ABORTION ISN'T ALWAYS A SPIRITUALLY DIVISIVE MATTER

by Mary Krane Derr, Guest Editor



The Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association is a nonsectarian organization. We wish to welcome people of all religions and no religion. We fully agree with Jane Thomas-Bailey that the prolife feminist cause should base itself "on scientific and humanitarian grounds that appeal to people of many beliefs," rather than on arguments cast in exclusively Christian terms.(1)

Why, then, do we devote an entire issue of our journal--our first in our new online format--to spirituality of all things?

We wish to practice two forms of religious tolerance. One is the sort that Thomas-Bailey describes. The other is different, but complementary: the creation of a "safe zone" in which people are free to express themselves as members of their particular spiritual traditions, or as people unaffiliated with a particular spiritual tradition.

Open-hearted people of all faiths and none can easily discern that the healing of sectarian strife is a matter of life and death. As even a cursory look at history or at our own daily lives will show, misunderstandings between people with different religious beliefs have occasioned countless acts of violence. Such acts betray the deepest ethical values of humankind, values common to people of every and no religion. Efforts to break the cycle of violence, to create positive alternatives to it, honor those shared values.

Public discourse over abortion is often cast as a war of irreconciliable religious differences. Small wonder, since the most publicly visible abortion opponents are those who abuse the Christian Bible to justify the murder of abortion providers, completely desecrating the message of peace that lies at the heart of any authentic spirituality.

Most antiabortionists--all but a tiny fraction--share the prochoice movement's horror and outrage that such violence could be committed, and committed in the name of the Divine at that. This area of shared moral concern, along with many others that exist between prolifers and prochoicers, remains largely invisible and unexplored. Pernicious stereotypes, many of them created by religious misunderstandings, block the way. Some prolifers assume that in order to have qualms about abortion, one must be a Christian, and a particular kind of Christian at that: one who is theologically and politically conservative, or one who uncritically accepts certain gender roles as Divine mandate. Anyone else, by definition, is assumed to be devoid of ethical and spiritual consciousness and validity.

Conversely, some prochoicers claim that they are the ones with exclusive rights to the moral and spiritual high ground. They assume that all antiabortionists--by definition--are misogynist hypocrites who cloak their death wish against women and against abortion providers in talk of respect for life. If antiabortionists were not simply "Bible-thumpers" and "papal puppets" out to impose their "narrow-minded Christian so-called morality," wouldn't they be actively caring for those who are already born?

Such stereotypes have done a great deal of damage all around. Abortion troubles numerous people who bear little or no resemblance to the usual suspects. It distresses Christians of all varieties, members of most other religions, as well as agnostics, atheists, and people who do not put any particular name on their spiritual orientation. At the root of their distress is a heartfelt compassion for children and for women who are denied lifeaffirming choices. In their spiritual diversity and their care for women and children, they share a lot of common ground with prochoicers. Yet as the two "sides" talk past each other--that is, if they are talking at all--neither "camp" ever imagines that "the enemy" might have some of the same ethical impulses and hopes. Meanwhile, women continue to become pregnant when they don't want to be. Women continue to be torn apart by the dilemma that peace activist Marcia Timmel, a radical Catholic, has described--from her own bitter experience--as "have an abortion--OR ELSE."

What would happen if people could move beyond these stereotypes, which thwart collective action on the most urgent matter of assisting those who suffer from crisis pregnancies? We offer this journal issue in the hope that it will foster greater religious tolerance and understanding in abortion discourse. Our contributors speak freely, and in many tongues, without denying their numerous points of difference--yet they come to some remarkably parallel conclusions about abortion, its root causes, and the means of nonviolently reducing its incidence.

This positive result could have been predicted from the groundbreaking document "Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration," that was issued by the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. It was endorsed by delegates identifying themselves with the following spiritual traditions: African Indigenous; Baha'i; Brahma Kumaris; Buddhist; Christian; Hindu; Interfaith; Jain; Jewish; Muslim; Native American; Neo-Pagan; Sikh; Taoist; Theosophist; Unitarian; and Zoroastrian. The Declaration is a historically unprecedented effort to find " a minimum basic consensus on values and norms" that derives from the teachings of the various religions, yet at the same time is one "which non-religious persons would recognize as valid." (2) It is "not some kind of negotiated agreement between the religions, but is a discovery and proclamation of agreements that already exist." (3) It is offered with a very practical intention: if people learn that they do indeed have a common ethical framework, they will be far more able to cooperate in resolving a host of grave problems which beset the planet.

