It is enormously difficult to change one’s belief system. The older and more invested we are in our convictions, the harder it is to change them. Whether this means abandoning a prejudice or a political system, accepting a relationship with God or rejecting the faith in which one was brought up, changing belief systems is hard. We all recognize how difficult changing positions is regardless of whether we think the change would be for the better or for the worse. Abandoning long-held values, core convictions and entrenched ideas can be a cataclysmic experience.
In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that the pro-life movement is increasingly being led by younger people. For millions of older women, a woman’s right to abortion became a defining principle of faith. Forty-two years after the passage of Roe vs. Wade, another generation of women (while there are men involved as well, I want to focus on females) is questioning if commitment to that creed is admirable. They, unlike the older generation, are able to see unexpected consequences that, by definition, were unanticipated. They can analyze scientific data that was unavailable in 1973 when the Supreme Court made its decision. Would that decision have been made if back then people could see the images we can see today showing how quickly fetuses look like babies, how they flinch and feel pain early on? This younger generation can assess the question objectively, since abortion is not the paramount issue on which they have been making personal, political and social decision for these past four decades. Understandably, this confuses yesterday’s generation that thought it was handing these youngsters a gift only to find they are rejecting it.
Some of these older women may regret abortions they had when younger. For others, an abortion may be only a dim and unimportant memory. Others may be terribly conflicted, regretting an abortion at the same time as they are grateful for the lives they were able to establish because there wasn’t a birth. While their views on abortion may have changed, they feel hypocritical suggesting that a woman today should not have the same option they had.
One of the many losses of our times is polarization. Newspapers, TV news, even comedy shows are geared towards a niche audience. Discouraging people even more from having honest conversations with those who hold different opinions is the fact that online comments, whether on the Huffington Post or the Blaze, tend to be dominated by venomous, vile and unintelligent statements. These make it easy to dismiss anyone who doesn’t think like oneself as unworthy of engagement. While the media and politicians love highlighting strident or stupid statements, in reality, those views represent minorities.
What would happen if five older pro-choice women and five younger pro-life women gathered in a room together? I’m not talking of the firebrands on either side. Leave aside those women whose political power or salaries derive from the issue. Leave aside those who can only speak in mantras, whether they are, “a woman’s body is her own,” or “abortion is our Holocaust.” Rather, I’m talking of pro-choice advocates who can acknowledge that what has played out socially over the past four decades in America and what we understand about babies in the womb thanks to modern science is different from what they imagined in 1973. I’m talking of pro-life advocates who are willing to listen with open hearts to the concerns of the other side and work together on finding ways to ensure that no woman goes through an unwanted pregnancy unsupported. I think the group would find much in common. Senior members might be surprised at how bright, engaging and passionate in their position these junior counterparts are. The younger group might be amazed at hearing how much they take for granted that the generation before them didn’t and better understand why abortion took such a central stage.
I’m not an objective bystander on this issue. I think our country took a wrong moral and legal turn when Roe vs. Wade was decided. The consequences of that decision, I believe, have been devastating, affecting the well-being of this country in countless ways. However, I see hope that despite the recent spinelessness and lack of principle of the Republican Congress, despite a president who insists that killing a healthy, full-term baby as it exits the womb is a woman’s right, the younger generation’s leadership is moving us, on this issue at least, in the right direction.
also available individually and on Kindle and Nook