Every time abortion is debated I have this wish, this longing, which, forgive me, I’m going to articulate as a list. As with many polarizing debates, people tend to hunker down in their camps pointing at the most extreme versions of their opponents’ views (possibly fictional): “She had a ninth-month abortion so she could fit into her prom dress!” / “He thinks people shouldn’t even use contraception!” We know the stereotypes: Pro-choice people are just callous and selfish and eschew personal responsibility. Anti-abortion people just hate women and fear sex.
I believe (and fervently hope) that there is a vast realm of people who do not all agree about the ethics of reproduction but do share the following values, or strive for them, even though we get very nervous about how others might exploit them to ends we don’t share:
(1) We think sex is a valuable and precious part of adult life and should be enabled and celebrated. We want people to rejoice in their sexuality, not be ashamed.
(2) We value the lives of people living in the “fourth trimester” and beyond.
(3) We believe that somewhere between conception and birth, the human zygote / embryo / fetus takes on qualities that obligate us to it in ways that we are not obligated to our appendix or spleen. This does not necessarily mean that it has the same moral claims as an infant, just that it is not the moral equivalent of an object.
(4) We believe that women’s autonomy is as important as men’s.
(5) We believe that the person whose body nourishes and is inextricably bound up with a growing fetus has a unique relationship to that fetus and the issues surrounding it that is not equivalent to the biological father’s, other parent’s/parents’, or anyone else’s–which is not to suggest that others have no relationship or obligations to that being.
(6) We harbor deep questions and uncertainty about where the dividing line is between not-living and living, about what and who has moral claims on whom, and about how much some frequently-debated questions even matter to the question of abortion.
(7) We believe in two principles that are often in tension with each other: people have a moral obligation to accept the consequences of their actions, and people need the space to start afresh after mistakes. We want to live honestly with this tension and seek neither irresponsibility nor punitive rigidity.
(8) We believe that in an ideal world, people would choose if and when they want to reproduce, be enabled to reproduce when they wish it, be able to enjoy their sexuality without unwanted pregnancy, and be supported in raising wanted children. We commit to work together toward such a world.
(9) While recognizing that pregnancy is too often a sorrow and a burden, indeed sometimes a tragedy, we also see the profundity and beauty in it and feel a deep sadness about the loss of a pregnancy, however it comes about.
(10) We recognize that legality and morality are not exactly the same, nor can they be, nor should they be. There may be illegal actions that are morally right. There may be immoral actions that are perfectly legal. This will always be so in anything other than a totalitarian society.
(11) We would like to move beyond rhetoric and dismissively pat solutions and slogans.
(12) We believe these issues are important and difficult.
(13) We wish to talk with others who struggle with these issues, not in order to concede to intolerable positions nor make peace with every opponent, but because they matter to us, and it is the duty both of a government and a civilization to grapple honestly with such questions.
I would love to attend a forum where people engage with these issues, respectfully, setting aside fear and righteousness as much as possible in order to come to a deeper understanding for ourselves, which may help our public policies be wiser as well. At our best, we Unitarian Universalists have a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, embrace moral complexity, trust that reason and relationship can get us to a better society, and believe that it is our calling to help make that better society. And we are currently working, as a denomination, on the issue of reproductive justice. So what better time to host such forums?
Please comment respectfully.