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The Plough Diet: The Abortion Debate

January 31, 2017 by

The buzz surrounding the release of abortion survivor Melissa Ohden’s book You Carried Me this month is doing just what we hoped it would: not only generating conversations about the human impact of abortion but giving people the courage to share their own buried stories.

Of course with a topic this consequential, there will be strong feelings on both sides, as has been obvious in the comment threads on sites such as Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Babble, Redbook, Goodreads, and Amazon. In some instances the discussion has degenerated into name-calling. But many thoughts expressed and stories recounted are worth further reflection, even though most do not directly relate to details of Melissa’s story of surviving a late-term, saline-injection abortion.

baby
Melissa Ohden at one and a half months

What comes through each one of these glimpses into real lives is the suffering endured by so many women and children in our society. No matter what stand we take, none of us can afford to be smug in our beliefs. There can be no pat answers or easy comebacks. Those who are pro-choice must contemplate who pays the human cost of that choice. Those who see themselves as champions of human rights and voices of the voiceless must ask whether those rights really extend to every human being.

Those of us who are pro-life bear even more of a responsibility. We must understand the hardships that create the demand for abortion and ask ourselves what we are doing to change or allay them. If we offer adoption as an alternative, we must grapple with the fact that there are many thousands of children growing up starved of love, knowing they are unwanted. Who is stepping in to fill this void? As Spencer Perkins, a pastor, put it:

It is not a simple, glib response, then, when I must counsel an unwed black teenager against an abortion, even though I believe with all my heart that abortion is morally wrong. I feel that if the love of Christ compels me to save the lives of children, that same love should compel me to take more responsibility for them once they are born.

If the love of Christ compels us, we must be dissatisfied as long as there is one woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy and few options, or one baby in danger of being aborted. We must work every day, on multiple levels, toward a society in which abortion becomes unthinkable. “That’s not possible!” I can hear you say. But when Jesus’ disciples exclaimed in disbelief that his demands were too idealistic, didn’t he respond, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26)? In a recent issue of Plough Quarterly, Shelley Douglass articulated this “impossible” vision:

It would be a world of responsibility, where we think about what we’re doing and take the consequences of our actions. A world of peace, where it’s assumed that everybody will be sustained at a basic level, not a world where some people will be floating in superfluous wealth and other people starving. A peaceful world, where there are other ways of solving conflicts than killing each other, a world where rape is also unthinkable, and where economics do not force women into sexual activity.
It’s hard to imagine the kind of justice, economic justice and justice for women, that would have to exist for there really to be a world where abortion is unthinkable. Not illegal: unthinkable! It’s a spiritual question. It’s as though our souls would have to be pulled out of our bodies and remade and put back in; we would need to change our heart of stone for a heart of flesh. When I’m talking about such a world, I’m a little bit shaky, because I know that somewhere deep inside there’s that one thing I don’t want to change, that I don’t want to give up, and I’m not sure what it is. But I know it’s there. It’s that one thing I have to fight and learn to give up before the new world can come to be.

We can’t say abortion is wrong unless we are willing to have our status quo disturbed; unless we allow our world to be turned on its head in response to those we are asking to choose life. When we give up our own plans and embrace the vision of God’s kingdom, we will form bonds of community capable of carrying people through their hardest and most vulnerable moments.

It was a nurse’s love to one of “the least of these,” the spontaneous community that sprouted around a helpless 2 pound 14.5 ounce baby, and a couple unable to conceive a child but willing to open their lives to one with medical challenges that made it possible for Melissa to tell her story today. Although deeply unsettling, it is ultimately a story of triumph. And it is bringing to light many more such stories that we need to hear – until that day when there will be no more need of them.

This post is part of a series highlighting books and resources available through Plough.com, the Bruderhof’s publishing house. Read previous posts in this series.

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  • Amanda Crowell, Thank you. Yes, as you write, morality cannot be dictated and this issue goes far beyond a “legal” solution. God has created us with the freedom to choose to do either good or evil, and yet he longs and waits for us to willingly choose the good. It is up to each of us who have decided for life to actively support women and children with our time, love, a listening ear, and perhaps even our finances, showing by example that there is a way that embraces life. I wish you strength to keep on doing this.

    Erna Albertz
  • Alis Griffiths, Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. It is in heartbreaking situations like the one you describe that we see the urgency for greater love and community. If only this family knew they would be supported come what may, they might have had the courage to decide differently. Isolation truly kills in more ways than one. My own family carries the unique challenges and joys of someone with special needs, and we cannot imagine what our journey would be like without the support of the Bruderhof community that surrounds us daily. Non-family-members (who quickly become like family) have put their own wishes and plans aside to help us. We stand ready to do the same for others. This is what community is all about; it is a picture of the kingdom of God in our world today. We are deeply grateful and pray that more people might be called to such a life. I recommend the essay, "The Individual and World Need" by Eberhard Arnold, which articulates this very well.

    Erna Albertz
  • Thank you so much. I recently started a blog post about my own pro-life feminism, touching on many of the same points, but I became intimidated as I wrote by the thought of those on both sides of the aisle expressing their vitriol. It happened recently when I pointed out that supporting women and children with healthcare and information was much more likely to reduce the abortion rate than just making it illegal, and I was called a "baby killer" for "compromising". I see many vehement posts like that on both sides. I don't believe morality is a matter of a law-- it can only be demonstrated and encouraged by those around us, as you point out so eloquently. Thank you for saying what I felt too intimidated to say.

    Amanda Crowell
  • Such a good article. I am against abortion but do not believe it is right to impose a lifetime of suffering on another mother or father when I am not prepared to walk alongside them on a long term/ forever basis so I also support a limited right to choose. I came to this position following a friend's awful experience of having a child with such major heart defects he is not expected to live beyond 16. He has to take a cocktail of drugs several times a day and has has so many operations I've lost count. She had to give up work to care for him. His big brother is growing up knowing he will lose his little brother soon. She was told it was a chance in a million but when she discovered the next baby she was carrying had exactly the same condition, she chose to terminate the pregnancy. She couldn't bear to put, not just herself through the trauma of loving, losing and living like this, but also the rest of the family. As a mother, she felt this was the best response she could make for the whole family. My heart aches for them all. Abortion is not as uncomplicated as some people want to believe and you are absolutely right to highlight how it is a whole of life issue. I also hope the day will come when it becomes unthinkable but until then I'm not going to condemn those who make gut wrenchingly difficult decisions like my brave and grief stricken friend.

    Alis Griffiths