''Women's Right to Choose'' speaking on faith

Subject: Religious Faith and Abortion

Original Forwarded From: FEMINISM
Date: 02 May 90 18:34:00
From: Coeta Mills
Subj: Re: Abortion

The following comments are by Beverly W. Harrison, Professor of
Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in the U.S. She has written
a book, "Women's Right to Choose". The following is excepted from a
chapter written by her in the book, "Speaking of Faith .... Global
Perspectives on Women, Religion and Social Change":

Much discussion of abortion betrays the heavy hand of misogyny, or
hatred of women. We all have a responsibility to recognize this bias,
sometimes subtle, when ancient negative attitudes toward women intrude into
the abortion debate. It is morally incumbent upon us to convert the
Christian position to a teaching more respectfully of women's history and

Those who deny that women deserve to control procreative power claim
the right to do so out of "moral sensibility," in the name of the "sanctity
of human life." We have a long way to go before the sanctity of human life
will include genuine regard and concern for every female already born, and
no social policy which obscures that fact deserves to be called "moral."

Any treatment of a moral problem is inadequate if it fails to question
the morality of the act in a way which presents the concrete experience of
the agent who faces a decision with respect to that act. Misogyny in
Christian discussions of abortion is evidenced in that the decision is
never treated as an integral part of the female's life process. Abortion
is treated as an abstractable act, rather than as what it always is -- a
possible way to deal with a pregnancy. Those who uphold the immorality of
abortion are wise to obscure the fact that it is a fully living human
female who is the moral agent in the decision. In the case of pregnancy,
the woman's life is deeply, irrevocably affected.

I would insist that it is not rational to treat a newly fertilized ovum
as though it has the same value as the existent, pregnant, female person.

In likelihood, the largest number of abortions arise because mature
women who are sexually active with men and who understand the consequences
experience contraceptive failure. Schizophrenia in this area is exhibited
in that many who believe that women have more responsibility than men to
practice contraception, and that family planning is a moral good, rule out
abortion altogether. Such a split consciousness ignores the fact that
there is no inexorable biological line between prevention of conception and
abortion. More important, this ignores genuine risks involved in female
contraceptive methods. The reason we do not have more concern for finding
safer contraceptive methods for men and women is that matters relating to
women's health and well-being are *never* urgent in this society.
Moreover, many failures are due to the irresponsibility of the producers of
contraceptives rather than to "bad luck." Given these facts, should a
woman who actively attempts to avoid pregnancy be punished for
contraceptive failure when it occurs?

Women understand what many men cannot seem to grasp--that the birth of
a child requires that some person must be prepared to care, without
interruption, for that infant, to provide material resources and
energy-draining amounts of time and attention. It seems to me that men
--especially celibate men-- romanticize the total and uncompromising
dependency of the newly born infant upon the already existing human
community. This dependency is even greater in a fragmented, centralized
urban-industrial modern culture than in a rural culture, where another pair
of hands often increased an extended family unit's productive power. No
historical interpretation of abortion as a moral issue which ignores these
matters deserves moral standing in the present debate.

In drawing to a close, I want to stress that if present efforts to
criminalize abortion succeed we will need a state apparatus of massive
proportions to enforce compulsory childbearing. In addition, withdrawal of
legal abortion will create one more massively profitable underworld economy
in which the Mafia and other sections of quasi-legal capitalism may and
will profitably invest. The radical right promises to get the state out of
regulation of people's lives, but what they really mean is that they will
let economic activity go unrestrained. What their agenda signifies for the
personal lives of women is quite another matter.

[ * Origin: *=-= The Shipyard =-= Dallas Texas =-=* (1:124/3102)]

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