Abortion, contraception and egocentrism.

A day or two before the start of winter break, my high school class congregated in our English teacher’s classroom. We were freshmen. From her desk, the teacher described for us the food she planned to prepare for her family’s impending Christmas dinner.

“Our turkey is already thawing,” she said.
I shook my head and furrowed my brow and my jaw probably dropped.
“A turkey?” I laughed. “Who eats turkey on Christmas?”
I scanned the room and waited for signs of solidarity from my (now awkwardly) silent classmates.
One of them finally spoke.
“Um… everyone?”
Taken aback, I couldn’t concoct a response. Everyone eats turkey on Christmas? I thought. No way.
Somebody else had to ask: “What do you eat on Christmas?”
“Lasagna…” I said. “I thought everyone did!” 
Red in the face but a good sport about it, the incident ended in laughter. I’ve shared the story before, but it warrants a retelling, as it’s a great illustration of egocentrism. Egocentric describes a person when he or she lives like what’s normal for him or her is (or should be) normal for everyone, like the way he or she perceives something is how something is (or should be) universally perceived. So it’s egocentric, for instance, to assume that because my family eats lasagna on Christmas, all families eat lasagna on Christmas.
Egocentrism is normal in childhood and adolescence. Kids still have a lot to learn.
Apparently, so do adults.
Twice today, I stumbled upon online commentary — one post about abortion and one post about contraception — written by people whose opinions on both are, basically, the exact opposite of mine. To sum up both arguments, the abortion writer asserted that consenting to sex is not consenting to pregnancy and that because sex and procreation are disconnected in our culture now, we ought to treat them like they should be. The contraception writer asserted that a woman deserves the right to control her fertility and any other perspective (i.e. that of my church) is an assault on people who have vaginas.
(For the record, I have one, and I do not feel assaulted.)
But to the point:
I’m reminded of some of the people I’ve encountered whose opinions also oppose the aforementioned two — the people who hold up signs with pictures of aborted babies on them, who picket in effort to see Roe v. Wade reversed, who say bad things to and about the women who choose to use the pill.
There’s always been, and always will be, a lot of argument between both sides.
“It’s just a bunch of cells.” v. “It has a soul.”
“Sex is recreational.” v. “Sex is for babies and bonding.”
You catch my drift.
Well I’ve reached a point at which I’m pretty frustrated with both sides.
Because of egocentrism.
Because you have the half who believe it’s just a bunch cells telling the half that believes it’s a baby that abortion ain’t no thang because it’s just a bunch of cells. You have the half who believe it’s “my body, my choice” telling the half that believes our bodies are not our own that we should be pro-choice because these are our bodies and therefore our choices.
Then you have the half that believes a baby in utero has as much value as the woman in whose uterus it grows telling the half that believes if it’s in utero it isn’t a baby… that abortion is wrong because it results in the death of a baby. You have the half that believes “it’s ok to have sex when you’re not fertile, but it’s not ok to turn off your own fertility” because it turns sex from selfless (as it should be) to self-focused telling the half that doesn’t believe sex should be selfless that we ought not to control our fertility, lest we turn sex into a selfish act.
In other words, you have a bunch of people saying “Because I believe X, you should live your life like X is true.”
So basically, you have a bunch of people living like what’s normal for them (like the belief that what’s inside a pregnant woman’s uterus is a baby) should be normal for everyone, and like the way he or she perceives something (that sex is recreational, for instance) is how it should be universally perceived.
And there are two hunches I have about this.
1. That there is an incredible lack of empathy for each other on both sides.
Try for a second to see the world through the eyes of somebody whose opinion is the opposite of yours. Because if I believed what’s inside a pregnant woman’s uterus is just a bunch of cells, I’d think abortion ain’t no thang, too. And if you believed what’s inside her uterus is a baby — no matter how small — your heart would break, too, every time you hear about an abortion. Stop arguing and start talking. Say, “I feel this way because I believe X.” Invite the person who disagrees with you to empathize with you, and offer them empathy, too — even if they don’t. It goes a long way.
2. That on both sides, this is actually less of a fight for rights and more of a set of impassioned efforts to turn the world into one where believing what you believe will be easy.
I only can speak for my side — that is, the side that is for neither abortion nor contraception — when I say this, but I have seen so much judgment and so little modeling. If we are going to be pro-life, we ought to be pro-life consistently. What is life-giving about wearing a grim reaper costume outside an abortion clinic? What is life-giving about parading across a college campus with pictures of aborted babies? And why is it that we really fight for the reversal of Roe v. Wade? “Too many abortions” is not the problem. Abortion is a symptom, and the reversal of Roe v. Wade would be a Band Aid. So do we fight for its reversal because we want to see an end to abortion, or is it because we want the world to validate what we believe?
Do we engage in wars with each other because we’re trying to change the world for the better, or because we’re trying to change the world into us?
Do we want laws and institutions to cater to us because we’re right and they’re wrong, or because we’re dying to live where it’s always safe to believe what we believe?
(Note to self: it’s never gonna be.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Woah, super awesome article. I’ve just been thinking about how foolish most debates are: Liberal vs. Conservative, America vs. “terrorists”, pro-life vs. pro-choice. You totally nailed it, it’s not usually really about making the world a better place. It’s about validating one’s own opinion, without caring to look at the other side.

    Anyways, great article. I was silently saying “Yes! So true!” the whole time.

  • Thanks so much, Jordan! Grateful for the feedback and glad to hear somebody shares my sentiments. I’ve been pretty passionate about this lately.

  • Terry W

    Thanks for your good words here. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to being open to this subject. Being a pro-life protestant, I love to hear from people on both sides of the issue who are willing to at least listen to those on the other side of any issue. I have a feeling that if we could at least talk, that would go a long way in solving what ills us. While I don’t agree completely with your position, especially about contraception, I do wish that more of us could speak honestly with each other. Your words that ‘abortion is a symptom’ are so true. I have always believe that the ‘problem’ (for lack of a better word) is that is that so many pregnancies are sadly unwanted. And this is where I see things differently. Somehow, we need to do everything we can to make sure that every pregnancy, every baby is wanted. That is why I think we need to get everyone together to talk about how we can make sure this happens. We need to talk about abstinence (and thank you very much for your blog about this), plus I think we need to talk about educating about contraception. I realize we don’t agree on this, but I really appreciate the willingness and the need to talk. Somehow, we have to find a way to make sure that every time a baby is conceived, it will be loved and wanted. Blessings to you for your good words!

  • @Terry: Thanks so much for your kindness — these are tough topics, and often hard to hash out without one or both sides walking in with high defenses and walking out with hurt feelings. I, too, appreciate your willingness to talk and your empathy.

    I feel you, re: how sad it is when a pregnancy is unwanted. I worked with a guy at a pregnancy center for awhile who used to say “Crisis pregnancy centers should be called miracle centers.” I love that, and I think the fact that pregnancies are considered crises and/or are unwanted is, like abortion, a symptom. We who aren’t fans of contraception agree with you on this: we need to talk about chastity (which includes abstinence until marriage). The question I ask myself when I think about this stuff is this: If abortion and unwanted pregnancies are symptoms, what is the “disease?” I tend to believe it isn’t that too many people are getting pregnant, but that that too many people are having sex.

    But even that’s a symptom of something else.

    Perhaps the “disease” is how the world defines love, or how easy it is to objectify each other in our culture. It’s daunting. There are so many questions, and so many symptoms and problems. I think love and prayer are the best two places to start.