Abortion, Pro-Life, and the Secular State: A Modest Proposal

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault is the second in a series beginning with “A Surprising Ecumenism“, her response to Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism“, an article published by La Civiltà Cattolica.


In my previous blog post, I invited members of our Wisdom community to begin to engage a conversation on the emotion-charged issue of abortion rights as a means to promote respectful dialogue to think beyond this singular issue. It is with no little “fear and trembling” that I launch a foray into this quintessentially Catholic moral ground. But to the extent that abortion has become the tail wagging the dog, chaining much of the Catholic political conscience to the decidedly un-Christian agendas of the religious right – and to the extent that this “elephant in the room” continues to go unmentioned in the otherwise compelling moral analysis recently emerging from Vatican – I feel some obligation as an American citizen and a wisdom teacher to at least try to get the ball rolling.

Forgive me: this is long for a blog. But take it in small doses, and take your time.

Some preliminary remarks

If my memory serves me correctly, in one of his earliest encyclicals the Pope already laid out some firm groundwork here when he warned against a myopic, single-pointed focus that inevitably twists moral issues out of context. That’s surely what the abortion issue has become in the US, an instantaneous flashpoint. But minus specific guidance as to how to back the Church down off this ledge, I don’t see a practical way to take the first step toward defusing the tension. Is anybody seriously going to be damned fool enough to say, “Hey, we’ve decided that human life doesn’t begin at conception,” or “The rights of the unborn don’t matter”? There seems to be “no way to get from he-ah to they-ah,” as we like to say in Maine, so the issue keeps running in circles.

Some preliminary reflections

Well-nigh universally, the liminal zones bordering life and death – i.e., what happens before birth or after death – have been regarded as a Mystery entrusted to the great spiritual traditions. The traditions offer different perspectives and instructions, but always with a common baseline of 1) respect for the sacredness of these passages; and 2) the need to prepare for these passages, and to live one’s life in conscious relationship with them. The plethora of spiritual practices offered by all sacred traditions are aimed, among other things, at developing a capacity to navigate this territory using more subtle and refined faculties of perception (in Christian tradition this has traditionally been referred to as “faith”).

Across the board, the experience of most committed practitioners is that they eventually “live into” an intimate mystical familiarity with these liminal zones, acquiring the capacity to personally validate spiritual truths inaccessible by the rational intellect alone. Apart from this special training, the rational intellect remains dominant and is the basis of our common social contract. And this, I would say, is a good thing, for the attempt to impose theological dogma concerning the liminal when the inner faculties have not been yet developed to personally validate it leads to the devolution of faith into “blind faith” and opens the doors to theocratic totalitarianism and manifold forms of spiritual abuse to which our culture has become increasingly sensitized.

In former eras, when the population of any given nation was overwhelmingly of the same spiritual tradition, it was fairly simple to conflate these two tracks. The word “catholic ” (as in “Catholic church”) literally means “universal” and, back in the era when the foundations of moral theology were being laid down, the known world was indeed just that. There were Catholics, “heathens”, and missionaries: not much in between.

Nowadays, that is no longer even remotely true. Even in our tiniest nations – and certainly in a nation as vast and sprawling as the United States – there is no longer a single presumed overarching spiritual tradition. There are many – and increasingly none. The fragile glue maintaining civility across increasingly diverse populations is the social contract itself. “Co-exist” is indeed the watchword of our times. Any attempt by one group to reassert its claim that its vision is truly “catholic” – i.e., universally binding – inflicts inevitable misery and violence on the rest.

For this reason, I would propose to offer here what amounts to an essentially two-tier solution governing our deliberations on the abortion issue. The first tier (which one might argue is actually the more “catholic” in the original sense of the term) is consistent with our evolving understanding of human rights and our growing awareness, in a converging world, of the need for our common human family to set universal baselines for sustainable “best practices” with regard to environmental protection, resource allocation, disease control, and population control. The second tier, encapsulating the wisdom carried in the sacred traditions, bears witness to the sacred potential of human life to come to its full spiritual fruition.

I will argue here that this “second tier” wisdom, regardless of the tradition from which it emanates, is binding within that tradition, not beyond it. But within it, lived with fidelity and depth, it has the capacity – indeed, inevitably WILL – serve to redeem and purify the rather clumsier practice lived at the common level.

So here is my six-point proposal. This is clearly – to my mind at least – simply an opening gambit that perhaps opens up a new way of framing the impasse. I eagerly invite your comments and refinements. For the moment I am thinking of this solely in terms of the USA, but hopefully it might have some eventual broader applications as well.

The first tier  (the basic social contract)

  1. We agree that it will be the government’s sacred responsibility to provide for the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of each of its citizens.

This is the classic social contract built into the foundations of our nation, and for 241 years it has served us well.

  1. We agree that included among the fundamental rights implicit within these freedoms is the right for a woman to control her own body and to hold the decisive vote as to whether a new life will be formed within her body. 

I know that this one will feel like a punch in the gut to those whose sense of moral duty has been firmly pinned in championing the rights of the unborn. But it is the logical and necessary consequence of Point 1, which is in turn the necessary starting point for a social contract founded on a clear separation of church and state. While the government will do its best to provide for the rights of ALL its citizens – including those in utero – nevertheless, in those difficult circumstances when the two are in direct conflict, we agree that the rights of the present and quantifiable members of its citizenry take precedence over the rights of those still under the custody of the liminal sphere.

But we have not thereby disposed of all concern for the unborn! For those feeling punched in the gut, please continue on to Point 4. 

  1. We agree that in a world so deeply threatened by poverty, disease, and overpopulation, the government should exercise responsible stewardship by providing access to birth control and family planning.

These are envisioned not as moral concessions but as fundamental health rights.

This, then, would comprise my version of a sustainable social contract, with strong legal and moral precedent in the American notion of individual freedom.

The second tier

  1. We agree that the spiritual traditions are individually at liberty to invite or impose a higher standard of conduct upon their adherents in accordance with that tradition’s understanding of moral and ethical obligation. 

While this may at first sound like a double-standard, I believe it is one where there is already strong precedent in the spiritual traditions. Already in Catholicism, for example (in fact, in all sacred traditions featuring a monastic expression), marriage is seen as the general baseline while celibacy is seen as a “higher way”. The decision to walk the celibate path is not universally imposed, but on those who choose it, it becomes morally binding.

Traditionally the inducements offered to invite this higher level of commitment were pitched around personal fulfillment or excellence: a higher spiritual attainment, admission to heaven, etc. But as the Wisdom tradition has consistently maintained (and, as modern physics, specifically the concept of quantum entanglement, confirms), the real efficacy of this higher level of practice lies in its leavening effect upon the whole, raising the bar of spiritual energy and available grace for everyone. A spiritual path practiced with high integrity and commitment emits a transforming energy of its own, which goes much further in actually securing a higher level of spiritual understanding than individuals conscripted into a level of moral behavior they neither understand nor personally assent to.

My intuition is that a significant portion of Catholics voluntarily taking on the Church’s traditional moral teachings on family planning and abortion would do more to better the lot of the unborn than a entire nation forced into compliance with laws experienced as coercive and personally injurious. If the active practice of an authentic sacred tradition produces as its fruits “peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”, as Christian tradition (and all traditions) have staunchly maintained, then it is to be expected that these qualities, once actually attained, would percolate through the entire body of our country’s citizenry, if nothing else elevating the climate and respectfulness of the civic discourse. It has always been said that Christians taught first by example – by the fragrance of a life lived with compassionate integrity. It is still our best bet going into the future, particularly where the changes we’re looking to see involve those liminal realms – birth and death – where the spiritual integrity of the gesture is far more impactful than the immediate victory wrested by means which belie their ends.

Click the image for more information. Thank you to PiALOGUE.info.

The last two points are more general, extending beyond the specific abortion issue in order to attempt to establish a climate in which a pluralistic nation, in rapid social transition and spanning at least a three-level gap in levels of consciousness as measured by contemporary evolutionary maps (from amber to green, tribal- to world-centric) might still continue to engage in civil discourse and a healthy give-and-take:

 

 

 

  1. We agree that government will not intervene with the internal standards of conduct imposed by a spiritual tradition upon its adherents, so long as these standards do not directly threaten the public health or safety. Neither will it establish and promote these standards as binding upon all its citizens. 

I would expect this to be a continuing grey area – and rightly so – in that ongoing dance between religious freedom and public safety. There will still be regular legal challenges – as to, for example, whether Christian Scientists should be compelled to seek medical attention for their children or Old Order Mennonites forbidden to use corporal punishment on theirs; whether homophobic town clerks should be required to issue marriage licenses to gay couples or homophobic merchants be required to bake them wedding cakes. In a less polarized society than ours has now become, this would all remain within the realm of healthy give-and-take by which the collective social conscience is slowly nudged ahead.

