Saturday, September 3, 2016

Putting Yourself in Their Shoes

In a previous post I stated that every time I think I've said everything I could possibly say about the abortion debate, something else comes up that I feel I must address.  I had a conversation recently that took a very interesting turn.

This friendly conversation with a nice Christian woman started out not about abortion, but rather, her opinion that sex outside of marriage is destroying women's self respect as well as the very fabric of society.  I agreed that for me personally as a yogi and a Christian, sex is sacred and promiscuity has zero appeal.  However, I do not see fit to impose my own values on other people, and adults should be free to do whatever they want, provided that they use birth control.  In my opinion, it's not casual sex per se that is destroying society but rather, casual breeding, 

She insisted that casual sex can only lead to bad consequences, and I replied that bringing an innocent child into the world should not be one of them.  She countered that pregnancy is the natural result of sex, and birth control encourages people to have sex irresponsibly without consequences.  She said it allows men to use women for their own selfish purposes without considering the woman's happiness and well-being.  I responded that selfish, irresponsible people make bad parents and therefore they ought to use birth control.

From my perspective, the primary purpose of sex is spiritual, or what the Catholics call "unitive." But, contrary to the Catholic doctrine, which emphasizes "procreative" sex, in my view pregnancy should be a rare and special occurrence resulting from a serious, intentional act when the lovers are ready and willing to welcome a baby into a good home.  Two strangers meeting in a bar, screwing in a car, and "oops!" is not a valid reason to have a child.  Life is both too precious and too fraught with peril for kids to be brought into this world unwanted as an accident or an afterthought from a random booty call.

She asked, what if promiscuous people don't use birth control and a pregnancy does occur; what then?  Surely not abortion?!  I answered that sometimes, yes, abortion is the best option.  But, she protested, it's not the child's fault that the parents were irresponsible sluts!  That is true, it is not the child's fault, which is why the child deserves better.  Every child deserves to be wanted.

I explained, contrary to the "pro-life" presupposition that being born is always the ideal outcome of every pregnancy, sometimes not being born is in the best interest of everyone involved, including the potential baby.  It has been argued that being born is never the best choice, but I would not go that far except perhaps in my most cynical moods.  I discussed some of the circumstances under which bringing a child into the world is not a good idea, such as extreme poverty, drug addiction, rape and/or abusive relationships, and above all, being unwanted.  I described how the pregnant woman's emotional state including extreme stress, fear, anxiety and depression, in addition to poor nutrition, cigarettes, street and prescription drugs, and alcohol, not to mention suicide attempts (which are not uncommon in countries where abortion is illegal) can create a chemically hostile uterine environment for the fetus, causing distress and disability both in the womb and later in life.

We on the pro-choice side have always suggested that people put themselves in the pregnant woman's shoes, but the pro-lifers say the selfish woman should have to endure the "inconvenience" of pregnancy and birth for the sake of the baby whether she wants to or not.  They then claim to be concerned about the alleged detrimental effects of abortion on a woman's physical and mental health, while having no such concerns about gestational diabetes, birth trauma, postpartum depression and other complications of pregnancy.  But, regardless of the impact on the mother, the baby has an absolute right to life.  Predictably, my debater expressed that position.  And this is where the conversation took an unusual turn.

I said that as a Christian my basic moral compass is, "Do unto others as you would be done by."  If I were the fetus, I would not want to be born under those circumstances!  Now, you could argue it is a silly point because a fetus is not conscious and therefore not able to "want" anything.  However, in light of the pro-life belief that a zygote is a person from the moment of conception, I think it is a valid proposition: putting oneself in the other person's shoes, or baby booties as the case may be.  I personally would not want to stay inside the body of a woman who did not want me in there, and put her through the torture of childbirth against her will.  What a horrible situation for anyone to be in!  If I were that embryo, I'd want to get the hell out of there.  I would rather voluntarily miscarry, if such a thing is possible, or else be aborted very early, than be trapped in the role of a 9-month rapist and inflict so much suffering on another person.

I asked, "Would you want to be put in the position of doing that to someone?" and she replied, "but the baby has a right to live!"  I had to ask a couple more times because she kept evading the question, saying things like, "it's not their fault," "they aren't to blame for the circumstances," "it's only a 9-month inconvenience," etc.  I pointed out that she had not answered my question and said, "I did not ask about 'they' or who has a 'right' to what.  I asked, if you yourself were that fetus, would you impose your alleged 'right' to force an unwilling woman to carry you inside of her body for 9 months and inflict the agony of childbirth on her?"

Finally, the nice Christian woman replied, "Babies deserve a chance at life and yes, I would want that chance."  I was utterly taken aback and said, "Wow.  You seem like such a nice person, I can't believe you would want to do that to someone.  So, you would use a woman's body against her will, putting your own desires above her happiness and well-being.  Isn't that exactly the kind of selfishness that you argued against in the beginning of this conversation?  Why is it wrong for a man to use a willing woman's body for even a few minutes to fulfill his own needs, but perfectly ok for a fetus to do it to an unwilling woman for 9 months?"

She replied, "But you make it sound like pregnancy is a terrible thing, when the gift of a child can be a great blessing if only the woman would just accept it!"  Yeah, just lie back and accept it - ?!

Thankfully, I have no personal experience of this either way, as I have chosen not to breed and always had access to effective contraception.  But from what I have been told by a great many women, yes, pregnancy can be among the most wonderful, magical experiences, when you are voluntarily expecting a child, especially with somebody you love!  And while childbirth is certainly no picnic even under the best of circumstances, when a woman truly wants to be a mother and is excited to welcome her beloved child into the world, she can turn the unimaginable pain into a positive, empowering, life-affirming experience.

On the other hand, women tell me that being pregnant when you don't want to be is horrible, like your body has been hijacked by an alien literally sucking the life out of you, and forced birth is absolute torture.  Which is why, throughout history and even today in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, women risk their own death by back-alley abortions or, failing that, commit suicide to escape an unwanted pregnancy.  Apparently, it really is that bad.  And once again, if I were an embryo, no, I would not want to do that to any woman.  Would you?

For religious or spiritual people, discussion of abortion from the perspective of the fetus would not be complete without addressing another important consideration, namely, what happens to the soul that would otherwise have incarnated?  This, of course, presupposes that an embryo - or anybody else, for that matter! - has a soul.  For atheists it is a non-issue.  

Christians disagree as to the origins of the human soul and when it enters the body.  The traditional Jewish view as expressed in the Bible is that the soul is preexisting and enters the body with the first breath, as reflected in the word "ruach," which means "spirit" or "breath," a common theme among various religions.  A Wiccan midwife friend has explained that the soul may "visit" the developing fetus but only "moves in" with the first breath, in much the same way that you can visit a house under construction but you can't live there until everything including plumbing and electric is complete.  Early Christianity proposed that the soul enters the body at a stage of development when the fetus becomes "animated," sometimes called "quickening."  Some modern Christians believe the soul is created at the moment of conception and/or "arises from the body," developing progressively along with the nervous system.  Hindus say that the soul preexists and is infused at conception.

Whatever the origin of the soul, if the embryo is lost whether through miscarriage or induced abortion, where does the soul go?  Most Christians believe that miscarried babies go to heaven.   Hinduism allows the soul to reincarnate and be born into a more favorable situation.  Another view is that the soul can return to the same mother at a later time under better circumstances, and there are fascinating accounts of children who claim to have done exactly that!  Either way, putting oneself in the baby's booties, the option of being able to bypass a potentially miserable life with bad parents who did not want you, versus going straight to heaven or getting another chance at a better life here on earth, is certainly appealing.  If you were the fetus, what would you prefer?

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