(Photo credit Karen Cross)
Sometimes I struggle with writing on abortion (see extended absence from this blog) because it feels like everything that can be said has been said. Churning out content simply for the sake of content contributes to the noise, I fear, and not a solution. And then I come across articles like this one that make me realize there is always more to be said, there must always be more to be said. The stakes are too high to be silent.
Hadley Freeman writes for The Guardian arguing that personal stories should have no merit in the abortion debate. To her credit she recognizes that her arguments require invalidating stories on both sides of the spectrum, though her position seems to be mostly informed by the response to regretful post-abortive women daring to share their stories in the hopes of saving other women the heartache they themselves have experienced.
While she gives credence to those “say[ing] she had an abortion to fight against the stigma,” she is quick to caution that it is wrong to “think your experience should have any bearing on abortion’s legality as has become all too common.”
To say abortion should be banned because you regretted yours is like saying marriage should be banned because you hate your husband.
And you know what? I agree with her wholeheartedly. If abortion is the truly singular experience advocates want to claim it is, then yes, absolutely, my personal experience alone isn’t the deciding factor.
So we must ask- is abortion a truly singular experience?
Pro-life advocates have always held that abortion can never impact only a woman, because there is a human being killed in the process. Of course the mother matters, we say with the long-suffering sigh of one tired of restating the obvious. But so does the baby. And stop acting like it has to be one or the other!
This is not a question of “what should I do with my body?” The question, the controversy, of abortion is “what can I do with the body of another human being?”
At what point do we legally discriminate against humans? When they’re small? When they’re weak? When they’re in a different location than we are?
Ask ten people on the street these questions and you will get ten different answers, but the severity of these questions and the implications of arriving, as a society, at the wrong answer, demands that it be played out in the public square.
In a society that cries out against the death of a gorilla, isn’t it worth at least exploring whether or not dismembering human beings is allowed, and being able to fully justify at all angles the position you arrive at?
For most it’s an unpleasant conversation, and one that we give as little thought to as possible. But we must, oh we must! For if we disregard the life in the womb, and if we are wrong, the stain upon our society will never come clean.
It’s no secret that I am firmly in the camp of “we don’t kill human beings. The end.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with those who struggle. Or with those who regret their past involvement. But is that regret relevant to the abortion debate in the public square?
Is it really just an individual experience that only involves one person with no effects on others, rendering the aspect of personal stories fairly mute?
Freeman laments that instead of personal stories focusing on ourselves, what the abortion debate needs is empathy. In two paragraphs she neatly ignores the impetus of the pro-life movement while putting out a call for exactly what we do.
A few years ago political commentator Mehdi Hasan explained why he opposes abortion: “I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a ‘person,’” he wrote, apparently labouring under the unhappy delusion that pro-choice advocates were trying to abort his children specifically.
and then, later:
What the abortion debate needs is empathy, not narcissism – empathy that not every woman has your life, your privileges, your options, which is why your experience doesn’t count for a hill of beans here. It doesn’t matter if you had an abortion and regretted it, or loved it so much you celebrated the moment on Instagram with a jazzy filter, because abortion is a collective issue, not an individual one.
She fails to see that what Hasan experienced was exactly the empathy she’s calling for- the understanding that more than his life or the lives of his children matter, but that the lives of ALL the children matter, even if not directly connected to him. He didn’t fear that his children were in danger of being aborted- he lamented their lack of legal protection. We take a stand not for ourselves but for others.
Pro-lifers are in this because we dream of a better world to live in than one that ignores the rights of our weakest and most vulnerable. We want justice.
She is right that abortion isn’t an individual experience, though. And in the end, of course, that’s exactly what matters.