Today I began to pray about the issue of abortion.
Asking for the courage to speak truth to power, to find words that are kind and able to challenge the current polarised thinking around the debate, to find a way for my faith and feminism to be congruent and that will allow those with whom I speak to continue to engage even if they deem me a bad Catholic for not being able to be absolutist but relative in my feelings over the issues.
Let me be clear, I am not advocating abortion. It’s just… I can’t condemn it either. it’s not as easy as or as clear cut as that. So it’s time to come clean: I simply can not align myself to one camp. I need the space to meander, to lay down my thoughts and if that means I am unfriended, judged, condemned then so be it. But please, at least hear me out.
When ever the issue of abortion comes up, it engenders feelings of embarrassment, of not being able to live up to the expectations of my religion. I know that I am supposed to think of abortion as intrinsically evil, that somehow it is shorthand for Pro-life and all that that is supposed to mean. But it is only one thread in the seamless garment. The minute I do not wholeheartedly reject abortion out of hand, I am in certain circles condemned. I have already lost the right to have an opinion, to engage in the debate, to call myself a woman of faith.
But there are things I feel need to be said, that in fact can only be said from a faith perspective, from a female faith perspective.
And so in no particular order, here are my thoughts on early stage abortion as allowed by law in the UK…
To criminalise women who have undergone an abortion (as was tried to do recently in Poland and one of Trumps promises) is to reduce it to a woman’s problem. It puts women in the wrong, as though all pregnancies are immaculately conceived, which we know they are not. If we acknowledge that both men and women are needed to create then it can not be just to hold only one side up for condemnation or punishment. It is easy to punish the woman, after all it is obvious whilst pregnant that she is the mother, but that does not make it right.
The world is still a patriarchal place and we are all, women and men, victims of misogyny. Through this lens, any deviant sexual behaviour is always the woman’s fault. From rape, prostitution, and abortion, to the child abuse scandal (girl altar servers) . This lazy blame game has to stop and we must teach our young men to take responsibility for their actions and not blame the way she was dressed, or came on to him, or how much she had had to drink.
I would like to think that all young people wait until they are married before embarking on sexual activity, but my experience of working with young people in and out of the Church tells me that this is not so. Consent needs to be discussed openly and when we refuse to see that young people do have sex outside marriage we can not have a full and frank discussion.
Often (note the restraint) it is men who feel they have a right and a duty to tell women what to do when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy. Rather than trusting us to discern and use our conscience to come to a decision before God in whose image and likeness we too are made.
When we limit the Seamless Garment to one thread we are being morally relativist (something I know I am).
Life of the unborn needs to be seen within the context of life of the born. When we (as the Church) force every pregnancy to term without considering what happens after then we can not be pro all life. When we are not welcoming to single mothers who struggle to bring their noisy infants to church; when we do not offer adequate catechesis to those with special needs or learning difficulties, when we allow the issue of entry to Catholic schools to reward those who know how to play the game, rather than supporting those in genuine need, we are only pro life in the womb.
When another mouth to feed is the last straw, putting so much strain on a marriage that it breaks up the family, when the couple are told that this child too suffers from the same disability as their 3 other children, when it drives a mother to suicide rather than face another pregnancy, when a pregnancy is the result of rape, or an abusive relationship, or even God forbid a one night stand at the threshold of a young girls life, what then?
Yes my faith does tell me that God brings about good in every situation, but in the panic and fear of finding oneself alone and pregnant this might not be an easy thing to keep hold of.
And yes I know this is not the fault of the unborn either. And I know that there are many, many couple who face the scenarios above with faith and courage and go ahead with their pregnancy to full term. And I wonder if left to our own discernment just as many women and couples might still choose to do so. If we trust then we need to trust completely.
So whilst I believe abortion is not the answer, I also do not believe it is the easy way-out it is touted to be. The majority of women who choose to undergo an abortion do not do so lightly. They do not deserve our blame of condemnation. The shame and guilt they already feel can not be added to by those on the outside who have never and can never walk in their shoes. These women live with their choice every day. They need our prayers and support. They need us to be merciful as I believe God will be when they are called home to meet the child they never had.