Nuance. Gray areas.
Our current culture doesn’t do nuance well. We like extremes. Black and white thought. We like labels. Tidy boxes. We like to categorize people.
How else will we know if this person is part of Us or part of Them?
We need to know are you part of The Right or The Left? Are you a Christian? What kind of Christian are you? Are you a Republican? A Democrat? A Conservative? A Liberal? We need to know. Are you one of those Snowflakes? Are you a Greedy Republican or a Bleeding Heart Democrat? Are you a Socialist? Are you one of the Sheeple? Are you for overturning Roe v. Wade or are you a baby killer?
We stick to our side, shore up our defenses, hurl our insults. We aren’t very good at listening, and we aren’t very good at looking for common ground.
And I can be just as guilty as the next person about all of this.
But some things are nuanced. Complicated. Not everything fits easily into a neatly-labeled box. Not everyone lives at the polar opposites. Some of us float along the middle. In the nuanced gray.
The poles – the widest reach of the pendulum – seems to get the most airplay, the biggest microphone. But I’m not convinced that’s where the majority of us reside.
I consider myself to be pro-life. But I don’t think that means what many people assume it means.
I’m in favor of life. Physical life. Emotional life. Spiritual life. Vibrant, abundant life.
I care about the lives of inmates on death row, immigrant children at the southern border, and old people in nursing homes. I care about lawbreaking kids in juvie, sick people who can’t afford their medical bills, and single moms who work three jobs to make ends meet.
I care about teenagers who don’t know how to pay for college and children who are aging out of foster care. I care about young people who got addicted to the opioids which have flooded our small towns and about people stuck in generational poverty they can’t seem to climb out of. I care about refugees fleeing hometowns destroyed by war or gang violence or corrupt political systems.
I care about black boys who can’t play with toy guns and black men who are presumed guilty from the get-go. I care about diabetics who can’t afford insulin and elderly people waiting for their prescriptions to come in the mail. I care about the percentage of people who are most at-risk of dying during a pandemic. And I care about the people whose lives are endangered by fires and hurricanes.
I also care about babies in the womb. I’ve been pregnant six times. I have felt the flutter of early movements, heard the thumpity-thump of teensy hearts beating, felt the stuttering jolts of their hiccups, and the pressure of their kicks. I felt their response to my voice, to music, to the spicy tacos I ate for lunch. When my newborn daughter snuggled down for a nap, she held her arms behind her head and scrunched her legs up in the exact comfortable position she’d favored for months inside me. I know my babies were alive, fully human, and created in the image of their Creator while they were still inside my body. So I care about the lives of unborn babies.
And because I care about life, I also care about the lives of women who find themselves pregnant by surprise. Women who face obstacles I’ve never had to face. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’ve been pregnant six times and given birth to six healthy babies. I had access to prenatal care and support. I had health insurance. I was married and our children were hoped for, eagerly anticipated, loved from the moment we saw a plus sign on a white stick. But I realize not every woman becomes pregnant in such ideal circumstances. And not every pregnancy progresses ideally.
It’s easy for those of us who have lived blessedly fortunate lives to sit in judgment, posting arguments against abortion that are high on passion and low on compassion, sharing a clever meme that lacks empathy. But when we do, in our attempts to show how pro-life we are, we devalue the lives of the women who have faced heartbreaking difficulties. And our lack of compassion breathes hot death to relationships.
That isn’t pro-life.
So how can we have conversations in a way that values life – the life of the women, the life of our friendships and relationships, the life of babies, born and unborn? How can we talk about these things without relegating each other to Us and Them?
There has to be a way to talk about this particular issue with compassion and love and empathy and the acknowledgement that sometimes things don’t fit neatly into a black or white box. Sometimes these things are messy and complicated and stretch our understanding and challenge our beliefs. And people who love God and study the Bible can come to different conclusions. Sometimes we do live in the nuanced gray middle.
Honestly, I think one thing we can do is begin to look at the data of when the abortion rates have been the lowest. It’s fascinating to me that as countries have loosened restrictions on abortions, abortion rates have fallen. As of 2016, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions in the U.S. decreased to the lowest since before Roe v. Wade.
Is it because of states’ restrictions on abortions? Maybe. But the number of unintended pregnancies also declined from 51% in 2008 to 45% in 2011-2013. This indicates that maybe implementing policies that require insurance companies to cover contraception and increasing the number of women who have access to affordable insurance and educating young people about birth control — all may play a role in lowering the number of unintended pregnancies and the number of abortions.
If our goal is to reduce the number of abortions, then it would be wise to look at this information and see how we can support policies that actually lower the amount of abortions – the sort of policies that demonstrate value for for the lives of women and the lives for babies.
Maybe it’s time to expand our thinking about what’s pro-life. Pro-life ideas cannot begin and end with overturning Roe v. Wade. And if policies that provide affordable insurance, widespread healthcare, affordable education, inexpensive birth control, a true living wage, affordable childcare — if those policies contribute to fewer abortions and help provide abundant life for people already born, then those are pro-life policies.
That’s why I find it so ironic that many of the people who are the most vocal about the anti-abortion version of being pro-life are also the most vocal about opposing policies and programs that expand insurance coverage, teach about birth control, subsidize education and career training, and increase minimum wage. Of course, too many people who claim to be pro-life also don’t seem to be very much in favor of the lives of inmates on death row, immigrant children at the southern border, old people in nursing homes, lawbreaking kids in juvie, sick people who can’t afford their medical bills, single moms who work three jobs to make ends meet, teenagers aging out of foster care, people caught in addiction, refugees feeling violence and destruction, black people accused of crimes, and those most at-risk of dying from a global illness.
And I just don’t understand.
So maybe our definition of pro-life is very different. Maybe the pro-life label just isn’t sufficient.
Maybe our conversations need to move beyond labels and pithy memes and slogans intended to polarize us and into the messy, nuanced, gray middle.