Whose womb?

I find myself among a lot of people shaking their heads and sighing, “Kids today…”

It’s not my beloved gray-haired church members, though. It’s feminists my age or a bit older, experiencing the profound lack of concern among people in their twenties about the re-emerging battleground that is reproductive rights.

As one of many people from my generation who actively support gay rights, I tend to lump that in with other “litmus test” issues–I wouldn’t rule out voting for a pro-life candidate, but my assumption is most pro-life candidates are also less supportive of resources for poor people, affirmative action, and environmental causes.

For years, there were one or two exceptions that proved the rule, and I felt confident that this “bundling” of issues would work for the next generation, too.

And then I read American Grace by Robert Putnam. It’s a great read, and an interesting statistic he unearths is that twenty-something care MUCH LESS about sexual orientation than the generations before them. (In fact, my generation looks backwards in comparison.) But whereas feminists wrung their hands anxiously about my generation’s lack of enthusiasm for the term feminism (we thought we had already arrived, and feminism was no longer necessary, they feared) and our seeming complacency about reproductive rights (again, we didn’t know a world of coat hangers and back alleys and were therefore not vigilant about the strides made for our safety and access to all possible options), Gen Y is actually turning against them…Gen Y is less likely to support “abortion available in any circumstance” than Gen X.


Rachel Maddow and others have been trying to get us to understand the logical extent of our complacency and even distaste for unfettered access to abortion: several states are seeking to make abortion as unpleasant an option as possible without outright banning it (a proposed Pennsylvania law requires a woman planning on an abortion to get a sonogram with the video screen displaying the fetus facing her, although the legislation states that the woman cannot be forced to look at the image–they will not forcibly hold her eyelids open). Virginia and Alabama are considering similar legislation. And while Rachel Maddow is calling folks to arms, I am not sure that the twenty-somethings are joining her army.


I approach this topic gingerly. Many of the people who shout most loudly about this do not realize that they are shouting at people who are intimately connected to this wrenching decision. As a pastor (and as a woman), I know the stories of women who know they made the right choice by terminating a pregnancy and still ache from the loss. I know women who regret their choice. I know women who had no choice at all. And I know some with no regrets. I also know women who chose to carry a child to term even though they were certain they could not care for a child–some found ways, and some put their child up for adoption. The people who have shared their stories with me did not approach the issue lightly or with no internal wrestling. I am a pro-choice person who has seen the emotional scars of ending a pregnancy.


I remember, in my days at The Interfaith Alliance, talking with a fabulous Muslim friend of mine about a woman close to her who had to terminate a pregnancy and the challenges of that situation. In despair, I said, “I wish God had given us more clear marching orders on this particular issue.”

“He did,” she said. “He put them in the Koran.” (Some readings of the Koran can be read as saying that the fetus is ensouled at 12 weeks. Bible-adherent Christians are left to debate whether the soul enters the fetus at birth or conception, a conversation for which I am simply not equipped.)


My older feminist friends might be right–my friends in their twenties might not know what a world without choice really looks like. Perhaps they would respond differently to this spate of attacks on freedom of choice if they actually experienced the tragic loss of women’s lives or the crippling of their health in sometimes permanently debilitating ways that would result (and also the other removals of women’s rights that so often go along with such agendas: the tracking of pregnant teenage girls into motherhood classes instead of academic paths while the father-to-be is held to no such similar standard). Perhaps if they saw the horrible things that have happened to some pregnant teenagers in required consent states, they would see the issue in a different way. Or perhaps they’ve seen both ways and they really do not believe we can be trusted with our own bodies. (To be fair, opponents of abortion would say we do not have the right to terminate a life, and therein lies the real chasm: we have completely different ways of understanding what the issue is about.)

The injustice of biology means that this issue impacts women far more deeply than it does men. I picture Jesus drawing in the sand as the people get ready to stone the woman caught in adultery and saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And I hear my fabulous feminist Christian education director from Akron, Ohio asking indignantly, “And where was the MAN taken in adultery? Why weren’t they getting ready to stone HIM?” And I find myself wishing we could create a politics that had room for real people’s stories to shape the discussion, which would involve more tears, more empathy, and more room for complexity. Because it is a difficult, often wrenching choice with real implications. But the implications of not having that choice are terrifying to me, if not to my ten-years-younger brothers and sisters. May they always be able to choose life if that is the best choice…but not to have that choice taken away.

2 thoughts on “Whose womb?

  1. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful refection on how profound decisions surrounding reproductive choices are deeply personal while at the same time painfully divisive. What is striking is the absence of intra-faith discourse in the public sphere given the profoundly diverse positions on procreation and reproduction. Indeed Islam has differing points about the role of sex, birth control and termination that is debated among different schools of thinking. As I have entered the “back 40” this year I am dumb founded by the assault on a woman’s personal right to choose and the silence of younger women and men.
    It unearths another truth about our society…faith leaders who remain silent perpetute the notion that “we” agree and accept the dominant political interpretation of one religious traditions practices.


  2. Agreeing with Amber, I think you did a nice job exploring some difficulties of knowing what exactly it means for one woman to opt for an abortion while another woman chooses to give birth. Our seeing this is occluded not only by the success of the ‘fetal rights’ campaign but also by our placing such moral burdens only on women (and not on their sex partners), as you point out. Thanks for writing this.


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