Few issues have divided the nation for the past few years like the issue of abortion. However, like most heated public controversies, the real issues are lost in the onslaught of words. The Catholic church has always been against abortion and anything that, according to doctrine, interferes with "nature." The Church has been consistent about all life being respected, which meant it was not only against abortion, but the death penalty as well.
The Protestants–particularly the Fundamentalists–bought into the anti-abortion ideals that the Church has long wanted to put into public policy. It should be noted that many (but not all) fundamentalists are obsessed with sex. This, in conjunction with the male control of women, makes them ideal allies with the Church.
Islam and Christianity share the common root of Judaism, the original promulgator of the idea that it was a woman (Eve) who brought sin into the world. Therefore none of her female descendents are to be trusted. If you follow that logic, then men (the weaker sex, apparently, since we are so easily led astray by women) must be in control of women, including their wanton reproductive nature. This is one of the basic, unspoken, arguments against abortion: women should not have control of their bodies, men should.
The second argument is cloaked in the heated controversy about when life begins. Life begins at conception– any intelligent person can reach that conclusion. The real concern is when the soul comes to "life." This has been a theological issue since the dawn of Christianity. This is a real problem for a thoughtful person of faith, since 1) there is no proof that souls exist; 2) if the soul does exist, where does it exist? Does it live in the body? Is it carried in the genes? Does it enter the body of the unborn baby at some point during gestation? If that is so, where is the soul before it enters the body? Is the soul created at the time the woman's egg is fertilized? If so, is the soul a combination of mother and father, like the genes of the baby? This is all speculation, unprovable.
Whether one believes or does not believe in the idea of “soul,” it remains a matter of faith. By this I mean we put our faith in unprovable church doctrine, or we put our faith in the theory that something must be proven or it does not exist. The question for a society is whether or not to base public policy on faith or on what is present and “real” and predictable.
Those people who have a greater concern for the fetus than the life, and the quality of life, of the woman who carries that fetus, call themselves “pro-life.” Rigid pro-life advocates assume that those who support a woman's right to choose think that abortion is a good idea. Wrong. I have yet to find a pro-choice advocate who thinks abortion is a wonderful idea and the first option for a woman. Abortion is a terrible choice, but is it the worst choice in all cases? Is it the worst choice for the victim of rape or incest? Is it the worst choice if the fetus is destined to live a life of pain and suffering or being little more than a vegetable?
To my anti-abortion friends, I ask: Is it better for the mother of several living children to knowingly go through a birth that will end her life, leaving all her children motherless, than to have the abortion and save her life? This is what a woman, a doctor, did in Italy shortly before Pope John Paul died. She knew she would die of complications if she gave birth, but chose to die rather than have an abortion. Pope John Paul praised her for her decision. I wonder if her children shared in his praise.
In the final analysis, the arguments seem to boil down to the question of who has the power over a woman’s body. Does the woman, or does a society that bases its assumptions on male-dominated religious beliefs? My partner, a woman, has often stated that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacred right. She has a point.
It is time for the combatants on both sides of the issue have a long-overdue discussion. They should recognize that abortions are awful choices, not to be entered into lightly. But the real issue is who has control over a woman’s body and reproductive decisions: society, or the individual? Should women be treated as competent adults, capable of making their own decisions, or as unruly children who have to be forced to make the right decision? Who among us can claim to know all the truth and have all the answers?