If anyone had asked me about this in the summer of 2012, I would have described myself as being 99% “pro life”—I did not support the right to have an abortion in any situation except when the mother's life was in danger; at that point, it is one life or another, and it is the mother who must be saved.
I felt that every individual had to take a firm stance to protect the opportunity of life. While the victim can never be blamed for the crimes of rape, I felt an abortion would be punishing the unborn child for the same. This was the result of rational thinking, and I maintain that it was quite rational—no gods nor any “holy books” had the slightest role in forming that opinion. Although I had not crossed the line into atheism, I was already a skeptic who didn't put any stock in dogmatic approaches. My journey was furthered when I heard from Congressman Todd Akin (R-Missouri) and State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R-Indiana) during their respective senatorial campaigns.
This essay is not about a journey of one person from the “pro life” corner to the “pro choice” one, but about how the process of rational thinking works on a complex issue like abortion, and “religious thinking” does not. The “religious right” gave me great insight in moving forward in the rational direction. Permit me to tell you how.
Of God's Gifts
When Congressman Akin babbled something about a woman's body having the ability to “shut down” the reproductive organs during “legitimate rape,” like the rest of the world, I was left wondering what the hell he was talking about. Apparently, the point he was trying to make in explaining why he opposed abortion rights even in cases of rape was that pregnancies due to rape are rare. I did not need to check on Wikipedia to know that Mr. Akin's grasp of biology was non-existent, but I was left wondering what compelled him to even offer such a ridiculous “explanation.” Why did he not say what I just told you—that we should not punish the unborn child for the crimes of the living?
Further meditation on the subject revealed to me that Mr. Akin's view was disingenuous because while my flawed thinking nevertheless rested on concern for the unborn child's opportunity for life, his position was the result of religious indoctrination. He could not explain himself clearly because he was repeating the views of the Lord his God, Jesus Christ and that motley crew. He did not actually try to think about the fate of the mother or the child in the situation, but what was good enough for him to win a seat in the U.S. Senate while keeping his reservation in Heaven.
It took its sweet time but I also later realized that Mr. Akin and I were sheltering within the walls of the same bus stop, except mercifully, it was not my final destination. Watching the ridicule pour on him, I forced myself to understand whether or not I was actually different from Mr. Akin – if he is saying this due to his religious belief, would that really be contemptible?
Unlike Mr. Akin, Richard Mourdock of Indiana did not actually make a guffaw when he said a pregnancy due to rape would be “God's gift.” Whatever he ended up doing for his own political career, he made the matter more clear for me.
“God's gift!” Of course, you dolt! They think it is the Lord's will that a child come to life, albeit in horrific circumstances. However, if God wants a woman to bear a life, why was the mother not informed? Did he not give the Virgin Mary that courtesy? Why does the act of reproduction have to be performed not only against her consent, but in a violent, humiliating and murderous way? How is a woman, who knows God's (and thus society's) earlier instruction to keep her virginity, supposed to cope with its sudden and humiliating loss?
Of course, the national media was not interested in any profound opportunity for questioning that Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock inadvertently brought for many people like me. MSNBC and the Democrats rejoiced that they would keep two Senate seats that earlier seemed destined for the GOP, while FOX News and the likes of Rush Limbaugh struggled to explain why these two gentlemen were still in the race. The GOP disowned both men, but that was clearly a sham. No doubt if the voters had spoken differently, both men would be caucusing with Senator McConnell's crew right now. As a result of the melee, the American people lost an opportunity to make an insightful breakthrough on a socially fractious issue, while the rest of the world jeered to their heart's content at the seeming ignorance of middle America..
Not me. I realized that I was certainly different from Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock, because I genuinely did not want the tragedy of a child losing the opportunity of life. The absence of belief in an afterlife made that opportunity seem more important and valuable to me. The religious, however, think only for themselves.
Of “Ideal” Situations
I still pressed myself on the question, unable to rid myself of a feeling that I was making a serious error. It was then that I realized that my conviction was emerging from my view of wanting an “ideal situation.”
