Post Author: The Rev. Robin Lovett-Owen
This article discusses abortion and the recent decision from SCOTUS.
Since the leaking of Justice Alito’s draft opinion, I have been utterly worn down. Yes, there is that old ache of dread in my bones that wonders what will become of our world – one that has been nearly non-stop since March 2020. Much of it has also been from watching people spar in pro-life versus pro-choice debates – as if abortion rights were a spectator sport. But abortion is no sport, spectator or otherwise. It is medical care.
Like any medical care, people choose to pursue abortion for varied, complex reasons – so much so that any legislation limiting abortion access fails to account for the nuance of a decision to abort. The decision whether to terminate a pregnancy requires wisdom. And though not all those seeking abortions identify as women, I want to center women in my writing here.
Abortion requires a woman to consider carefully her own mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of her family. Sometimes, the decision is easy; a woman knows it is right to carry the child to term, or she knows without a doubt that it is not the moment for her to carry that child. Sometimes, the decision is excruciating. The child is wanted, and yet the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. The child is wanted, and yet has a severe defect and its brief life will be only pain. Or, perhaps the woman is ambivalent about whether she wants a child – but is certain that her partner is too dangerous for her to share a life-long connection with him.
Like with any writing on abortion, I could enumerate the complex moments in which a woman might seek an abortion. But, I will not waste your time; all of us know that every pregnancy is full of nuance only the mother (and sometimes her partner) will understand.
What is missing from the spectator sport approach to the abortion debate is the fact that women are already trustworthy moral agents in decisions about their own reproduction. Women can and do make decisions to carry or abort every day – and we as a society owe it to women everywhere to trust their wisdom.
As a pastor, I give thanks that scripture bears witness to women’s wisdom. Whether it is Lady Wisdom herself, Mary Magdalene bearing witness to the resurrection, Esther risking it all for her people, or Ruth using her wiles and heart to save herself and Naomi – scripture again and again tells us to trust women.
When it comes to abortion, a surprising story has again and again to my mind: 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two women (sex workers, the text tells us) come to Solomon’s court to have him decide parental rights. One woman’s infant has died, and she stole the other woman’s child. Solomon suggests they cut the child in half, knowing the real biological mother would object.
Normally, we remember this story as an illustration of how clever Solomon was, but we forget that the story hinges on the moral character of the living child’s mother. Of course she wants to raise her own son. We can imagine her heartbreak and fear that the other woman may win this custody battle. And yet, at the mere suggestion of any harm coming against her son, “compassion for her son burned within her.” Without a moment’s question, she knows what is right for her and her family. Solomon’s real wisdom was knowing that he could trust women to make the right decision for their families.
And what of the other woman and her wisdom? After all, she was not trustworthy, and was willing to have the child cut in two. Maybe women are not so wise after all?
It’s shocking, but it is not so different from all of us casting judgements and making pronouncements on complex medical decisions over Facebook from the comfort of our couches. When it’s not our family, when it’s not our suffering, when it’s not our own bodies and our own families – we do not have the wisdom to know what’s right, and we will make careless, deadly decisions.
When we legislate (or judicate) that women cannot make their own decisions about their reproduction, we are denying that women are trustworthy moral agents – denying that women can be trusted even in fraught and difficult decisions. This kind of mistrust does not make us a people who value the sanctity of life; instead, it leads us to a place where women are prosecuted for miscarriages, where women die as doctors stall in lifesaving abortion treatment, and where the abused are legally tied to their abusers forever.
As a hospital chaplain in seminary, and now as a pastor, I have had the great honor of walking with people while they make some of the hardest decisions of their lives. Do I pursue that cancer treatment, knowing it’ll prolong my life a little – or do I live a shorter life, knowing it’ll be of higher quality? Do I take my elderly and dying mother off life support? Do I try to carry this wanted pregnancy to term, knowing it might kill me?
In these sacred moments, we are confronted with questions at the heart of any faith: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live a good life? What does it mean to live in right relationship with others?
Again and again, I have seen people rise to the occasion of these moments. When confronted with morally complex decisions, people grapple with the nuance of their situation; they pray and discern, and they make the best decisions they can in a difficult moment. This is true in decisions of abortion, too. When we rob people of the ability to make their own complex moral decisions, we are not helping them or creating a better society. We are merely cutting the baby in half – making decisions for others when we do not have the wisdom for it.
The Rev. Robin Lovett-Owen is an ELCA pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Her art and other writings can be found on Facebook or Instagram @3solas.
Image by: The Rev. Robin Lovett-Owen
Used with permission