Thursday, December 2, 2021

Honoring the Sacred Space of Life's Beginning and End and Women's Consent - Spiritual Issues and Pastoral Implications

The following articles raise serious theological and pastoral issues about the role of lawmakers in decisions about life's beginning and end. The Bible does not define when life begins or ends. 

In conversations about abortion, Melissa Florer-Bixler raises serious questions about "the grey edges of life" where real women deal with heart-rendering choices about ending pregnancies. 

  "After Gabriel explains God’s plan, there is a holy pause, Camille Hernandez writes, "Gabriel, the pantheon of angels, and God await Mary's response. Then in verse 38, Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Many people believe that it is a miracle that Mary said “yes.”  But the true miracle is that God waited: God’s movement is driven by a woman’s consent, agency, and bodily autonomy."

The question now is will the Supreme Court in the Mississippi case affirm women's consent as well as protect life's viability beyond 15 weeks? 

 Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP

"As a Pastor, I can't Define Life's Edges. Neither Can Lawmakers" by Melissa Florer-Bixler

..."As a pastor I don’t ask, in this holy space of in between, when death is drawing near, theological questions about personhood or ensoulment. Neither do medical definitions of what marks life’s margins — heartbeats, breath, or brain function — occupy my concern. These are the gray edges of life.

Anti-abortions laws, like the law most recently passed in Texas, attempt to turn the holy gray of life’s beginning into a searing black and white. But even the politicians behind these laws cannot escape the complication of defining the legal status of prenatal life. In some states, like Alabama, an embryo in a lab is not considered a person while an embryo implanted in a uterus at the same point in development is. Texas theoretically makes space for abortion when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. Other states make exceptions for abortion in the case of incest and rape.

Pastors and chaplains are on the front line of the fallout that comes from attempting to adjudicate the undefinable. Clergy friends, especially those who work in hospitals, have relayed stories to me, often in exhausted grief, of the liminal space they encounter at life’s beginning. A fetus developing without a brain. A woman with an onset of preeclampsia prior to the viability of her fetus.

I’ve been there, too. I once sat with an unhoused friend, a woman deeply troubled by untreated mental illness, in the office of Planned Parenthood. Her period was late. She’d had dreams that she was pregnant, and she needed to know. We waited in the lobby of the only nonprofit in my city that would see her for free. And I wondered: What would she do if she was pregnant, unhoused, and mentally ill?...

The anti-abortion movement wants to replace my wonder at life’s origins with draconian, misogynist laws. But I can sustain my wonder at the intricate detail of human life barely the size of a pinprick without demanding the law clarify life’s boundaries.

I cannot collapse this complex period of development into a system of classification that confuses the moral, physical, and psychological distinction between a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, and a baby. They are not the same. We can think about the distinction between viable and non-viable fetal life as dependency. Pregnancy involves a human being who bleeds and hungers, who suffers and can die.

The Bible, for all of anti-abortion’s Christian culture warriors, has little interest in pinpointing the start of personhood. It says nothing about when a body gains a soul or the ethics of abortion. But the Bible is clear about this: There is tremendous grief in the world — much of it caused by people who create structural and social hierarchies. For those whose bodies are unruly to coercive power, the result is profound harm.

And yet, God is with us, there in the horrific decision to end a much-wanted pregnancy. God is holding the hand of an unhoused woman as she weeps in a Planned Parenthood office. God is there when there are no options, when there is no way out, when there is no one left. God is there in the gray space, the boundaries of which cannot be fixed by law. God is there in the wonder and the terror of the in between."

"I'm Dreaming of a Women's Rights Christmas" by Camille Hernandez, Sojourners

"When Gabriel tells Mary of God’s plan in Luke 1, Mary asks Gabriel in verse 34, “How can this be?” Mary asks this question because she is aware of the social implications of her being pregnant out of wedlock. What sticks out to me about this exchange is how Gabriel explains God’s plan to Mary: Mary’s pregnancy will be miraculous and controversial, but instead of facing public scrutiny alone, Mary will have the support of her relative, Elizabeth, who is also miraculously pregnant (v. 36). Therefore, God, through Gabriel, attempts to put Mary’s anxieties to rest by letting her know that she will have a trusted person who believes her and supports her during these vulnerable stages of pregnancy.

After Gabriel explains God’s plan, there is a holy pause. Gabriel, the pantheon of angels, and God await Mary's response. Then in verse 38, Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Many people believe that it is a miracle that Mary said “yes.” But the true miracle is that God waited: God’s movement is driven by a woman’s consent, agency, and bodily autonomy.

In states enacting abortion bans, women are not offered that same bodily autonomy. The act of abortion is a difficult and multilayered topic — especially for Christians. Often the conversation starts and ends with arguments about “the unborn.” But the conversation rarely focuses on the agency of women or the United States’s sordid history of sterilizing Black, brown, and Indigenous women. Even today, government agencies continue to bypass immigrant women’s consent, forcing them to undergo sterilization.

There is no coercion to force Mary to say “yes” to God. Through Mary, God shows humanity that justice and liberation are predicated on a person having the agency to make their own decisions.

I am convinced that the spirit of God moves in the places where consent is restored. God’s spirit is moving in the places where victims of the United States’ violent history experience this healing and restoration. God is in the healing places that emphasize community, consent, and informed support where marginalized people’s humanity is affirmed."

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