In order to back down the polarization, however, which by now has escalated to unmanageable levels, I would add in a corollary here which, while it personally breaks my liberal heart, is I believe the only realistic concession that will represent a significant stance of “bargaining in good faith” to ease the present stand-off:

5a. The government agrees not to use its juridical power to impose secular affirmative action standards upon dissenting spiritual groups operating within their own sectarian networks. 

In this matter, I am much guided by the model set by my own Episcopal Church in its landmark decisions to embrace women’s ordination and gay marriage. While these decisions, once passed by the General Convention, became the law of the Church, there was a long timeline for total compliance, and wide latitude was given for dissenting clergy and congregations to slowly acclimatize to the new state of affairs through continued conversation and study, with the right to personally opt out of participation in actions that felt to them morally offensive (bishops opposed to women’s ordination, for example, would be able to place their women postulants under the care of a neighboring bishop, nor would a church adamantly uncomfortable with women priests have one foisted upon them). Time was allowed for healing and assimilation, with responses erring on the side of forbearance rather than a self-righteous pressing of the issue.

  1. Spiritual groups will refrain from seeking to impose their specific moral values or agenda as the law of the land, to the extent that these values either exceed or undercut baseline freedoms already guaranteed above.

A work in progress…

The proposal set forth here is admittedly a compromise. But beyond perhaps easing the polarization, I believe it actually restores a generically rightful balance. In arguing that sacred teachings are binding within a specific spiritual tradition but not beyond it, I believe I am not only acknowledging one of the realities of our pluralistic world, but actually calling on an inherent capacity of these two complimentary streams to counterbalance and bootstrap each other. At its best, the secular state can rescue the sacred traditions from their tendency toward monological thinking and extremism. And at their best, the sacred traditions remind us that the meaning of life is derived from exactly those liminal edges, in the renewed and deeper stabilization of the capacity to live as human beings according to those higher faculties of perception which have never been fully actualized – and by my estimation never will – within purely secular models. Severally and collectively, the spiritual traditions are the evolutionary omega, calling us on to what we have forgotten, or what we may still become.

I realize that many of my Catholic friends will be saying, “yes, but what about all those unborn babies?” As you recall, this proposal began with two assertions, both emerging from my perspective as Wisdom teacher. The first is that pre-birth and post-death belong to those great liminal Mysteries of life, and are best left in the custody of the sacred traditions; the second is that the spiritual practices carefully curated by each of these traditions afford access to these Mysteries in ways that the rational mind cannot comprehend. In the absence of this specific spiritual training (in Christianity, its lineage flows through contemplative prayer), perception will default to the rational mind, where abortion indeed looks like “baby killing”, and emotions instantly bridle at this presumed assault on the innocent. From the more rounded, three-dimensional perspective that opens up from “mind in the heart”, the situation takes on an entirely different coloration. It is this Wisdom perspective that I will exploring in my final blog post.

26 replies
  1. Antony
    Antony says:

    Deeply saddened and disappointed by this article. Having read all of your written work Cynthia, enjoyed audio talks such as your take on Raimon Panikkar’s Christophany and taken a 16 hour round trip by train to participate in your wonderful centering prayer talk in Norwich, I am at a loss to understand how the words listed in point 2 can come from such an open heart. How our human rights can include a ‘right to end another’s life, however fragile or early on in life’s journey it may be or anyone may hold the decisive vote as to whether a new life will be formed within her body, when that life has clearly already been formed at conception, leaving only a decisive vote for death of that life is beyond me. To suggest that the wisdom or contemplative tradition realised in the silence of the Christ spirit brings the light of truth teaching that abortion does not involve the killing of a child in the womb is hard to take in. Also if any liminal space exists surely this is pre-conception after which the new beginning is revealed. My own daughter kicking her little legs during the 12 week scan was no mystery any longer with modern technology. The only liminal space or threshold that abortion opens is to death. Didn’t Mary say ‘ Let it be’? Cynthia where is the Cross in this, doesn’t the cross reveal to the higher place of love to a world enchanted by desire and the needs of the individual. Did Christ not answer the world’s message, not with philosophy but a life lived out for the other, the vulnerable, the marginalised and say ‘die to self’ to find one’s life. We may well embrace the cosmic mystery, but the child in its mother’s womb is no longer a mystery, but a fact clearly visible to all who have eyes to see. When the finest among us no longer see what any child could see, what hope is left. If we no longer know the truth where can we return too and how can we say ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner’ Peace of Christ

