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My mother with my brother and me.

Life is complicated—and included within that expression is the understanding that human life is complicated. I understand that many people, including dear friends of mine, think of life in black and white terms. For me, there is no way to ignore the varied shades of gray. It is simpler to say something either is or is not—and, yet, I cannot do so. I have listened to Bible lessons and sermons all my life—and I’ve dug into the Bible on my own and through study with others. God and Jesus and their Bible are also complicated. My heart and prayers tell me to look for the love within the rules. If God and Jesus are love—and I believe they are—then wrestling to find the love in the complications is part of that commandment to love one another.

When the rule is defined as life begins at conception—despite the science on the matter—and when there are no exceptions, then we are saying that emerging life is primary to existing living beings, and that any effects on other humans are secondary.

So when the young mother in the 1920s is in labor with her first child—it will be discovered the infant is a son with such severe hydrocephalus that he will not survive and his delivery will kill his mother. The decision is made to lance his head so she will not die. The sorrow at this loss will follow her to her grave—as she spends the rest of her life decorating his grave every Memorial Day. But she will go on to give birth to 5 living children, who will have 22 who live past birth, to 42 in the next generation to a number near that in the current generation.

Another young mother in the 1920s will have ectopic twin pregnancies, growing outside the womb, until they burst and destroy both her fallopian tubes. There was no chance for those fertilized eggs to grow safely, given a fetus cannot survive outside of the uterus. Unlike most women of her era, the woman survived the infection that followed. She recovered, but she had forever lost the opportunity to be a mother. (And the Depression years that followed turned out to be a hard time to find babies to adopt—somehow surprise babies were rarely born.)

Enter the 1950s. A married mother of two young children finds out her current pregnancy will kill her. A doctor (not a back-alley doctor, but a respected local physician) terminates that pregnancy. Years later, the woman who assisted with the hush-hush procedure will see that mother out with her children and realize just how different those children’s lives could have been.

None of these situations addresses the ability of a woman to control the size of her family—these were all women who had welcomed those pregnancies—and were devastated when the pregnancies did not end with a healthy baby in their arms. But with 1960 came the introduction of “the Pill.” And with Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, married women around the country could turn their focus to the children they already had. Thirty years later as I reveled in the births of my miracle twins, I would listen to these women talk about the relief they felt when they could raise the three to five children they already had—and not worry about the cost, time, and possible physical complications of having more children.

Of course, unmarried women still had to wait for a decision on the right to birth control until the early 1970s, which was followed by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

I have known women who bore little responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies and who took a casual approach to abortion. But, so many more weigh the decision against a lot of those gray factors. And how do we as a society show love for women who do choose life in difficult situations?

The same people who would deny abortion (and many forms of birth control, should precedent also be thrown out against the privacy laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment) are often stingy about helping those in need. Education, medical care, food, and housing assistance are all called out as socialism—and admonishments to take personal responsibility come from political leaders and media sources. There is little recognition for how poverty affects the parents and those lives that were saved. It’s as if society’s own responsibility to care for life stops at birth.

Which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who take personal responsibility.” And, instead, he continues to provide parables that show he is not so concerned with personal responsibility as are so many in our current times. The older brother in the “Prodigal Son” story is not the hero—despite how responsible he has been. The first workers in the vineyard are not praised simply because they have always done the right thing. These kinds of people are called out because they lack compassion for those who have made mistakes. And they are reprimanded for not thinking they should share with those “others.”

If you’re pro-life, then you really need to also show that by supporting a society that provides a safety net for those who need help to raise that life. But, really, pro-life should be pro-God, which means trusting God to be in the details. Jesus didn’t address abortion in any way. But he did address topics such as loving all your neighbors (including your enemies), caring for the poor, forgiving 7 x 70, and “judging not lest ye be judged.”

Lest we forget, our country was founded with a separation of church and state. Not as a Christian nation nor as a nation where Christians get to tell everyone else how to live. The best way Christians can promote Christian values in this nation is by following Jesus’ mandate—to love one another. And empathy is a huge component of love. Taking baby steps in others’ shoes is a way to begin to understand how complicated life is. Taking away someone’s choice is oversimplifying all the repercussions of continuing life at all costs. In the gray, we can take circumstances into consideration.

But with the current push toward legal changes with their all-or-nothing application, I fear my whole large family’s future existence would have been erased in the moment when the doctor was required to let my grandmother die.

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