One day in my all-girls high school religion class, the conversation turned, as it often did, to abortion. Someone ventured that to carry an unwanted baby to term was a difficult thing, and another student retorted, “Well, if she didn’t want a baby, she should have kept her legs closed.”
Yikes, I thought, but before I or anyone else could say anything, another girl slammed one palm on her desk and shot the other one into the air.
“Why didn’t the woman close her legs,” the girl said when called upon. “Why don’t you ask why didn’t the man strap it down?”
The class erupted into laughter, but the moment stuck with me. I think of that memory now, nearly (oh good Lord) 10 years later, whenever I hear a particular brand of pro-life talk: the well-if-you-don’t-want-a-baby-then-don’t-sleep-around kind of talk. The we-can’t-stop-people-from-having-abortions-but-we-can-sure-make-it-harder kind of talk. I identify as pro-life myself, but I don’t think the people who talk like this have really thought about what they’re saying. If they did, they would quickly realize that those kinds of statements are illogical, counterproductive and cruel.
A recent article in Slate magazine highlighted the plight of a teenage rape victim in Indiana and linked her struggle to pro-life causes. The 13-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of the rape and decided to keep the baby, and in response to this brave decision, her community shunned her, spread rumors about her, and spray-painted the word “whore” on her house. While I think the article may have been overhasty in tying the pro-life movement to the abuse suffered by the girl — do we actually know that the people harassing her were pro-life? — I do think that the pro-life community has to take the incident seriously. We must ask ourselves whether we contribute, wittingly or unwittingly, to this type of demeaning and un-Christian behavior. We must ask ourselves the following questions:
- Does my rhetoric presume promiscuity on the part of the mother? Not only is such an attitude judgmental and lacking in compassion; it’s also a red herring. After all, a married woman could just as easily want — and get — an abortion. At issue is the life of the fetus, not the sexual guilt or non-guilt of the mother.
- Does my rhetoric turn the baby into a punishment? This question goes hand-in-hand with the previous one: It presumes that the baby in question was conceived out of wedlock and, therefore, that the mother deserves what she gets for being promiscuous. Maybe if we want to protect a life, we shouldn’t present that life as the scourge of God or karma or whatever. No baby should come into the world painted with the stigma of divine retribution. (See also: judgmental; lacking compassion; red herring.)
- Does my rhetoric reinforce the idea that sexual responsibility is the province of women only? It takes two to tango, my friends. Any statement that doesn’t acknowledge (1) that men and women are equally responsible for the creation of new life, and (2) that women have to shoulder a heavier burden because of biology, fuels the belief — erroneous, I hope — that you can’t be against abortion without being against women, that “pro-life” and “sexist” are synonymous.
- Does my rhetoric demean single mothers? You can’t ask single women to keep their babies and then turn around and treat them with disrespect. Christianity may or may not condone the circumstances surrounding a baby’s conception, but Christianity never condones throwing stones.
Once we’ve examined our thoughts and words, once we’ve ensured that we are both thinking and speaking compassionately about this charged topic, we can take the next step by supporting organizations that carry out the pro-life mission in a similarly thoughtful and sympathetic way. Project Rachel, which offers grief counseling to women who regret their abortions, is one such organization.
I understand how someone might be passionate about the pro-life cause, but passion for saving the unborn is not license for dismissive or derisive treatment of others. Being pro-life means caring not just for fetuses but also for the women who carry them. It means raising boys who know how to take responsibility for their actions and how to treat women with respect. Above all, it means thinking before we speak or act, so that our words and actions will always fall within the bounds of Christ-like compassion. The pro-life cause is an important one, and its every effort to promote life must recognize the worth and dignity of every person, including those who might be considering abortion.