Growing up in West Texas, my Aunt Maggie taught me that life falls into clear categories of black or white — right or wrong. She assured me that she always provided correct information and therefore, I would never be faced with confusion or doubt. That seemed perfectly sensible to me until I took a college class called Situation Ethics. In the course, I listened to other students as they stated beliefs about controversial issues. “That sounds right to me,” I would think until the next person made a totally contradictory claim. “Oops, that also makes sense.” By the end of the semester, I gave up my quest to define rights and wrongs as I realized that life, with its complexities, usually falls into shades of gray.
Today, I find very few issues that do not perplex us with opposing considerations. For me, abortion presents the most painful and complicated issue we face. Who does not think the act of abortion is awful? I certainly do. Surely, almost everyone wants all life, whether before or after birth to be healthy and fulfilled. Many pro-choice advocates despise abortions but support the health care rights of women. Conversely, many ardent pro-life proponents seem to lose interest once a baby begins to breathe on its own.
I am reminded of a personal story. When our own baby daughter reached the ripe age of six weeks, my husband and I were asked to take care of an eight weeks old baby boy until a permanent family could be found. Although the baby’s young parents had never wanted him, they thought they would be able to accept him. After his birth, they could not bring themselves to do so. For eight weeks, that little guy had been left alone in his crib. Like all new babies, he cried when he felt hungry. Occasionally someone propped up a bottle to feed him. His tiny head had become flat on one side from turning toward the door. Diaper rash and an eye infection must have tortured him. The rash had become so dense that it had crawled up his penis and infected other organs. By the time I had removed his clothes and blankets, I could not stop crying. As an educator, I have also witnessed the painful lives of unwanted children who lacked loving care during the early weeks and months.
I believe that souls come from Divine Source and that in death, they return to the Creator. What could be more pleasant than staying with Source? On the other hand, what could be more painful than experiencing hunger, illness, danger, and rejection? Would that not condemn a child to a life of hell? Would a more loving action be to leave the tiny being with God instead of insisting on a life of deprivation?
Although I value life and want health from conception till natural death, I believe each situation must be examined individually. The health of the mother, her human conditions as well as the baby must be weighed with loving reflection. Recently, the government forced a woman to continue her pregnancy and give birth to a baby lacking a skull or brain. Doctors knew that the infant had absolutely no chance to survive but legally, they could not spare the mother or baby the pain of birth. There are much worse cruelties than ending a pregnancy in the early weeks.
Regardless of my personal discomfort, I feel certain about one question. A decision about abortion does not belong to the government. We know from history that restrictive laws do not end unwanted behaviors. Regardless of the law, wealthy women will find ways to end unwanted pregnancies. Women without adequate finances will be forced to choose between giving birth to an unwanted child or submitting to unsafe procedures.
Some ethics simply contain so much complexity that a law cannot dictate the best option for each individual. Let’s leave the ethical questions to those with personal involvement. In time, there can be forgiveness. There can also be starting over with hope for better future choices. I believe that regardless of how much one deplores abortions, the subject will not conform to a one-size-fits-all rule. Personal and complex issues do not belong to government officials. Situation ethics belong to individuals.
“The Myth of Choice.” Annals of Internal Medicine. June 4, 2019.