Thinking Anew: We are called to see life as a gift

Opposing protesters in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: Lawrence Bryant/Reuters

Opposing protesters in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: Lawrence Bryant/Reuters

 

In Morning Prayer this season, the refrain to the Benedictus contains this tender phrase: In the womb of Mary you found a dwelling place on earth, O Christ.

It has set me thinking sad thoughts.

The anti-abortion Bill in Alabama a few weeks back has stirred up many painful memories and reinforced (as if it needed to) the electric fence between between so-called “pro-life” and “pro-choice”. This crazy binary presents two parallel monologues, each with valuable insights to offer but unable to be open to each other because of where it all may lead.

Abortion has always existed in every human society and always will. Historically (and in some places still) a crisis pregnancy has meant disaster for a woman: ostracisation or incarceration, social or even actual death. I believe that there is a degree of post-traumatic stress embedded in us as womankind, inheriting as we do the sufferings of women down the generations: the institutional abuse of power of which we have been victims. Certainly this is the case for me.

This has given rise to a survival reflex of, Never again will we let ourselves be victims of our biology in this way. To see abortion as a straight-forward choice is to ignore this hinterland of abuse.

As the Church we can only weep at our desolate record in the punishing of women who have experienced crisis pregnancies, and at our part in the creating of a society where women’s fertility has been used to dominate and control them, and where children born outside of marriage have been mercilessly stigmatised.

In a deep sense we have forfeited our right to a voice on abortion because, far from protecting the vulnerable, we have historically been instrumental in reinforcing this hostile environment for women and their babies.

It is the Church which has so often made the option to seek an abortion seem like a necessity.

Yet as Christians, as adopted daughters and sons of God, we have insider knowledge of the mysterious purpose for which we have been created: our vocation as human beings is to be loved.

It is because of this that we are called to see life as a gift to be accepted and protected and treasured with gratitude as long as it lasts. Not to be open to life in this way is to create an inhospitable society, one in which to earn a place one has to be wanted, and to be wanted, one has to be healthy, or in the right place at the right time.

Can the clock be turned back, legally? I cannot see it. But I hope that Ireland may learn from some of what has happened in the UK.

Freely available legal abortion has a profound impact on how we see ourselves and each other (as does criminalising abortion, in other ways). Here I will mention just one. Having had three babies in England, I have found the intensive pre-natal screening culture painful and pernicious.

The purpose is not so much therapeutic (little can be done about most of the conditions that the screening uncovers) but rather to highlight those babies which may not be considered perfect enough to be born.

To swim against this current is to need to be unusually informed and assertive.

A perfectionist culture has ensued, leading to 90 per cent of babies with Down syndrome being aborted here in the UK. As someone who knows and loves people with Down syndrome – the gift that they are – this chills me to the bone. The public discourse is that the quality of life for those with disabilities is negligible, profoundly undermining those people already in our society who live with disabilities, and those who love them.

Fertility (and indeed infertility) can bring great agony. We cannot escape this as human beings. But as Christians we can be clear that our calling is to exercise radical hospitality, which is the opposite of abortion. We are called to choose life, even when it involves suffering. We trust that suffering, offered to God, will be fruitful. We know that love never fails.

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