I grew up absolutely entrenched in pro-life (or pro-birther) beliefs. I had no doubt whatsoever that abortion was murder. Women who had had abortions had sinned heinously, and abortion providers were basically demons in white coats.
My family was pretty quiet about their pro-life stance, though. We were not found protesting clinics or participating in marches. My parents were not demonstrative people, and also not terribly interested in something like abortion that did not directly affect them. They were completely anti-hormonal birth control, of course, and I would say that their beliefs about fertility pretty much aligned with the Quiverfull movement.
I remember once, in my teens, helping a local pro-life activist host a dinner for some nationally known protesters that had come to the city. I don’t remember their names, I just remember they were considered important and well-regarded. And I remember the very odd vibe I got from them when they came to the dinner. They seemed fanatical, focused on one thing only: “saving the unborn” or whatever they called it. They made me uncomfortable, a feeling I couldn’t reconcile with the belief that they were doing the Lord’s work. (So many times, growing up, my feelings did not align with my beliefs. I try harder now to pay attention to what my emotions are telling me).
Still, even as I grew up and phased through flavors of Christianity, the pro-life beliefs remained with me. I took no hormonal birth control, fearing that some poor fertilized egg would perish in my womb if I did. Unlike my parents, though, I saw no problem using barrier methods to prevent pregnancies. No way was I going to pop out kid after kid, especially when it turned out that pregnancy was hell on me mentally and physically.
As I became more of a feminist and less of a fundie, I struggled to understand the hate directed at pro-lifers. (Naturally, any hate we directed at “abortionists” was well-deserved). I didn’t get why pro-choice people were so angry. I wanted to be a feminist, but I still thought abortion should be illegal. I read an early version of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and a tiny crack showed in my thinking because the women who wrote the book were so obviously caring, respectful, and determined to make the world a better place. But they were still wrong about abortion. Weren’t they?
But it was in the throes of hyperemesis, puking my guts out, unable to keep down even water, medicated to a state of semi-consciousness, that I heard about women who terminated wanted pregnancies because they couldn’t take another day of illness. And I understood how they felt. I was able to keep my baby. I survived. But for once, I had stood for a moment in someone else’s shoes, and the crack where understanding kept leaking into my brain got wider.
I progressed slowly but steadily in my thinking, every rerun of my beliefs beginning to play a little differently. I stopped taking the Bible at face value; I stopped believing in Hell; I became a little less of a Christian and a little more of something else every day. I read conversations on Free Jinger and other websites. I read how pro-life people turned pro-choice. I tried so hard to understand. People were saying that beliefs that I had held were wrong. I wanted to see past the hate and anger (lots on both sides) and understand what I was missing. It was like a puzzle, and I couldn’t find the last piece.
Finally, one day, everything came together. It clicked. What I was doing, as a pro-life supporter, was taking away bodily autonomy and personal choice. It wasn’t about the “human life” of the cells inside someone else’s body: it was about taking away somebody else’s freedom. I had valued my own freedom enough to defy my parents and my church so that I could live my own life. What was I doing taking away someone else’s freedom and choice? What right did I have to do that?
I don’t think it was ever about the “baby.” The baby is the red herring, a distraction from what is really happening when protesters block an abortion clinic or harass an abortion provider. It’s about control, about making sure that other people follow what we have deemed “the rules.” What I began so slowly to understand was that it is not my right, or anybody else’s right, to demand that another human create, or grow, or terminate, or deliver a baby. That decision is not mine.
I can’t speak for others, but for me the pro-life teachings outlasted my belief in Jesus and my belief in the Christian Heaven and Hell. I think that’s an indicator of how deeply it is ingrained for fundamentalists. I still struggle when I think about abortion; that dark feeling of horror still floats to the top. But if I had a friend that needed me, I would walk by her side to the abortion clinic or to the delivery room, whichever one she was going to. And now I respect abortion providers, because they face all kinds of obstacles as they try to help women. Women that have had to fight through crowds of screaming protesters for their chance at freedom and choice.
I think my beliefs changed mostly because I was open to change, but if you want to help someone come out of the pro-life movement, I think respect really helps. When I read respectful articles about being pro-life, read stories about abortion providers, and well-reasoned thoughts on the internet, I could grasp the ideas without being bogged down in puzzled distress at name-calling and accusations of stupidity. I understand, though, that some people are venting justified rage about pro-life beliefs, and that’s okay too. But if your goal is to help pro-lifers understand why they’re wrong, then remember that these beliefs run almost as deep as believing that the Earth is round, and that it requires more than an explosive argument to win them over. It’s like the shifting of tectonic plates, that happens slowly but changes the face of the world.
It’s a paradigm shift.