FGC Gatherings, starting in 2011
(FGC = Friends General Conference)
The conference normallly has around 1,000 attendees. At our lit tables during these conferences, we set out a notebook with blank paper and pen and the following sign:
Friends, do you have reflections or personal experiences to share on abortion? Comments are welcome, pro or con or neither.
Feel free to write them here. Unless you indicate otherwise, we’ll be putting these up on our web page so that Friends may find there more of the wide range of Quaker views on the topic.
Names and which Meeting you’re with are appreciated but not required.
Below are the notes that were offered – typed, formatted, and numbered, but otherwise unchanged. The first 28 come from the table in 2011 at the Grinell, Iowa conference.
(1) I am now in my 60’s and can reflect back with gratitude that abortion and other women’s health care services were available in my area. I had two safe and legal abortions in my late 20’s. I did not want to be a parent but birth control is still not 100% effective or safe for women. Please do not work against health care for women – including abortion services.
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(2) THIS FRIEND SPEAKS MY MIND!
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(3) I’m deeply troubled to see your concern labeled as “pro-life.” Many – perhaps all – of us support life, oppose war, oppose capital punishment, etc. Your movement is supportive of life in one very particular way. It would be helpful to see that more clearly expressed.
Arthur Fink / Portland Friends Meeting (Maine)
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(4) My daughter has had two abortions. We support a woman’s right to choice. The Friends above speak my mind.
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(5) Abortion – The only violence Quakers aren’t opposed to.
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(6) My only discouraging experience with the Friends during the time I have been involved with them (2 yrs) has been around this issue. During one of our monthly spiritual discussion sessions I asked a simple question of the Meeting – “Does ‘That of God’ exist in an unborn fetus?” The Meeting went into what can only be described as “panic mode” and immediately shut down the discussion. I had asked the question because several people around the room had shared their conviction that they found the image of God in such things as weather and even their dogs. However the possibility that the image of God might be in a human fetus was too controversial for our Meeting to deal with.
I haven’t felt the same about our Meeting since.
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(7) I think men have no say in this matter. (I am male). It is a matter for women. I am for the right but think it is the poorest form of birth control.
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(8) I think people are too emotional to think logically about this. It is clear to me that at some point during pregnancy, the “fetus” or incipient life becomes identifiable as a “baby.” Roe vs. Wade sensibly recognized this by setting “viability” as a kind of dividing line. Basically, I believe once there is an entity that is capable of independent life outside the mother, it is a separate person. And, if removed from the womb it cries & wiggles like a baby – it’s a baby. Abortion should be allowed – but only in the early stages, when the embryo is inseparable – is part of the mother.
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(9) I very much wish that a woman pregnant & feeling without support, or unintentionally, could know that their state & the baby will be joyfully received & cared for, as would the mother to live a full life, without fear or economic insecurity, i.e. that it is OK! They will be fine.
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(10) I BELIEVE IN WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND HEALTHY FAMILIES AND BLESSING CHILDREN’S LIVES. THERE ARE CHILDREN ENOUGH IN THIS WORLD WITHOUT PARENTS THAT EXTRA ONES MAY NOT BE NECESSARY.
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(11) I am so glad I got to choose when I wanted to get pregnant and how many children to have. I am so glad this decision was not made for me by others. I still do not feel free to say that I have had three abortions and three children. Although I have no regrets I avoid the possible judgment of others. I bet my three children are glad they were born and were born at a time when I was able to care for them fully, safely, and healthfully.
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(12) I provide abortions because I know that across every culture & religion, women choose abortion and if its not safe & legal, they will find a way that may not be safe. Hospitals used to have whole wards dedicated to women with sometimes horrendous complications of abortions which were done illegally, and world-wide, its still a major cause of maternal mortality. I hope we never return to those days.
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(13) The problem with abortion from this conservative’s point of view is that prior to some moment, there is only one person, whose rights need to be respected. After that moment, there are two people, both of whose rights need to be respected. Is it even possible to define that moment for everyone? Experience suggests not.
