Now to the thorniest of them all….abortion. This issue is a cobsweb of interrelated issues–women’s empowerment, human population, harmonizing the biosphere and the noosphere, the sanctity of life, legislative vs. judicial activism, and the definition of being pro-life (for whom, to whom, and when).
This debate no longer has much room for dialogue, if it ever did. It is so politicized that finding sane voices amidst the din becomes a near impossibility. Still, it must be addressed.
A note on terminology. I use the typical Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, anti-abortion labels. We have no netural terms for this topic which says somethin I think about our collective consciousness on the issue. Of course to say you are Pro-Life means really you are Pro what you consider to be an infant’s life. And mostly the biological life of the fetus. Is that person pro all forms of life? Or to be pro-choice, means really to be pro-abortion choice. They are certainly not pro-choice for those who choose to be pro-life/anti-abortion? So I use the terms that are familiar though I don’t subscribe to the ideology behind either.
It has been more than thirty years now since Roe vs. Wade seared this nation’s psyche. All can agree that it has been a momentous sea-change.
I’ll begin with a famous psycholgical experiment on morals done by Lawrence Kohlberg. This one has been used just about to death, I know, but it’s worth the time anyway. Here it goes: A man’s wife is dying of a treatable disease. He is too poor to afford the medicine. Should he or should he not steal the medicine from the local pharmacy?
The respondents answered yes or no. Nothing surprising there. What was important however was that when Kohlberg then asked, Why? he got three different answers.
Response 1: Yes he should steal the medicine. Why? Because he can do whatever the hell wants.
Response 2: No. Why? Because the law is the law. It can not be broken.
Response 3: Yes. Why? Because the woman’s life is more important than statues. The law is meant to help and protect people. The man should follow the spirit of the law, even if he might have to break the letter of it.
What Kohlberg also noticed is that if a person were to change his/her answer over a lifetime they always went from Number 1, to Number 2, to Number 3. Never 1 to 3, skipping two. Nor backsliding from a #3 to a #1.
So let us substitute a man stealing medicine for an abortion. Yes, because she shoud do whatever she wants. No, because it is immoral. Yes, there are higher truths than conventional morality.
Here is the source of most of the confusion. Just on the surface, Number 3 and Number 1 look the same. The man will steal the medicine, the woman have the abortion. But their internal reasons for doing so are completely different. For Choice #1, the only motivation is self-concern. This manifests too often when it comes to abortion as a choice based on convenience. Camp 3 actually sees a larger picture, and some #3ers come to believe that in certain cases, an abortion might serve the whole. [We’ll return to that issue in a moment].
Even worse, Choice #2 respondents can not distinguish between the internal consciousness of a number 1 and a number 3. In fact, Camp 2 does not even recognize the validity of Camp 3, they will only interpret them as Camp 1. Also, as we will we see the pro-choice camp has unfortunately made the same basic mistake on the whole–not differentiating between Yes #1 and Yes #3.
Some background is needed.
One thing I think it is worth to note is that there is no such well organized and vocal anti-abortion/pro-life movement in any other Western coutnry. Not even conservatives in England have much to say about the issue. There is an interesting truth to ponder in exactly why this is the case–I will deal with it in more detail later.
Also, as I noted in earlier posts, evangelical Protestant American Christians though we know think of them as against abortion did not pay any attention to the issue for basically a decade after Roe v. Wade. Only Catholics did. The Southern Baptist Convention during the mid/late 70s affirmed the right of a woman to end a pregnancy.
Something flipped during the Reagan years. Conservative Christians mobilized, and the tenor of discourse became decidely more invective. Yet it was really only until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the real vitirol was poured on the fire. In large measure perhaps because conservatives had spent most of the Cold War focusing on the external threat of the Soviet Empire. With the demise of the collectivist Soviet regime, Americans began to focus more inwardly, and conservative Christians changed their emphasis to the perceived threats from within–e.g. ACLU, liberals, gays, feminists, and abortionists.
Operation Rescue was founded using the same techniques of civil disobedience in honor of a higher law developed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. This was a very telling episode. The original intent of an OR was peaceful civil disobedience. Randall Terry, the founder of the group, really admired MLK, and sincerely felt he was overtuning human law in order to serve the law of God. And many of the same people who supprted the civil disobedience of the 60s and the South came out against the same processes when it came to abortion, interestingly enough. Not in all cases, certainly there are/were many people who are pro-civil rights and anti-abortion. Still, it should the gulf between the mainstream (somewhat) liberal media and government of the Clinton years and a group of Americans on the ground.
