A few days back – in the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller – I wrote a friend, a priest, to voice my grief and horror about that murder and all the hate and fear promulgated around the issue of abortion…adding that I did so as someone who is both pro-life and pro-choice.
He wrote back asking how I could be pro-life and pro-choice.
"Easy," I replied.
For, though I personally oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the would-be mother's health is gravely endangered, I believe that the decision for or against an abortion must always be left up to the would-be mother in consultation with her physician and her God. And, whatever her decision, we - her family, church, and community - should always be there to support her and, if she so chooses, her child, with compassion and non-judgmental love.
And, we - family, church, community, and government - should do all we can to decrease the numbers of unwanted pregnancies by providing adequate access to sex education, birth control information, and, yes, condoms. The bottom line is simple - abortion should be rare, safe, and legal.
Two other related thoughts come to mind. First, I don't have any idea when "life" begins, when a fetus becomes a human being, when the soul enters a body...or leaves it. I am not God, nor do I know the mind of God with certainty. Second, I wish we would all show equal concern for the lives of humans who walk among us. I wish we would stop killing each other in executions - state-sanctioned murder; in the state-sanctioned murder that is war; and in the slow deaths we inflict on others through our indifference to poverty, starvation, and genocide.
I feel, moreover, that each of us should be allowed the freedom of conscience - and the dignity - to determine when and how our own lives should end when that end is near and clear and when prolonging the inevitable would be too painful to body and soul. Life is precious, but not so precious that it is preferable to what awaits us?
There's a certain attractiveness and seamlessness to the Roman Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life, especially as propounded by John Paul II. Too bad, however, that so many have expended all their concern and energy on abortion and apparently forgotten his opposition to capital punishment, unjust wars, and other forms of violence we visit upon each other. But even those teachings - cast, as they are in black and white - fail before all the grays we must all struggle with morally and ethically. For my part, I'll keep struggling in that gray area where one can be pro-life and pro-choice.
And, as you do, I ask you to ponder the words of the President at Notre Dame about how to discuss and debate these issues with civility and compassion.