For more and more of us, I suspect, the issue of abortion brings up feelings of helplessness that border on despair. The issue is so important that a conscientious person may not remain silent for long without incurring guilt. But what responses are truly productive? What can genuinely help change this situation? What would Jesus do? Would he organize political lobbies? Lobby for pro-life candidates? Withhold portions of his income tax? Demonstrate outside abortion clinics? Chain himself to a fence?
I honestly don’t know. There is in me neither the vision nor the will to try to answer those questions. What I do want to offer, and rather hesitatingly at that, are the rather meager fruits from my own struggles with these questions. I have always been, and remain, uncompromisingly pro-life. Rightly or wrongly, however, I haven’t always been involved in the active struggle, the political organizing and the demonstrations. Why? Sometimes I rationalize that if God had wanted me to be a prophet, he would have given me greater strength and a less ambiguous vision. As it is, I am Germanic, complete with the proclivity for procrastination and the need for the infallible assurance, before I act, that I am not making a mistake. But, these things aside, my hesitation has also been based upon a belief that this issue, for all its urgency, has no quick solution.
To begin to explain this, I need to speak about power. What kind of power may we seize upon to try to change this situation? Too many people, I am afraid, have placed their hopes in legal power, political power. The belief is that if we work hard enough we can get the laws changed, put abortionists on trial and close down abortion clinics. To this end, we demonstrate, withhold taxes, and organize lobbies and chain ourselves to fences. I am not suggesting that these things do not need to be done; after all, real people are dying. This battle is more than academic. And yet, the only real solution is long-range. This battle, in the end, cannot be won legally and politically. Ultimately, more so than laws, hearts need to be changed.
Conversion is the only effective way of ultimately ending abortions. Abortion clinics will shut down when nobody shows up at their doors any more. To win the battle politically, without a conversion of hearts, will simply roll back the clock, drive people into illegal backroom clinics, allow abortionists like Henry Morgentaler to posture as martyrs, and lead to a renewed effort on the part of the pro-abortionists. It will be a temporary slowing down of abortions, at best. Moreover, this conversion must involve a conversion within relationships. Today, the issue of abortion cannot be fairly thought out because radical feminism has claimed pro-choice as one of its key liberation items. To be pro-life is to be classified as anti-feminist.
This is tragic for both sides on this issue because, consequently, sincere people, including women, are forced to distance themselves from feminism; and feminists, on their part, are all too often forced to distance themselves from one of the things they would most need to change in order to bring about healthier relationships between women and men – namely, the stopping of abortion. Radical feminism has seen, and rightly so, a connection between the abortion issue and feminine oppression. Unfortunately, it has not always, in my opinion, understood that connection correctly, even as it intuited its gravity. The oppression of women in our culture is especially sexual. In a culture that is sexually irresponsible, the inevitable losers are women. They end up suffering the most.
When a culture exists within which men and women do not trust each other, within which sexual irresponsibility is encouraged in (and even, at times, forced upon) young people, and within which women – for reasons which are often far beyond their free choosing, sleep with and conceive children from men whom they hardly know, don’t trust, and do not want to raise a child with – you inevitably have abortion. But it is not the girl or woman who shows up at the abortion clinic who is most to blame, nor perhaps even the boy or man who impregnates her. We are all to blame. The lady who stands before the abortionists is, with her child, victim, the tip of a pinecone of irresponsibility and oppression. And, on her part, abortion is an act of resignation. No woman ever really wants an abortion and no woman is ever happy for having had one. As Ginny Soley puts it in a recent Sojourner article: “Abortion is, finally, an act of despair. The decision to have an abortion reflects a woman’s lack of confidence in herself. It means that she does not trust the man with whom she is in relationship. It means that she has no belief in long-lasting, long-term, stable relationships between men and women. In fact, it means that she has lost confidence in life itself.” (Sojourners, October, 1986)
The road to final victory on the issue of abortion is long, the task mammoth. Hearts need to change, relationship need to change, sexual patterns need to change, oppression needs to be recognized; and real villains and real victims must be more accurately named.