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(14) A fertilized egg is NOT a person, neither is a fetus. Having an abortion is not “taking life” but taking responsibility. Pregnancy is no reason to have a child. The reason to have a child is that in your heart of hearts in the light you can take care of another person, that you can make room for another person in your life & on the planet. See QEW: Seeking Clearness on Childbearing.
[Editor’s note: QEW is Quaker Earthcare Witness)
Having an abortion should be safe, legal & available so that women have options as they discern. After years working in a family planning clinic and doing hundreds of post-abortion exams, the great majority of women of all ages experience relief and a new lease on life. Statistically, it is very rare for a woman to experience psychological distress. If we want to prevent abortions let’s get behind accessible family planning and affective birth control methods.
Each person is free to do their own discernment for themselves but they should not be able to limit my legal choices to do as I’m called. Politicians should not have legal power over women.
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(15) THE QUAKERS NEED TO GET A CONSISTENT LIFE ETHIC AND VALUE ALL LIFE.
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(16) I have worked in a women’s health clinic and as an abortion, mental health & birth control counselor. I am concerned that a lack of women’s ability to control her reproductive life is both insulting to women’s intelligence and the ability to know what’s best for her. If you want to take away the occasion of abortion, work for birth control, education and prevention. This is a health care issue, & an economic issue, not simply pro-life. I am for choice and I consider that pro-life.
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(17) [Arrow pointing to first sentence below with comment: You are not alone!]
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(18) For ages I have felt so lonely being the only Quaker woman I know who cannot understand why Quakers cannot see there is another way to look at an unborn child than a part of the mother’s body! The argument that a woman should have control over her own body has always seemed strange to me, when I cannot view the beginnings of a child as a part of the mother’s body!
Yes, I agree with your literature that protection of the beginnings of a child – a fetus – is certainly as important as protection of anyone else.
Almost 4 decades ago I had a very powerful experience when I was a faculty wife and one of my husband’s students was so upset – he had just had to quit his pre-med program; as part of his work he had been sent to an abortion clinic, interviewing the incoming women, and told me, “all of a sudden I realized that the fetus within her that she was going to abort could have been me! I’m adopted! I’m SO grateful my mother didn’t do away with me! It’s funny that I never made that connection before! I’ve been a sensitive guy who’s been what they call ‘pro-choice’ – and here I am, a living example of why not to abort!” (He had, when the light dawned, handed his clipboard to the nearest worker and high-tailed it out of the clinic!)
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(19) Abortion is not ideal. There are certainly better ways, less morally uncertain ways, to not have child. However, it is sometimes the best of a number of terrible options. Quakers – and all people who are troubled by abortion – should devote their time not to preventing abortions when they have been already chosen, but to reducing the need for abortion, through increasing sexual knowledge, providing free birth control, and providing women with the tools they need to regulate their reproductive systems independently. I find it monumentally difficult to believe that, given the full range of options, any woman would decide that abortion was the best one. We need not to eliminate the option of last resort, but to prevent the need for the option in the first place.
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(20) There are now 7 billion humans on this planet, and we are consuming about 40% more than the planet can sustainably supply – continuing like this, the life support systems on which all life depends will collapse. 6 billion of those people (from the poorest up) consume 40%, while the wealthiest 1 billion are using the equivalent of the entire earth’s sustainable yield themselves alone.
If we believe in a right to some quality of life for all, it is necessary for us, the world’s wealthiest, to consume dramatically less and for all to voluntarily adopt a 1-child-per family practice. Doing so would/could reduce the world’s population to 1-2 billion over the next 100 years.
Ideally, we could do this without abortion, but as a woman who became pregnant while in college and who had an abortion, I support the woman’s right to choose. To continue current population growth and consumption is to cause the death of the entire human species not to mention other species who have no choice in the matter. I urge Friends to be aware of the larger picture – the future of life itself.
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(21) Dear Pro-Lifers:
I’ll make you a deal. Let’s first do away with patriarchy.
Then and only then can we start talking about getting rid of abortion.
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(23) Support Planned Parenthood so every baby is a wanted baby!
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(24) Let us make a world that takes away the occasion for abortion. Then perhaps we’ll be ready for a conversation. I will never demand that you must have an abortion. Please do not demand that I never do.
