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  • Writer's pictureSara Sharpe

Letter 6: Abortion

Updated: Sep 27, 2023



Dear Friend:


So. Roe has been overturned. As soon as the news dropped, the country erupted; in jubilation on the one hand, fear and devastation on the other. Of course, I would have to write to you about abortion at some point.

We pretty much knew this was coming, right? In anticipation of this moment, there’s been a lot of abortion chatter on social media. A few days ago, a woman I don’t know posted the following query on a (pro-choice) friend’s Facebook page:


“How does a woman kill her own baby? It’s a legitimate question.”

On the one hand, kudos to her for asking the blunt, pro-life question. But it makes me wonder, Friend, how you even begin to wrap your mind around our pro-choice stance. Deep down, honestly, do you wonder if we’re all sociopaths? How else would you describe a group of people you believe are willing to “kill babies?” I don’t mean to be glib, here. It must be a terrible burden. You must feel as if the whole world has gone crazy.

I don’t want you to carry this horrific idea about me and many others. I’d like to relieve you of this burden. You may not think it possible – and it may not be – but I want to try.

Indeed, most of the women here on my side of the divide are seething and terrified because of this decision. Many of these women are mothers, many of them religious. I, myself, am a “pro-choice” mother, though, can I say, for the record, that I find the reductive “pro-life” v “pro-choice” dichotomy unhelpful? I do believe women must be able to choose whether or not to bring life into the world, but not because I think my freedom of choice is more important than an innocent life. The argument is too often forced into this one-dimensional way of thinking.

In any case, I understand that the anti-abortion community, including you, mourns the loss of every unborn child and sees every abortion as a life that could have been. I want to acknowledge the inherent decency in such a position. I see and acknowledge your horror at the idea that any woman would put her own self-interest before her child's life. I understand this is the framework upon which your horror and movement are built. I see you. I hear you.

It will be important for you to understand that I view things differently. Can you see me? Can you hear me?

I am convinced, Friend – and bear with me, because I’m swimming in deep water, here ­– that we humans are fully capable of creating little human bodies, and not at all capable of creating that which constitutes the essential self; that which we might call the soul. I would argue that the soul is a Divine creation that humans can neither create nor destroy. Does that make sense? To me, therefore, abortion isn’t taking a life; abortion is saying “not here, not now.”

You don’t have to agree with me, of course, but I hope you can hear me when I say I simply don’t believe, as you do, that life begins at conception. What I do believe is that we, as women, must be free to decide when and if we can faithfully and responsibly offer a Divine soul a human vehicle. For me, it is vital that women have the right to make this choice, as much for the unborn as for themselves. This, then, is not a selfish choice, so far as I’m concerned; it is a responsible and loving one.

Shall we consider the religious argument briefly? I think we must.

In a recent article in Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham in 1956, Timothy Dalrymple writes,

We celebrate the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson. The sanctity and dignity of all human life remains the preeminent moral issue of our time, and five decades of calling evil good has distorted the moral vision of our culture. Overturning Roe is a testament to a long faithfulness, passed down from parents to children to grandchildren, to fight for the lives and dignity of people in all stages of development. It could be the most significant moral achievement of a generation.

Even for evangelical Christians, however, the issue was not always so cut and dried. Jonathan Dudley, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has written and published several articles over the past several years about the fact that evangelical attitudes toward abortion were not always resolutely pro-life… and WHOA, WAIT, STOP RIGHT THERE.

Before I go any further, I need to say something important. In this toxic, political atmosphere, we think in terms of winners and losers, right? We keep score. There is an implicit point system. One of the surest ways to rack up points is to identify inconsistencies in our opponent’s argument and then hold those inconsistencies as evidence of insincerity and weakness. We point to inconsistencies as grounds for dismissing the argument and belittling the person making it. But can we agree that this score-keeping business ultimately serves no one? (Incidentally, have you ever tried to be in a relationship with someone who keeps score this way? I have, and I can assure you it’s terrible. Horrible. Not recommended.)

