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Saturday, September 06, 2008

I am a 'prisoner of hope'

Well, of course I knew it would happen. I've been "flamed" on HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv) by some of the brethren and sistern for my post (below) about why I am proud of The Episcopal Church and our stand on reproductive rights.

You should know that this discussion came about because of a larger discussion about supporting the budget of the National Church, which also includes our financial support (in terms of membership) of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

It's all the usual stuff: My sanity was called into question by one. The word "murder" was, of course, used. Another talked about the "genocide" of the African-American community (he was, of course, a straight white male). And, of course, abortion was compared not only in biblical terms of "the slaughter of the innocents" but the conversation fell with amazing rapidity into a comparison with "the Holocaust". (What's that rule about the significance of when a discussion reaches a point which mentions Hitler or the Nazi regime?)

Because I am, in St. Paul's words, a "prisoner of hope," (read: fool for Christ), I gave it another go this morning. This is what I wrote.


Here's the thing: I'm not pro-abortion. I'm pro-life, in the truest sense of that word - which most pro-lifers use simply to mean that they are opposed to abortion and choice.

I am not "in favor" of abortion any more than I am in favor of the death penalty.

Last time I checked, both were still legal. I'm not saying that this is your position, but it's always fascinating to me that the most ardent opposition to abortion often comes from the most enthusiastic supporters of the death penalty.

I'm also fascinated that the very ones who want "government off our backs" are often the ones who support laws to restrict the rights which pertain to a woman's body.

Ironies abound!

I am pro-life because in over twenty years of professional ordained ministry and more years than I care to admit as a health professional, I have never - not once - advised a woman to have an abortion.

Because I am pro-life, I have never - not once - advised a woman to not have an abortion.

Because I am pro-life, I have always worked with a woman - and the father of the child and her family, if they were / could be involved - to make the best decision for them.

I am pro-life because I am not in favor of abortion unless it has been determined by the woman, in consultation with her physician, the father of the child, her family and clergy that there is no other choice; that it is a medical or financial or social necessity and not just a whim.

And, what if there were other choices? What if it was a decision borne of fear or confusion which were never properly addressed with professional or family or clerical assistance - or even on a whim?

Well, because I am pro-life, I deeply, deeply grieve that decision, and not because "a life" has been taken. I have worked with many women - even those for whom abortion was the most difficult, painful decision of their lives, and I can tell you that they grieve, too. I have also worked with many, many women who have placed their child for adoption, and I can tell you that they grieve just as hard and as long about that decision, as well.

They, and I, grieve not because of the loss of "a life" but the loss of potential. The loss of what might / could / should have been. We grieve because there is nothing like making that kind of decision to put you in direct touch and find yourself before the Creator of all Life, all Hope, all Potential and it is deeply, profoundly humbling.

Even so, because I am pro-life, I would support with my very life the right of the woman to do what she feels is right in her heart and mind. My job is to help her find that right path, not determine it for her.

Ultimately, her decision - one way or another - will be judged by God. That's awesome enough. She doesn't need my judgment or any one else's. She needs our compassion and forgiveness - in the very same way that young, underage teens like Bristol Palin who choose to proceed with the pregnancy, get married and become children who raise children. These kids too soon discover that parenting is not babysitting. No one pays you for it and, after a few hours, you get to go home and listen to your iPod, talk on the phone or IM your posse.

We all know that the majority of young teenage girls do not get the support they need to raise healthy, whole children, which is why so many young girls - many of whom are disproportionately young girls of color - have little choice but abortion.

It also speaks directly to the terrorism in our home land known as domestic violence, including the physical and sexual abuse of children.

The pro-life democratic platform on abortion - carefully crafted by Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Mainline Protestant men and women on both sides of the issue - seeks to reduce by 70 -80% of the abortions performed in this country by directing their efforts at the reasons so many women seek abortion - poverty, lack of access to good health care, poor or no education, lack of social support services, lack of awareness of options to prevent pregnancy, including abstinence and other birth control / prevention measures.

Because I am pro-life, I support this platform which recognizes that abortions have been performed for almost as long as people have been having sexual intercourse and that abortions will continue to be performed - legally or illegally, often at the risk of the life of the woman - but it does not take away the rights of an individual in order to appease the moral outrage of a particular group.

I am pro-life because I trust the life of the woman to determine what is best for her life. You may disagree, and that is completely your prerogative, but the fact of the matter is that abortion has been made legal because it has been determined by the medical definition of when "life" begins.

It is intelligence blinded by arrogance to place one's "feeling" or "sense" or "belief" about when life begins up against that of the knowledge of trained physicians and scientists. You have a complete right to your feelings, senses and beliefs, but you have no right to impose that on the facts of the matter.

