Living in the Wilderness: Starving for Nuance on the Abortion Debate


Does anyone else believe that the subject of abortion is more nuanced than the broad generalizations that shout, you’re either a murderer or you hate women? Is anyone else tired of the name-calling, the black and white thinking, the social media posts and memes with the sole purpose of shaming, stoking the fire, throwing bigger stones? It appears that gracious, respectful, and honoring dialogue is rare these days, and I’m exhausted as I observe the battles on social media. I am starving for context and nuance in this discussion and yet terrified to start the conversation myself. I don’t have answers. I don’t stand firm in one camp and shoot arrows at the other. I don’t believe half the country are misogynists and the other half are baby killers. I’m afraid to write about my thoughts on this issue. I’m afraid because I don’t cling to one side or the other with an army of supporters to back me up in case of an attack. I’m afraid that no matter what I write, 50% of my friends and family will immediately see me as the enemy regardless of who they know me to be or what they’ve come to know of my heart. I’m afraid, and YET, I have a desire to bring a conversation forward that is void of hate and name-calling. Will you help me? Do you believe we can be respectful, vulnerable, brave, smart, and kind in our exchanges, giving grace to those we disagree with? Are we up for the challenge of leading with kindness? Please join me as I try!  We will do our best and ask the Lord to take care of the rest.

As I wrestle with this complex issue, please stick with me. Please understand that I’m a person seeking love and grace…to give it freely and receive it fully. Please know that I do not claim to be right or to know right or to live right. If I miss a perspective in this post, forgive me and please share your heart, your desires, your perceptions. I want to hear from you. I want to learn from you. I’m doing the best I can to listen to all viewpoints while building bridges between us versus burning them down. I’m doing my best to see both sides from a place of love and grace, so that I can embrace people regardless of our different postures and points of view. I have no desire to plant my feet in cement and scream at the crowd across from me for the rest of my life. There are many amazing, loving, smart, kind, giving people on all sides of this controversy, and I am broken as I watch us throw stones at each other from our glass houses. I don’t want to choose sides on every debate, but I do want to love all people well.

I have never seen good come out of vitriolic rhetoric, healing from hate, salvation from fear, grace from judgement. I truly believe humbly loving and serving one another is the path to restoration, love and healing, healthy community. As a fan of Jesus, I believe love is the path through confusion and darkness…the weapon that defeats the grip of hate. I believe in the redeeming power of love and I feel myself collapsing under the weight of cruel assumptions, bitter accusations, vicious words without an iota of loving consideration. I feel this burden regardless of the side serving the venom.  

My Reaction to the Pro-Choice Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-choice advocates claiming that pro-life/anti-abortion supporters don’t care about women’s rights, I wince. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect what they believe is a vulnerable and voiceless human being is equivalent to not caring about women or women’s bodies. Caring about the outcome of a babies life and caring about women’s rights are not binary choices. We can and should care about both. If we see abuse of a newborn, we report it. We report it to protect the baby. We report abuse even with the understanding that the mom may lose her rights to parent that child. This does not make the reporter of suspected abuse hateful or sexist. If I’m someone who believes that the entity within a woman’s womb is a human life, then naturally, as another loving human being, I feel the need to protect that life. If I believe there is a body….a somebody inside a woman’s womb, then doesn’t it make sense that I should care to protect them both? That I shouldn’t weigh one’s worth over the other? That I should support them equally in their right to life? That I would choose to fight for both of them to live regardless of their age? If I believe personhood begins in the womb, then isn’t it imperative that I act as a voice for the voiceless and defend the defenseless, not because I don’t believe in a woman’s autonomy, but because I believe in protecting the unprotected?

It makes sense to me that people who believe a fetus is a life would advocate for birth and fight against abortion. They literally believe they’re saving lives, and in that case, “her body, her choice” doesn’t apply, because they believe there’s more than one body being discussed, and that one choice affects the lives of 2 people. With that being said, of course we can and should have the difficult and nuanced discussion around when the fetus becomes a life requiring protection. This is one of many questions that will have different answers, but different doesn’t mean that those on one side are appalling and those on the other have it all figured out.

My Reaction to the Pro-life Rhetoric:

