I remember when I met my first Democrat the way some people might remember their first R-rated movie, or perhaps, their first tornado.
I was about nine years old. Me and some friends got shuttled once a week out of our tiny Nebraska town to the comparatively huge city of Kearney once a week, for drama class. Our drama teacher (of course) announced her political party to us with the weary nobility of Joan of Arc, and I suppose being a Democrat in a small midwestern town must have indeed seemed some sort of crucible. What had brought this conversation up escapes me now, but I remember our collective shock. “You’re a Democrat?” Micah had bellowed. It echoed all of our thoughts.
It was not repulsion, I don’t think, although such an impression would have been understandable, given Holdrege’s climate. It was simple fascination.
They were an odd bunch, Democrats, with their tolerance and their gay agenda. Their war on religion. That business with President Clinton and the intern. At nine, I was versed in all these things. But none of them were the first to come to mind when my drama teacher announced she was a Democrat. My first thought was that this was an abortion supporter.
Christianity and the pro-life movement were inextricable in my mind. It was the eleventh commandment, the amendment to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ unwritten rule. The general consensus was (and is) that the Bible does not directly address abortion, but if it did, it would be categorically opposed*.
I have seen things to churn your stomach. The aborted fetuses we’ve all seen. Statistics on the trauma women who’ve had abortion experienced, I could quote without even looking up. Partial-birth abortion, which my mother could not speak of without weeping. Grim tales of abortion doctors who accidentally(?) killed their patients, or delivered a live baby only to snuff its life out with their own hands. Loony Lefty thinking which would defend anyone’s right to do virtually any perverse thing they desired but not a baby’s right to live. How anyone could support such horrors was beyond us in Holdrege, and we spoke dreamily of the day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned.
The question in my mind was, simply, why would anyone want to kill babies?
Years later, Kearney did not seem so big, I was living in Chicago, working with the homeless, and met a woman named Anne. Anne volunteered at a homeless shelter, and what a volunteer. She had a mohawk, gauges and a tattoo of a bird’s skeleton across her breast. She went to church every Sunday.
I don’t want to demean the broad totality Anne’s work with the homeless by telling you that she helped a lot of homeless girls get safe abortions, but she did do so. She would consider it a small part of her work, I’m certain, but it’s a hard thing to ignore. Here was a Christian who had given her life to helping the homeless—what Jesus would do, as we often think—and among many other acts of service, acted as a counselor for young women who wanted to end their pregnancies but didn’t know how.
I told Anne that many of my friends would consider her aiding and abetting the murder of babies. She said her own parents believed the same of her, but she didn’t see it that way at all.
“Christians treat women horribly,” she said. “If the rest of the church won’t help, I will.”
This is a common refrain. The American Church hates women. The pro-life movement is linked to anti-feminism.
That is not entirely true, but it’s truer than some abortion opponents would like to believe. There is evidence to back it up. When Wendy Davis filibustered Texas’ hyper-restrictive abortion laws, there was a dreadful amount of patronizing head-patting from the Right. When Senator Santorum seemed like a viable contender for the presidency, he justified his “no abortions, period” stance by saying women who were pregnant by rape should try considering their new baby a gift.
And so this is the question frequently heard from the pro-choice movement: why do these people hate women so much?
It’s America’s most divisive battle, and it is interesting that both sides assume the worst of the other. It’s not pro-life versus pro-choice. It’s never “people who want the best for women” versus “people who believe life begins at conception.”
It’s woman haters versus baby killers. The patriarchy versus feminazis.
The reason this debate has moved precisely nowhere in the past thirty years is because there is no common ground to be reached on these terms. Why would someone who supports the pro-life cause even consider compromising with the death of innocent babies is on the line? Why would an abortion advocate back down when the push for women’s equality remains in such dire straits?
There is, perhaps, no issue in which our failure to see the other side is more pronounced.
If you think this is building to my pronouncement on the issue, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I won’t be making it here, because it’s not my purpose. I am here in an attempt to build a bridge between two sides for whom there is a good deal more common ground than we have considered.
Pro-life advocates need to acknowledge that this is an issue of women’s rights. It is deliberate blindness to deny that the American church has a tragic historical track record in regards to equality for women, and their push to make abortion illegal has very often fallen prey to muzzling women who must be heard.
Pro-choice advocates need to recognize that the question of when life begins is not a naive one; it’s the crux of the debate. At present, there is no easy way to answer it, and it’s hard to see how there ever could be one. At what moment does the thing go from a mass of tissues to a sentient being? If, indeed, actual life is something that happens very early on in the pregnancy, than we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. If it is not, then the American church is guilty of holding women back from actualizing their full potential.
These are important questions, and the easiest and worst mistake we can make is one of over-simplification. This is not a no-brainer. This is something that is dear to the heart of advocates on both sides and—vitally—both sides consider themselves to be acting in humanity’s best interests.
While one side must most certainly be wrong, that needn’t make them a villain.
*There are certain verses that can be stretched to support such a claim, it’s true. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” David proclaims. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The thinking goes that if David was indeed crafted in utero, then we have no business butting in on this process. I’ll concede that it might have some validity, as long as we acknowledge that David most certainly was not crafting this poem as a defense of the pro-life movement.