My thinking demanded an “ideal situation” where the victim of rape would feel naturally compelled to stand up for the right to life of the unborn child. Facing society's abuse, neglect and discrimination was a battle to be fought with pride, to show the world how hypocritical and quite frankly, evil, it was in its lack of support of unwed mothers and victims of rape. Was it not, it dawned upon me, grossly unfair to demand and demand from the mother without society doing its part? The “ideal situation” would demand of society to be there in every respect for a woman who really did not want or could not become a full-time mother. Society would have to be willing to unconditionally and without any prejudice, adopt the child and find it a new, real home—and certainly not the Dickensian nightmares that continue to play out across the world. It would provide extensive and unconditional support for the mother during the course of her pregnancy, and refuse to make her feel guilty or feel any sort of shame. It would not spare the perpetrator, who would be punished in the severest possible way.
When one puts it like this, of course it strikes one not only how impossible many of these demands are, but how treacherous a process of “thinking” can be. If I needed to have an “ideal situation” to fight for, would it not be one where there were no rapes, incest or sexual abuse of any kind? Where there were no unwanted pregnancies in the first place? Would that not simply eliminate the need for abortion? Instead of worrying about banning abortion, why were the leaders of societies everywhere not focusing on eliminating the “need” for abortion?
An “ideal situation” worth having would be one where there are no crimes against women, no dangers to a mother's life and all re-creative sexual intercourse would unfailingly employ protection and contraception. I had to concede that only one of the three conditions were possible to achieve—it is just possible that in the distant future, we may be able to ensure that no mother's life will be endangered during the course of a pregnancy. Only medical science is capable of delivering that result, for we all know what “God” has been doing all these thousands of years.
The other objectives we can strive towards in order to get closer to the ideal. This means the spreading of awareness, changing social attitudes and availability of condoms and birth control, to which the likes of Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock are inexplicably opposed. Here is another point where I, a rationalist, find myself at complete odds with the dogmatic creed. I see that condoms can help protect the “sanctity” of life by making sure that children are born only to parents who are fully prepared to give them the love and care they deserve.
The “ideal situation” of Mr. Akin, Mr. Mourdock, “Reverend” Pat Robertson, the Popes and their supporters is to be seen stumbling over themselves trying to make sure there are no abortions, condoms or contraceptives while just “wishing” that rape, incest and other sex crimes did not happen—or in same cases to the extreme of Mr. Akin (yes, it gets worse), that they may happen and women should just shut up and “enjoy it.” Their “ideal situation,” as deciphered from the Bible, will not make any special effort to achieve that ideal—no unconditional support for mothers. Nay, these are the very societies that make the lives of single mothers a living hell, by cruelly inflicting mental anguish upon them and their children by social ostracism, discrimination and exploitation. These “God-fearing” societies are those that hold, proudly and loudly, the view that rape is the fault of the victim.
Of Courage & The “Right” Decision
If you are proven to be unable to offer extraordinary support to the victims, you have no right to make extraordinary demands of them. In fact, thinking rationally—does one have the right to demand anything from the victim? Is that what you are supposed to do when a crime is committed, put greater emotional and “moral” pressure on the victim?
The entire debate on abortion rights for victims of rape is corrupt. If a robbery is perpetrated, everyone focuses on tracking down the thieves. If rape is committed, everyone focuses on what the victim did to deserve it. If a pregnancy results, everyone pressures the victim to make their version of the “right decision.” And who in the blue hell gave a government, of all things, the ability to determine what is the “right decision” for everybody?
Rape is not merely the indulgence of sexual pleasure by force but that of a sadistic instinct. The emotional, mental trauma rarely fully heals. When an individual is faced with such a deeply painful wound, how can anyone in good conscience think of anything except offering such unconditional support as one can give? Given the severity of the wound, if a person faces the daunting prospect of motherhood, how does one even dare think they have a right, a place to criticize or impose their prejudices upon her? If the individual decides that rebuilding her own life is daunting enough, how is that less honorable? What is the insidious impulse within us all that makes us think her honor is in question in the first place?
If you are a logical, rational person who values life, you will work tirelessly for those causes that help prevent crimes such as rape and incest, and offer unconditional help to the victims. If you truly hate the practice of abortion, you will busy yourself in such work that makes young and older men more responsible and respectful of women, and for couples to practice safe and protected sex. It is a tireless and thankless job that none of us will find 100% effective, but if your motivation is sincere, this is what you do.
Trying to make laws that limit the rights and options of other people in situations you do not have any experience in dealing with, especially those of victims of ghastly crimes such as rape, is trying to “look good” in the eyes of that invisible deity while rejecting any true sense of responsibility to help the victim. It is far from courageous, for it is merely a statement from society that says “Dear God, we made the law as you wanted it, so we should be good in your eyes. If rape and abortion continue to happen, it must be part of your plan that we cannot and do not want to take any responsibility for.” That the moral majority and other insidious religious groups try to overturn Roe vs. Wade is solely to take away the possibility that they will be blamed for standing by while other members of their species broke “God's law.” Nowhere is there any real concern for the mother or the child or the “opportunity of life.” Men like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock want to speak for a culture of “personal responsibility,” but in this case, this is exactly what they are trying to escape themselves.
What is the “help” that the “religious right” offer to unwed mothers? “Oh, you are a sinner, but if you repent, you may be forgiven.” In essence, forgiveness is conditional to your obeying God's law, which is to say the believers will never “forgive you” until their Boss says so. You can follow that up with the “good news”—that you just saved a bunch of money on your car insurance, or earned a few more brownie points to confirm your booking up in the sky. There is certainly no respect for them as human beings or thinking persons—why try to take away the right to a choice, when so many women choose to bear the child, which is what you supposedly champion. In wanting to force birth under all circumstances, they care not who they demean or whose lives they ruin and plainly endanger. The “religious right” are not “pro-life,” they are “pro-judgment” and extremely sexist. Judge the sinner and put an end to her options by painting the world around her in black and white.
The “Rational” Train Keeps Chugging..
To be “religious” is to suspend all thinking and freeze-fit your mind into a bygone era. A rational thinker should take reassurance from loose ends, exceptions and any sense of being “undecided.” I take it as a mark of humility over things about which my knowledge may be limited or compromised.
I support laws that ban late-term abortions—it is fair to ask a pregnant woman to make her mind up before the fetus is fully formed. The only late-term abortions that should be allowed is if the mother's health or life is endangered. If a woman in a predicament did ask for my advice, I would probably ask her to “consider” taking on the rewarding challenge of motherhood (not that I can claim any personal experience of that). However, I would not even allow myself to whisper such counsel unless my voice was loud and vociferous against anyone who tried to inflict emotional trauma in the form of shame or guilt on any woman in the first place. As it happens, the incidence of the public guffaws of society blaming victims for bringing it upon themselves is comparatively low—such judgment is mainly observed in the so-inspired silent barriers that society dutifully constructs around its victim.
I am undecided on abortions over genetic and medical conditions detected in the baby. I do not know enough nor have I thought through all sides of the question.
I am “pro life” for both the living and the unborn. I think a woman must have the right to live her life first. In the case of a victim of rape, whether or not it includes motherhood is entirely her decision. Before lecturing women to be responsible about decisions about their sex lives, we must take our responsibility towards preventing crimes and offering real support to victims seriously. I have searing contempt for the mentality of the “religious right” that proclaims that women cannot be trusted or are not capable of making tough decisions that, as it happens, will affect them before anyone else.
I do not think I would ever like to describe myself as “pro-choice.” In their brand of political railing, they mangle the debate in their own way. Fathers do have a right to say something, and you can never so trivialize the issue as those individuals who holler and wear the shirts “I had an abortion!” as if it is a matter of pride. I would also not give the religious so much power as to perpetually compel me into picking the opposite of the side they are on.
Surely for any living species, the most important aspect of living life is that of giving life. Motherhood and fatherhood is about living to the true nature of your species. I don't warm to the use of the word “choice,” which is used ever so crassly by the media. Perhaps they should consider something more respectful, such as the term “pro-responsibility.” Yes, you (women, mothers) have the responsibility—the natural right and responsibility of an individual. You are responsible because society has always refused to be.