When I hear or read pro-life/anti-abortion advocates calling pro-choice supporters murderers and baby killers, I cringe. I struggle with the idea that someone attempting to protect women’s rights and privacy due to their belief that the embryo or fetus is not a human being, is equivalent to hating or wanting to kill babies. I disavow the assumptions I see in reality-distorting memes suggesting that there are lots of women waiting until their 3rd trimester to abort a perfectly healthy baby. With abortion being more accessible in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and women understanding the pain, the fatigue, the erratic hormone shifts, the difficult and irreversible changes that happen to her body throughout pregnancy, I reject the notion that there are numerous women enduring all of that while they weigh the decision for 6+ months. I find these presumptions hurtful and harmful, not just to having a productive conversation, but to those dear women who have had to make impossible decisions late in their pregnancy, in the midst of the worst times of their lives. There are many men and women who love children and have, or plan to have children, who also support a woman’s right to choose because they do not believe that the embryo or fetus is a person. It seems clear to me that there aren’t millions of people who desire to execute babies, but rather millions of people who support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will carry a group of tissue and cells inside her womb to the point of personhood. There are women who are healthy with a healthy embryo who choose to abort for a whole host of reasons (age, financial, mental health, physical environment, timing, hopes, fears, etc.) that are personal to them and their circle of support. There are reasons for abortion that I don’t understand or agree with, however if someone believes the potentiality for life is NOT equivalent to life, then naturally it follows that they would  believe they have the right to choose what to do with the entity inside their own body. It is also important to remember that this issue covers more complex scenarios. There are women who opt for a therapeutic abortion because their baby is not viable for life outside the womb. There are women who opt for abortion due to the irreparable damage of being raped or surviving incest. There are women who opt for abortion because their life is at risk. Regardless of the reason, again, it comes back to the nuanced discussion of when we believe the fetus becomes a person. If I believe the fetus is not an individual until a certain point in the pregnancy, then it makes sense for me to believe that a woman has the right to choose whether or not she will carry the embryo or fetus up until that point.

It is rarely appropriate OR helpful to paint with broad strokes, especially when discussing such a complex topic. There are so many women grieving the unthinkable loss of their baby who are retraumatized by the lack of grace and understanding that explodes onto social media every time there’s a hot button court case. It breaks my heart that so many women are thrust back into pain and shame without a chance to tell their story…without anyone even stopping to ask what their story is.

This dispute has always felt very grey to me, but I have always considered myself pro-life, with exceptions of rape, incest, and the mother’s life being at risk. However, when I was pregnant with my first-born, my eyes were opened to just how personal and murky this debate really is. My brother died in a tragic accident when I was 11 weeks pregnant with my son Isaac. The night before my 12 week prenatal appointment I was suffering from extreme anxiety and panic, as I feared there would be something horribly wrong with my baby, and I knew I could NOT survive another loss. My entire family gathered around my parent’s kitchen table and prayed for me and the life growing inside. After that terrifying appointment, I began to imagine what it would be like to be told that my baby wasn’t viable for life outside the womb, or that he didn’t have a heartbeat, or any number of horrible announcements from a doctor that change the trajectory of a pregnancy…change the trajectory of all the lives involved. Around this time, I received a prayer request for a woman who knowingly and courageously was giving birth to her stillborn baby. It was in that EXACT moment (reading this gut-wrenching prayer request) that I knew I could never live through laboring and delivering my dead son or expose my family to such trauma as we were still reeling with grief over the unexpected loss of my brother. I would never have recovered from this fate. If I had faced that horrible reality, I would have chosen a therapeutic abortion, as I truly believe that I couldn’t have endured the alternative at that time in my life. I would have opted for an abortion and I would have been thankful that it was an option. Contrary to many of the memes and hurtful mud-slinging I hear and see, I don’t believe that decision would’ve made me Godless, faithless, heartless, or a murderer. I believe most of us make decisions based on advanced medicine/science and the intimate knowledge of our own capacity to live with our choices, and doing so we can still walk faithfully with God through it all. It was this experience that gave me a more nuanced perspective than I had ever had before. It made me realize how our experiences so often drive what we’re willing to fight for and that maybe sharing our stories with each other could narrow the divide.

Rather than spreading hate from both sides, I truly believe we could introduce love to one another by taking the time to have a conversation and listen…really listen. Listen to the woman who has lived through rape. Listen to the woman who had an abortion and now wishes she had made another choice. Listen to the woman who labored and delivered her lifeless baby. Listen to the young girl who survived incest and is now carrying her father’s child. Listen to the woman who cannot have children and couldn’t fathom ever choosing not to. Listen to the family that lost their mom, their wife, their daughter, sister, aunt during childbirth. Listen to the mom who struggles to feed her 3 kids and now must make the hardest decision of her life. Listen to the woman who was harassed at Planned Parenthood when she went in for a therapeutic abortion because her very much wanted and loved baby was not viable for life outside the womb. Listen to the woman who chose to be a teenage mom. Listen to the woman who had the abortion when she was 14 and has no regrets. Listen to the couple living through IVF. Listen to the family that loves a child with disabilities. Listen to the fostered child. Listen to the adult who seeks therapy from the trauma of foster care. Listen to the adult who praises the blessings gained from foster care. Listen to the stories of miracles and the stories of loss, the stories of regret and the stories of gratitude. I can only imagine the countless ways this issue affects women and families and I can only imagine the overwhelm that comes with each decision. And, because I can only imagine, I’m thankful for those who have shared their stories with me. I believe it is these conversations that have landed me in a place where I no longer make assumptions about the kind of person you are or the heart that you have based on where you land on this issue.