I am pro-life because I recognize that we live in a pluralistic culture and that my religion, my understanding of God is not the only one in the global village of America. There are other religious bodies who support abortion - many under the same circumstances as articulated in the position of TEC.

You may even have a feeling, sense or belief about what God feels about abortion, but you have no right to impose that on anyone else. This is still a democracy, not a theocracy. Can you say, "Iran"? Or, "Iraq"?

There are items on the budget of the national church which I do not support - some of which, in fact, make me angry - and I have voted against them when they have come before convention or lobbied against them in committee. But to vote down an entire budget because I disagree with one - or a few - items is as illogical as cutting off your feet because you don't like your shoes.

You come back to the next General Convention ready to work for your cause. You spend the intervening three years working and organizing to make your point. Or, you sigh deeply, and as one of our brothers once advised, you "hold your nose and vote."

I have chosen to take responsibility for my own pro-life position rather than to call into question your position and beliefs or hurl thinly-veiled ad hominem attacks. I am not trying to change your mind, only to explain my own, trusting that we have the emotional and spiritual maturity to live in the tension of peaceful disagreement.

I hope this has been helpful to you.


Katie Schwartz said...

Gosh, I love this post, E. So much of what you said resonated hard for me.

This line in particular "This is still a democracy, not a theocracy." sums it up beautifully (for me).

People (not you) think that when a woman chooses to have an abortion, she makes that decision cavalierly and without contemplation. They are wrong. It's never an easy decision to make.

Speaking for myself when I went through it at 21, I knew it was the right decision. I grieved hard and felt a deep sadness because I was stopping a process. That said, I never ever regret my decision. It was the right choice.

I'm so happy you wrote this. I support you 100%!

Katie Schwartz said...

PS: LOVE the image :)

susankay said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Abortion is an incredibly tough decision for a woman to make -- even after confering with priest, doctor, potential father, family etc, it is fundamentally her decision. And yes, it should involve deep moral issues.

But, dammit -- women have been making tough moral decisions ever since there have BEEN women. One would assume they are capable of doing so.

Yes: Pro life and pro choice.

Grace said...

Mother Kaeton,

I have absolutely no doubt about your sincerity, and caring in all this. And, I have to agree with you that these personal attacks are very wrong.

Folks need to focus in discussion of the issues at hand, rather than trying to be the Holy Spirit of God, judging the motives, and intention of others. People can disagree, and certainly not be regarded as the enemy.

But, I have to agree with the concern expressed with those who disagree with the position of our church.

It seems reasonable to me that if there is strong disagreement, and we have not reached anything close to a consensus together, then it would show wisdom for the church to refrain from officially supporting abortion rights organizations.

We need to simply keep praying, continuing the discussion together, and take action in areas of concern where we do find common ground. There's plenty of ways to do that.

I mean suppose it had been the other way around, and TEC had ended up supporting a strong pro-life organization? How would you be feeling then?

I can tell you that I'm absolutely grieved by our association, and feel that it's totally wrong.

Your sister,

Kay & Sarah said...

I could not agree with your position more!! I worked in Title X, Family Planning, Clinics for many years. I saw these decisions play out many times in my career.

Women need support, care, factual honest information and counseling to make decision when a pregnancy is unwanted. They do not need judgement. The decision to have an abortion or give a child up for adoption is a difficult decision. You are correct in saying in either case the woman grieves. These decisions should be made by the woman not for her.

There are many people in the Episcopal Church who agree with you. I guess they are just not as vocal as the anti choice crowd.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Grace,

Well, there is "strong disagreement" from a very vocal minority.

If that anti-abortion position were in the majority, the votes would show that. Each time this vote has come up, since the 70's, our present position has prevailed.

I hasten to add that being in the minority does not make one wrong, it just makes one in the minority. And, perhaps, angry, but not wrong.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for coming by, Ms. Katie. You are DA Schwartz-Bomb!

Ostrich said...

Thank you for these posts. Sometimes we do need others to articulate what we know in our hearts but have never been able to put so eloquently.

And as for the brick bats - I knew a nun who said that it wasn't til she'd been spat at walking along a street that she realised there was a point to wearing a habit (ditto dog collar). It's about putting your head above the parapet and speaking the truth.

Thank you for speaking out, and for including your truth.

Ken Eck said...

Dear Elizabeth, thank you for your post.

I am doing a placement in my local hospital and have sat with a consultant caring for mothers who have had to terminate for terrible medical reasons. These babies would not have survived, had they gone full term. The mothers are devastated by the choice they had to make. For many they just wanted affirmation that they had been mothers, albeit for a short time.

