Talking About Abortion (Again)

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“Through our own abortion experiences, we came to reject the dichotomy of abortion politics that would require women to choose between two beliefs: that pregnancy is a miracle, the fetus’s life is sacred, and therfore abortion is wrong; or that pregnancy is merely a physical event, the fetus is just a mass of tissue, and therefore abortion is insignificant. As feminists and Pagans, we believe that women are literally a gateway between worlds and that abortion is a responsible exercise of the sacred power of choice.”Minerva Earthschild and Vibra Willow, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying

I’m not really sure I want this discussion, I could be talking about Pagans in Iceland, or the latest stupid exploits of “The Impaler”. But ever since the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, I’ve been unable to really focus on anything else. Maybe it’s because my wife’s a doctor, and I take the murder of doctors seriously. Maybe it’s because I’m fed up with hearing earnest pundits place Tiller and his sociopathic assassin on equal moral standing because they both have “blood on their hands”. Whatever the reason, I don’t feel I can go any further without saying something. Without reiterating again, a Pagan view on abortion, and the primal right of women to be the final arbiters of carrying a pregnancy to term.

I agree with Starhawk when she says that pregnancy and birth is a profound and holy mystery. That it is an encounter with goddess (or The Goddess), where weighty decisions concerning life and death are made, and that outside attempts to legislate or control a woman’s pregnancy and birth is to deny her “deepest spiritual self”. Sometimes, in the crux of that holy moment, a potential life is rejected. We may not always agree with or like this situation, but the sacred power of choice can’t be denied, lest we deny a woman’s moral agency in the matter of birth. Throughout recorded history husbands, rulers, family, religious leaders, and various laws have tried to regulate and control that agency, but despite this, women have found ways to choose the time and manner of bearing children.

“…when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation.”Aristotle, Politics 7.16

While I see the issue of abortion’s morality and legality one that centers on whether women are allowed and able to control their own reproductive process, the current climate in which doctors are killed and clinics bombed is partially a political construct designed to garner votes and split former alliances.

“Abortion (or more accurately the battle over legal access to an abortion) is the biggest red herring in the history of politics. Shortly before Ronald Reagan took office, conservative Christian groups (disappointed with Carter’s liberal form of Christianity, and reeling from the Nixon years) were looking for an issue to help galvanize their base and move them forward. They realized that abortion was the ticket. It not only created some great sound-bites (child genocide, etc etc) and helped define the “them” (evil secular humanists and liberal Christians), but it also helped erode the traditional Catholic support of the Democratic party (the modern Catholic church since around 1917 was soundly anti-abortion).”

In the years since abortion was politicized, we’ve grown used to inflammatory rhetoric like “baby-killer”, “genocide”, “murderer”, and “butcher” being used to describe doctors who perform abortions. Then those same groups who paint the doctors as genocidal tyrants are “shocked” when someone takes them seriously. After all, who wouldn’t want to kill Hitler, right? Not realizing the complex ethical and emotional decisions behind each and every one of these controversial procedures.

“My wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller’s care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age. My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping. I can’t really come up with some profound political statement just now, so let me just list some memories of Dr. Tiller. I remember him firmly stating that he regarded the abortion debate in the US to be about the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction … I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was wearing, which said “Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!” or something similar. Turns out it commemorated the birthday of a fifteen year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party. The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking – obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them.”

Now this man has been eliminated. Murdered, assassinated, snuffed-out, because he had been labeled a murderer and a Nazi by anti-abortion groups looking to inflame their followers, and cable television hacks looking to boost their ratings share.

As Pagans, whether we personally agree with abortion or not, we do agree that no singular moral teaching should control us all. That we know and acknowledge the existence of many paths, many powers, and many teachings. That in a world where people worship different gods and hold to different ways, co-existence and tolerance is the key to survival. We should see the murder of someone for holding and practicing a different (and legal) point of view on the question of life as a tragedy that undermines our attempts at working together in a secular society. I yearn for a post-Christian America because I yearn for a country where no one group feels privileged and empowered enough to interfere with the lives and medical decisions of women.