Deciding to write a piece that mentions the word abortion about 20x has taken me through the gamut of deep breath-taking, some hand shaking and the willingness to expose my limits of expertise; while praying for discernment and courage, with levels of trepidation. It is likely the most polarizing issue in the North American Christian culture I grew up in and remains the ultimate litmus test for determining how the religious voting population views candidates, in light of the deeply-rooted emotions concerning this word. I strongly feel we need to be able to have peaceful and constructive dialogue about the subject, since it is so polarizing and evokes hot tempered reactions. For this reason, I am willing to open up and risk fallout from those who know me and those who don’t, yet may judge me without understanding the context of my words. This is the most personal story I’ve shared and it is without any grievances or assumptions about how it will be received.
As someone who had heard of practically everything related to abortion issues since the time before starting menstruation, I can only express what I know. I grew up in a Bible belt-style community in eastern Canada. There was only one possible position that could be taken on the subject of abortion and rarely did anyone in my surroundings challenge the opposition to the procedure. I participated in marches, made posters with “Choose Life!” in bold lettering and supported the pro-life agenda at every opportunity, because, why not? It was the thing to do. Allowing for the “slaughter of babies” couldn’t possibly be tolerated, ever. As I angrily told a co-worker 20 years ago who confided in me that she’d had the procedure, “Abortion is the most selfish thing a woman can ever do.” An opportunity to extend kindness to my friend — lost.
My perception has shifted over the years and I will explain why, with the hope of conveying my reasoning in the spirit of a warm conversation. Some (perhaps everyone) may wonder ‘why are you doing this, Carolyn?! Why so much vulnerability? What is there to gain by sharing any of this?’ Fair questions! I feel the necessity (during this season of life) to take pieces of myself, hold them up to the Light and offer them to God as examples of grace that can be used to inform, encourage, inspire and sometimes entertain (although definitely not in this case). What does it mean to be real and honest? What is the value? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). I know my words won’t change the world, but conversations need to be happening about topics that are really important to understand better, especially now. This is my contribution and I offer it humbly, even if it makes me lose some credibility or respect.
In the winter of 2017, I was pregnant, newly remarried and ecstatic about having a new life growing inside me. As a mother of 4 children, this new pregnancy would bring another wonderful child into my arms, home and life. Thoughts and dreams of this baby boy or girl; names running through my mind; physical features — yet to be determined; new baby furniture to excitedly purchase, etc. It felt like my pre-parenting days all over again, yet had the extra thrill of involving my teenage boys and their younger sister. I was 11 weeks pregnant, following my doctor’s orders to take good care of myself and felt this blessing from God in my womb. I wasn’t sharing the news yet with many people, as I was looking forward to wrapping up the first trimester.
I knew this pregnancy was categorized as a higher risk one, because of one factor: my age — I was 46. As an avid consumer of facts, trivia and other relevant sources of information, I knew that my age was a strike against me. At age 45, the statistics say there is a likelihood of 50% pregnancy loss. Yet, I was confident this would not be my situation. I deserved this baby! I loved this child so much already and God was pouring out this blessing on me. I was operating on the same faith level as James, the brother of Jesus: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).
I went for a checkup at my doctor’s office on a frigidly cold day in January. He couldn’t detect the heartbeat (a sound that pulsated through my entire being on the previous visit). He told me to check in at the hospital next door, for an emergency ultrasound. I experienced this scenario in one of my earlier pregnancies, so I chose not to worry. After waiting for what felt like the longest 2 hours of my life, I was examined by a technician who seemed to refuse eye contact and dialogue with me. She then mentioned that I would be having a consultation with the doctor on call and left the room.
