In my ideal America, terminating a pregnancy would be a medical procedure, like other medical procedures, decided upon by a woman and her doctor. She would honor her body and her life. We all have intimate relationships with our bodies that are sometimes hard to share, but above all, we nourish and protect our bodies from harm. In the end, only we can decide what’s best for us-no government or court involvement.
But we do not live in an ideal America. In December, 2021 the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a suit challenging the precedents set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 (referred to as Roe and Casey in this essay).
After 48 years of aggressive debate, I wonder if a person of any gender would be open to the idea that they could be both pro-life and pro-choice. What does that look like? A person who believes in the beauty and joy and the sacredness of life also believes that for some female adults and children, continuing a pregnancy is not the best decision for them: i.e. A college student barely paying rent; A parent with already enough children to feed; A 16-year-old with her whole life before her; A woman who chose a career over family; A woman consumed by substance abuse; A child sexually abused by an adult; A woman who is not in a healthy, committed relationship.
This is a big ask. It may seem simplistic and naïve but I’m asking you to declare your love of life and find some common ground with our adversaries. This argument has been referred to as “overcoming the false debate between those who are pro-life and ‘those who are not pro-life’” by Mexican Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldivar. He added, “We are all pro-life, only that some of us are in favor of allowing women to live a life in which their dignity is respected, and they can exercise their rights fully.” I’m asking pro-choice women to embrace both labels, pro-choice and pro-life, to broaden the narrative with our sisters. Yes, we are all sisters.
Some will argue that we want it both ways. So be it. The energy we expend on this argument has no end. Change in strategy is knocking at our door. Let us not forget that we lost equality in the 1970s over abortion when certain groups made abortion political and states stopped ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
Labeled as pro-choice, we are almost afraid to discuss the possibility of ending a pregnancy for fear of being called inhuman, uncaring or, worse, a murderer. We are all pro-life. We don’t have to mirror each others’ thoughts and ideas, but we need to respect all personal beliefs and agree on certain values. Where do we begin? Is any person in favor of ending pregnancies? No. No one wants to end a pregnancy. No one is pro-abortion. Some women have to end an unexpected pregnancy and are too often alone because of the stigma of abortion. The decision is personal. We delve deep into our hearts to make decisions for our life and any potential life. The right to self-determination is essential to being in charge of our lives.
We are all independent people in the United States, free and equal. Legislation or legal judgments instructing us what we should do with our bodies limits our freedom and human rights. The power of a woman’s body is a miracle to the universe. We are the sex who can populate the universe, but it is not a requirement. We all have a relationship with our own bodies, and the universe depends on us to honor it.
Pregnancy is more than a woman’s issue; it takes two people to make a pregnancy. Mistakes happen. Passion overwhelms a moment. Two people may not be making a commitment to bring another person into this world and may not be willing to love, nurture and support it for the rest of their lives. Children need to be loved, wanted, and cared for. Women take on this obligation. But it is an obligation for the other parent, equally.
In a study by the Pew Research Center in August 2021, a majority (59%) of US adults indicated that they favored legalized abortion in all or most cases.
The 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey measured religious attitudes toward abortion:
White mainline Protestant……………………………59%
White evangelical Protestant………………………30%
White evangelical Protestants in this survey displayed significant disapproval of legal abortions. This religious disapproval is not new, but in 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention made their resolution political. Until 1980, the Convention passed inconsistent resolutions about abortion, but in 1980 it shifted to favor legislation that prohibited abortions except to save the life of the mother. The five decades since have witnessed an escalating push against the US Supreme Court decision of Roe, which guaranteed pregnant women and girls access to safe, legal abortions in 1973.
Representing the Jewish religion, Rabbi David M. Feldman, a renowned ethicist and scholar, speaks to the sacredness of potential life and the sacredness of life, but determines that current life is more important than potential life. The Rabbi’s teachings state that “the rights of the fetus are secondary to the rights of the mother all the way up until the moment of birth.”
But according to the Statista 2020 Religion Census, White evangelical Protestants, who represent only 14.5% of the US population, want to impose its religious views on the rest of the population. The US Supreme Court ruled on abortion rights in 1973 and again in 1992, with 15 judges in these two cases confirming a woman’s right to choose.
The major research polls of adults in the US indicate that the majority of Americans support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy if she needs to. In the previously-mentioned Pew Research study 35% of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party responded that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In contrast, 80% of Democrats and those who lean towards the Democratic Party say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, regardless of religious beliefs.
That same Pew Research study revealed support for legal abortions has been steady over the past two decades (1995: 60%, 2021: 59%), but partisan politics has become stronger and more aggressive.
We are all free to join any political party and participate as much or as little as we want, but the US Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law. It is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under the law, and therefore also acts as a guardian and interpreter of the Constitution. The Supreme Court interprets the US Constitution, not the verses in the Bible or the paragraphs in political party platforms.
Over the past decade, we have forfeited a number of defining American attributes: our flag, our patriotism, and now our love of life? No. I hope that we can reclaim our association to our love of life and the sacredness of life. And the next time someone shouts at us, “you are baby killers,” we can say calmly, “We’re pro-life and pro-choice!” This may allow a different conversation to begin, a possible agreement in some values and respect in others.
What values can we agree on?
- We all love life.
- No one wants to end a pregnancy.
- Our religion should be respected. Each one of us can follow our religious teachings.
I’m old enough to remember the stories of roommates and cousins and sisters and daughters and mothers who died from unsafe abortions. If Roe were overturned, women of means would continue to benefit from access to safe abortions, but poor women probably would not. As journalist Molly Ivins once said, “The real problems for women are poverty and violence.”1
I propose that people with certain faith teachings follow those teachings, and I further propose that decisions affecting all Americans be based on the US Constitution. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the US Constitution, not the Bible, should be the basis for decisions that affect all Americans.
In my future vision, I see Americans working together, marching together to demand the best possible reproductive healthcare for all women and girls, and universal healthcare for all infants and children. You may call this excessively optimistic, but I’ll be carrying the sign, “PEACE! I’m Pro-life and Pro-choice.”