Seeking Abortion’s Middle Ground

[Washington Post, July 28, 1997] I was pro-choice at one point in my life, but I came over to a pro-life position years ago. I've been there ever since. Perhaps because of my background, I think there's a logic to the pro-choice position that deserves respect, even as we engage it critically. It is possible to disagree with somebody without calling them baby-killers, without believing that they are monsters or fiends. It is possible to disagree in an agreeable way. The abortion argument is essentially an argument among women. It's been a bitter and ugly debate, and I find that embarrassing. For me, that gives a special urgency to this conference.

Designated Unperson

[Sisterlife, Spring 1991] The abortion debate stands or falls on a single question: is the unborn a person? One would not necessarily know this from the great heat and little light that usually surround the issue, as pro-lifers target additional social ills caused by abortion license, and abortion defenders charge that pro-lifers only want to punish women for sexual activity, or keep them pregnant and out of the workforce. But so much passion would not arise if the issue were not literally a matter of life and death. In the Roe v. Wade decision, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that if the “suggestion of personhood [of the unborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.” Thus, the personhood of the unborn child is the single point on which the entire debate turns.

The Dilemmas of a Pro-Life Pastor

[Christianity Today, April 7, 1997] In his darkened office Pastor Stan put his head in his hands. It had been a difficult phone call, and Marcia was beginning to cry when he hung up. The baby, in the background, was already crying. Usually, the baptism of a baby is a joyful part of the Sunday service, but this time Pastor Stan had said no. Marcia wasn't married, so he had told her it would be a private ceremony. To put her and her baby up in front of everybody, as if it were the same as any other family, just seemed wrong. The church would be practicing make-believe morality, looking the other way. It would mean pretending sin wasn't wrapped all around this situation.

Noisy, Empty Gestures

[World, January 21, 1995] All through a long afternoon I had listened to true stories: women, strangers to me, pouring out intimate tales of love and loss. True stories are sometimes less strange than fiction; their outcomes can almost seem inevitable. This day, every story ended with an abortion. The spring evening was fair and warm. After dinner I left the hotel for a long walk, thinking about the day's conversations. Then I noticed on one building a plaque reading “Planned Parenthood.”

Her Flesh and Blood

[Cornerstone, Summer 1998] A foot, a rib, a womb. A piece of glass. Whalebones smoothed and polished, netted in cloth. The mother takes her daughter’s hand. The girl is dizzy; bright sunlight stripes through the shutters and dims her eyes. The old cloth tape is in her mother’s hand. A pause of disappointment; her waist has still not met the mark of 20. The whale bones that stripe across her bones, the bones of the dead behemoth, are stonger than her bones. Her bones are young and they will give. She pauses between small tastes of air. On the day she was born her waist measured 16 inches. The bones press in. The mother thinks: this hurts, yes, but this is the way the world is. Not to do this would hurt my daughter more.

Personhood of the Unborn

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” January 21, 1998] A recurring question in the abortion debate has been whether the fetus meets the definition of “person.” Why should this be relevant? What advantage is it to be a person? What does a person get? At the most basic level, persons get protected from violence. Not all persons are allowed to drive or to vote, but every person is allowed to call the cops if someone tries to beat them up. There are probably many laws that are unnecessary or foolish, but the irreducible minimum are those laws that protect persons from violence--that prevent the larger and stronger from crushing the smaller and weaker. Laws against violence even the odds, replacing an older and more instinctive law of “might makes right.”

The Heart of the Matter

[Parenting, Dec 1991 - Jan 1992] In Edgar Allen Poe's classic horror tale, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, a murderer dismembers his victim and hides the pieces under the floorboards. When the police call to investigate, he prides himself on his cleverness--but gradually becomes unhinged, at last screaming out the location of the corpse. He was undone by the sound of his victim's heartbeat, drumming in his ears. Why, after so many years of legalization, does the abortion debate continue in America?

Beyond “It’s a Baby”

[National Review, December 31, 1997] “This week is anti-choice week at UB,” wrote Michelle Goldberg, a staffer with the University of Buffalo (NY) student paper, the Spectrum. “If you see one of them showing their disgusting videos or playing with toy fetuses, do your part and spit at them. Kick them in the head.” The lively Ms Goldberg demonstrates one of the reasons that it is always bracing to go onto a college campus as a pro-life speaker. In my travels--Yale, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Brown, Wellesley, et al--no pro-choicer has actually kicked me in the head, but a few have looked as if they'd like to. A few more have delivered dark imprecations in the question and answer period, occasionally disguised as questions. And a few more have just glowered at me threateningly, like the wicked witch before the bucket of water hit her.

I Believe

[Regeneration Quarterly, Fall 1998] This speech was given at “Engaging Common Ground,” the second national conference of the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, held in Syracuse, NY on May 14-17, 1998. The Network was organized in 1993 and based in Washington, DC, and worked to enable discussion between pro-choice and pro-life advocates. The Network lost its funding in 1999 and had to disband.The topic we were assigned for this plenary session was, “What is the broader context of meaning and beliefs in which we engage with the abortion issue?” Though I was in on the discussion to choose this topic, I now find myself in the embarrassing position of wondering “What in the world did we mean by that?” As a result, I've written several different versions of what I would say this morning, and last night when I got up for my regular prayer time I took one more look at the topic, threw out all previous versions, and started over from scratch.

From Pro-Choice to Pro-Life

[Christianity Today, January 12, 1998]Wanted: A New Pro-life StrategyJanuary 22 marks a grim anniversary: 25 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. A generation has passed since the first wave of unborn children fell, and the accumulation of each year’s toll totals nearly 37 million. During those years one child was aborted for approximately every three born. Their names would fill the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial wall over 700 times.