Thursday, January 29, 2009

Considering a new conversation on abortion

Swimming this weekend with my kids we played my favorite pool game: tea party. Four of us gathered in a tight circle and dunked under the water at the same time. I yelled a secret phrase as loudly and clearly as I could, then stood up and waited for them to guess what I said. They looked at me, puzzled. No guesses.

We tried again. And again. And again. Each time I yelled louder and enunciate more carefully. Finally, on the fifth or sixth round, my daughter finally heard me correctly. “MICKEY MOUSE!” she yelled.

The ongoing debate about abortion in this country bares some similarities to this underwater communication game. Both sides chant loudly and enunciate clearly, but they could all just as well be underwater. Their opponents can not understand them.

Unlike my recent game, however, when it comes to the debate on abortion, both sides have practically stopped listening or trying to understand.

Last week, in revoking the Mexico City Policy, President Obama said, “I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate,” and pledged to bring people from all sides together for a fresh conversation on abortion.

I immediately dismissed this promise. A fresh conversation on abortion? Impossible.

Later, I began to consider the alternative. If we can’t somehow initiate a new conversation, the abortion issue will continue to be a game of political “keep away.” When liberals are in charge, national policies will make abortion easier. When conservatives hold the reins, policies will restrict abortions.

This is how it’s been for 36 years. I was four when the “keep away” game began.

So, assuming President Obama is sincere in his desire to create a new conversation, I’ve been thinking about what that might be. What would it sound like? How do you bring these ardent foes together?

First, a new conversation demands that neither side will receive everything they want. This has always been the first and final stumbling block on this issue. Pro-life groups can cede no ground on the taking of innocent life. And the pro-choice advocates stand firmly against any government infringement on a woman’s ability to manage her own body.

End of discussion.

But what if, in a new conversation, Roe v Wade was off the table? What if advocates for life gave up efforts to repeal Roe v Wade? What if we accepted that in terms of U.S. law -- not church teachings, spiritual understanding or moral positioning but legally speaking -- U.S. women have a legal right to chose?

Would this giant concession open the door to a fresh conversation on abortion? And could that liberate people in both camps to quit defending their most pure positions and get about the work of reducing the 1.2 million abortions in this country each year?

Ultimately, abortion is a lose-lose choice. Except in the case of rape, the mother (and father if he’s consulted) lose a life of their own making, the baby loses its future, thousands of potential adoptive parents lose an opportunity to love and parent that child, and society loses the promise inherent to that life.

I believe most Americans view abortion as an undesirable solution. No one, at least no one I’ve ever met, wakes up in the morning and thinks, “If only we could have more abortions in this country. That would be good for America.”

But in fighting to maintain a woman’s right to make this most intimate and significant decision, the pro-choice community has had to diminish the value of the life at stake. Granting any rights or compassion for the unborn child could jeopardize the woman’s exclusive authority to determine her and her baby’s destiny.

This position takes its most extreme form with pro-choice advocates who have more compassion for mistreated animals than for a baby girl accidentally born out of a botched abortion.

We are more reasonable than this. We can do a lot better, working together to reduce unwanted pregnancies, to empower women, to promote life and maintain choice while minimizing and maybe even someday eliminating the need for or use of abortion.

Or we can remain in the swimming pool, continue our underwater conversations and let the game of “keep away” continue.


  1. Julie,
    It doesn't seem that mothers should have the right to choose to kill their babies, unborn or born. Abortion kills babies.

    In my opinion, women can choose any other use or misuse of their bodies, when it is just that: only their body. When two bodies are together as one, and one dependent on the other, then it should not be legal for the first person to take the life of the second person.

    You were right - this has sparked some debate.

  2. #1. This is NOT - I repeat - NOT a religious issue. This is a HUMAN RIGHTS issue.

    #2. Replace "unborn baby" with the "slave" or "jew" and ask yourself you agree with the same philosophy.

    #3. The issue is that the unborn are human beings. This is why I wish above anything to ask Hillary or Obama this question:

    If unborn children are not humans that can feel pain, WHY do you want there to be less abortions?

  3. If the word 'abort' was replaced every time it was said or written or thought with the word 'kill' eventually maybe what really takes place during an abortion would be realized.

  4. Julie:

    I appreciate your bravery in tackling this subject. You stated the point very well, and it's great to hear someone else say what I'm thinking. It is a moral decision that should come from the heart, not from the law. Thanks.