limitations (as I write this, I understand that the women involved do not agree that their actions are destructive, but you must permit me my autonomy in this instance and allow us to agree to disagree). For these reasons, and also because I believe in the inherent value and beauty that lies dormant in the potential of every in-utero fertilized egg, will I never be in favour of abortion.

There is no middle ground here. That is why the debate rages. And let it rage. But let us not pour rage on one another: we can only speak our truth quietly and clearly.

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17 Responses to the post where chip monk loses friends and followers

  1. Geoff says:

    I disagree with you significantly less than many might think.

  2. Ha! Diplomatic to the end. :-)

  3. I agree with you significantly. I know that some women regret having their babies, and there may be a significant number though I doubt it – but I haven’t seen any stats one way or the other. I have seen the stats on who has abortions and why they say they had them and it is not even close to the picture presented by the most vociferous pro-choicers (and the best figures I ever saw were from a pro-choice organisation, I wish I could find it again). I had a friend at Queens who was an ardent feminist, ardent atheist and ardent pro-lifer, who saw it as a feminist issue.

    Great post. I’d love to see our churches speak out on this issue WITHIN congregations, to teach people what the biblical teaching is. I would also like to see them speak out on our responsibilities re: judgement and re: the poor, where we have a responsibility to offer loving alternatives until it hurts our wallets and our time. Until we do that, I don’t think anyone gets to judge.

  4. Eoin O'Mahony says:

    I’m not very clear on the issues around abortion myself and have long struggled with the violence that is involved: most of my reaction is of a visceral kind which is why I find it difficult to articulate a coherent political standpoint.

    I am struck by the polarisiation of discussions around abortion in Ireland in particular and I guess having been a young fella for the 1983 referendum where it seemed like every night there were men and women spitting and shouting at each other on TV and radio about it, this polarisation seems to persist. Michael Clifford’s article in the Examiner this week points to a mostly rhetorical deafness to the ‘sides’ positions and hence my tweet this morning where Luca and me agreed that polarisation seems to be the game, not figuring out what the stance of the State should be on these matters. It is here: http://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/guest-columnist/put-humanity-before-extreme-beliefs-brby-michael-clifford-191272.html vide “they had to leave home and fly to a jurisdiction where their condition is accepted in medical rather than moral terms.” As if there is nothing moral about lots of medical procedures.

    However, given the tardiness of the state in acting on the X case, highlighted by the Action on X group and others, I would like to see a broader debate which I fear is impossible. It is not as if the state has not also ‘forgotten’ about many other issues: the long term detention of disabled people or, as you refer to, the lack of treatment for sex offenders. Political action took place this week to maintain presure on this issue and normatively, that is how power is appealed to: through lobbying, public discussion etc. I’m not sure if the state should be involved in the provision of abortion for non-ectopic cases (awk.) just as it is not involved in the execution of those sentenced to death. On the other hand, the lot of many citizens in this political entity is made all the worse by a considered and deliberate effort to keep a rights-based approach off the table more generally.

    We also cannot detach a largely underdeveloped Augustinian approach to Catholic morality in this place right now where defence of ‘Life’ is immutable and fixed in some bell jar of legal restriction. To me this reflects a much larger issue where being a Catholic is not so much thought about but performed. Hence we get the ACP asking questions about “the church’s teachings on homosexuality” in the news and as if we all knew what this was.

    Told you I was not clear on this.

  5. Actually Eoin while you may not feel clear on your own position that was some remarkably clear commentary. Thank you.

    Thanks also Andy for your comments from within the reformed church. I would be really fearful of tasking ministers with providing official church teaching on this topic, for obvious reasons. That idea ties in with what Eoin highlights about Catholics performing their stance rather than considering their position – reformed Christians are guilty of this too. There are general “feelings” that permeate the church about why this and that is wrong, but very little real community engagement on these topics, which invariably leaves the individuals at the centre of such issues feeling extra to the church. But that’s a topic for another day. :)

  6. Geoff says:

    Heh. I’ll expand. I’d like to reduce the number of abortions. I find the best way of doing this is providing sex and relationship education, easy and anonymous access to contraception, and a society that supports parents.

