Where does life begin? This is one of those age-old questions that we ask ourselves. When do we begin? For most of the Western world, that begins at birth - indeed, we count how old we are based upon the day we were born. We cannot legally vote in America, for example, unless we have lived eighteen years before the voting day. For most of us, this implies that we must be independent of our mothers (independent meaning here that we are not within our mother's womb).
But not all countries see it this way. One of the very first things new people to Korea navigate is ages. There is Korean age, and International age. Koreans are a year (or two) older than what everyone else born the same year is. While this isn't that much of a problem for adults, it is a problem for children. I found this especially difficult when teaching my kindergarten students. For example, I was told a student was five, but in reality, he was about three. Big difference.
Most teachers compensated, by either subtracting the two years or, more often, asking what year someone was born.
What does this have to do with pro-Life though? It's simple - in Korea, they count the nine months in utero as the first year of life. Each person therefore has an extra year added to their lives. When I informed my family (and others) of this fact, many were impressed, and felt it was very important for pro-Life views.
What's the history of the pro-Life movement? Where does its life begin?
Probably time out of mind, but the initial birth of the movement began after Roe v Wade in 1973, but before we reach that year, we have to look back. The Pro-Life Movement (as we know it) may have had its start in 1973, but that Supreme Court decision was the result of a struggle that had been going on for many generations - to whom does a child belong?
For as long as humans have been walking the earth, there have been women getting pregnant. For as long as women have been getting pregnant there have been complications in pregnancy and women who did not want the baby. There have also been men forcing women to get pregnant either through rape or intimidation, and there have been cultural stigmas placed on women who had no children.
In short - there has always been those who wanted a baby, and those who didn't.
To that end, then, abortion has been around for a very long time. I will never forget my freshman year at my very conservative college where I worked in the school cafeteria. On our first day of work orientation, we were taught the steps needed to clean various and sundry items in the cafeteria, one of which was the milk dispensers. These items were beautiful chrome and needed to be polished to make them shine. We were instructed to use mineral oil, but to be careful not to ingest it because it could cause severe cramping. My supervisor informed us that in times past women used mineral oil to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
It was the first time in my life ever hearing on non-surgical ways to terminate a pregnancy, but as I learned later - it wasn't the only one. Most of the time, abortion has been performed through ingested materials such as pennyroyal and other herbs that aided in creating a miscarriage. Of course, there were other ways that people believed would work - strenuous work, horseback riding or hiking. Interestingly,when a baby was late in arriving, these were also sometimes used to induce labor.
Therefore, if abortion has existed for a long time, then those who wanted women to keep their babies has also existed for a long time. Since most of those reading this will have a Christian background, we need to focus a bit on how the church looks at abortion and anti-abortion.
Of Bibles and Babies
One of the biggest mantras the Pro-Life Movement uses is "Life Begins at Conception". It is, in essence, the basis of the "Heartbeat Bills" that have passed several states recently. Cardiac activity begins around 6 week gestation, therefore if life begins at conception then the first indication of this life - cardiac activity - should be the point in which we are 'alive'. But is that when life truly begins?
Church history is wonderful, but over the centuries, we have lost a great many subtleties, and much of this is the result of subsequent generations (or groups) ignoring the previous understandings. For example, a big one is our Jewish traditions surrounding the Old Testament. (There is actually an entire blog post on how we've forgotten much of our history, but that is for much later).
For Jewish culture, life begins at the first breath. Before that, it is "Life under construction," as Rabbie Goldie Milgram explains in an article (here). The reasoning according to Rabbie Milgram is that in Genesis 2:7, God is described as breathing life into Adam after fashioning him from clay:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (NKJV)
In the same article, Rabbie Milgram uses the example of a Jewish tradition on why we have the little crevice above our lips - it is the result of the angel who teaches the fetus the Torah making the individual to forget it right before birth. What remains is the desire to seek and search for the information. In Luke 1 where Elizabeth says that her baby leaped upon the arrival of Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus.
Most Pro-Life advocates promote the part in Psalms 139 where David praises God about how God "fearfully and wonderfully made" David.
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. (Psalms 139:13, NKJV)
Interestingly, the word used there as [covered] is sometimes translated as [woven]. For weaving, even if you have everything on the loom and it is completely finished (no more to be woven), it isn't considered done until it has been cut from the loom and is free. In other words, it is still called cloth once woven, but it cannot serve its purpose on the loom.
