I remember the first time someone asked me if I was a babykiller. It was 1999, and I was on the school bus on my way to seventh grade at my Christian school. The runup to the 2000 election season was in full swing, and being the educated civic scholars we were, we in Mr. Piper’s class mostly repeated what we’d heard from our parents about the hotbutton electoral issues of the day. One of them, especially among the evangelical crowd, was how the candidates felt about the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.
After as much thought about the matter as an 11-year-old can have, I decided I was pro-choice. At that time, I was as guilty as anyone else on the bus as following the whims of my parents; mine largely voted Democrat, an anomaly at my wealthy, mostly white Evangelical school. I knew most Democrats were pro-choice and in favor of women’s health care agendas; I decided I was too. It was as simple as that.
Of course, it wasn’t. With a few exceptions, my classmates generally greeted my political leanings and pronouncement with the same enthusiasm as a diagnosis of Ebola. For them, there was no comprehension of why someone would choose to be pro-choice. Anything other than an anti-abortion agenda was akin to leaving a baby in a toilet, and worse. The nuances of the debate weren’t known to us, and if they were, they weren’t discussed.
As horrified as my classmate’s question made me feel (While I’ve never been great with kids, I didn’t and don’t consider myself a killer of any kind I don’t even like to kill spiders), it did have an effect he probably didn’t consider, and years later, I’m actually glad he asked. He forced me to make a choice many people aren’t confronted with until high school or college. Some people never are. Because he asked me that difficult question, I had to challenge my own beliefs. I was no longer allowed the luxury of parroting my parents.
I lay awake nights trying to reconcile my firm belief that women should have choice and autonomy over their own bodies with the fact that I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of abortion, in most cases, and never have been. I’m glad it’s legal for many reasons, but personally, I don’t think I could do it. I don’t condemn those who do. Each person has their own choice to make, and I can’t and won’t pretend I know what it’s like to be each woman making that choice. It especially galls me that some of the loudest voices in this debate are men, who will never be in the untenable positions women find themselves in regarding birth and abortion.
Finally, after years of wrestling with the question, I’ve come to my position; a notoften discussed one articulated recently by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.
“We are taught that there are those two ways only. Indeed, where abortion is concerned, that’s the fundament of every policy debate and political speech, Pitts said in a recent article for the Herald.”
“But it seems ever clearer to me that it’s a false dichotomy, a narrative of hard, diametrical opposition that, while it makes for great headlines, fails to acknowledge the mushy middle ground where many, if not most of us, reside.”
Pitts argues many people who are pro-choice believe legal abortion prevents things like backalley procedures and gives women muchneeded autonomy in a decision that undoubtedly affects their entire lives, no matter what they choose. These same people can and do have children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and love babies. They are supporters of life, because they are alive. We recognize abortion is a reality in our world today for some folks; that doesn’t mean we like it or we relish anyone’s death. They are pro-choice, but anti-abortion.
In some ways, it would be much easier to figure everyone out if black and white positions were the reality. In that world, I’d know exactly who to like and dislike without getting to know them, just by hearing about what religion or political party they ascribe to, or even what part of the country or world they’re from. Entrenched positions and stereotypes do the work for us. They let us parrot ideas and sail through life unchallenged. The reality is, life is messy. It’s full of broken boxes and pictures colored outside the lines. Rarely are there two ways only.
Elizabeth Backstrom majored in journalism at Western Washington University and currently works as remotely as a grant writer. Her background is in news writing and features, but if an overabundance of caffeine is consumed, she has been known to write a humor piece or two. Backstrom attended various Christian churches growing up in Washington State and in her free time enjoys reading about history, religion and politics.