    Reply
  2. John Ferro
    John Ferro says:

    Thank you Cynthia for having the courage to begin this conversation. The topic of abortion definitely divides the “masses”, or individual people, at a very deep level. This can be reflected in my own life dating back 45 years ago when I attended a ‘Jesuit Catholic University’. The ‘Right to Life’ movement was very strong in conservative circles. But on of my friends was a woman who was very self assured in her response to my questions about abortion. She emphatically said to me, “What right do you have in deciding what I do with my body?” I was so taken back by the question since I thought we were having a discussion about the “unborn fetus” body. I went to the Chaplain to discuss the issue from the stand point of “fetus vs woman’s body”; however, the only response I received was, “I thought you were paying a social visit. I don’t have answers to such questions.” Fast forward 45 years to now and the debate still rages. However, I am delighted Cynthia that instead of saying, “I don’t have answers to such questions” you are saying let’s talk about this issue, acknowledging the emotion lability of the issue while balancing the intellectual pursuit for clarification of the issue. May we all take a step back and try to appreciate the ideas without being threatened by them.

    Reply
  3. Sean McDermott
    Sean McDermott says:

    I agree with all points except number three in which you say that the government needs to provide access to birth control as an extension of basic healthcare rights. Healthcare is not a right, and procuring birth control and engaging in family planning is a personal responsibility. Also, I object to you referring to people who do not agree with gay marriage as “homophobic.” There is no need to be calling people names, especially when you are seeking to promote a higher level of civil discourse.

    Reply
    • Melissa Beckham
      Melissa Beckham says:

      I think, if we are going to build more and more evolved societies, that healthcare IS a right, as is education. From a calculating point of view, what is the benefit for a community to have sick parents who can no longer care for their children or work and pay taxes? What is the advantage of sick children who are denied treatment and the tragedy and destruction that would cause to their families? What would happen to you if you needed a huge operation (that would bankrupt you and make you homeless) to function correctly and it was denied you and so your own life and that of your entourage crumbled?

      I think that, ethically, we owe each other basic health care and that, also from a practical stance, society would ultimately function better and cost the group less. I feel the same about birth control. People who don’t want to become parents (and who are perhaps unable to assume responsibility for their fertility) are certainly among the most inappropriate candidates to raise children. And unwanted, potentially neglected, and disfunctional children will eventually cost society more than a visit to a clinic and birth control pills.

      Reply
  4. Ed Valentine
    Ed Valentine says:

    This is an amazing topic to take on whether from a tier 1or tier 2 pespective. Thanks, Cynthia. I don’t know that the dualistic issues are resolveable, but there still may be hope. At the core of both pro-choice and pro-life positions is the common value of compassion. On the one hand, compassion for the choosing mother, and on the other hand, compassion for the developing child. Too often, compassion for each other is the missing ingredient.

    No one is arguing for the right to terminate new life post birth. It seems to me that the crux of the dualistic debate focuses not on respect for human life but rather on the definition of it. This seems to me to be a question that can’t really be resolved at a secular level but still has trremendous implications for secular order and requires a tier 1decision. Where is Solomon when you need him?

    Of great value, though, beyond resolution is the potential for a loving and compassionate conversation on the topic. Almost all absolute moral positions are subject to conditions which call the morality of the position into question. Jesus teaches us about the transformatiion of the heart. Can worthy conversations and spiritual practice bring us to a position where we offer a transformed heart to the challenges of life and a loving enlightened response?

    Reply
  5. Lawrie Okurowski
    Lawrie Okurowski says:

    Cynthia, I think this is a good blueprint for going forward.
    As often as not I am somewhat aware of the luminal world present in simultaneity with the physical world. Specifically, there is incomprehensible Unity, a Love that Is beyond any personalness, and an awareness of being breathed at the deepest edge of my physicality. I do not have specific thoughts or opinions from here for there is little sense of an I to have them. So I cannot say whether abortion is wrong or right because I’m not sure that is even the right question, or if there is one. Does our life actually have a starting and an ending moment or have we just quantified it as such, thus book ending our sacredness.w Ultimately this decision is only between a woman and her place in God’s eternal continuum and Love.
    I would like to add that I am closing in on my 73 birthday and that at a young age I found myself facing this difficult situation. It was before abortions were legal and given the circumstances, I do not know what I would have chosen. We just celebrated our son’s 52 birthday. We also had a baby girl who lived less than 24 hrs. What we have learned over the years has been an iimeasureable gift.
    Cynthia, perhaps what you have envisioned can find its way to fruition. Thank you for your heartfull discernment and practical wisdom.

