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The abortion issue is about something else.
There is a podcast episode by psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, where she discusses getting to the deeper, truer motivations in our hearts, especially when in conflict with important people in our lives.
According to her, an argument is rarely about the stated issue, but rather some deeper desire—perhaps a desire not even consciously realized, and one most certainly never stated aloud.
Lately, I’ve begun to think the abortion issue isn’t actually about abortion, but rather about something unrevealed and perhaps even not consciously known in the heart of the person with the fervently held opinion. It’s being said that perhaps the words themselves are so pregnant with meaning and history that we are unable to distinguish between our emotions and the sound the words make as they cross our minds or our lips.
When you hear or read the terms pro-choice, women’s rights, or reproductive justice, stop and reflect on the feelings that come up for you. Find them in your body, sit with them for a minute, and use your breath to connect with the feelings underneath the feelings. And now think about the terms pro-life, baby-killers, forced-birthers. Use the same technique mentioned above to take a deep dive into yourself. All it takes to get there is curiosity, a little time, and a few mindful breaths.
And whichever side of the issue you’re on, imagine, if you can, how those on the other side of the issue might feel about those same terms. Getting into the shoes of those with whom you disagree is not only difficult, it’s an exercise in courage and fortitude. Because truth be told, the loud and angry part of me isn’t at all curious about it and doesn’t think it’s worth the effort. Fuck what they think. Fuck how they feel. I’m that angry about it sometimes. My shadow self looms large in this space.
Hillary Clinton attended the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Bejing in 1995 where she first proclaimed that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” The idea of women’s rights being human rights has been a common refrain of those on the bleeding edge of fighting the patriarchy for almost 200 years. There is a long history of abolitionists, suffragists, and feminists making this idea the backbone of the “why” of their fight. I admire them, these sisters in arms, and I hope to emulate them.
This is what I think about when I think of the terms pro-choice and women’s rights. And this leads me to feel pride, courage, just, and protective, not only of my freedom but that of others, too. I feel I owe it to the women who came before to continue what they started. I feel I owe it to those not yet born to fight for their freedom to choose, not only regarding what happens to their bodies but choice in every part of their lives. Those are a lot of emotions, and honestly, it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.
When I conduct an inner exploration of my feelings regarding the term pro-life, I feel frustration and anger on the surface. If I go deeper, I find disappointment, hopelessness, and most importantly, I feel fear. I’m truly afraid.
I’m afraid because I know that restricting women’s rights is a sure sign of encroaching authoritarianism.
I’m afraid for the young girls and women who will be profoundly hurt in a world where they aren’t trusted to make the most fundamental personal decisions about their life and their body.
I’m afraid what other rights we’ve fought for and won that the pro-life people, the majority of whom are of the religious right, will go after next.
How about the right to vote? The right to own property? How many other rights are on the chopping block once women are nothing more than a vessel to be controlled by the state? I shudder to think.
As I examine my own feelings underneath the surface of anger and frustration, I also become aware that those on the other side of the issue may very well feel the same way, except in reverse. Perhaps they feel just and protective when they see the term pro-life. When they come across the term pro-choice, it’s possible and even probable their root emotion is…fear.
The term baby-killer implies a fear for the lives of children, but if one were to somehow see clear of that poisonous and potent term, perhaps one would find fear for the unscrutinized part of their heart: fear of women having total agency and able to gain economic and political power, fear of white people not making near enough white babies, fear of change.
Prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made legal abortion the law of the land, white evangelicals and conservatives, in general, had no strong opinion about abortion as a block, and, in fact, most in that category saw it as a “Catholic issue.” Neither was it a partisan issue; just as many Democrats as Republicans voted for or against abortion rights.
So what happened between 1972 and 2022? And how did an issue that was personal, not partisan, become one of the most partisan and gut-wrenchingly emotional issues of our time? How and why did we become so polarized?
There are many factors explaining how the issue has become such a hot button. Mary Ziegler lends some clarity on the issue in this 2019 article from the Washington Post. Close scrutiny of recent history proves that there is a throughline among the religious right from the anti-abortion movement to segregation. The Christian schools wanted to keep their tax-exempt status while implementing racist, segregationist policies. Randall Balmer spells it out in an article in The Guardian. Here, Balmer explains how the abortion issue was a smokescreen for the real, underlying issue of tax law and segregation. So, in other words, greed, and racism.
If you need me, I’ll be in my meditation room practicing a metta meditation. The world sure does need it right now.