Thursday, June 4, 2009

When a black and white world turns grey

As it is for most kids, the world was very much black and white to me when I was growing up. This is wrong, this is right, and never the twain shall meet. I grew up in a liberal household and for the most part, was free to develop my own philosophies. My mother is a pro-choice Democrat, progressive in her religious views, and I'm sure her political and philosophical leanings had an impact on my own intellectual development. Nothing was shoved down my throat, though. I felt confident on my own that I knew what was what.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller earlier this week brought the abortion debate back into the spotlight once again. I gathered from reading various news reports that even many of the most ardent pro-lifers were quick to distance themselves from the alleged killer. Killing a man in his place of worship, I think most of us would agree, is particularly low.

So, where do I stand in the abortion debate? I am not on the proverbial fence, but rather, just to the left of it. My belief is that abortion must always be legal. I believe that a desperate woman with an unplanned (and perhaps unwanted) fetus in her womb may possibly do incredible and irreparable harm to herself if she has no legal options. Coat hanger abortions, back alley abortions - people will find a way. This was a reality prior to 1973, when the Supreme Court decided that safe and legal was better than the alternative.

Having said that, however, I'm not opposed to legislation that restricts the time frame in which a woman can seek an abortion. Each year, the threshold at which a premature baby can be saved creeps slowly backward. While 24 weeks seems generally to be considered the cut-off for viability, infants as young as 22 weeks have survived. It seems reasonable to me that if a pregnant woman truly feels that an abortion is necessary, it should be performed within the first trimester. I say this with no medical background whatsoever. If there are circumstances under which a late term abortion is warranted, perhaps I am just ignorant of what those circumstances could be.

My perspective on this topic is obviously colored by the fact that I am unable to bear biological children (or at least I stopped trying after four miscarriages). No one is more acutely aware of the preciousness of a baby than a woman who cannot have one. If you think the public in general gets mad every time a baby is left in a dumpster or a public restroom, try asking a group of infertile women how they feel about it. In an ideal world, maybe more women would choose adoption when faced with the prospect of birthing a child that she is not financially/emotionally/physically able to raise. There is a stigma there, though, and I understand that. Some women do not have adequate access to counseling, medical care, and other types of support, and part of the problem lies there.

My daughter's birthmother had a few options when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She was with a man who did her wrong. She thought he loved her. She thought he was a good guy. What woman among us has not invested herself in at least one bad apple? I know I attracted a few back in the day. A's birthmother found herself in a difficult position, and she chose the hardest possible path: she chose adoption. This was not the easy way out by any stretch. This was spending nine months of her life caring for and loving a baby that she did not have the resources or support to raise. This was opening herself up to the scrutiny of everyone she knew (and strangers, too). Her selfless decision changed my life.

Because of my daughter, I can no longer think about the abortion debate the way I used to. When I was younger, it was in a bubble all by itself and it had no external reference points attached to it. But now it does. What was once black and white is now firmly grey. I feel the same way about the death penalty, though that is a topic for another day. I used to be in favor of it and now I'm not. This grey world is in many ways harder to navigate than the old one, the one where I thought I knew what I was talking about. Life is messy. It refuses to be tied up in a bow.

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Please note: I have turned off the comments on this post. I know it is very risky to write about abortion and I fully expected to receive comments on both sides, but I'd like to move on to other topics now. Merci!