Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the Judging

[NOTE: please read to the end for various notes/caveats about this topic. If you chose to comment, please do so nicely.]

Last week, I had an interesting exchange in a meeting I was having. During the course of the conversation, I shared that I had a child with Down Syndrome, but not the birth defect that my organization represents. Somehow, it ends up that the person I was meeting with said something along the lines of how good it was that I made the right decision to have our E because life was sacred.

I replied that yes, I (we, 'cause The Man was in agreement) felt we made the right decision for us given the circumstances, but that I'd defend anyone's right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. The person said that I was more forgiving or tolerant (something like that) than she was and that she felt the same way once, but not any longer. Life was sacred.

I hate these sanctimonious statements from people who profess they are of faith. Who blindly follow the biggest and shiniest church and don't work to truly have a godly life. How is it that I (who would be charitably called an agnostic and most likely labeled a raging atheist) know that in the Christian tradition that He loved the sinners (even washed their feet!) and that people should not cast stones? How is it that I (godless heathen that I am) can find compassion for the women who have terminated/aborted a pregnancy, but those who follow Jesus can't?

Here's what I know from personal observation and experience. The women that I know who voluntarily ended their pregnancy did so because of a combination of reasons. That in the end reasoning, the weighing of options, and probably against their deepest hearts desire, the choice to abort was more appealing than whatever future they envisioned. Stop and think about that for a minute. Think about the circumstances that would make abortion more appealing than having a child. Can you imagine it? If you can't, then you should be grateful because for many women, it's their reality.

I was lucky in that my dr., when giving us the prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, gave us facts and information both about raising a child (she had another patient with a child with DS) as well as what would happen (e.g., the process) if we chose to terminate. Her (and her staff's) relief was visibly palpable when I saw her at my next appointment and she said how happy she was to not to have to do the procedure. My experience, though, is certainly not the norm. In fact, it's an outlier. I can easily find ten women with prenatal diagnoses whose doctor told them to terminate. Trusted medical professional telling you to terminate after giving you news about something you know nothing about and have only the vaguest idea about (and that probably fairly negative). It's no wonder that the termination rate is around 90% for pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. I'd assume that's also true for other birth defects/conditions.

Having had the news before and knowing that for a few hours termination was an option, I can tell you, it's a no win situation. End the pregnancy because of the birth defect and have to live with that choice (especially since it was a planned pregnancy, which is probably also true for many of the 90% figure mentioned above) or live with the child with the condition. In those moments, when you're considering it, the condition (Trisomy 18, Down Syndrome, Fragile X, Spina Bifida, etc.) becomes all, not the child. Clearly, for many (90%) they don't get to the point where the child becomes more than the condition before the "window" to safely terminate closes.

Can no one find compassion for women (and their husbands and families) facing these circumstances? Do you not understand that in these circumstances (especially if planned pregnancy) that these women live with their choice for the rest of their lives just as surely as they would have lived with their child?

I don't think it's a failure for a woman in the above circumstances to make a different choice than the one I (we) did. In fact, I'd rather a pregnancy be terminated than for the family to have an unwanted child. But yes, you say, what about these whores of Babylon who are getting knocked up and using abortions as birth control? Surely, they deserve our condemnation not our compassion.

Really? God personally told you this? Or are you so certain of your own personal righteousness that you can sit in judgment of others? You who have had the benefits of education, class, or race. You can't take the time to imagine what a life must be like to see abortion/termination as the viable solution - not the desired one, not the one that will bring a substantive change to their life's circumstances, but the one that let's them meet their basic functions. This flip side of this, which of course receives society's condemnation, is that women receiving public assistance who keep having kids to keep on welfare. Either way, the cycle is never broken - either there's condemnation for abortion which might give them a chance to move one, or they keep having children thereby receiving blame and derision for not changing their circumstances.

