This morning on CBC news I heard a disturbing story about a woman in western Canada (Calgary) – Meredith Borowiec – who abandoned her new born son in a dumpster last fall and is suspected of having killed two other newborns (for the story see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2011/11/22/calgary-dumpster-baby-murder.html). The baby boy survived but one can only speculate that the two previous newborns did not. How very tragic! I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances that surrounded these events.
I know of women who desperately want to have and raise a child, and for one reason or another, simply cannot get pregnant or, if they do become pregnant, can’t carry a baby to term. For so many women – and men – it is simply inconceivable that a mother could throw out a precious life. The CBC report alluded to the possibility that a woman who would do such a thing may be afflicted with some form of mental illness. I have no idea but it certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that a “sane” person would do, or could do. I wonder what Meredith’s story is.
And of course at this time of year, it’s hard not to think of the birth of a baby boy almost 2000 years ago, who came into the world in humility and left it in shame, but is claimed by billions of people around the world to be the fulcrum point of human history. Who knows what the future holds for this one little “dumpster” baby? What plans might God have to redeem his life?
I also can’t help thinking about the way our collective conscience has been shaped – maybe even seared – by advocacy around the abortion issue. Why, oh why, are we so viscerally dismayed by the actions of Meredith Borowiec, and so apparently unconcerned by the actions of thousands of women who every week terminate pregnancies for one reason or another. What’s the difference? Activists have lobbied for a woman’s right to “choose” and by and large, society has gone along with it. A pregnancy that is unplanned and unwanted can be terminated and that’s that. The remains are discarded - perhaps not in a dumpster – but discarded nonetheless. The life that might have been is nipped in the bud. This too is tragic.
It’s curious, isn’t it, that the two scenarios which are so close, have such different outcomes? The actions of Meredith Borowiec not only offend our public conscience, but are blatantly illegal, while the actions of a woman who has an abortion are simply considered to be within the range of a woman’s rights over her own body. I’m not writing this to point fingers or to condemn anyone who has felt that her best option – perhaps only option – was to terminate a pregnancy. Rather, I’m looking at the way public opinion has been shaped around this issue. Life is complex – incredibly complex – and women have often had to make difficult and painful decisions. We make choices all the time – some of those choices are life giving and sacrificial and some of them are perhaps rooted in less noble responses - but I suspect that we all intend to make good, healthy, respectable choices whenever we can. Nobody - well, maybe I should say few people - set out to make bad choices.
I think it’s unfortunate that the debate has been framed around the issue of “choice”. The pro-choice side argues that women should have the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. The pro-life side argues that every life is precious and every effort should be made to preserve it. I sometimes think that the two sides are perhaps NOT as contrary as the ongoing debate suggests. Does anyone really WANT women to terminate their pregnancy? Does anyone really think that life is NOT precious? OK – maybe the cynics (realists?) among us will argue that the abortion industry is a business that, like other businesses is “for profit”. But I have to believe that the front line people in the debate – on both sides - have different motives.
If one is FOR LIFE, does that mean that they’re necessarily against CHOICE and if one is FOR CHOICE does that mean that they’re necessarily against LIFE? It’s a spurious division.
It seems to me that the goal for all of us ought to be to work together to ensure that the best choice a woman can make is to carry every baby to term. What if we stopped arguing and put all of our efforts and energies into creating a more nurturing environment in which babies can be conceived, born, raised and loved - from birth to death? What if we changed our culture so that women who currently can’t face the prospect of having and caring for a baby were given realistic other options? Has the debate taken on a life of it’s own - at the expense of the many, many lives of babies and their mothers, and even society at large – that should now be terminated? Could we all lay down our ideologies and passions for long enough to get our bearings and figure out who the real enemy is?
If we start from the premise that life IS precious (and for Christians and people of most, if not all, faith traditions - sacred), maybe we could begin to find more common ground. I’m not totally naive. I know that there are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between those who are “pro life” and those who are “pro choice”, but while the debate rages on, the reality of unplanned and unwanted pregnancy continues to wreak havoc on our society at all kinds of levels, seen and unseen.
How many Merediths are out there? What can we do – as a society – to provide the kind of resources (emotional, material, spiritual) that they need? How can we regain our collective sanity on this issue?