The Declaration includes among its "irrevocable directives" the "commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life" and the "commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women."

In the great ancient religious and ethical traditons of humankind we find the directive: You shall not kill! Or in positive terms: have respect for life! Let us reflect anew on the consequences of this ancient directive: All people have a right to life, safety, and the free development of personality insofar as they do not injure the rights of others. No one has the right physically or psychically to torture, injure, much less kill, any other human being. And no people, no state, no race, no religion has the right to hate, to discriminate against, to "cleanse," to exile, much less to liquidate a "foreign" minority which is different in behavior or holds different beliefs.

Of course, wherever there are humans, there will be conflicts. Such conflicts, however, should be resolved without violence within a framework of justice...

Young people must learn at home and at school that violence may not be a means of settling differences with others. Only thus can a culture of nonviolence be created.

A human person is infinitely precious and must be unconditionally protected. But likewise the lives of animals and plants which inhabit this planet with us deserve protection, preservation and care...We are all intertwined together in this cosmos and we are all dependent on each other. Each one of us depends on the welfare of all. Therefore the dominance of humanity over nature and the cosmos must not be encouraged. Instead we must cultivate living in harmony with nature and with the cosmos...

In the great religious and ethical traditions of humankind we find the directive: You shall not commit sexual immorality! Or in positive terms: Respect and love one another! Let us reflect anew on the consequences of this ancient directive: no one has the right to degrade others to mere sex objects, to lead them into or hold them in sexual dependency.

We condemn sexual exploitation and sexual discrimination as one of the worst forms of human degradation. We have the duty to resist wherever the domination of one sex over the other is preached...Let no one be deceived: There is no authentic humaneness without a living together in partnership!

Young people must learn at home and in school that sexuality is not a negative, destructive or exploiutative force, but creative and affirmative. Sexuality as a life-affirming shaper of community can only be effective when partners accept the responsibility of caring for one another's happiness...The relationship between men and women should be characterized not by patronizing behavior or exploitation, but by love, partnership, and trustworthiness...We need mutual respect, partnership, and understanding, instead of patriarchal domination and degradation, which are expressions of violence and engender counterviolence...Only what has already been experienced in personal and familial relationships can be practiced on the level of nations and religions....

The Declaration concludes: ..We appeal to all the inhabitants of the planet. Earth cannot be changed for the better untless the consciousness of individuals is changed. We pledge to work for such transformation in individual and collective consciousness...Together we can move mountains! Without a willingness to take risks and a readiness to sacrifice there can be no fundamental change in our situation! Therefore we commit ourselves to a common global ethic, to better mutual understanding, as well as to socially beneficial, peace-fostering and Earth-friendly ways of life. We invite all men and women, whether religious or not, to do the same. (4)

The Declaration is termed initial because it is not offered as a once-and-for-all finished document. Although the document identifies several "irrevocable directives," their concrete meanings must still, in many instances, be worked out. The document itself asserts: "A universal consensus on many disputed ethical questions...will be difficult to attain. Nevertheless, even for many controversial questions, suitable solutions should be attainable in the spirit of the fundamental principles we have jointly developed here." (5) Dr. Daniel Gomez-Ibanez, Executive Director-Emeritus of the Parliament, identifies abortion as one specific ethical controversy on which the Global Ethic is silent, but which it can nevertheless help to resolve.(6)

Even if the Declaration does not currently take a specific position on abortion, the contributors to this special issue of Feminism and Nonviolence Studies show that a prolife feminist approach to abortion is at the very least compatible with the values of the Global Ethic. Perhaps some prochoice readers will counter that their approach to abortion is informed by these values. Either way, could it possibly be that abortion is not--whatever else it might be--a matter of irreconcilable religious differences? Perhaps there is a common ethical framework in which people of all faiths and none, and even people who disagree over the morality and/or legality of abortion, can address a controversy that originates in and perpetuates very old and deep wounds. Could "suitable solutions" to abortion be far more possible than anyone ever thought? We invite you to ponder our offerings and give your responses.



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