Where I “Think” I Land

I believe all life has value and should be protected, but I will openly admit that I don’t know where I land on the timeline of a fetus becoming a life. I believe a woman’s body must be treated with honor and respect and if that is violated, she should have the right to proceed in whatever way is necessary to heal rather than perpetuate that trauma. I have always considered myself pro-life AND I believe that a woman should be able to receive a therapeutic abortion if she has been raped, the baby isn’t viable for life, or the mom’s life is at risk. I have always considered myself pro-life AND making abortion illegal concerns me because I don’t want women pursuing life-threatening options or ending up in jail for seeking an abortion as that defeats the entire purpose of advocating for life and family. I believe all life has worth and should be treated with love and respect  including those who disagree with me and/or those who’ve made choices I “think” I wouldn’t make. But, the truth is we have no idea what choice we would make until we’re in those shoes, breathing that air, crying those tears, screaming those prayers. I am thankful I never had to make that choice, but I do not stand in judgment of women who have.

What wakes me in the middle of the night is the thought that some people I love dearly will say that I’m anti-woman for these beliefs and some will say I’m an assassin of innocent life. I stand in the middle somewhere as I try to consider the nuances and it is a lonely place to stand. I don’t belong to a camp because I see good people in both camps, and because I see good people in both camps, none of the camps will have me. The world tells us that we have to plant our flag on one side and despise the other, be disgusted by the other, call the other godless, evil, ignorant, misogynist, and on and on. To Brene’ Brown’s point in Braving the Wilderness, I don’t want to connect with a group or bond with others because we hate the same people with equal intensity. I want to find my relevance in a group that is built on who we can love and how much we can love them. This middle ground, this desert, this wilderness is isolating and scary and I’m hoping that I will eventually bump into others who live here too. I hope that even if we disagree we can commune respectfully and thoughtfully with our hearts and arms wide open for a warm embrace. Brene’ wrote a chapter titled, “It’s Hard to Hate Close Up,” and this is why I believe sharing and listening to each other’s stories is so important in the quest to love each other better and create a space of belonging. I would like to be on this journey with you.    

As I continue to tell my story and listen to others, I want everyone to know that the God I serve loves all of us, regardless of the choices we’ve made. I want everyone to know that God is not up in heaven wagging his finger, shaking his head, and saying “shame on you!” I want every person to know that they are loved and worthy of that love. I hear God saying, “grace on you!” God’s love is the example I seek to follow and I pray that I will connect with others on the same journey for life-giving grace and unabashed love.

If you relate to these struggles I would love to hear from you! I believe we can speak hope and love into each other’s lives. As I mentioned earlier, if I’ve missed a perspective and you would like to share your story and your thoughts, I would also love to hear from you! I believe it’s the sharing of the history behind our narratives that can build bridges. If you think a more nuanced conversation is valuable, please share this so that we can continue a conversation void of hate and hurt and filled with grace and the desire to listen and love well!

Reframing the Negative Beliefs We Have About Ourselves

If you ever hear a voice that says, “you’re too this” or “you’re too that” or “you’re not enough of this or that,” I want to suggest that you can gently steer that voice to a new truth. I think it’s possible that what we’ve come to consider our weaknesses, in many cases, might be our greatest assets. Let’s talk about reframing that inner chatter that has led to beliefs about ourselves that are not serving us well.

A few weeks ago I was in a work meeting where I found myself waffling back and forth between 2 sides who were making very good points. I suddenly felt terribly embarrassed about my lack of decision-making ability. Embarrassed that I couldn’t choose a side and stick with it. Embarrassed that I couldn’t make up my mind. My inner critic was turning up the heat with warnings of how ridiculous I looked. I pictured her rolling her eyes while she said, “Renee’ your inability to choose a side is reflective of your lack of intelligence. Everyone in this meeting is annoyed with how indecisive you are and you’re losing any respect you may have had from these colleagues. If you were smarter you would know which choice was the right one and stick with it.” When the meeting ended I sent a message to my co-worker apologizing for flip-flopping and joking that I would make a terrible politician. Her reply caught me completely off guard and offered that eye-rolling part of me a new interpretation of who I am and what I have to offer. My co-worker shared that if she had a choice of who would mediate a difficult discussion with 2 opposing views, she would CHOOSE me, because I’m fair and open to hearing both sides before making a decision. In a matter of seconds she turned a trait I have always seen as a shortcoming into a skill, a strength, an offering to help others. I was astounded! For as long as I can remember I have been frustrated with my inability to choose a side and then “stick to my guns.” For the first time, I was hearing that this “inability” actually made me capable of leading difficult discussions and bringing nuance to disagreements. In a matter of seconds my colleague took a 30+ year belief that I was a failure at being decisive and turned it right on its head.

Do you have beliefs about yourself that could be reframed? Maybe you believe you’re too emotional or oversensitive, but your friends and co-workers see a compassionate human being that heals hearts with loving empathy. Maybe you think you’re too shy, too quiet, but people feel a peace in your presence because you naturally make room for them to process their feelings and just be. Maybe you believe you’re too loud or too assertive, but others are drawn to you and inspired because you bravely stand up for what you believe in.

I encourage you to share your insecurities with a trusted loved one and ask them what they see. Allow someone who loves and cares for you help you redefine how you see yourself and your “flaws.” Explore those areas where you beat yourself up, and consider the possibility that those could be the very places that bring so much value to the lives around you. We will always have opportunities for growth and areas for improvement, but let’s first make sure we’re not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.