    Reply
  6. Ann
    Ann says:

    This is a complex issue to step into but statement #2 is so harshly stated. A woman has the choice to enter into a relationship that has the potential of bringing forth new life in the marvel of creation. If she is not capable for whatever reason of carrying the gift of a child into life certainly quality medical care is essential to support her during that difficult time. I have yet to meet a woman who does not grieve for her child lost to abortion.

    Reply
    • Melissa Beckham
      Melissa Beckham says:

      I had an abortion in my early 30s. I had taken precautions, they failed. I would have been a dismal mother, the father even more dismal. I was relieved and joyful to avoid motherhood. I did not grieve.

      Reply
  7. Eben Carsey
    Eben Carsey says:

    Cynthia, thank you for making us aware of the article in La Civiltà Cattolica and for seeing its limitations and beginning a effort to address those limitations. In your first blog, you said, “I will reflect on what light the Wisdom tradition has to shed on the beginnings of life and the nature of the soul, both key components in the present gridlock.” As you engage in this reflection (second tier), please keep in mind what you well know, that the idea of a disembodied soul is from Greek philosophy more than from Jewish or early Christian thought, in which a soul is the animating and intentional force in a person that is inseparable from a body, whether that body is physical (flesh) or spiritual (resurrected). (This unity of body and soul in a person is, of course, in agreement with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the inseparability of matter and spirit.) I would argue that it is the soul animating a body that is independent as well as interdependent in a significant sense that gives one a personal identity. Besides, from a legal point of view (first tier), we are concerned about persons, not souls. I thankfully look forward to your next post.

    Reply
  8. Wendy Molnar
    Wendy Molnar says:

    Thank you, Cynthia for a courageous step forward onto this minefield of an issue. I wonder if the basic social contract: “We agree that it will be the government’s sacred responsibility to provide for the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of each of its citizens” might serve as an invitation to government and faith traditions to enter into a compassionate collaboration to care for the women who don’t fall neatly into pro choice or pro life. What might it look like if the state and the church joined together to offer care for pregnant women who do not want an abortion, but are too young or poor or who are otherwise unable to care for a child? There’s an irony in the term “pro-choice”, because for women living in poverty and abuse and addiction, abortion is the only reasonable (dare I say “moral”…?) choice. What if families who are deeply committed to the life of the unborn were to offer their homes to women who are ill equipped to give birth to a healthy baby? What if the government funded a “pre-natal foster care” program for mother and child? What if the woman was offered a loving home where she felt safe and loved, where she was taught self care and self love and where she was supported through birth and beyond for as long as she needed? How better to live out the sacredness of life?

    Reply
  9. Anne
    Anne says:

    Thank you, Cynthia, for articulating such a clear outline and beginning a conversation toward reconciling the different viewpoints and stances on abortion, specifically. My whole adult life I have seen sincere people take extreme positions on this.. It certainly seems like time for all of us to understand the issue more deeply and not just continue habitual responses.
    But even more than this I really appreciate your clear suggestions about the different responsibilities between our secular government and the sacred traditions we are each called to practice in our own tradition. I think you point out, beautifully, an understanding that would provide a very crucial renewal of the foundations upon which this country was founded, and the gift it offers.
    But even more vital, I find your callfor us to recognize and practice our own commitments within whatever tradition calls us, as a deeper current within the whole body of human expression as a wonderful reminder as to the efficacy of practicing the inner traditions and the work we can all perform as our society struggles to grow and to find common ground in this time of struggle and change.
    Thank you so much Cynthia, for all your work which has touched me deeply.thank you for taking this step to begin to offer a more open, respectful, inclusive dialogue.

    Reply
  10. Ed Stevens
    Ed Stevens says:

    Thank you Cynthia for getting the ball rolling and gently escorting the white elephant out of the room – ti leaves space for us to dialog on a deeper level with global issues. You have also helped to clear the way by bring non-dual perception/perspective into the room.