In any case, opportunistic politicians and values-driven Supreme Court justices aside, I would argue that sometimes inconsistency is a very good sign. Cause for celebration, even. Inconsistency can be a sign of growth, and a rich jumping-off point for discussion, as in, “Tell me how you got from there to here!” I’m about to point to some inconsistencies regarding evangelical Christian attitudes toward abortion, but not to belittle the prevailing evangelical position, which is reflected in Dalrymple’s earnest statement above. Rather, I point to these inconsistencies because they are a powerful reminder that good, thoughtful, and deeply religious people can have varying and changeable ideas about complex issues and that this back-and-forth is helpful for those of us trying to sort out where we stand and why. (The only people not comfortable with this line of thinking are those who believe they know the mind of God and have THE ANSWERS. This lack of humility is, I believe, a dangerous thing. You and I will not engage in such hubris.)


So, back to business. In 2012, on the CNN BELIEF BLOG, (My Take: When Evangelicals were pro-choice) Dudley wrote:

In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:


“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: 'If a man kills any human life he will be put to death' (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

The magazine Christian Life agreed, insisting, “The Bible definitely pinpoints a difference in the value of a fetus and an adult.” And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a 1971 resolution affirming abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.


For the record, a quick Google search will lead you to many more articles by Jonathan Dudley and various responses from Christianity Today, including a particularly thoughtful one by Mark Galli entitled, "Does it Matter that Evangelicals Became Pro-life Recently? Nov 7, 20221.

In any case, I do not mean to challenge your resolve, friend, assuming you oppose abortion for religious reasons. I mean only to create space for us to agree to disagree. I hope you might someday believe that "pro-choice" is not synonymous with "evil." We can, I submit, care for and understand one another, even as we disagree about this issue, and even as I continue to fight for a woman's right to choose.

Why continue this fight? Why not hold quietly to my position while allowing you to hold yours? In part, it’s because I have deep and urgent concerns about the women and children who will suffer as a result of this ruling. May I explain?

As per usual, it is poor women, and women of color, who will suffer the most. Right around half of all women who get an abortion live below the poverty line, and many of the rest are low-income folks. Forcing poor women to have babies they can’t afford to care for, emotionally or financially, is, to my eye, a form of abject cruelty. There is no way to imagine this won’t set many more young people on the "school-to-prison pipeline." (More about that in a subsequent letter.) We will allow hundreds of thousands more children - millions, actually - to be born into lives of hardship and chaos, where they will suffer early childhood trauma. Their parents will not talk to them about safe sex, because they themselves suffered early childhood trauma and because no one talked to them about safe sex. Perhaps you've read about how early childhood trauma affects young brains. Many of these very children will have brains different from those of other kids. These children, if research is any indication, will have less impulse control. They will act out in school. They will be more likely to be expelled or taken to juvy. They will then be much more likely to end up in prison. Once they are in prison, we will forget about them, assuming we ever thought about them in the first place.

Now, I understand that this argument is, perhaps, repugnant to anyone fundamentally horrified by abortion. Perhaps you think that living in poverty is surely better than not living at all. Yes? Perhaps you yourself grew up poor and feel very glad to have been born despite challenges along the way. I myself was adopted and am very happy my birth mother chose adoption over abortion. For what it’s worth, however, I believe that had my birth mother chosen to have an abortion, I would have instead been born into a more perfect situation. Such is the nature of my Faith.


So, friend: can you begin to see how someone like me – someone who does not believe that life begins at conception - feels grief and rage around the fact that Roe v Wade has been overturned? That I don’t feel rage because I am selfish, but because I am terribly, terribly worried?

One way or another, with tens of thousands of new souls born into poverty, we are bringing about a new reality, and we must not look away. We must get and stay engaged.

To that end, it seems reasonable to suggest that anyone who worked to overturn R v W must now take on financial responsibility for at least one child born to a poverty-stricken woman who would have had an abortion had one been available to her. In mounting this argument, I’m not putting a price on a human life, which is impossible. I am, however, facing the fact that these women will need help. Babies will have babies; there is no way around it now, and they will need us, financially and otherwise.

“Between April and August,” according to FiveThirtyEight, “the number of abortions declined by 6 percent, and it’s likely that the decline in abortions represents thousands of women who sought abortions illegally or didn’t get one at all. If these trends persist, there could be at least 60,000 fewer abortions in the next year as a result of the Dobbs decision.”