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(25) I have met too many children who are unsupported to take for granted that abortion should not be an option.
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(26) If you do not want to have an abortion, do not. But do not condescend to tell me, or legislate against my rights to have an abortion.
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(27) Your prescence here is offensive to the dignity of women who have the right to decide for themselves what will be done with their bodies.
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(28) I’d be interested to know if Friends from across the spectrum on this issue could agree that a woman might feel the need to discern – could we agree on queries for her use?
The clerk of Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony (Rachel MacNair) offers these observations:
Overall, the comments fit the typical pattern for a peace-movement-oriented group of this size: some forlorn people who see abortion as violence, and many comments with the pro-choice philosophy that in some cases are harsh enough to explain why the abortion opponents tend to be shy. This is a pattern I’ve observed for many years.
Yet throughout the entire set of comments, the issue is still framed as entirely a question of the fate of the fetus and the decision of her mother, as if her mother were operating in a sexism-free environment. I think we’d gain a lot more insight with the proposal that abortion is violence against the mother as well – killing her child is normally seen that way – and that many male-dominated pressures are to blame for a large number if not most abortions.
Comments on specific comments, designated by number:
(7) – that “men have no say in this matter.” Susan B. Anthony once complained that all the articles she had read on this subject had been from men – they hold women alone guilty and never include man in any plans for the remedy. Women never get pregnant by themselves. If men abandoning their unborn children, and the mothers of their unborn children, is a major cause of abortion, then treating this as acceptable behavior is simply a way of supporting a use-them-then-lose-them form of male privilege.
I remember a fellow who came by a Feminists for Life table once and loudly pronounced, “If my girlfriend is stupid enough to get pregnant, she’s going down to the abortion clinic that afternoon, whether she wants to or not.” Men aren’t normally that blunt, but a good many feel that way.
(14) – that it’s statistically rare for a woman to feel post-abortion distress. Actually, women who feel such distress are a major constituency group of the pro-life movement. The movement could not even begin to be as strong as it is now without them. Without having personally known many such women, I doubt I’d be in the movement at all, since the case that it’s violence rather than mere medicine relies on there being large numbers of such women.
Those who make the “rare distress” claim often cite the Report of the Task Force of Mental Health and Abortion of the American Psychological Association (even though that’s not technically what the conclusion was). I was one of the academic reviewers of the original report. The deck was clearly stacked when you see who they chose for that task force. The effort to interpret the data with a foregone conclusion was unambiguous. We still await a proper task force that can have a balance of views so that evidence can be processed with proper scientific rigor.
(21) – getting rid of patriarchy first. According to the understanding of pro-life feminism, it’s quite true that patriarchal institutions and attitudes are a major cause of abortion. Hence, getting rid of patriarchy and establishing sexual equality is a crucial part of stopping abortion. But we hold that abortion is not just a result of patriarchy but a tool of patriarchy. Men feeling self-righteous about using women for sexual pleasure while totally unmindful of consequences to others. Employers not wanting to be bothered with accommodations for pregnancy, or paying either gender a living wage to include children. Women treated as if there’s something wrong with them because they’re doing something that’s by definition a female thing to do. So stopping patriarchy will help stop abortions, and stopping abortions will help stop patriarchy, and once again we find the web of violence is all connected. Stopping the violence is also all connected – nonviolence gets around the web to the other forms of violence as well.
The 2013 Colorado conference yielded few comments and no substantive ones, but the table was in a poor location. For 2016 in Minnesota, the table was in a fine location, and these two substantive comments were added:
(29) This is very interesting! Still processing, picked up literature.One quote that sticks out: "Women who have the fewest choices of all exercise their right to abortion the most." -- Berkeley Monthly Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting
(30) I have often said that there is no such thing as pro-life. Now you actually have explored my concerns thoroughly and I thank you. I'm pro-choice. My line about abortion: "If people have health care, education, and a living wage, people won't need abortions." We need to get to the cause (since we can't control hormones -- this is close). We need to support life after her/him are here. I had an out of body experience that showed me a soul will find a body eventually. To be pro-life we need to be [preventing] all war.
Additional comments are welcome. Send to: clerk @ prolifequakers . org [remove spaces].