    Reply
  11. Christina
    Christina says:

    I appreciate this thoughtful first step toward an open and respectful dialogue. While I agree with much of it, I believe that this analysis, placing the beginning of life liminal zone at pre-birth, neglects the realities of our collective scientific progress. Given the major steps science has taken, allowing us to view a child’s development from the time of conception until birth, and even allowing for surgery and other medical interventions in the womb, we no longer live in a world where the entire pre-birth state is a mystery. Perhaps, pre-conception would be a better place to place this liminal zone; like post-death, it delineates a human being’s entrance into the created world (at least to the best of our knowledge). Of course, if the liminal zone is moved back to pre-conception, we must still wrestle with the very difficult conflict that arises between the post-birth life of a pregnant woman and the pre-birth life of the child. Although I firmly believe that every human being has the right to control his or her own body, as a society, we have agreed that this right of control will almost always cede to the greater right of another human being to life. Whether the law is the best way to deal with this issue is a separate discussion. Even assuming an unborn child has a right to life (and I understand that not all will make this assumption), it does not necessarily follow that the right way to solve this problem is to make criminals of often desperate girls and women. This is a unique problem that will require much compassion and understanding to work through and I truly appreciate this reflection beginning the dialogue.

    Reply
  12. Patricio Torres-Lisboa,MDPD.
    Patricio Torres-Lisboa,MDPD. says:

    WITH ALL DUE RESPECT AND ADMIRATION ,
    i WOULD APPLAUD AN ABSTRACT OF THIS STATEMENT FOR THE BUSSY-BODIES OF OUR WORLD!

    blessings

    P T L

    Reply
    • Miranda Harvey
      Miranda Harvey says:

      Thank you for your comment, Patricio. Basically, Cynthia proposes a first-tier set of points (based on human rights, including sustainability), and a second-tier set (based on sacred spiritual Wisdom). The points speak for themselves, and her last two paragraphs encapsulate her argument.

      Reply
  13. Jennifer Betuzzi
    Jennifer Betuzzi says:

    Wonderful idea. I read through until number 5’and stopped when thinking about a polygamist in BC who has almost 30 wives and untold children and grandchildren. Many of these girls were forced into marriage pre teen, which is against the laws of the land. He is claiming he has the same rights to this lifestyle and choice as others who have argued for their lifestyle, as well as the right to practice his religion.

    I did feel punched in the gut by number 2 as I have seen parents and grandparents and boyfriends etc.who had no choice regarding an abortion. It takes a village to raise a child….perhaps it takes a village to decide whether or not the life gets to stay,

    It seems with end of life procedures, there is a whole consultation procedure before someone is allowed to end their life. Perhaps this is also necessary in terms of an abortion.

    I know my response will anger a lot of folks.

    Reply
      • Jennifer Betuzzi
        Jennifer Betuzzi says:

        This is a thoughtful bit written on Thought.co.

        POLITICAL VS. RELIGIOUS DEBATES OVER THE ETHICS OF ABORTION
        There are both political and religious dimensions to ethical debates over abortion. Perhaps the most significant error which people make is to confuse the two, acting as though a decision on the religious front should necessitate a particular decision on the political front (or vice-versa). So long as we accept the existence of a secular sphere where religious leaders have no authority and religious doctrines cannot be the basis for law, we must also accept that civil law may be at odds with religious beliefs.

        Abortion is a difficult issue — no one approaches it lightly or makes a decision about whether to have an abortion lightly. Abortion also touches upon a significant number of important, fundamental ethical questions: the nature of personhood, the nature of rights, human relationships, personal autonomy, the extent of state authority over personal decisions, and more. All of this means that it is very important that we take abortion seriously as an ethical issue — seriously enough to identify the various components and discuss them with as little prejudice as possible.

        For some people, their approach to the ethical questions will be purely secular; for others, it will be heavily informed by religious values and doctrines. There is nothing inherently wrong or superior to either approach. What would be wrong, however, would be to imagine that religious values should be the determining factor in these debates. However important religious values may be to someone, they cannot become the basis for laws that apply to all citizens.

        If people approach the debates openly and with a willingness to learn from others with different perspectives, then it might be possible for everyone to have a positive impact on others. This may allow the debate to move forward and for progress to be made. It may not be possible for broad agreements to be reached, but it may be possible for reasonable compromises to be achieved. First, though, we need to understand what the issues are.

