People who live in the real world know that, when it comes to issues of justice and ethics, we don’t all fit neatly into slots. This is especially true about complicated ones, and ones that speak to the intimate and deeply personal parts of our lives. Abortion is one of those issues, of course. For too long, only two categories have existed on this topic: pro-life and pro-choice. That is, only two categories have existed for the people who talk endlessly about it, like the media and politicians. The rest of us have a different experience. Those labels just don’t hold all of us neatly.
Me, personally? I’m rabidly pro-life. But I wasn’t always. Just a few years ago, I used to get upset by the signs on car bumpers and along the Florida Turnpike that read, “Abortion stops a beating heart,” illustrated by the picture of a fetus. I thought it was too harsh a reminder of what may have been a hugely regretted decision by a young, scared woman at a moment of despair and abandonment. I believed, like many Americans, that abortion was wrong, but some situations were just too difficult and some young lives just too problematic. How could I judge for others?
And then my husband and I adopted our fifth child, a little girl. She was born in China and found abandoned on a sidewalk when she was about 3 days old. She is everything other beloved children are: affectionate, curious, obedient and compassionate. She is sensible and judicious, and every year she falls in love with her homeroom teacher.
The world would be a vastly lesser place without her. It occurred to me, as I learned to love her, that she had been the quintessential problematic baby. She was probably the unlicensed second child of a couple in the grip of China’s One Child Policy, or perhaps a first girl born in a culture where only a son will support his parents in their old age. She escaped abortion by a miracle from God, and survived her abandonment by a second miracle. The fact that she is ours now is a glorious gift to two deeply undeserving parents.
Knowing this, and knowing her, I became the kind of pro-lifer that trudges through the snow at the annual March for Life in D.C., and stands outside Planned Parenthood offices in the scorching sun holding a sign for motorists to read. I became utterly and completely convinced that every single human being is just as important and beautiful as my little daughter. And like her, they all deserve a chance to live out the miracle of love that created them — and their mothers a chance at knowing them.
I know a lot of people that haven’t yet arrived at that conviction. Perhaps they would be labeled as pro-choice, given the narrowness of the categories. And yet, few Americans labelled as such agree with the articles of belief held by the abortion lobby, which are extreme and uncompromising. They believe that abortion is an ethically neutral medical procedure that liberates women, and in fact is indispensable to their health and flourishing. They also believe that it should be legal and easily available through all nine months of pregnancy, and that it should be “free” or taxpayer funded.
These might be the tenets of the powerful pro-choice lobby, but they are not those of the vast majority of Americans, even of most of those who consider themselves pro-choice. A Knights of Columbus/Marist poll released last month indicates that a majority of Americans support abortion restrictions.
Half of those polled believe that abortion has a negative, long-term effect on a woman’s life, and nearly six in 10 believe it is morally wrong. More than three quarters of Americans would like to see abortion restricted to the first three months of pregnancy and this includes more than half of those who consider themselves pro-choice. Only one quarter of pro-choice Americans support third trimester abortion, which requires a heart-stopping injection for the fetus and then dismemberment. As far as funding, 61 percent oppose any taxpayer funding in the U.S., and over 80 percent oppose our tax dollars being used to fund the procedure overseas.
These numbers are not surprising. They reflect the fact that people use a complex moral calculus to make their decisions about what is just and fair. And that everyone knows that what is going on inside a pregnant woman is momentous — something that concerns all of us, if we mean to live in a society that is decent and honorable. Good people everywhere, no matter what their label, know that our laws can protect and honor both the woman and the child.
I, of course, wish with all my heart that every person in our lovely country may one day have the beautiful experience that I did. It’s not comfortable to trudge in the snow or stand holding a sign in the scorching sun. But I do it for my daughter, and for the millions of American children who didn’t make it. I also do it for their mothers and fathers. That they should be deprived of the miracle that was intended for them is too awful to contemplate.