Certain fringe elements in the pro-life movement went beyond an OR, and began actively targeting abortion clinics and doctors. Again a fringe element, often fueled by young male testosterone and social ostracism, combined with a fundamentalist theology.
The pro-choice camp has not fared much better sadly. Betty Friedan, one of the true heroes of the feminist movement early on came out against the Gloria Steinmans and Germaine Greers of the world for what Friedan believed was an excessive politicization and dualism in the emerging feminist consciousness. Friedan
For Friedan the issue of feminism never had to do with creating stark either/or scenarios for women: either a woman joins the workforce and is liberated or is a homemaker and colludes in the oppression of all women. Friedan thought the issue was about liberating women’s psyche’s so that they could feel free to choose whatever it is that best expressed their deepest desires–so that a woman could be, if she wanted to although by no means had to, stay at home and raise children AND be liberated. Friedan wanted women to feel equally free whether in the workplace or the home. She wisely saw the issue was one of internal transformation more than an external change of scenery.
Friedan also argued against the demonization of men within feminist circles. Again, for her, the issue was one of integration and liberation–liberating both women and men together. For if women’s liberation came at the cost of hurting men, who would these women share their new freedom with? They would have gained the world, as it were, and lost their souls in the process. Also how does it make any sense to beginning helping women achieving their highest potentials by first making them feel like victims? How would that message inspire young women to manifest their inner strength and courage?
Unfortunately to date, Friedan’s sage advice has not been headed by most feminists nor pro-choice groups. Groups like NOW and NARAL to this day do not offer women post-abortive cousneling, therapy, support groups, etc. They are “PRO-CHOICE”; they exist to keep their political agenda. In many cases even if one believes that abortion should be legal, these groups have not had the best intentions of women at heart it seems to me. Interestingly the only groups that do offer such post-abortive support are from the pro-life side Project Rachel
Sadly their support comes with a clearly stated-agenda: to convince the woman that she has committed sin and that her healing will only come by confessing her immoral action.
So just starting off with one piece of the pie here: post-abortive depression. There are well documented studies that show increased rates of depression and even suicide among women who have had abortions. See here
The reaction of the left (pro-choice) camp is to simply ignore the facts. Deny, deny, deny them and hopefully they’ll go away. In other words living in a state of unreality. The right of course interprets these findings to prove their position–these women are experiencing these symptoms as marks of a guilty conscience and/or as punishment for their sins.
An integral position would admit the facts first and foremost. Women are likely to experience trauma from an abortion, and it could take years in some cases to come to grips with it all. AND an integral position would not necessarily assume that therefore the decision was still the wrong choice. Not to say that it necessarily wasn’t either.
One solution would be the following. We admit that many women will face emotional trauma after an abortion and that perhaps some who haven’t experienced such pain, probably should or are repressing/denying such pain. Now, if we take into account say the soul-subtle body we could argue that the pain the women is experiencing is actually the grief of the soul that tried to incarnate but was prevented from doing so. Many of these women perhaps because of their own conditioning, outside forces, or simple ignorance, misunderstand what is occurring. Some hide their pain anyway, lest they have to admit to themselves–so they think–that they did something wrong. Others lay a massive guilt trip on themselves. Others run from their pain in hedonistic pleasure perhaps repeating the cycle, alcohol, self-loathing, drugs, or whatever else.
Meanwhile no one need assume that just because a woman is experiencing the grief of the Soul that her act was inherently immoral. There is no reason to jump to that automatic conclusion as do the Religoius pro-lifers. Nor need one repress it or act as if the evidence for its existence is a lie–the pro-choice choice. Grief is a natural psychological process that indicates loss and suffering. There is no guilt to be imputed.
What Camp 3 (Integral) realizes is that all of our choices are between shades of good and evil, and we must, as Joseph Campbell said, lean to the good. Also admitting our own ignorance. We can not know all of the repercussions of our actions. AND we are still responsible for our thoughts, words, and deeds at least to the degree that we have conscious choice.
