I am Pro-Choice! I believe that every person should have the legal agency to decide for themselves what happens to their body.
I am Pro-Life! I believe that all life is sacred; every living being has inherent worth and dignity and should be protected.
Saying that I am both pro-choice and pro-life only sounds odd when we define the terms as two opposing sides on the political and moral issue of access to abortion services.
Even though I am writing this post as Unitarian Universalist minister and member of a Clergy for Choice group for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, I will not be arguing one side or another. Instead I argue for love in our relationships, respect in our language and consideration in our interactions - especially with people with whom we don’t agree!
Abortion is a very tender subject, there is no way around it. Abortion includes questions about life, death, morality and mortality. So it makes sense that people hold very strong views laden with and informed by their faith and their emotions. The problem I see is when these two sides come together, or more accurately, when they don’t come together.
We are often blind to our own prejudices, mainly because we see our prejudices as well informed and correct. Just as the other side sees their prejudices as well informed and correct. That is right, people who disagree with you also think they are being well informed and correct. The hard part is to take a moment and consider the other side of an arguments. I don’t mean a visceral, knee-jerk or immediate reaction, but really taking the time and emotional energy to put yourself in another person’s shoes and experience a different world view.
Well, why would we want to do that? What is the importance of seeing how other people think? Especially if we disagree with them, do I or should I care what they think? How about we go our own separate ways, “agreeing to disagree.” Do we need to see other sides of arguments? I take very seriously my Unitarian Universalist faith’s First Principle, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person includes not writing or ignoring someone. When I deeply engage with someone and value their life, it entails listening and trusting their truth. Conversations across differences can only deepen our love for and understanding of those with whom we disagree.
The language we use can show us potential pitfalls, and it does so dramatically with respect to abortion. Liberals tend to favor less government intervention in perceived private or personal matters. With respect to abortion, this means that a woman should be able to decide for herself what happens to her body. Thus the label pro-choice. Liberals are arguing for choice.
Conservatives are concerned with the sanctity and value of all life. With respect to abortion, this means that an unborn child has an inherent right to live and be born. Thus the label pro-life. Conservatives are arguing for life.
We can see right off the bat that the two sides are not arguing the same thing. On one side we are arguing about choices, on the other we are arguing about life. No one is arguing against choice, and no one is arguing against life. But the issue has been framed in such a way that each side can easily demonize the other. For example, “You are against people having choices!” or “You are pro death!”
This is a large reason why we seldom see eye-to-eye. One side is arguing about choice, the other about life, we are talking past each other. Sometimes we go even further in our disrespect, by labeling others incorrectly. If I call protesters at Planned Parenthood “anti-choice” or “antis” I am not valuing their views nor am I allowing any space for conversation. If I label supporters of Planned Parenthood “anti-life” or “pro-death” I am doing the same thing in converse.
Now comes the hard part, can we try to see the other side of the issue? This is where my faith comes into play, my faith that everyone’s world view matters even when they are different from mine. We easily become appalled at “others” because we are arguing different topics and we have a hard time seeing the other side. I am not arguing for pro-choice or pro-life. I am arguing for an openness in seeing different points of view and trying to understand those who disagree with you.
So if we see all sides of all issues, where does this leave us? With a moral, ethical and social gray area where anything is possible and nothing is for sure. It leaves us walking on eggshells with any topic we approach, right? We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to judge their views... so we must be politically correct to an extreme, watching every word out of our mouths. Maybe we shouldn’t even hold on to views of our own, because then we definitely wouldn’t be going against anyone else. No! The goal is not to be so concerned about offending others that we have no backbone or opinions of ourselves. The goal is to be loving, open and understanding. When we try to see both sides of an issue we can try to engage in conversation and discussion. No longer will we be arguing from different places which don’t even come close to meeting. We can instead address a topic from a place of shared understandings, although not always of shared values. The goal is to find common ground on which to stand.
What would common ground look like with respect to abortion? Is there some place where both sides can agree? Maybe we can all agree that we want less abortions. Those promoting life want less abortions, and those who are in favor of choice also would prefer there to be less abortions. Coming from a place of shared values we might be able to have a real conversation and make a positive impact in the world rather than fighting and ignoring.
This is what we must do, not deepen divisions, but build bridges across the divides. We need to be more committed to openness in differences and less committed to our liberal or conservative political persuasions. There is usually common ground, we just need to find it. So when you disagree with a person or a group of people, don’t just write them off. Be open to them in loving kindness and try find some common ground where you can both stand. Try to push open the boundaries of differences and see where they are coming from, and allow them the time and difficulty to do the same with you. This is a hard task, but it is worthwhile, for we can create a world of peace and communal love.
Find the common ground, work toward a world transformed not by confrontation and angst, but by conversation and caring.