To my friends who view abortion as a betrayal of their religious values: I want you to know that I love you for who you are and understand where you are coming from.
I grew up with many friends for whom the church was an important part of family and community. I was, perhaps unwittingly, towed along to vacation bible camp” at said friends’ churches and for several summers in high school, an evangelical camp. Ultimately I chose the University of Portland for college, which is a Catholic institution.
I do not consider myself religious, but that does not mean I lack values. Teachings that resonate with me include cultivating a forgiving and generous perspective toward others. In the spirit of that, I will begin with saying, I know that you believe strongly in fetal life and the idea of preventing a fetus from being born is unacceptable, that to do so would be, as you often express, “evil.” Because we live in a country that values freedom to govern one’s self, you are absolutely free to hold that perspective.
If you believe that life begins with conception, then I respect your autonomy and will treat you accordingly.
To be clear: I have no interest in aborting your wanted pregnancies.
No family planning advocate in the world is trying to force you to take birth control or have an abortion if you do not want those things. Why? Because it is your body and you get to choose. Not me, not a group of legislators who have no medical training, not the president. Just you.
If you are ready and want to become a parent, then I am overjoyed to provide your prenatal care and have the privilege of being present for your child’s birth. If, during that care, you want to decline certain tests or procedures or after the birth of your child you wish to decline a medication or birth control, I may clinically disagree, but I would never force a treatment on you. At the end of the day in your pregnancy and medical care, it is your body, and I will strive to provide the most up to date, accurate information to assist you.
I would like to imagine that you would do the same for me.
No one is asking you to personally perform or endorse abortion. I am asking you to recognize the importance of giving each person the opportunity and respect to make their own decisions in line with their own beliefs, just as I respect yours.
Allow me to explore another value we both practice. I believe in charity. Many people are born into situations outside their control with little hope of escaping poverty, poor access to education, early exposure to substance use and other social disadvantages. And, like most Christians, I believe it is the duty of the fortunate to help even the field and provide ways out of poverty and sickness. I believe we should help give people a life worth having.
How exactly that life manifests will be complex and different for every person. There are affluent, doctorate-holding CEOs who at a given point in their lives cannot fathom having a child. Equally, there are impoverished parents of large families who may welcome another pregnancy. Both are valid. Regardless, the cost of carrying an unintended pregnancy, not to mention raising a child, can further the depth of poverty and lack of control over one’s life to lows that before medical school, I could not imagine. I meet patients in this position for whom being pregnant is untenable. I see severe addiction and mental illness impede a person’s ability to parent at all. I see their children, whose existence is chaos within the foster system for years. I see women who are beaten or trafficked and refuse to admit it out of fear they will be murdered.
And most of all, you should know that I see you. I listen to you say that you are a happily married Christian woman with other children and that you don’t believe in abortion and can’t believe you’re here. I understand your fear and anger over what your community would say if they knew and over the fact that despite this, now that you are faced with the decision it is the only thing that feels right to you. For any number of reasons — the end of a career, the end of long-term financial stability for your family, the end of financial support for your other children — you tell me that it would be the end of life as you know it, something impossible to endure to go through with this pregnancy.
I think about your life as you know it, I think about living in the terror and chaos of poverty, of never feeling safe or full and I think about the quality of life of children brought into the world woefully unsupported.
That is why when I relieve the burden of unintended pregnancy I know I am giving life. That is why to provide family planning services is to be pro-life.
Sometimes you are angry with me because I represent something you have been taught to hate and fear. Opponents of family planning services would have you think I’m inhumane, a villain with no religion or values. But I still love and support you. You kindly read my perspective and know my values as I hear yours. As I said, I am not asking you to change your beliefs. I am asking you to recognize that when any one woman is free to make her own decisions like you, we are all free.
Support women. Support life by supporting the freedom to choose.
Anne Toledo is a family physician.
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