I realize much of this is picking at semantics, but words mean things, and how we use them - especially written into laws - affects many peoples lives.
For the most part, early feminists did not advocate for abortion to be legal. This is the same group of women who advocated for a woman's right to vote, and ultimately, for Prohibition. The reasoning behind all of their stances came down to a woman's right to life, especially a life free from fear and poverty. If a man couldn't drink, he couldn't spend all his money on alcohol, he couldn't get drunk and beat his family or rape his wife. If a man couldn't drink alcohol, his wife could save money for a better life, protect her children and provide for their welfare. Abortion was seen as a means for a man to get out of his responsibilities and force women into unsafe situations. It seemed that some of the early feminists ignored the fact that this was already happening.
We call the first group of feminists the First Wave; it was the Second Wave, those who came in the 1950s and later, that began to advocate for legalized abortion. For them, the focus was on woman's right to her own body. They still wanted the same thing - for women to be able to live on their own, independently, and to be able to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Something I want to make perfectly clear - both sides want fewer abortions. Neither side wants to see a plethora of abortions, but how we go about achieving that goal is at the heart of the problem. One side wants to ban abortions, whereas the other side wants to provide a full medical scope to pregnancy. From my viewpoint - the Pro-Life Movement is going about this the wrong way, but back to the story.
As the 20th century progressed, women had gained incredibly equality (though we are still not there). We had gained the right to vote, the right to attend colleges, and the right to our jobs. We still faced a lot of uphill battles. For one thing, if a woman got pregnant, she was expected to carry the baby then stay home and raise the child. But, in a world where two-parent families were becoming not the norm, how did a woman manage?
For the most part, the Protestant church remained out of the fight. In fact the Southern Baptist Convention advocated legalizing abortion under certain conditions: rape, incest or the life of the mother. It was primarily the Catholic church who stood against abortion (as one can see in Europe where it has only been recently that places like Ireland has gained the right to abortion).
In 1973, the National Right to Life Committee formed, and it marks the beginning of the Pro-Life Movement. Now, we have a myriad of groups both religious and non-religious advocating the banning of abortion. Their ultimate goal is to reverse Roe v Wade and they are making great inroads to that case.
Pro-Fetus Legal Action
This post was going to be a means to dismantle the Pro-Life reasons, but as I researched and wrote, I realized that no, I don't need to break down the reasons why Pro-Life advocates say what they say. There are quite a few articles and blog posts out there for that reason. What I wanted to focus on is where we came from (history and Bible) as well as what happens next. See, most Pro-Life advocates will say they are pro-life - advocating to end abortion especially for special needs children or race or gender, but the problem is, they actively hurt their stance.
To any Pro-Life Advocates out there reading this article: this is why I changed. As I watched people dismantle the abortion laws, they set things up to make it more difficult for women to prevent pregnancies, and in many cases, helped men. Christians were using their religion to hurt people and that was not what Jesus wanted. I could no longer call myself a Pro-Life Christian without grappling with these other issues. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the Pro-Life Movement was not Pro-Life, but Pro-Fetus and that a fetus' right to life was always going to be more important than my life was.
When you come to the conclusion that your life as an adult is worth less than that of an unborn child - it makes you consider the reasons why. All those reasons are pointing to some very serious thoughts and having come out of the fundamentalist Christian world, it scares me.
Much of this began with the passage of Obamacare and the subsequent fight over birth control.
In the past year, several states have passed sweeping laws that effectively ended abortion in their states. For a full list check out Newsweek's article (here). The most heavy-handed of these states is, of course, Alabama. Not only is it illegal to obtain an abortion for any reason, but the woman receiving it, as well as the doctor performing it, can face up to 99 years in prison and be convicted of a felony charge.
It seems that as women have gained many rights (vote, independence and others), groups within our country are trying their hardest to push us back down by causing fear and suffering. Now, while I believe that each of us has the right to defend what we believe, and I will advocate for any who believes life begins at conception, I cannot in good conscience turn it into laws that will harm others.
The religion being used to promote the pro-life movement isn't Christianity. This is something else masquerading as Christianity.