Can you be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances? Can you be a person of faith and support abortion in some circumstances?
These are the questions posed to us this week by the On Faith staff. Before I can answer them, I need to point out that their subtle framing. Both put the emphasis on abortion as the defining issue, which accepts the framework of the anti-abortion movement. Both contain an unstated implication–the first, that the mainstream feminist position demands universal and unlimited abortion, the second, that ‘good’ people of faith would of course oppose abortion no matter what the circumstances.
I don’t accept that frame. The core issue, for me for the pro-choice movement, is this: Who gets to decide what goes on inside a woman’s body?
My answer as a feminist is: The woman herself must have the right to make that decision, to wrestle with her own conscious, to encounter for herself those great issues of life and death that all of us must face in this mortal world.
Those decisions are never cut and dried, and no one makes choices in a vacuum. The opinions of others, of partners and doctors and friends and respected mentors of faith all come into play. So do the rights of others. But ultimately, the right to self determination begins with the right to make basic decisions about one’s physical self.
Feminism, however, is not a faith with a catechism and a belief-test for entry. People are capable of holding enormously contradictory beliefs, and I know women who hold widely varying opinions about abortion who still work stalwartly to advance the project of women’s overall liberation.
I am a person of the Pagan faith, which also holds no litmus test of belief or universal dogma. Pagans believe that nature and life are sacred–but that’s Life with a capital L, not every germ cell, seed, zygote, or individual spark of potential existence. Pagans vary enormously in how we interpret our duty to cherish life. Some Pagans are strict vegans while others honor the Way of the Sacred Hunt.
My own belief is this: to terminate a pregnancy is to end a potential and deny a possibility of life. That’s neither murder nor is it a decision to take lightly. In “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying,” my co-editor M. Macha Nightmare and I included stories and rituals for women choosing to end a pregnancy who want to honor the process as a sacred choice.
Pagans do hold that sexuality is sacred. We see that the intensity of the furor around abortion is fueled by a culture that fears sexuality and seeks to keep it under control. Were it not so, we would see the same vehement passion where loss of life is not connected to sex, where outright murder goes on through war, through hunger and starvation and environmental degradation.
We honor our sacred sexuality by exercising our adult responsibility to nurtue and provide for any children we choose to bring into the world. We can take up that responsibility in many ways–by using birth control, by choosing to end a mistaken pregnancy or by giving a child up for adoption, by working for a world in which all children will be cherished and provided with the means for a healthy and fulfilling life.
My faith and my feminist politics are strongly in accord, for Pagans place spiritual authority within each individual. No priest or legislator can tell us how to resolve our own dilemmas. For it is in wrestling with tough choices that our spiritual development takes place. In our face to face encounters with the great forces of life, death and regeneration, we come to know the Goddess.
More about The Pagan Book of Living and Dying at: