FRIENDS JOURNAL FORUM May, 2010

Pro-life coercion is not Quakerly

     The abortion debate hinges on one unknowable fact: is the object in the womb a child or a clump of cells? We don't know and we can't know. We can have an opinion. To some, it is a child from the moment the sperm touches the egg, and to some it's only a child at birth. Some cultures practice infanticide after birth

     To reiterate: it is a matter of opinion. So-called "pro-life" groups intend to change laws so that any opinion but theirs is illegal.

     "What canst thou say?" George Fox, challenged. He encouraged us to trust that of God in ourselves. I respect those who continue an unplanned pregnancy for moral reasons. But how can I as a Quaker respect those who would force or coerce woman to continue a pregnancy over her better judgment?

     Pregnancy and birth are often extremely stressful. Vulnerable women quickly spiral into crisis. Pregnancy may cause a woman to lose her job, putting on the street. It may be so physically or emotionally draining that it sends the rest of her family into crisis. It may force her to drop out of school or become depend on an abusive partner.

     These life-changing issues are swept aside by pro-lifers in their zeal – It doesn't matter the human wreckage we leave behind, we have saved a life! seems to be their philosophy.

     Attempts to "help" pregnant women by suggesting adoption or by providing cribs and diapers are pitifully small patches on a monumental cost. Raising a child costs hundreds of thousands, and giving one up for adoption is something few women can do.

     To push legislation that would force women onto only one path – taking away their control over their lives and their health – is not Quakerly, not peaceful, and certainly not just.

Rebecca Payne
Lansing, Mich.

A response from an abortion provider

     Rachel MacNair's article "My Personal Journey on the Abortion Issue" (FJ Feb.) is thoughtful. It is obvious that Friend MacNair is intelligent and well educated.

     As an obstetrician-gynecologist, I see many women who are not so fortunate. They struggle with many aspects of their lives, including controlling their fertility. Should they be penalized by carrying and raising a child because of their shortcomings – or the failings of society?

     As Rachel MacNair writes, there is trauma from being an abortion provider. I no longer wear a bulletproof vest, but I think daily of my safety. I wonder what Jesus would think about the people who yell at me – and at my patients – as we walk from our cars to the Planned Parenthood clinic. Fortunately, we are all greeted inside by the warm, loving staff who are happy to be there and provide safe, legal abortion care. No, for us the trauma is not inside the clinic.

     Perhaps the best reason to continue having safe and legal abortion was voiced by an otherwise quiet teen. After her abortion she sat up and said: "Thank you, doctor. You have given me back my future."

Richard Grossman
Bayfield, Colo.

Abortion and war profiteering

     I am enclosing the following in response to your recent article on abortion.

     [Note: Enclosed with this letter were fact sheets and solicitations for funds from the following organizations: ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The American Foundation for AIDS Research, The National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood of New York City, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Center for Reproductive Rights, and The Feminist Majority Foundation. – Eds.]

     Far be it from me to argue with faith using facts, but the fact of my life is that I do not have the time to write a letter in response to that article, which I found highly offensive on many fronts. So many of the facts enclosed are requests for funds.

     All of the pro-choice organizations are broke because they are not funded by war profiteering as the Right to Life organizations are: Focus on the Family being one example-many of its donations come from Blackwater.

     Now pardon me while I look for a job and take care of my kid who is a straight-A student at Brooklyn Friends.

Reynolds Tenazas-Norman
Brooklyn, NY.

When does "that of God" enter the fetus?

     Rachel MacNair's recent article ("My Personal Journey on the Abortion Issue," FJ Feb. ) offered provocative insights into the development of her opposition to abortion. Unfortunately I must question some of her assertions.

     Like MacNair, I've long worked for peace and nonviolence. In 1961 I started volunteering for the Berkeley office of Turn Toward Peace-set up and led by a former AFSC peace secretary – and for two years I edited its newsletter. I've participated in anti-war demonstrations in Berkeley, Washington, and New York. In 1982 I served as staff for the historic march of some 750,000 in New York against the nuclear arms race, while helping to organize a sympathy event on the college campus where I was a professor. In more recent years I've actively opposed U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I serve on my meeting's Peace and Social Concerns Committee.

     Unlike MacNair, many years ago I experienced an unwanted pregnancy. While working my way through graduate school and using contraception, I got pregnant by a man I didn't love who turned out to be engaged to someone else. I agonized, suffering dread I would never wish on another woman. Then once I'd made sure I really was pregnant, I flew out of the United States, where abortion was still illegal, to have a safe procedure elsewhere.

     Like other women I've known who terminated a pregnancy, that act was not traumatic for me. On the contrary, it spared me from a life-changing burden I was not prepared to shoulder at that time. Nine years later, married to a man I loved, I was delighted to have a planned-for child.

     MacNair asserts that "fetus is Latin for unborn child." Not so, according to my New College Latin & English Dictionary. There, fetus is defined as "breeding; (of plants) producing, bearing; offspring, young, brood; fruit, produce; (fig) growth, production." She seems to feel that, as hardcore anti-choice activists claim, the tiniest result of conception should be considered a baby.

     When the embryo inside me (too young to be called a fetus) was aborted – six weeks and two days after conception – it would have been about half an inch long and barely mammalian, with evolutionary remnants of gills and a tail and with connected slits across the front of its face where eventually a mouth and nose might have developed. This peanut-sized mass of tissue was no more "an unborn baby" – in MacNair's words – than a caterpillar is a butterfly, or Madagascar's lemurs – the most primitive primates in the evolutionary ladder – are human beings.

     Traditionally, as for instance under English common law, abortion was accepted as legal until "quickening," the kicking of the fetus that typically doesn't start until late in the fourth month of pregnancy. All that changed toward the end of the 19th century, campaigned against primarily by physicians, virtually all male, cracking down on competition from female midwives. As the women's movement grew, demand for choice about motherhood grew with it, culminating in Roe v. Wade.

     Research published last year by the American Institute of Physics provides tantalizing hints about the spiritual development of the fetus. It tells us that not until around its seventh month does the fetus start showing signs of REM sleep – that is, the rapid eye movement associated with dreaming. Then it starts dreaming intensively until birth and thereafter. Earlier studies have shown that half an infant's sleep time is spent in what from its rapid eye movements appears to be dreaming.

     William C. Gough, a respected parapsychologist, reports that the brain's limbic system, where dreaming is centered, has been found by researchers to be highly active – lighting up their measuring devices – when people are in deep meditation, and so has been called the "transmitter to God." It's been suggested, he says, that "REM sleep has a role early in life in establishing the . . . connections of neurons that make instinctive behavior possible," and goes on to theorize that during such REM sleep, the limbic system may obtain "input from the Absolute [that is] the source of our instincts, powers our emotions, and serves as the genesis of our physical and spiritual evolution."

     If so, people of faith may venture the guess that it is not until the fetus' seventh month after conception that some divine spark or soul is transmitted to it via the limbic system; that during a continuing process that starts shortly before birth and continues thereafter, it receives "that of God" and becomes truly human.

     In one respect, MacNair expressed my feelings perfectly: "If the fetus is not yet a human being . . . then of course it ought to be left up to the woman entirely whether it remained in the uterus. Case closed."

     To call a first- or early second-trimester fetus a human being strikes me as woefully inaccurate. As a mother and a Friend, I believe every child should be wanted. If a girl or woman cannot welcome a baby and take care of it properly, she should not be forced to bear one.

Sylvia Hart Wright
Eugene, Oreg.