Camp 2 still holds to a black/white vision of morality. Camp 2 is supported mostly by basic formal operational cognition. An example of this is learning a simple mathematical formula and being able to plug numbers in and solve an equation but not really understanding the deeper workings of math–like how does this equation function, why does this equation work at all, how did someone discover this formula? Just so, Camp 2 has learned the basic moral equation, as it were, and simply plugs it in over and over again–formulaically. The basic moral equation itself though is never questioned, examined, or understood from the inside out. It is simply to be applied. In other words, abortion is against the Bible–so it is claimed–and then they simply treat every further case as simply different numbers in the same equation.
But even this position is better than Camp 1 which doesn’t even have a morality. In this situation, I don’t even care about the consequences of my actions, so long as I don’t get hurt and it makes me “feel good.”
Just like in math, a student has to go through a phase of learning rote repetition of an equation before they go on to higher post-formal cognition where they understand the inner workings of mathematical procedures. So in other words, a truly integrated pro-choice position would actually, get this, have to move a certain percentage of people into anti-choice position, so that they could then come through on the other side. On a higher pro-choice position.
I believe in certain cases individuals have only the choice between two evils and in that case there is ethical weight to the lesser of two evils. In certain scenarios I would say abortion might be the lesser of two evils.
Roe v. Wade argued for choice based on the first amendment’s right to governmental non-interference in the private lives of individual citizens. Now, whatever one’s view on pro-choice/pro-life, if people were honest, it would be very hard to logically get your head around the idea that abortion is covered under the right to privacy. That is a real stretch intellectually.
And, if its not clear by now, I actually believe in a pluralistic non-sectarian society like ours, abortion should be the law. But I find it very hard to understand how that is covered by the right to privacy.
I mentioned earlier that the United States is the only post-industrial country where abortion is still an issue of such heated debate–the only country where abortion evokes such emotional responses on all sides. Why is that? Again, following my hypothesis of the Religious Right as barometers of what is wrong in our society (while usually disregarding the Religious Right’s recommendations for how to fix society’s ills) we should look to the Right’s assertion that Roe V. Wade was an act of judicial activism. By this they intend that in Roe v. Wade (and other cases) the judicial branch overstepped its Constitutional bounds by legislating–the job of the Congress–instead of simply interpreting the law and ruling on the constitutionality of laws.
If I concede that the logic behind the right to privacy has no bearing, then I have to admit that the Right has a point on this one. The United States went basically overnight to having the most liberal of abortion laws in the post-industrial Western world. Our abortion laws are more liberal than the so-called bastions of liberality that are Germany and France. We are the more conservative country politically and yet we have the most liberal laws on this issue. The countries in Western Europe where liberal thought is the dominant political voice do not have such liberal laws. What is going on here? How can that be? But if we see that the issue of abortion was handled at the judicial level, then the issue becomes clearer. The Judiciary, particularly The Supreme Court is the least democratic of any institution in our country. Individuals do not directly vote for the President–the candidates to the Electoral College do, and unless you are an affliated member of one of the Two Parties voters have no choice in the appointment of Electoral Voters. Then that president nominates a man or woman to a lifetime appointment and the citizenry do not vote on the person. Only their elected representatives in the Senate do.
I’m not saying democracy is the cure-all. Democracy in our world is usually more part of the problem than the solution (Illiberal Democracy The best book written on the subject, absolutely mindblowing). Still because of the lack of direct influence on the Supreme Courts makeup, if a court were to not only rule a law unconstitutional but to actively promote a point of view, and that point of view offended a majority or significant minority’s values, then they are liable to call foul.
See abortion was handled, properly, in countries like Britain, France, Germany, and Canada at the legislative level. Therefore when passed, the legislation reflected the majority of the people.
And contrary to the opinion of Religious Right and Bible Thumpers, if referenda were held on the issue of abortion in this country–we would basically end up with a Western European view: i.e. abortion is legal but held to tighter restrictions than currently are in place.
For proof see:
Gallup Poll (See if you can splice these numbers based on the developmental sequence outlined earlier).
For all the wrangling over the issue, I am amazed at how consistent the numbers are. The majority however you slice it believe abortion should be legal but have greater restrictions. A good example would be the ban on partial-birth abortions except in the case of danger to the mother’s life. Partial-birth are horrendous procedures that in many cases are barely, if at all dinstinguishable from outright murder. In a way that a first-trimester abortion is not.