        Reply
        • Deborah Foster
          Deborah Foster says:

          Yes. Thankyou Jennifer. BC Canada’s polygamous “Mormon” sect came immediately to mind as I read Cynthia’s statements. A secular society, not well schooled in the life enhancing values and qualities that come from mature faith traditions, can get unfortunately bogged down in morality vs religious freedom episodes such as this one. Religious freedom gets confused with human trafficking and sexual harm. Giving the indivdual religion its freedom in this case would indeed have done much harm. It took a while to get sorted, but eventually the Canadian/Provincial justice system got it sorted, at least this time around. Not a simple matter, but I agree, it is crucial that the issues are clear in order to discern healthy ways forward.

          Reply
  14. Michael
    Michael says:

    Disclaimer: These comments are from a Midwestern white male born in privileged circumstances. Hastily written and not edited for content or typos.

    As a practicing Catholic of 41 years, it pains me to no end to to have no choice but to respectfully Agree with 100% of what you are submitting.

    I have struggled with the abortion issue for years. I quietly towed the Company line in my mind for most of my adult life…I had decided that thousands of great minds had gone before me and they decided that abortion was bad and therefore who am I to disagree? On top of this, and with a light back ground in hard science, I could never get across the barrier I developed in my head by resting in an argument based on the spectrum of development (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 trimester, 1 hour before birth…etc).

    In 2016 I became friends with a dying woman who, of all things, was missing an arm due to cancer. She has since left 4 beautiful children behind in this world. Her background was also Catholic and her upbringing far more liberal than my own. She was living in transition for years and had a perspective like few I have ever met. It was only in those walks and talks that we discussed abortion. Based on what unfolded, I would say you are right on point Cynthia.

    There is a Church in theory, and there is a population in practice. And until “Thy Will Be Done” is made manifest, I am not so certain the two shall ever meet. The assertion that the 2 perspectives need respect and autonomy appears to be a viable starting point for dismantling the wall between them.

    My dying friend spoke of the unfair nature of abortion rights and the result of banning abortion. In theory, abortion could often be considered a light (or major) slap on the wrist for not having more respect for that which can create a life. In practice, the rich will always have access to safe abortions. The poor and marginalized, which is the exact population that has the least access to education and positive development role modeling, will suffer immensely and on terms that are just as horrific as abortion itself.

    It stands to reason that whether you are for or against abortion, there is no real way to treat the issue on a personal level…which is in lock-step with the nature of all personal liberties…and thus we must respect the inevitability of the first tier you proposed! It pains me to say that. I want something higher…and within that want, is the humiliation of knowing that must be ground zero within the context of the human condition.

    From that baseline, it makes sooooo much sense that those seeking more can BECOME more. They can be the shining beacons of a temperant life lived. And lived in Joy. And so ‘they will know us by our fruits’ of joy and love. And no more powerful example can there be than being Christ both in the practice of self-control and self-love, as well as in deep compassion for those that feel abortion is their only choice. I wonder if there is a woman alive that is not at least subconsciously effected by their experience of undergoing an abortion procedure…No one wants to get an abortion.

    Thank you for sharing your time and energies Ms. Bourgeault. I am pleased God is working through you on this tender topic. There is no right answer and no right way to begin the dialog. The only right thing is TO begin the dialog. The divine indwelling in me sees and acknowledges the sincere love of the divine indwelling in you taking on this co-creative effort. Amen.

    Reply
    • Patricia Harte
      Patricia Harte says:

      Thank you for your compassionate reply, Michael, I have also struggled backwards and forwards in my opinion on the subject over the years, as my personal and spiritual development has progressed. As a retired health care worker, I have had contact with persons who suffered before and after abortion, whether or not access was a problem. In the long run Michael you are so correct-‘no-one wants an abortion’ In fact ‘one’ is trapped.
      As I have aged and reflected, in my experience, most of the persons I have known were very young or had the abortion while very young. Panic, denial and run for their lives was the only thing in the forefront.
      You are so right – the Church in theory and population in practice, we must stand on that wall and view the landscape on either side and maybe pick it down brick by brick. Finally I have not yet moved on from the belief that it is mercy-killing which I find difficult to deal with. I thank Cynthia her thoughtful perspsctives.

      Reply

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