Abortion: Holding Life and Death

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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?

10 thoughts on “Abortion: Holding Life and Death

  1. melissa

    Thank you so much for your perspective. I, too, have felt strongly that life begins at conception AND women must have the right to choose. I couldn’t make sense of this apparent dichotomy, until reading what you have to say. Thank you. I have lingering regret and grief from my abortion a decade ago, and have shared with very few people that it even happened. It was the right decision at the time, however, and your essay helps me know that I need not feel the regret or shame. The grief, however, may remain with me always. I have a hard time believing anyone makes this decision lightly.

    I just found your blog in August, and am enjoying it. Keep up the good work. Also, I am a big fan of Circle Round and my son (almost 6)Loves your songs! Thanks, Melissa

  2. Lily

    Last week I watched the movie “Palindromes” and it really crawled under my skin. I too have had 2 abortions as I felt I was not ready to raise a child, but after seeing that movie it all came back to me – the mixed emotions about the pregnancy, the guilt and horror at what I’d done… I too spent time with the spirit of the child before the abortion, and even did a ritual following it. Afterwards I did not really talk about it, but I wrote a song and it helped somewhat. Thank you for your article. It helps to know other women have had a similar experience and that it did not stop them from having children in the future. I look forward to bringing a child’s spirit to full term someday.

  3. olivia

    this is soo wrong!!! it is a person, its a living thing inside of your body. it is soo wrong to think ne different!!!

  4. Anne Post author

    I am in complete agreement with you that it is a living thing. I think we disagree on some definitions here. The “life” of a fetus is much different than that of an adult. While the flesh is forming, the spirit is not always present in that little body. It comes to visit occasionally. It’s not like you or I always being conscious and aware in our bodies.

    There’s the theological argument, and the legal argument. Recently, the Supreme Court made a disastrous ruling on late-term abortions. You can read about the faults of their logic here. We must work in whatever ways we can to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal for all women, especially during the dark days ahead with this conservative court majority.

  5. Wendy

    I really liked this article. However, I disagree with abortions and believe in prevention and adoption. I, too, had two abortions at an early age and felt that it would be too hard to give up the baby at birth. But now I have three children and understanding how incredible it is to have a child, I would have loved to give the gift of life to some parents who are unable to have a child. Parents who were ready to love, appreciate and care for a child. I was only thinking of myself when getting the abortion and how I wasn’t ready and how I would be too attached to the baby. But there are great people out there who are unable to have children, and they deserve to be blessed with a baby. I think getting to know the adoptive parents I have no regrets and will not dwell in what’s already been done. I feel that I have grown mentally by understanding and accepting what I have done and that there are better options. Learn from our mistakes and move on. The past does not equal the future.

  6. Cathryn Bauer

    I think your article is one important facet of the abortion issue, and it is clear that you made your decisions thoughtfully and consciously. Though it could never be my own choice, abortion must be safe and legal. Women will have them, legal or not, and it will either be in the hands of licensed medical practitioners or at the risk of their lives and health.

    We talk so much about abortion, though, and the right to choose. Would to the Goddess that very few women would have to make that choice. We are the most technologically advanced society that has ever existed, and we do not have birth control that is effective and available to everyone! This is an outrage, one that does not nearly get enough attention from the women’s movement, anti-abortion front, or any other group that I know of. I believe it is birth control that will resolve this issue — assuming that resolution of a sort is possible — and that this deserves far more attention and grant money than I see it getting.

  7. Joseph Alexander

    Smoke from pain love and morn, to the wishing of us be unborn, how can we call it right, when we take away the right of life, YOU are THROWING AWAY a CHANCE of LIFE! you’ve stopped what was going to be a child, hows that right, oh its not meek or mild, its dead, your eyes filled with dread, as you hang your head, in your hand screaming what have i done, to wish that I had been undone, killing millions of children to be, its like your saying better them and not me, how selfish can you be, living life as its up to you, to who lives and dies what about you?
    did you even think about the one who dies, that is because you are full of lies, whats better to kill ’em off because its your body or let them grow their lives,

    If you had a “Choice” would you choose LIFE?

  8. love Life

    Where did you come up with this gnostic knowledge? Because it sounds like you love everything about your gnosticism, essentially your own religion. You have created your own little happy land and convinced yourself that everything in your world is right and everybody has a happy ending. The murder of abortion is not an easy choice. But think of who that child would have grown up to be. But I guess when you make your own rules, you don’t have to think about that because that child will never be yours.

  9. Thalia

    Oh now I have that Rutles song in my head.

    I very much agree with you, Anne; though I have never been pregnant and hope never to be I have always known in my bones that it is the birthright of a woman to choose whether she is going to be a mother or not. Period. It always strikes me as odd though to hear people say that “life begins at conception”–far as I’ve ever been able to tell life began millions of years ago, and has been a continuous thread since then. It is not something that suddenly happens when egg and sperm come together; egg and sperm are already alive.

  10. elizabeth

    I agree with you on your sensitive subject, and appreciate how maturely you handled your decisions. I just want to offer some research from two great books by Dr. Michael Newton: 1.’Journey of Souls’ and 2. ‘Destiny of Souls’. I am sure, that there is more and more such research out there which proves that Creation is much more gentle and careful than to let a Soul enter into an undeveloped body, until survival is assured and the physical ‘home’ is completed and fully functional…
    I always felt that just like we do not move into an unfinished house, that is just being built, similarly, the Soul hovers for a long time, before and even after birth. According to Newton newborn babies sleep so much, because they are still spending a lot of time away, in and out, checking things out… Remember in earlier times, infant mortality was very high.

    In fact, this argument can be made at the exit time: the elderly, who are ready to pass on also sleep a lot, preparing and hovering on the other side sometimes more than they are here. (if there is a terminal illness, should they have the right to pass when they chose?….) I would like to have that freedom to chose, if faced with such a dilemma.

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