So the Supreme Court got the right answer but for the wrong reasons, using the wrong methods. Ethics are weighed as a combination both of the actual act itself and the intention behidn the act. It is the combination of the two that is important, not exclusively holding to one (Kantian deontological thought) or the other (utilitarianism).
I am generally speaking against overturning Roe v. Wade because the only people that will be hurt will be the poor. If the United States outlined abortions, then the wealthy would just fly to Canada for a weekend and have it done. And the moral righteousness of mostly middle class people who have sufficient funds to be spending time away from a 9-5 job to stand out in protest of an abortion clinic or spend their days in a political action group often committ sins of omission, showing how out of touch they are with the lives of the poor. The ones that Jesus specially loved.
There is Christian theological support for abortion–in certain cases. It is not talked about much, but its most famous proponent is none other than St. Thomas Aquinas Aquinas, following Aristotelian biology argued that the human was not “ensouled” until well after conception. Ensoulment is “getting” a soul. Although that isn’t quite right, even in Aquinas, for the Soul is actually the form of the body-mind. It would be better to say we are Souls that have a humans. Not humans that have souls. Anyway, Aquinas termed this process: delayed hominization. Teilhard never specifically mentions this topic, at least that I know of, although it is a clear logical hypothesis of his work on the relationship between consciousness and matter.
In other words an abortion during the delayed hominization phase was considered generally wrong, but not equivalent to murder. And in certain cases may be a better choice again, from teh standpoint of the lesser of two evils. It is immoral to let a woman die, but it would also be wrong to kill an embryo developing into a human being. But the choice to abort might be the lesser of two evils, given that the situation offers no “good” choice.
Or take for example the well known medical fact that women routinely have “natural abortions.” That is many times eggs are fertilized in a woman’s body, but are passed out through the menstrual cycle. Now, I have never heard of any Pro-life person advocate emergency measures on tampons at the end of a woman’s cycle. If someone really believes that life begins at the moment of conception that how can they allow for these “natural abortions?” Particularly when the argument is made that it is unnatural to abort, to consciously choose to terminate a pregnancy? The argument from nature is a flawed one for many reasons, but in this case actually it is quite the reverse: natural abortions are common throughout the mammalian species. Even worse we are human beings and we have choice over our biology–that is why we hold each accountable. We have animalistic elements to our makeup, but we are not exclusively so. Panda bears give birth to two cubs, and the mother always leaves one to die. Is that natural? We would rightly be appalled at such actions and label them infanticide. So who is to say what is natural, and more importantly who said what is “natural” is what is right?
Following Teilhard’s Law of Consciousness and Complexity it is difficult to make a total determination as to when we are “hominized” or “ensouled.” Or where life begins in other words. Life being in this case, the life-force and subtle consciousness of humanity.
Wilber defines The Basic Moral Intutition as the greatest depth for the greatest span. The question of how best the human race can create a sustainable form of noospheric community that both transcends and includes the biosphere is the most important question for our future, and the ethical frame in which all our decisions should be made.
Abortion then becomes a much more challenging question in that context. We are experiencing simultaneously over population and under population in the world. The parts of our world that are struggling with both the least developed technology and the most ethnocentric cultural norms are the ones having the most children.
Evidence shows that when women have greater access to education, finances, social freedoms, and contraception they always choose to have less children. In traditional societies and countries without governmental support (basically anywhere but the West) women must have more children to take care of them as they age. To quote Lester Brown:
Half of the world’s annual population growth of 77 million people occurs in just six countries—India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
That’s a staggering statistic. And those countries are all at the center of revived ethnocentric and religious fundamenatlist conflict in the post Cold-War era. Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are all Muslim. Indonesia is most populous Muslim nation in the world far higher than Saudi Arabia, any Gulf State, even Iraq or Iran. Pakistan happens to be with Saudi Arabia running neck and neck the most puritannical of Sunni Islam. Nigeria is experiencing intermittent civil war between Muslims trying to establish sharia (Islamic law) in the North versus Christians and animists in the South. So the exact places where we need less people are the ones with the most growth. Sobbering meditation on the future.
