From pro-choice to pro-life and back

ETA (1/25/12): I’ve decided to take out the links to and quotes of Schwyzer’s work and rework this piece in the future.

ETA (1/18/12): Since information has come to light about Hugo Schwyzer’s record (link is to an article I wrote, added 1/25/12), I can no longer support his work or his presence or leadership in feminist spaces. At the same time, I don’t want to conceal my past citing of his work. I’m considering what to do with this post, given both the problematic language and the citing of Hugo – whether to post an updated version that doesn’t cite hugo, leave it here as is, or some other option. Suggestions are welcome.

ETA (1/13/12): I apologize that the language in this post is cissexist and binarist (not everyone with a uterus is female and not everyone is either male or female) and erasing of trans men and non-binary people who also need reproductive health services. For transparency’s sake I’ll leave the post as it originally read.

Hugo Schwyzer recently wrote an interesting post on why he’s changed his mind on abortion a few times. I really identify with parts of it, which I’ve excerpted below.

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I also believed in a consistent life ethic for many years. The “pro-life” philosophy I was raised with was riddled with inconsistencies, e.g., the Christian communities I grew up with were very gung ho about torture, unchecked militarism, and the death penalty, none of which come from a place of respect for the dignity and value of human life. They defined being pro-life as simply being opposed to legal abortion, without feeling any obligation to address the circumstances that lead women to choose abortions, and in many cases they supported positions that actually contribute to higher rates of abortion. I adopted a consistent life ethic after concluding that it was opposite of “pro-life” to demand that women never have abortions while vilifying single mothers, fighting proper sex ed and wider contraceptive access, and constantly opposing policies to guarantee proper health care during and after pregnancy, allow women to better support themselves and their families, and expand educational and career options for poor and/or single mothers.

But like Schwyzer, after a while I began to see that the goal of “making abortion unthinkable by winning hearts and minds so that women would be more inclined to choose adoption” was very unrealistic. Part of that realization came from getting a more accurate historical perspective on abortion, and learning more about what other cultures and religions believe about abortion. There have always been people who have sought out ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies; it’s not a new thing but rather a fact of human experience. It hasn’t always been traditional Christian teaching that fetuses have a soul from conception. And different cultures and faith traditions, even different branches of Christianity have a variety of views on abortion.

My beliefs about abortion had been conditioned by my religious upbringing; they were based on assumptions about when life begins, and what that means, that are far from universal. It seemed problematic to insist that everyone has to accept a particular one of many Christian positions on abortion, regardless of what their faith traditions or personal convictions might be, much less to claim that this position should be enshrined into laws everyone has to follow.

I also identify with Schwyzer’s comments in that my experience of pregnancy and of becoming a parent also made me see the the enormity of asking someone to continue an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, to birth and raise an unwanted child, or to birth and give up an unwanted child.

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Going through pregnancy myself made me realize that it’s not an experience that should ever be forced on anyone. Nor is giving birth a process anyone should have to go through unwillingly. My pregnancy was planned, and our child very much wanted and loved from the instant we knew I was pregnant. I was lucky to have a complication-free pregnancy, labor, and birth. But even the smoothest pregnancy or delivery entails serious physical, psychological, and personal challenges. There were days when I was so nauseous and tired that all I could think about was not being pregnant. Pregnancy made my problems with depression worse in ways I didn’t anticipate. Giving birth was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, physically and psychologically. And that’s saying nothing of the challenges that come with being a parent for the rest of your life, or that can come with giving up a child. After experiencing all that, and having experienced just a few years of the terrifying and wonderful adventure of raising and being responsible for another human being, I couldn’t imagine asking anyone to take all that on unwillingly.

I appreciated Schwyzer’s conclusion:

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I have a number of Christian friends I deeply respect for having a broad vision that sees fighting all oppression and injustice as pro-life. They don’t believe that caring about the dignity of human life ends at birth, and they actually advocate for policies that would lower abortion rates without punishing women. They believe that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of that they’re also passionate about anti-racism, LGBT rights, economic justice, universal health care, the environment, and many other social justice issues. I consider them to be, if I may borrow the phrase from Paul, my co-laborers in the struggle for a more just world.

Where we differ is that they believe abortion is an injustice to unborn children and to women. They believe women deserve better than abortion. I disagree.

I believe an unplanned pregnancy is a difficult situation and that people deserve – no, have the right – to decide for themselves what their best options are. I believe we should work to make it so nobody feels like their options are constrained – so no one has to continue in a pregnancy they don’t want, and no one has to terminate a pregnancy they do want because of extenuating circumstances. Both are injustices. I believe no one can decide for someone else whether they can bear to carry a child to term only to give them up.

I believe women when they say they don’t regret their abortions, and believe them when they say they do regret them. I believe women who say abortion was the best option for them, and one they were relieved and even glad to have. I mourn with women who wish they hadn’t had abortions. I believe women should be trusted to speak their own truth about abortion, and free to speak that truth, positive, neutral, negative, without being shamed.

I have a hard time seeing myself ever having an abortion apart from under a very few circumstances. I continue to struggle with the moral and ethical implications of terminating a pregnancy for myself, especially after viability. Nevertheless, I believe people have a right to exercise their own beliefs about whether and when life begins before birth, and how to negotiate the complicated issues these questions raise in an unplanned pregnancy.