So, we’ll need 60,000 pro-choice volunteers to get out their checkbooks, pronto. We’re also gonna need lots of trauma-informed boots on the ground. No kidding. It’s the only hope lots of these kids will have.

One more thing before I sign off here. We’ve been talking about the ways in which poor people will be affected by these sweeping anti-abortion laws, but it’s not only poor folks who are going to be affected. Privilege has its limits in a post-Roe world.

For now, women with resources and information can cross state lines to get an abortion. Or they can take misoprostol or mifepristone (commonly known as the “abortion pill”). But already, there is a fervent movement to criminalize the distribution of these drugs and any attempt to help a woman cross state lines to get an abortion. Even women who have miscarriages could be scrutinized in a post-roe world.


I live in Tennessee, where we now have very strict abortion laws. Honestly, if a young woman comes to me, desperate to have an abortion, I must tell you that I would feel compelled to help her, one way or another. Remember, I don’t consider abortion murder, as I don’t believe life begins at conception. If this woman, lovingly and thoughtfully, says to the soul who would come through her, “Not here, not now,” I trust that her decision is best for everyone concerned. I will honor her choice and continue to work so that fewer and fewer young women are forced to make this wrenching decision in the first place. (Always, I think it best to organize around prevention instead of punishment.)

Would you send me to prison for this decision, Friend? These are the questions we must ask ourselves now.

Perhaps you wouldn’t send me to prison, I don’t know. But there are plenty of folks who would. Prison is the consequence these folks would impose upon me for my actions. But here is the consequence I would impose upon them: Please educate yourself, urgently and immediately, about the effects of childhood trauma. Then find one child born into poverty and send an anonymous check to her or his family every month until that child is grown. A new study finds that raising a child costs $18,271 per year due to inflation. That comes to $1,522 per month.

And maybe write to me in prison?

This is one of the hardest issues we have to wrestle with. We all have very, very strong feelings. About abortion. About children. About life and when it begins. For all of us, protecting the lives of children is (or should be) paramount. If we, any of us, fail at that, what else matters? (I happen to know something about this.) So, we are fervent. Horrified by the respective ramifications. Wholly unwilling to listen to anyone who feels differently than we do...

Until now. Let’s wrestle with the issue, yes. But as we do so, let’s remember that we are, by and large, good and profoundly caring folks with varying beliefs and that for the sake of the children, we must engage in this conversation. We can be firm in our beliefs and advocate for them at the highest levels. But I persist in thinking we do a better job when we stop villainizing and start listening to each other.

Love,

Sara


PS: A quick view of the landscape in case you're interested:

Not surprisingly, people of faith view scripture differently when it comes to abortion. Of course, the central question for the faithful boils down to when life begins. At conception? Quickening? First breath? When, in other words, should a fetus be assigned full personhood?

According to the Pew Research Center (David Masci, June, 2016), here’s a quick look at various religious groups and their feelings re abortion:

Religious groups that oppose abortion in all circumstances

· Southern Baptist Convention

· Roman Catholic Church, for instance)

Religious groups that oppose abortion in most circumstances

· Mormons

· Assemblies of God

· Hindu teaching

Religious groups that favor a women’s right to have an abortion with few or no exceptions

· United Church of Christ (the tradition in which I was raised)

· the two largest American Jewish movements – Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Still others (Islam and Orthodox Judaism, for instance) have no clear position, and lots of disagreement within the ranks.

This debate has been raging for centuries, within and without various religious traditions. Not only that, but the debate has been changeable throughout the years, even among evangelical Christians.


Sara



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1 Comment


Stephen Brasher
Stephen Brasher
Jun 17, 2023

This is a brilliant idea, thank your for this:

“I feel strongly enough about this

particular concern I’m tempted to suggest that anyone who worked to overturn R v W must commit to taking on the financial responsibility for at least one child born to a woman living in poverty who would have had an abortion had one been available to her. In mounting this argument, I’m not putting a price on a human life, which is impossible. I am, however, facing the fact that these women are going to need help. Babies are going to have babies; there is no way around it now, and they’re going to need us, financially and otherwise.”

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