What We’re Really Talking About
by Jack Rooney
I do not distinctly remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of abortion. The more I think about it, I wasn’t really introduced to the topic of sex until I was about 11 years old, so naturally the concept of ending a pregnancy didn’t enter my mind until I already considered myself a young man. Objectively, the entire existence of abortion is a rather peculiar one. When I first encountered the birds and the bees it never once crossed my mind that someone would want to deliberately end a pregnancy.
Who first conceived of the idea of terminating a pregnancy through purposeful medical means and why on earth did people latch on to this idea as a good one? I can answer neither of these questions, but they are altogether irrelevant in the context of the contemporary abortion debate. Today, it is better to ask these questions: Why do we still condone a culture in which we find it acceptable to terminate a pregnancy for reasons surpassing the standard exceptions of rape, incest, and the health of the mother, and how can we create a culture in which there is a greater respect for life, a culture in which an expectant mother need not ever even consider abortion because society accepts her and her decisions as a part of a culture of life?
The answer to why we still accept abortion as a legitimate option seems rather apparent to me. It is not, as most “pro-lifers” will tell you, because “the other side” considers abortion a choice. It is a choice. It is a choice that is both medical and intensely personal and not one that should be taken with anything less than the full weight of a person’s moral, practical, and spiritual judgement. As a man with a functioning reproductive system, I will never have to make the excruciatingly difficult decision of whether or not to terminate a life inside of me because I do not have the natural gift to bear life.
All this aside, though, I believe our startlingly compliant attitude towards abortion stems from our equally appalling views on sex within contemporary culture. I do not consider myself to be a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I firmly believe sex is the physical expression of emotional love, and therefore only two people (regardless of gender and even marital status) who share love ought to express that love physically. Our society obviously does not hold this same view, as sex shamefully and shamelessly runs rampant in every facet of our culture. And I get it. Sex sells. As an 19-year-old male, my mind constantly wanders to thoughts that unequivocally qualify as lust, but this natural disposition to yearn for physical pleasure does not force me to act on these thoughts. Rather, it is society that both pressures us and convinces us it is tolerable to prematurely enter into a physical relationship with someone we do not actually love. Without true love present, casual sex is the physical expression of lust, which will ultimately leave us unfulfilled and unsatisfied.
As a result of this all too common form of sex, too many people have come to view pregnancy as simply a “side effect” or even a negative consequence of sex. However, when we talk about pregnancy as the result of sex, we are not talking about a typical consequence that all human actions have. What we’re really talking about is a human life, which begins the first moment it is conceived. And in the course of the entire abortion conversation in the United States and around the world, we often lose sight of this fundamental fact. All politics and religion and shouting aside, we are talking about life, and we are talking about real actions and real consequences that millions of people around the world encounter each day. It’s no wonder far too many people forget that abortion is about life because far too many people forget sex is about love. In a society saturated with sexual imagery and expectations, we lose the inherent beauty and purity of sex and come to see it and its consequences as casual and acceptable.
At this point, thus, I naturally come to the conclusion that we condone a culture that accepts abortion because we also condone a culture in which sex is something casual and devoid of any real responsibility. This conclusion poses the challenge of essentially reversing our current culture in order to create a culture of life. This challenge proves immensely difficult because almost immediately after we first become aware of abortion, we are inundated with endless political and religious punditry railing against abortion or crusading for the reproductive rights of women, and never anything in between. And in a debate as polarizing as this, the truth and the answer almost always lies in between the two extremes, where no one ever bothers to stand or speak from.
As I have tried, and continue to try, to wrap my head around this issue, I have been hesitant to declare myself “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” I am leery of broad labels in any debate, but in the abortion debate, these labels are particularly absurd. I know each side is trying to fervently argue its own position, but these labels are simply misleading. For starters, no one is anti-life, and neither is anyone against people making their own medical decisions in any case except this one.
I agree with the pro-life movement in principle (that being creating a culture of life in which abortion is not necessary), but I do have a message for those who fight for life with such faith: you’re doing it wrong. This isn’t the 1960’s and you’re not battling for civil rights. A million-man march on Washington won’t work, and it’s been done before. Don’t get me wrong, the annual March for Life makes a beautiful and powerful point, but if you’re trying to enact actual changes, nice points unfortunately won’t get you anywhere. And if you keep going back year after year, it makes it look like you’re protesting because you like the idea of protesting and not because you want real top-down societal change. If you want to make a real difference, stop with the pageantry and holier-than-thou attitude and go out and do something real. Change comes in brutally small increments, so protesting every pro-choice candidate and political appointee without even considering their other beliefs (i.e. welfare, immigration, the death penalty, healthcare, and other fundamental life issues) and standing outside of Planned Parenthood clinics and shouting at women in crisis will not help your cause or your image. And in a debate like this, unfortunately image matters a lot more than it should. And while we’re talking about image, let’s also get this straight: nobody who kills another person can be considered “pro-life,” even if the one who ends up dead is a doctor who has performed thousands of abortions and the murderer did it out of some delusional sense that it would be a beneficial symbolic gesture for the pro-life movement (but I fully understand that this is an extreme and exceedingly rare occurrence).
But do you want to know what might work? Going inside that Planned Parenthood clinic and listening. It is easy to espouse your views on something as controversial as abortion, but in the end, the whole debate comes down to an undeniably personal and ultimately pivotal moment and decision in a person’s life. This decision is one that I will never fully understand because I will never have to make it for myself. But that does not mean than I, or all of us for that matter, should not try our hardest to actually understand abortion and everything it brings with it. Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So, if we are serious about creating a true culture of life, and thereby changing the world, we must educate ourselves. And by educating ourselves we can come to understand and empathize with all those who struggle with the issue of abortion.
So instead of treating sex as a taboo topic, we ought to discuss it openly and without shame. Granted, we must be careful that in this open dialogue we treat the topic with the respect and reverence it deserves. But we should not shy away from talking about our bodies and what brings them pleasure. Nor should we treat reproductive health any differently than any other type of healthcare. Most importantly, though, in the course of this discussion, we cannot lose sight of what we’re really talking about.
Life is all we have, and we owe it to ourselves to protect life in all its forms. We should protect the unborn, the impoverished, the sick and elderly, and all those who cannot effectively protect their own lives and well-beings. We should be wise and compassionate in doing so and not lose sight of the ultimate goal of a culture of life. So every one of us needs to stop hiding behind inflammatory rhetoric and ineffective and compassionless tactics and focus on the life around us and within us. Don’t let the discussion end with sex and abortion. Life is everywhere and therefore life needs protecting everywhere. Abortion is not the only issue separating us from a true culture of life. As long as people suffer and die of hunger and thirst, sit on death row helplessly awaiting execution, and live without the security of vital health services, we are nowhere near a culture of life. But through tireless work and the resolve of the collective human spirit, we can gradually work our way to a world in which life in all its forms is respected and revered. As with all things in life, though, the long and arduous road to this immensely challenging end begins with one simple act: talking about it.