Beyond Right and Wrong

Is it possible that we can be both pro-life and pro-choice?

Whoever coined the phrase “pro-life” was a genius. They got to declare themselves the winner before the argument had even really begun, setting forth a political framework in modern terms. If there is a right and true, then there must be a wrong and a false. But, in this postmodern age we do our best not to fall prey to black and white thinking. We are suspicious of certainty and prefer a nuanced approach to life. Why, then do we still adhere to the old dichotomous labels of pro-life/pro-choice? No one is truly “pro-abortion.” I’ve never met anyone who thinks that it’s a good thing, but they may believe that sometimes it is a necessary option.

Rumi, the great 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, writes: “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.” I’d like to know why we insist on treating what is a very difficult and life-altering decision as if it can be justified or condemned by choosing sides. It’s time we start looking for Rumi’s garden.

Here is what I know: I am friends with women who are 10, 20, 30 years out from making the decision to have an abortion who live with the heartache of their choice every day. But they were never “pro-abortion.” Instead, they were overwhelmed, under-supported, fearful young women who were doing what they thought was best at the time. Many of them faced horrible consequences at home and in their families if knowledge of their pregnancy had been discovered. I’ve heard stories of young women being kicked out of the home, out of school, even out of town for choosing to keep their babies and bringing shame to their family.

I’ve also known many people who were adopted into loving homes when their own birth family was unable to care for them. I have numerous family members who were adopted, so I have experienced first-hand how good it can be. But, what about when it isn’t good? What about when the adoptive parents are abusive or neglectful? What about when a child stays in foster care for years and becomes institutionalized and unable to find a permanent home? Not all adoption stories have happy endings.

I know mothers who had abortions early in life, but continue to grieve for the children they never had. I know women who say that they can’t imagine what life would be like had then gone through with having a baby. Stories of being abandoned by the father and left alone without resources are commonplace. There are no easy answers.

So, how do we move away from our entrenched notions of “right” and “wrong”? This question spans far beyond abortion into many other areas of life.

Perhaps it begins with compassion. Instead of keeping people at arms’ length by assigning them with a label (“pro,” “anti,” “conservative,” “liberal,” etc.) we see them as people — not good/bad people, black/white people, just imperfect people-like you and me- who are trying to make sense of life.

And when it comes to our use of the term “rights” (“reproductive rights,” “right to life of every unborn child”) we can perhaps have a new awareness of how our language implies that all rights are inherently good. In so doing, we invalidate others. Maybe we don’t always know what’s right, especially when it comes to others. Maybe we would behave and believe very differently if we were in their shoes.

When it comes to victims of rape, how can we be supportive and loving, rather than blaming them or imposing our values on them? We can’t always understand others’ experiences, but we can do our best to have compassion for them and hear their story. Is it possible that we can be both pro-life and pro-choice? It starts with respecting the lives of those with whom we disagree.