I will never know what my life would have been like if I (we) had chosen to terminate. In some ways, I think ours was the easier decision, in others it's probably harder. Either way, though, (and this is why it totally chaps me to hear supposedly Christian people judge on this) how does one know that this challenge/decision/fork-in-the-road wasn't planned by God? That in choosing abortion/termination, a woman is put on a path towards something that only improves her as a human being because of the experience/choice? In the parlance of the faithful, isn't God omnipresent and omnipotent? And doesn't He know the outcome, especially since He gave us free will? And doesn't God know what's in our heart of hearts? And shouldn't abortion/termination deserve our compassion, not our condemnation? And finally, don't we diminish our own blessings/gratitude when we judge others?

Notes/Caveats: I am not advocating in anyway shape or form that women with a prenatal diagnosis of anything (Down Syndrome, birth defects, chromosomal anomalies, etc.) should terminate their pregnancy. I will, however, defend any woman's right to abort/terminate/end her pregnancy through a medically safe procedure.

I am also not looking for a debate about God. I am happy to know people of deep and abiding faith. I also am dismayed to meet people who say they are of faith, yet don't seem to live a life in sync with the teachings that made up some of my childhood. I take umbrage with religion as an institution and the mindless acceptance of religious leaders who espouse hate and a lack of compassion. Perhaps my religious training is lacking, but I don't remember much of the hate language encapsulated in the teachings of the Bible.


Cate said...

beautifully written. I totally agree with you. this is a subject that is very hard to talk about. There are no good answers.

But I always think we should aim for compassion, and I'm always sad to hear people judging so harshly.

STypeCreative said...

You have so succinctly voiced my own inner disappointment with those around me that choose to blindly judge the choices of others with not a care as to the reasons behind the choices. And this coming from a person not terribly empathetic.

Having been raised "in the church" I am still to this day horrified by the behavior that emphasizes hatred within the guise of "Christian Guidance". There are daily situations in which "better" choices could be made, and yet, I don't find myself screaming those "mistakes" in the face of others in order to "help" them.

Completely unrelated to my rant that has raised my blood pressure, I apologize wholeheartedly for the excessive amount of "quotations". ;)

SSG said...

For me, I think I'd be more tolerant of "Pro-Lifers" (great name, by the way, rhetorically speaking) if they completed their sentences this way "All life is sacred,so that's why I've devoted my life to ADOPTING as many children out of foster care, etc. as possible.". Why life is only sacred when growing INSIDE a stranger's womb is beyond me. The ... See Moresame people who are against abortion in any form are also vehemently against social programs and sex education in our schools. If you want to end abortions, ADOPT!

Jennifer said...

[ my response to SSB]
Yes, I thought about making the point that if one is truly against abortion/termination, then they should be the STRONGEST proponents of sex education, at-risk youth outreach, physician (OB/GYN) education about birth defects, becoming a foster family, etc.

Also, the idea that it's okay to terminate a pregnancy for birth defect/disability doesn't make people bat an eye, but abortion (same process people; same outcome)...please, we've seen the "Pro-Lifers" who kill doctors, terrorize women, and harass staff.

Anyway, could clearly go on and on, but I'll just say how pretty I think you are Oh Pwincess Most Wonderful!

VSW (from facebook) said...

You know, just because a person is a Christian doesn't mean they believe in or participate in a particular religion. You say you don't want to debate God, but that is your whole point. You're right in that religion can be very judgmental. But some are not. Some Christians are compassionate for the women who do choose abortion as an option for unwanted pregnancy or whatever reason they may have. But just because she said that you made the right choice does not mean that she was judging anyone. She made a statement. I get tired of hearing about how hypocritical Christians are because they make a statement of faith.

God does know ahead of time what our decisions will be. He does know each and every fork in the road. And our decisions will bring us closer to him, even when they are hard or wrong. He knows what is going to happen to us- good bad and ugly. And while there are extremists who do just as much harm and perhaps no good at all they are the extreme. All 'religions' have them, including the atheists.
My church is a small place, full of caring and forgiving people who love each other even in the middle of mistakes. Statements made are sometimes just what God does say, not a judgment, just the facts. You state facts in just the same way, condemning us for having a different position on the hot topics. You just lumped me into the category of an extremist simply because I am pro life. How is that non judgmental? I am not afraid of sex ed in the schools however I will follow it up with what God has to say on the subject. I do not adopt children but that is because we don't want to. We do however have several families at church who do.

