I saw it coming a long time ago.
Back when I was a young, idealistic pro-lifer, I wondered what I could do for the movement. I had friends who were “sidewalk counselors,” standing outside abortion clinics offering help to the women walking in. That terrified me. I had other friends who were petitioning and lobbying and campaigning to change the laws surrounding abortion. That intimidated me. And still other friends were volunteering at a local Crisis Pregnancy Center, working with pregnant women.
That I could do.
I wasn’t there long, talking to these scared young women, before I had a couple of insights. The first was that they always came in alone. The father of this child — the “man” they had given themselves to in what most of them thought was love — was gone, out of the picture, nowhere to be found.
So much for love.
The second was that this was going to keep happening. No matter what the lobbyists did, no matter how successful they were in changing laws, these girls were going to keep coming through the doors. Because as long as we lived in a society where a girl was expected to sleep with a guy in order to “keep” him (or vice versa), as long as sexual activity anywhere and with anyone was regarded as a right and a rite of passage and a hallmark of adult relationships, the resulting new human lives would continue to be regarded as an unwanted, unintended, undesired side effect. And, law or no law, they would continue to be treated as such.
Providentially, at around the same time, my school sponsored a speaker series on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which laid out a “new,” beautiful, alternate vision for human sexuality. Sex, the Holy Father told us, speaks a language — a beautiful language of “I give myself to you, in love, to look out what is best for you, forever. And I likewise give myself to the family — our children — who might result from our expression of love.” He said that human sexual expression has a “nuptial” meaning. Marital. Permanent. It was created to be expressed in a context where the children — who become the personification of that love — would be welcomed and nurtured and protected.
It was then that I discovered the role I could play in the pro-life movement. I could spread this message about the beautiful language of God’s gift of human sexuality to young people — like the girls I was seeing at the pregnancy center. I could share with them this alternate vision for the bodies and their relationships and their dignity and their offspring. And perhaps, by doing that, I could save them from a whole host of hurts in their dating relationships and beyond. And I could do my little part to reduce the demand for abortion.
And, for the next thirty years, that’s what I did — on a scale far larger than I could ever have imagined. Between the talks and the books and the videos and the media appearances I most likely reached — by the grace of God — several million people.
But I couldn’t get to everybody.
And so, here we are. Roe v Wade has been overturned. Several states are in the process of banning abortions. Others, like my own, are enshrining abortion access into state law.
And a whole lot of people are upset.
I have been closely reading opinion pieces in the wake of the demise of Roe. They fall clearly into two categories. On the anti-Roe, pro-life side, I read primarily about the work still to be done to reach out and “love them both,” and to create a world where abortion is unthinkable. On the pro-Roe side, I see a whole lot of outrage. Women’s rights have been set back. The state isn’t allowing women control over their own bodies. Next we’ll be banning contraception and gay marriage and interracial marriage. I see a lot of “every adult is entitled to an active, fulfilling sex life.” The one thing I see zero of is any mention of the status of that which is being aborted — his or her stage of development, rights or even existence. It’s as if a tooth is being extracted. I did see one article on “how to have the discussion about the life of the fetus.” (I could practically see the author’s eye rolling.) The basic gist was that a lot of pregnancies are naturally terminated in various stages of the pregnancy. The (unspoken) conclusion was apparently that God takes babies’ lives, so we can take them too. That made me despair of ever having a rational conversation about abortion again.
My point is this: we as a society are sitting squarely between two world views. One sees sex as a particular expression of a particular kind of love that participates in the powerful act of bringing new life into the world, and believes it should be limited to that context. The other sees sex as something that every adult can and should engage in whenever and wherever they like, and regards the resulting new life as an unwelcome side effect to be avoided or, if that fails, destroyed.
Up until now, those two philosophies have managed an uneasy co-existence, mostly because the former lacked power, and the latter had the undisputed law of the land behind it. But now that law has crumbled, and we are forced to do what Americans do, which is to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions.
But I’m not optimistic that we can do that this time. We are too far apart, too polarized. Granted, most individuals find their beliefs lie somewhere between these two poles. But public policy can’t really accommodate those shades of gray. So, as policy decisions are made, those in the middle must inevitably gravitate toward one side or the other.
The last time our nation was this divided over the issue of the value of human life, the result was a civil war. Can we expect any less this time?
Like any good columnist, I would love to close by tying this all up in a neat little bow. But I can’t. I think that, without the grace of God coming through for us in a big way, we have some difficult times ahead.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep praying.
And keep loving them both.