Even worse, the post-industrial world particulary Scandanavia, Western Europe, and Japan are breeding themselves out of existence. They are ageing rapidly and no one is sure how their economies will cope with the massive burden of medicine, elderly care, pensions, and the like.
The excess populations from places like the countries just named are filling in the gaps in Western Europe. And those immigrants, particularly Muslim ones, are not being integrated into society. Hence the bombings in Spain and England.
Until we get a handle on how to create a sustainable human project, particularly human-human justice and human-earth justice, abortion is read out of context. It is argued out of the context of the human being as the universe aware of itself thinking, who is here to establish justice and mercy on the planet. Abortion, though it might seem a bit strange to say, is part of human development. Until we see that, then these arguments will continue.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
The easy answer is that abortion should not be the focus. It is inherently divisive. What can bring us together instead? The answer is to focus on what matters: stopping unwanted pregnancies. Guess who came out recently and spoke brilliantly on the matter.
Of course the left pro-choice people totally missed what she was saying. And some/most of the Right read it only as a ploy for her future presidential run. Whether that’s true or not, she’s right. Everyone, or the majority of sane people anyway, can only connect on the issue of stopping unwanted pregnancy. Help create situations where as few women as possible have to make the horrific decision of abortion.
Evidence shos repeatedly that the best way to lower unwanted pregnancies is to promote moral absistence and distribute condoms and generate economic revenu so that women are freed up to go to school longer and delay having children. Of course in our politicized culture controlled by the single-issue PACs and religious groups no one advocates such a comprehensive integral policy. They sadly put their own ideologies before true care of others and the good of the whole. The liberals are uncomfortable with absistence/moral training, and the conservatives, particuarly in the Catholic Church are flat out against contraception.
As Sen. Clinton summarized her views on abortion: Safe, legal, and rare. Rare being the operative word.
Really rare. We should not fool ourselves at how awful and gruesome a choice abortion is, even if we accept its legality and perhaps its possible “morality” (lesser of two evils morality). The human is the universe aware of itself, and we need to transcend and include our own connection to the biosphere. Transcend and Include. Right now the portions of the world that have transcended the biosphere have not included, while the majority of the world lives enslaved to the brutality of the biosphere. Humans do have to grow into the maturity of co-creation and deciding together on balancing human population with the earth, with economics–both human and natural–and with quality of life issues.
And we need to create vehicles for women to understand the morality of the issue–whether yea or nea. For a woman at Stage 1, the answer might in most cases be, No. You need to have this child and learn what it is like to be responsible. At Stage 3, it might be yes.
The question of whether an abortion should occur because the mother realizes she will not be able to take care of her child is a most difficult one. Particularly for me as I’m adopted. So I realize I could have been aborted by such a logic. I also realize that the family I ended up in psychologically, emotionally, economically, and educationally was extremely fortunate. Most adoptions in this country, aren’t so mutually beneficial.
Either way we need to create vehicles that will help women (and men) go through a post-abortive process without the layers of guilt laid on by the Pro-Life movement.
It is a tangled web no doubt about it, and becomes the flashpoint for so many other issues. Intelligent debate on this topic is so far from common right now. This piece is just a start, and I hope generates some further discussion.
In ending I guess I never specifically mentioned my views, although I think its clear from the tenor. But just for the record. I believe someone can hold integral consciousness and be against abortion in all cases–except of course the mother’s life, rape, incest, etc. I happen not to hold that opinion, but if someone truly does hold that view I respect it. It is not integral to assume that the de facto integral position is pro-choice. That is just, in my mind, mean green meme with integral cognition acting high and mighty.
What I am pro, as I said, is pro-reducing unwated pregnancies, pro-people not having to be faced with two choices neither of which they want, pro women not getting pregnant until they are actually ready and are responsible to care for a human life.
I am pro helping women who have suffered,whether rightly or wrongly, from this decision to get help without having to be told how guilty they are. They may have to come to accept guilt and shame. That may be part of their karma, but it is not mine to know that in advance. It is my duty to console someone whatever his/her karma may be.
I believe abortion is never better than the lesser of two evils. It is never a “good” choice in my view. That is why I would never describe myself as pro-choice, so long as the choice indicated is abortion. I am pro good choices. Like not getting pregnant in the first place. I am pro the choice of giving people free contraception and education to learn how to live responsible sexual lives.