Thursday, May 08, 2008

Soul-searching on my part

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, biographies, medicine

"How can it be that my uncle believes I am less important than that tiny bit of tissue you just took out of me?" This question, by a teenage girl being shown the fetus in its tiny amniotic sac after her abortion, frames the debate over elective abortion in the plainest terms.

I've just finished reading the new book by Dr. Susan Wicklund, This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. Her memoir is amazing, and I find it ultimately chilling, though not about her, but about the low level to which the debate has been carried. The core question, is, "What is of greatest importance to you?"

I've been pro-life ever since I first understood what abortion is, and I've subscribed to the "hate the sin, love the sinner" philosophy of dealing with people of differing moral standards than mine. But truly, I have not been able to find it in myself to hate at all. I take a pragmatic approach to the issue, one consistent with my scientific (that is, evolutionary) convictions: If there is anything genetic that makes some people more prone to either getting or "needing" an abortion, such people are likely leaving fewer offspring than others, and the trait will naturally reduce itself in the human population.

My stance toward moral issues in general has morphed over the years, as I've come to realize that, as I often now teach, "People are more important than doctrines." I've come to see religious doctrines as largely a kind of filter: They simplify our choice of whom to discount and ignore. Doctrines make it easier to decide not to love somebody. So I've been discarding them. My ethics may be based on an absolute, Divine standard, but my treatment of the immoral must itself still be moral.

Dr. Wicklund has been providing full-service "women's services" for about twenty years, including, as she demonstrates with her stories, talking wavering women out of abortions, or making them wait until they are certain it's what they, and they alone, have decided is best. Nonetheless, she has performed thousands of abortions.

The account showed me fascinating insight into the thinking of someone who, so far as I could tell, has no religious convictions whatever. That does not mean she has no conscience. Rather, her conscience is informed by morals which have their source in her own reason and experiences, basically on a humanistic version of the golden rule, though she never mentions such a thing.

Her foundational experience is the abortion she chose to have in her early twenties, one that was carried out in a most impersonal, inhumane way, though at a legal clinic. That and a few other shocks she suffered as an intern on a difficult-to-attain "abortion rotation" led her to a few simple rules: the woman getting the abortion alone can make the choice; everything will be explained to her; she will be treated with gentleness and respect; and to perform no abortions later than the first trimester.

She points out that, among the most dangerous abortion protesters, the great majority are men, the kind of men who in other circumstances are said to have "control issues." I have observed the same thing myself, as a more distant but quite interested observer. I've also observed that the visible manifestation of those who publicly protest at abortion clinics is primarily hatred. The occasional arson, bombing or murder reinforces my conclusion.

I find it amazing that such people call themselves Christians. Several verses in John's Epistles make it clear that a person who is capable of hatred toward another does not yet possess eternal life. It is not possible for those with hate in their faces to be genuine Christians. Abortion may be repugnant to those of us who love God, but there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to express that repugnance.

Ultimately, her first rule most strongly affected me, and my current stance is that, only a person who has a uterus has a right to an opinion about abortion.

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