God does not condemn us. He does not tell us that we get to condemn either. Unfortunately all people do condemn at times- Christian or atheist. That's the beauty of the New Testament. We don't have to live under the law of the Babylonians any longer. God is all we need to be free. The bad choices, the hard roads that we may have put ourselves on or someone else may have- the truth is that the decisions we make on those roads are ours.

Your choice was the easier one Jenn. It's really that simple. Maybe your message should be how beautiful a DS child is. How loving and caring, how much they bring into your life and that without E your life would not be right. Because that is the truth. Perhaps in doing so you could help make that 90% figure somewhat lower. While it may be difficult to raise a DS child it is much more difficult to live with the burden of an abortion.

I am so sad that the only vision of church is of bright and shiny temples of condemnation. There are a lot of awesome churches that are full of compassionate people who take lunches every week to the Cass Corridor, who take meals to shut ins, who work with the children each week, who preach in a nursing home, who support a boys home in Thailand, one they raised all the money for, who skyped in the youth group during service so the teens could tell about how they served because they appreciate the teens, who have a motorcycle ministry, who adopt children, who foster children, who hire some of our out of work members, who mentor broken marriages, who conduct blood drives, who put on concerts to raise money for a very sick child, who give to the love offering that is for families in dire need during these really bad times, who get involved and invested in the lives of others.

That is what church can be. That is what being a Christian is. I am happy to be born again and to have Christ with me on this journey of life. Life is HARD for everyone at some point. God is good all of the time- even in spite of our poor decisions, no matter what they are (not just abortion is what I am saying).

Christian does not mean hypocrite. Human does.

Jennifer said...

I've thought a lot about what you've written and what I've come away with is that:
a) no, it's not a debate about God. I recognize the sacred. But my definition/beliefs tend to make a particular sect of Christians talk to me like I'm a hairsbreadth from hell.
b) I hope you know that it gives me pleasure and joy knowing that you have faith. And I know that you, of many people of faith that I know, do strive for compassion, to recognize that failure happens because we're human. That in the fullness of life there are hard decisions and trials and the best way to support someone is with love and patience and kindness regardless of your own personal choice.

My objection and the prompt for the blog is that by proclaiming one (now I'm not writing specifically to you my lovely Victoria) is Christian, then I expect you to behave as one. And if you are struggling (because I think faith/belief/whatever) with something, then you acknowledge it with humility and humor. It's kind of like the sanctimonious singles who think their child will never throw a fit in a store, then find out that their child is a world-class brat in a store.

The problem, as I've encountered and in this particular instance, was the tone and the overall dismissal of a compassionate way. That because I could see a different way (e.g., non-Christian) that didn't condemn or demean the woman, I, too was met with disdain.

I'll be the first one to stand up and say I'm flawed, that I struggle to be a better human, parent, wife, friend, etc. I am a hypocrite, can be petty, judgmental and self-righteous. The difference, however, is that I don't wrap it up in the cloak of Christianity and try to excuse my character flaws. In this instance, however, that is what it seemed. The offhand, "well I used to believe that too...." trailing off with the unspoken "until I found God" or whatever. The tone and delivery were such that there was no mistake that clearly I was a delusional heathen. Maybe I am. But I don't think so (of course all good delusional heathens would think so. :-) )

Anonymous said...

Well, we could speak of delusional behavior a ton now couldn't we!! I agree, cloaking a comment, feeling, flaw with the 'but now' can be a little unsettling to be sure. I am so sorry the tone was there. I just don't want her to stand for all Christians in your mind. That was my point. And you're right, if you're going to proclaim any religion you need to follow it up with its belief system. I am Christian and can be a heathen too! It's a part of life called mistakes and bad behavior. I just hate that the word Christian brings with it so much disdain when it should bring love and confidence.
You are so dear my friend. I love your brilliantness and your thought process. And I'd like to smack that woman for hurting you. See, hypocrite again.
Your daughters are gorgeous. I'd like to continue this with a real visit!!
Much love to you.
Victoria- (only for you)