I sat alone in another waiting room, praying as fervently as ever, while trying not to pace the halls. When I inquired at the nursing station why no one had come to talk to me yet about the result of my exam, a doctor who apparently knew why I was there, told me matter of factly “the pregnancy wasn’t viable”. Those 4 words burned through my soul. Instantly, my heart was crushed. I was standing at the time and almost lost my balance, then turned around without feeling any urge to “thank” the doctor for the information. The sudden death of the cells-to-embryo-to-fetus was incomprehensible to me, but I walked back to my car, deeply sobbing over this reality I would have to accept. I was lost in grief.
I decided to numb the pain with some alcohol that evening, so I stopped at the liquor store and bought something to help take the edge off. No longer expecting a baby, I could indulge in strong proof liquor. (I’m not saying it was the best decision, but it’s a memory worth including.) Over the next few days after the shock and horror of the situation, I knew what I needed to do — go back to my doctor’s office to discuss ‘now what?’ The miscarriage was medically classified as a spontaneous abortion and I needed to empty the contents from my uterus. I was given the “abortion pills” mifepristone and misoprostol, to cause the contractions that expelled the remaining tissue, that never became a baby.
That sad event changed some of my deeply-rooted beliefs about pregnancy, the gift of life, viability, the providence of God, prayer, etc. As I had been already going through seasons of deep questioning and answer-seeking in a deconstruction phase of my faith journey, I struggled to find acceptance that it wasn’t “God’s plan” for me to have this baby. The typical responses from well-meaning friends and some family members were related to God knowing what was best. The following phrases are typical for this sort of thing: ‘God’s ways are not our ways‘, yet ‘God will work out everything for your good‘ and ‘now this precious baby is in heaven, as an angel‘. However, I just couldn’t buy such a nonsensical explanation. I needed more logic and depth, which led to less cheapened religion, deeper theology and more looking into scientific findings.
This is what I have learned, since that sorrowful experience…. the pregnancy was an act of biology, not a divine act. God is in the science of all things, yet science doesn’t have a moral code — it just is. The fact that my 46 year old body didn’t have the best quality of eggs left, is likely the only explanation I will ever have for not giving birth to a fifth child. I also had to come to terms with this on a philosophical viewpoint, as I was drawn to studying existentialism and how understanding some basic tenets of gaining perspective took my awareness of what constitutes “life” and existence to a whole other level.
As I was reevaluating the mystery of life and allowing myself to “see” things I’d never realized before, there was a breakthrough in my interest in science — all of the sciences. I still maintained a deep reverence, appreciation and wonder for God’s handiwork in creating people, nature and every good thing that has come to be; from what I consider to be miraculous occurrences. Yet, I knew there was more to it. I gradually let go of the need to know — essentially the “why” God “allowed” me to get pregnant and then lose the baby. I had to go deep into the rationale, if there was one to be found. There wasn’t.
Something began to shift in my psyche as I took the abortion pills and for the first time, I felt empathy for other women who have taken the medication. The sanctity of life. The right to life. Pro-life. Anti-choice. Roe vs Wade. These are easily recognizable buzz terms associated with organizations that are on a mission to disrupt and halt all abortion practices, including the disbursement of RU-486 (the abortion pill). The propaganda is simple: abortion ends pregnancies. Christians are to be completely opposed to anyone who perpetuates or tolerates abortions, with no exceptions. To be a person of faith, you must despise “baby killing”!
When I came to the conclusion that the “life” in our bodies did not begin at the point of conception, the conversation entirely changed for me. I felt a lightness come into my spirit, a true reckoning and remorse for how I’d participated in demonstrating a judgmental, accusatory position for so many years. As a person with a rich faith background and being a Bible college graduate, I believed there could be no alternative. Yet, instead of feeling anger and animosity for anyone performing, helping facilitate or those who have had abortions, I gradually developed compassion. This awareness of the origins of personhood is not because of more religion, but through studying science and philosophy. I believe the human soul is real and is assigned a body, with DNA and unique characteristics. It’s taken me many years of study and wrestling with scripture to get to that point. It’s okay to disagree, with no tolerance for animosity towards others with different views.
