I am a husband, a father and a Pro-Choice clergyman of the
– I say that without
qualification or exception. When it comes to the subject of abortion I am
unambiguously supportive of a Woman’s right to choose. It wasn’t always this
way! This has been a journey for me and it is only in recent years that I would
so describe myself. For most of my life I would have considered my position
fairly middle of the road. I had a fairly restrictive view on the right to
choose and would only have seen it as an option in the case of rape, unviable
pregnancy or a threat to the life or health of the mother. Church of Ireland
But I have moved and while I have no regrets it is not always an easy place to be. To declare yourself ‘pro-choice’ is in the eyes of some to self-identify as a heartless baby-killer who has no regard for the life of the unborn. This could not be farther from the truth but there are some who stop listening as soon as they hear the phrase ‘pro-choice’ and issue their summary judgement and sadly very often accompany it with a large dose of personal invective.
I imagine that the people I want to talk to have already tuned out but on the off chance let me say a little about what it means for me to declare myself ‘pro-choice’.
I don’t like negative declarations of identity but sometimes it is important to say what you are against as well as what you stand for, so let me start with the negatives:
I am not in favour of abortion on demand
I am not in favour of abortion as a form of contraception
I am not in favour of abortion as a form of genetic selection (This is particularly personal to me as the parent of a young adult with special needs who some might have opted not to carry full term if they had known the likely outcome of the pregnancy)
And now to the positives:
I am in favour of prioritising the life of a mother over and above that of a fetus that has the potential to become a living breathing human being but has not and may not achieve that potential. (I do not therefore believe in the equal right of the fetus and the mother to life). Part of being a human is making difficult choices and this is I believe one of those choices that has to be made. To refuse to make such choices is a denial of the complexity of life.
I believe that if I am to take seriously the priority of the life of the mother I must take into account all the circumstances of her life and to respect the decision she makes as to the continuance or the termination of a pregnancy.
I believe that as a man I am genetically limited in the judgement I can make as to how any woman should respond to an unwanted pregnancy. I can only speculate as to how different this debate might be if we men had to undergo the experience of pregnancy and childbirth
I believe that the doctor patient relationship is paramount and that there are too many amateurs including churchmen like myself interfering in a domain where we do not have competence
I believe that there is a basic dishonesty at the heart of the abortion debate in that we already have abortion in Ireland but we choose to export women on a lonely and dangerous journey so that we can maintain our ‘righteousness’
I believe as a Christian (and I know that here I am probably loosing some of you) that a woman’s role in childbearing and childbirth is a co-creative role and that her yes matters – The Virgin Mary herself said yes to the child that was within her but what if she had said no? If her assent was truly voluntary then she could surely have said no but she chose otherwise – but she still chose!
The choice of a woman to host a pregnancy is not in my opinion a once off event but a continuing process in which her assent is required at every stage – Anything less defines a woman as a mere vessel and that it seems to me is abusive of the integrity of her humanity.
I believe that I have to fundamentally trust women with the integrity of their own bodies and to respect their judgement even when I may be uncomfortable with the outcome. Anything less than this absolute trust is enslaving of their basic humanity and integrity and ultimately undermines mine as a child of a woman who chose to say 'yes'.
That is why despite the fact that I am not ‘pro-abortion’ I am unashamedly ‘pro-choice’ – It is not about me, but the women who have to deal with all the pain, joy and complexity of pregnancy and childbirth – They are the beginning and the end of this issue and their choice must be respected and supported.