This is simply my story of how I became pro-choice. I’m not writing this to convince anyone– it was a journey that took years, and what convinced me may not convince anyone else. I believe that writing my story for you is important; in all the reading I did during those years, I only found one person who was willing to explain what she had been through. Hearing her story helped me process what I was going through. I hope it does the same for someone else.
For over a year I existed in that place of tension– somewhere in-between pro-choice and pro-life, uncertain of some things, yet completely certain of others.
One of the things I was utterly certain of was that a fetus was a person. Another thing I was also completely certain of was that this was the only real question in the debate: Pro-choice people believe that a fetus was not a person, pro-life people believe that it is, and that was that.
The reason I believed that a fetus was a person, endowed with the same inalienable rights as all other persons, was, of course, my religion. I had been raised a fundamentalist Christian, and excepting a four-year period when I didn’t particularly care if God existed or not, Christianity’s principles regarding the sacredness of all life, including the lives of the unborn, was something I simply accepted. There were nebulous, unformed arguments I knew of– things about Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaping in her womb and being fearfully and wonderfully made. It was just a part of my faith. For me, life began at conception. It was the only way I knew how to think about this mystery, this miracle, in concrete terms.
And then, in November 2012, when I was researching NFP versus hormonal contraception, I stumbled across this:
So let’s get this straight, taking birth control makes a woman’s body LESS likely to dispel fertilized eggs. If you believe that life begins at conception, shouldn’t it be your moral duty to reduce the number of zygote “abortions?” If you believe that a zygote is a human, you actually kill more babies by refusing to take birth control.
I . . . had never heard this before. It took me a while just to process what I’d read. A woman’s body naturally expels the vast majority of fertilized eggs? I was faced with a conundrum I had never encountered before: what is conception? Does it really happen when sperm meets egg? How can that be, when up to 80% of all zygotes are naturally aborted? I read the common arguments– that this is just a natural part of the reproductive process. However, I noticed a contradiction I couldn’t overcome. In discussions concerning hormonal contraception, what frequently came up was that if the body expels it naturally, it’s normal and acceptable, but if a woman swallows a pill, it’s . . . murder? That didn’t make any sense to me. If the “intention” of not wanting to become pregnant makes it murder, how is not doing everything within our power to save this fully endowed human life not at the very least medical neglect? No one seemed to be very bothered by the fact that perhaps 80% of the human population was being decimated by “natural processes.” If conception really happens when the egg is fertilized . . . how is that anything less than a horrific tragedy?
It bothered me that we could argue that conception was the moment of ensoulment, but that all these souls– all these billions and billions of fully human people– were dying in a matter of hours or days, and no one in the pro-life movement seemed to mind that it was happening. And it hit me: I didn’t value a zygote. I didn’t really see it as a person, with life. I believed that a zygote was a person in a rhetorical, philosophical sense– it was merely a logical place to draw the line for the purpose of debate.
My initial response was simply to bump it forward: oh, that must mean that ensoulment happens when the egg implants on the uterine wall, which is how the medical community defines pregnancy. But . . . up to 70% of all pregnancies are also naturally aborted.
The confusion was overwhelming. I avoided thinking about it– really thinking about it– for months, simply because I couldn’t handle it. The closest word I have to describe my feelings when I tried to wrestle with this issue was panic. This was the first time I started reading about, and actually considering, the concept potential life. In the evangelical atmosphere I’d grown up in, there was no such thing as “potential life”– things are either alive or they are not. It is a alive, or it is a rock. It is alive, or it is dead. There’s no such thing as some nebulous, murky, in-between life-but-not-alive state. That was simply a rhetorical invention of anti-life people who want the right to murder babies.
Which, I ironically discovered, is not really true. In fact, “potential life” is a very, very old concept:
And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man’s power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being.
St. Augustine, from If They have Ever Lived
St. Augustine wrote that. Augustine. And he wrote it sometime in the early 5th century. Christianity had been wrestling with the concept of potential life almost as long as it has existed. I knew that Augustine was influenced by the classical Greek authors who also all believed in some pre-life-yet-alive-state, but he was not alone. The idea of potential life was one of the first that I discovered that I immediately latched on to; something inside of me resonated with this idea. Intuitively, it felt true. It made sense. It aligned with not only my experiences, but what I was starting to feel was a communal experience: somehow, as a pregnancy progresses from zygote to baby, we respond to that.
It was when I [Noami Wolf] was four months pregnant, sick as a dog, and in the middle of an argument, that I realized I could no longer tolerate the fetus-is-nothing paradigm of the pro-choice movement. I was being interrogated by a conservative, and the subject of abortion rights came up. “You’re four months pregnant,” he said. “Are you going to tell me that’s not a baby you’re carrying?”
Had I not been so nauseated and so cranky and so weighed down with the physical gravity of what was going on inside me, I might not have told what is the truth for me. “Of course it’s a baby,” I snapped. And went rashly on: “And if I found myself in circumstances in which I had to make the terrible decision to end this life, then that would be between myself and God.”
But, even as I settled into this concept of potential life, I realized that I was in serious trouble. Because, the only concrete thing I was clinging to had evaporated. The unshakable belief that conception is the beginning and conception is life was gone, and I couldn’t touch bottom. If there is no beginning, if there’s this slow, inexorable process of not-quite-life-becoming-life, then I had to ask myself the question: am I even pro-life at all?
So, in my twilight hour, when I had completely exhausted every other resource, when there was nothing left to research, no more perspectives left to read and understand, no other opinions to listen to, no more facts . . . I opened my Bible, hoping that it would be the place I could discover some kind of an answer. And, for what was probably the first time in my life, I turned to the Bible completely empty of what I believed it said. I didn’t know what it said at all.
What I found shocked me.