    I’d like it if people didn’t see casual sex as cool. I’d like it if people came out and said that sex is more satisfying with someone you love and trust. I’d like it if people stopped trying to ratch up conquests to impress their friends. I’d like it if people used condoms more.

  7. I agree with every word you say.

  8. Geoff says:

    I get that a lot! :-)

  9. Dolbert says:

    Something I find terribly heartbreaking is when the pregnancy is found to be unviable, and the mother has no choice but to await miscarriage or stillbirth. In this situation I don’t understand why a woman should have to travel to end an already doomed pregnancy, even if it is not a direct threat to her life. Forcing the parents to await the inevitable would surely compound their grief.

  10. I understand this point of view Dolbert, and this is what I meant by the line when I wrote “Where not carrying out an abortion also has violent consequences also doesn’t empty abortion of its violent content.” Sometimes there are profoundly painful and difficult consequences for not carrying out an abortion and the example you describe is case in point. I feel that such cases are being used generally (not by you) to hijack this conversation.

    The husband unit and I are already very clear that should we find ourselves in such a situation, we would allow nature to take its course. If I can be allowed to bring the language of love into this conversation I would pour every ounce of love I had into that child until it died naturally. There have been many instances where couples have chosen this route and the foetus is then in fact born healthy, or has lived for a limited period following the birth. I could never take the risk that I was terminating a potentially viable pregnancy.

    In the case of ectopic, as cited above, if the foetus is in the fallopian tube there is no maybe about it. Both baby and mother will die.

    In terms of trauma endured by expecting mothers, I am not sure that the trauma of an abortion for a much-wanted unviable pregnancy wouldn’t equal a miscarriage or stillbirth.

    I add that I wouldn’t like to see any woman endure the scenario you describe and I wouldn’t judge her for whatever decision she made. But I would wish in all cases for a non-violent approach to the foetus.

  11. Dolbert says:

    If I ever found myself in such a situation, I would probably also let nature take it’s course for the reasons you stated. That said, my heart just broke for the women on the Late Late who described their experiences of the situation (no hijacking intended, it’s just an aspect of the current debate that troubles me a lot)

  12. You’re right; it is heartbreaking. It’s the stuff of nightmares, really.

  13. Yvonne says:

    Thank you for saying “let’s not pour our rage onto each other”. It angers me when I see anti abortion protestors with lurid, enormous images of supposedly aborted foetuses on view in public, or hearing of them shouting at women attending abortion clinics. Or attacking doctors who perform the procedure and killing them. I have my opinion, yours is your own too. Do not impose it on me as I do not impose mine onto you equally. For me, this aggressive stance makes me think they are insecure in their argument and need props to support it. Also the images are badly considered- many women have miscarriages or stillbirths, or lose children, and to see a dead foetus displayed so crudely must be upsetting for those who have experienced a loss. I think it is unnecessary to do this. Again the chipmunk writes elegantly and in a thought provoking manner: these people could learn from it.

  14. Yvonne says:

    PS: I also agree with Geoff: and nobody in our society will discuss sex except in a bawdy manner (which admittedly is fun to a point). I had a Spanish teen student who openly to said to the mixed class i was teaching, that she was having her period and sore, when asked why she’d been so quiet all day. Nobody gave a shit. Imagine saying this to a group of mixed adult colleagues in Ireland – complete awkwardness would ensue. It’s ridiculous if you think about it. Sex is something most of us do on a (semi) regular basis. Its no secret and nobody needs to give juicy details when discussing it but still it remains a closeted topic unless portrayed as something smutty or racy.

  15. Thanks Yvonne. I am genuinely exploring what it means to be non-violent in everything, and that includes speech. Maybe these people are insecure in their position, and maybe all kinds of the worst things are true about them, but maybe they’re just horrified and frightened by abortion and want to pass that fear and horror on, in the hope of preventing abortions. The problem there is you can’t drive out darkness with darkness!

    As for killing people because they kill people? Does. Not. Compute.

  16. Richard Cronin says:

    Great writing claire. Both of ye put language on things i need to put words on.
    Totally off topic but you say a few times that you don’t judge people. What does this look like? Are you saying that you don’t recognise that what someone has done is wrong?

  17. Good question. I will write about that subject at some stage in the next week or two.

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