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.