I will never forget a photo I was shown, the look of pure love on the face of a mother cradling the child whose life she had no choice but to end.

Before my placement I would have said all abortion is wrong but now I know it's more complicated, and pastorally more difficult, than that.

God Bless

Fran said...

Elizabeth- this is brilliant. I want to send it to a friend of mine from church, but then I would be outed from my FranIam identity!

We had a long talk about this topic yesterday.

And I have really been struggling every time I hear a Republican type saying the "pro-abortion" people.

Like you, nothing could be farther from the truth for me.

Thanks for your words and wisdom always.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Not to mention if we went back to the "Bad old days" before Roe, the ER's would be showing the upshot of that decision--women who, in desperation, try to abort by "other methods" and end up becoming septic.

Do the clergy on the Fox News side of the aisle have any plans as to how they intend to minister to these women and their familes?

Prairie Soul said...

Yes, Rev. Kaeton, you've spoken well here. I relate to others who flinch whenever they hear the term pro-abortion. Who on the planet is FOR abortion?

On this and many other controversial subjects, we really must not allow extremists (on any side of any debate) to marginalize the discussion by consigning their opponents to small boxes of their own creation. Because many blog conversations are characterized by this, I rarely will comment. Neither side is listening to the other anyway.

I had to comment here to thank you for articulating yourself so well. If all of us could argue this gracefully, we'd save ourselves a great deal of needless strife and division.

Diane said...

I, too, want to commend you for this piece. It expresses well the complexities of the issues.

I do differ with you with regard to knowledge and facts. They are acquired and interpreted by human beings and are fallible. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a legal opinion/law on when life begins and it’s not based on a scientific consensus but on the majority opinion of judges, which is how things work in the USA. Also, facts are not the only source of information.

My point is that this is not a matter of an opinion versus an axiomatic truth.

A law or canon that says abortion is legal does not in any way deny a woman the choice of carrying a child to term. It seems to me to be a reasonable way of facing a very difficult and highly charged issue.


Mary Sue said...

I find I'm 'minded of the repeated line from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, wherein the Pirate's Code is referred to as "more of a guideline than anything else."

Also, in the words of my military-trained uncles and my roleplaying-geek friends, "No battle plan has ever survived engagement with the Enemy."

I love hypothetical situations as much as the next overeducated liberal arts fuzzy science major, but I really, really, desperately wonder what spun-sugar ivory tower cotton wool and bubble-wrapped world some of these folks live in. I wonder if that is part of the reason that some people (liberals, conservatives, and all other sides of the political spectrum, none of y'all are getting off easy on this) seem to demand consensus-- because anything less would shatter their very fragile, 'safe' world.

But watch out, ye livers of safe lives who proclaim you follow Jesus. Jesus has an annoying tendency to shatter illusions of safety, to drag you kicking and screaming into the firefight, to take business as usual and kick over the tables, and chase you right out of your safety zones snapping a whip at your heels the whole way.

This ain't no prophecy, children. This is personal experience. This is me testifyin' on a Sunday afternoon.

JCF said...

God bless you for your witness, Lisbeth.

So many of us agree with what you've said, yet are cowed into silence, by the charges of "Baby Killers!" and the like (Truthfully: I would like to have a Prayerfully Pro-Choice sticker on my car, but am afraid to. If someone "decided to express a contrary opinion" w/ a baseball bat, I could not afford the repairs :-0)

Elaine C. said...

Thank you! I too stand with you and value the articulate position you posted. Thank you.

Missy said...

Most of what you say I agree with and you speak your position very well.

The only thing that I get caught on is the use of "moral relativism"--a catchphrase and finger pointing pivot among conservatives, especially in the RC.

I think you can say all of this without going into that sort of "what's right for me may be wrong for someone else," game. Abortion is never "right" in that way. Sometimes and for some people, it's just the only way. And that is what we have to acknowledge with grace and compassion.

I apologize if I seem overly critical. It's just that I've been struggling with how to address accusations of moral relativism from my fellow Catholics and I want to be sensitive about not using it in my own arguments.

Thank you for sharing this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Missy and Mary Sue, you make important points about the language and rhetoric of this discussion. Thanks so very much for your contributions. I am greatly enlightened and empowered by them. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

This is simply wonderfully powerfully said. You have struck exactly the right tone I think. I struggle with this so much, yet time and time again, I fundamentally cannot get past that I cannot choose for someone else and that God will address this issue with each of us. We are simply wrong to try to impress our choice on someone else. That said,I am in favor of every means to help women find other solutions to a most difficult situation.