What with the persistent attacks on women’s right to abortion and birth control in this country, I feel I must start clarifying my own position in the (falsely dichotomized) pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. I am both pro-life and pro-choice. I do believe life begins at conception, AND I do not believe it is a sin or a death to end that life before the fetus is born.
Because nobody is ever listened to these days without having to stand on their credentials, here are mine: 3 live births, 2 abortions, 1 miscarriage. 2 children adopted as teenagers. 4 children successfully raised to adulthood, one still an adolescent. Have attended births, deaths, fertility rituals, infertility rituals. Have friends who were adopted out as infants, friends who gave up infants, friends who adopted children. Have taught the kids of abusive and/or addicted mothers. Have counseled addicts and women who are unable to support themselves to have abortions.
Ursula LeGuin has a wonderful article (“The Princess”, an address to NARAL in 1982 collected in Dancing at the Edge of the World) where she writes, in response to the ridiculous claims of the Christian Right that every pregnancy must continue to birth, that as a young woman she got pregnant accidentally. Because she was in no position to raise a child, because she chose abortion and finished her schooling, she then went on to create a stable relationship and have three very wanted children. But if she’d had to raise that one, none of the other would have happened. So with the abortion, it is still a net gain of 2 babies. Following the Right’s crude mathematical logic, this should be cause to celebrate, right?
I don’t have the patience to write so craftily in response to this right-wing assault as she has. I am plain furious that our government keeps narrowing the birth control and abortion options for women both in this country and abroad. I hate that they think this is good for social ills of any kind. And I am furious that reasonable-minded people are letting this happen. I don’t like the fact that the Left keeps letting itself get out-flanked on the issue, and I don’t like that by saying I’m pro-choice I’m not supposed to admit that life begins at conception. As a Pagan, there is no contradiction here. Our religion teaches us to hold both death and life simultaneously.
I have trained for many years to sense energy, to feel what is going on both inside my body and in the spiritual realms around me. Each time I have gotten pregnant, it took very little time for me to make contact with the spirit of my unborn child. For me, that connection was so instantaneous, so deep and intimate, that the thought of bearing a child and then giving it up once it was born was not an option for me. That would have been far more devastating than having an abortion.
Each time I had an abortion, it was because I knew I did not have the time and energy to raise that child to my own childraising standards. That is a knowledge borne out of the experience of many, many hard years of mothering. I was completely clear that aborting the pregnancy was the best thing to do. Where I part company with the pro-lifers is here: it is not murder to abort a fetus. The child at that point is a spirit, not a body. It resides only occasionally in its little, developing fetus body. Mostly, it hovers in and around the mother, feeling what we feel, remembering where it’s been before, riding the changes in its consciousness and ours in a completely non-judgmental way.
When it is time to abort the fetus, I have felt the spirit around me strongly. I have said good-bye in a tender, loving, deeply grieving way. The fetus is expelled, and the spirit just drifts away. It does not die, it is not harmed. I know this to be true. It goes back to the spirit world to wait for its next opportunity to come through, hopefully richer for the experience of our having been so close for a short time. That is what happens, yet even with this outlook abortion is deeply traumatic for women, something to be avoided if at all possible. It is not an easy process, even when we want it.
In a term pregnancy, usually the child’s spirit fully enters its body at birth. So from a spiritual perspective I can see why pro-choice folks rally round the credo that life begins at birth. But for me, acknowledging that life is there at conception allows me to take the pro-choice argument a step further: it is a woman’s birthright, this ability to judge which spirits pass through our wombs into life, and which pass through into death. That is part of the deal, part of the package of being born a woman.
We have that power, and we need to claim it, learn how to use it wisely, and guard it ferociously. We need to teach our daughters about their birthright, and be comfortable ourselves talking to them about birth control and our own deepest experiences with our fertility. If we give up the right to choose when we want to have children, either by apathy or by struggle, we will be giving up power over our own bodies AND an important part of our spiritual power. Women are the gates, and the gatekeepers, between the born and the unborn. We hold life in one hand and death in another, and that is how we are meant to be. This cannot be neatly parsed into the ridiculous boxing match of pro-life vs. pro-choice. Abortion should be legal, and extremely rare. We achieve this through realistic sex education (I’m not talking about abstinence-only here) and by providing free or low-cost birth control and abortion services to all women of childbearing age. End of story. Now, just how do we go about making this the law of the land?