I am sitting on an incredibly uncomfortable and awkward couch bed while my wife and newborn daughter sleep in the bed nearby, trying to get a nap in while we wait for the pediatrician to come and, Lord-willing, release us from the hospital to take our daughter home for the first time. It is perhaps the most difficult position from which to understand the position of those who promote the right to choose.
In fairness, this pregnancy, as well as the pregnancy of our first daughter, was very much planned. My wife and I are financially stable and have tremendously supportive families. I am aware that my position on this couch makes it nearly impossible for me to empathize with those who would make the very difficult decision not to see their pregnancy to completion. Being aware of my various privileges makes me wary of using the same language to describe abortion as many of my brothers and sisters in Christ–terms like “pro-abortion” or “pro-death.” Furthermore, this recent interview by Fusion TV with Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, helped me come to terms with the most accurate terms with which to describe abortion rights advocates.
When asked, “When does life start?”, Richards was more than a little hesitant to answer the question but finally said, “I mean, it’s not something that I feel like is really part of this conversation. I think every woman has to make her own decision.” Eventually, interviewer Jorge Ramos asked, “Why would it be so controversial for you to say when you think life starts?” Richards’ answer, I believe, is actually quite helpful in understanding the thinking pro-choice advocates:
I don’t know if it’s controversial. I don’t know that it’s really relevant to the conversation… But, I mean, for me, I’m a mother of three children… for me, life began when I delivered them. They’ve been probably the most important thing in my life ever since. But that’s my own personal decision.
Most media outlets have quit using the term “pro-choice” out of concern that it is a loaded term. “By positioning themselves as ‘pro-life’, this group essentially won the war of words,” said Andrea Tyler, linguistics professor at Georgetown University. “These labels set up particular frames. It doesn’t seem like a good thing to be anti-choice. But it’s worse to be anti-life. So there’s an inequality in the frames when you say pro-life and pro-choice. Being the opposite of pro-choice is not as bad as being the opposite of pro-life.”
Despite these facts, Richards’ answer would indicate that pro-choice is perhaps the most accurate description. If every mother has to decide when their children’s lives begin, then it really is a matter of choice, an argument from individualism.
Instead of rehashing the same old arguments about the sanctity of life, perhaps Christians should strive to articulate a more robust understanding of human community. For instance, Richard’s personal position on life beginning at conception assumes that life begins when the baby becomes independent of the mother’s body. Christianity, however, teaches that none of us are ever truly independent and were created to rely on the God who formed us. Motherhood before and after conception is a small but beautiful picture of that greater relationship for which we were created.
We testify to our greater dependency when we adopt children, offer support to those finding themselves in the midst of an unwanted pregnancy, and passionately celebrate motherhood. The value of motherhood is something Christians ought to strive to acknowledge with more than their words. Every child and every pregnancy comes with a cost. Christians should unflinchingly ask ourselves, what are we doing to help bear that cost?