Before I reached the stage of maturation in utero, I wasn’t a viable fetus. My heartbeat was a building block, as other parts of me were being formed, according to the combination of God’s intention and natural evolution. At the moment of my birth, the Omnipresent one’s breath came from my mouth, with my first cry. The miracle of life! I wouldn’t have existed if my mother’s body couldn’t sustain her pregnancy or if there had been a decision made to not complete the trimesters. That’s how each person began to live. Came to be. The beginning.
This is what happens in the first stage of life, yet so many people (I was one of them) argue with this position. Those who non-negotiably believe life begins at conception, assume that God has a “plan” for each life. Conceived by a rape or incestual relation? God has a plan (also suggests God allowed these despicable acts to occur, which resulted in the pregnancies). Pregnant with multiples, yet losing one or more of the fetuses? God allowed it. Maternal death? — again, God’s providence …. I could no longer accept any of these cringeworthy, unacceptable reactions to tragedies, in the name of God’s will for conceiving children. Why would I be able to have babies, but another woman remains childless (unless she is able to undergo expensive IVF treatments, with no guarantee of delivering a healthy baby)? Did God love me more? Was it God’s will for me to have children, but not her? Or …. is it just a matter of the correct biological conditions (egg and sperm) at the optimal time (ovulation), with no other pregnancy-interference hindrances for 9 months that led to the beginning of our lives?
These are times of extreme dispositions, on both sides of the abortion issue. The thought of “killing a baby” in a womb or outside, is reprehensible, horrific and undeniably evil. Yet, when a developing embryo is not actually a baby, but has the potential to become a new human life, it is not a murderous act. It is an abortion, in which a choice has been made to not carry to fruition a fetus until birth. There are acceptable policies and laws in place to protect babies who are viable. When it comes to spontaneous abortions, those are never chosen by mothers. The story I shared about my own pregnancy ending, was written with my best effort to use suitable terminology and I regret if any words have come across as insensitive or reckless. You have my apologies and respect if while reading any of this, emotional wounds have been reopened and pain has been released. I pray you will be warmly comforted, renewed and filled with grace.
I am not an expert in most matters that I know a few things about. But for this subject, I have gained understanding. Abortion, in itself, isn’t an abominable act. If it is a medical procedure done under the strictest of guidelines or taken in pill form before the fetal viability stage, the “life” hasn’t ended in the womb because the “life” hadn’t started. The gestation period of 24 weeks, typically marks the opportunity for a fetus to be able to survive outside of the womb. The ending of that opportunity before the viability stage begins, is the point of contention for most evangelical Christians and others who are unwilling to look at the situation from a different perspective.
The debate goes on for many, who will not adjust their lenses to see abortion under a different light. I still dislike the term and have visual triggers of being an impressionable school girl seeing numerous grotesque propaganda materials, videos and interviews about the procedure. This is not an easy subject to talk about and most people would rather avoid thinking about it. However, for the purpose of enlightening hardline abortion foes, I have written this article. I was one of you, now I offer grace and compassion to anyone who has been marginalized, condemned and rebuked for supporting the right of a woman to choose a safe and humane pregnancy ending.
I have one more point to share on the subject. This ‘conversation’ has poured out from my heart, to anyone looking for an alternate perspective on abortion. Truthfully, I wish there were no pregnancy endings. In a perfect world, a pregnancy occurs and 9 months later, a baby is welcomed, loved and eventually becomes a productive member of society. We can’t be ideological and vitriolic about pregnancies, though. We don’t live in an idealized world — it simply doesn’t exist. Being responsible means making adequate and careful choices, all factors considered. Developing an interest in learning about people who are hurting and have chosen differently than you would have, shouldn’t limit your ability to have compassion towards them. We have to share our communities and seeing each other’s humanness is so important. Too much division exists and with thoughtful conversations, we can learn from each other and get through these dark times, even if the topic is on reproductive rights. From my most sincere heart to yours, I wish you so much peace, kindness and wisdom if you chose to read the entirety of my words.