Gloucester Daily Times Debate on Abortion (27), January 16, 1986

It Fades Into Shades of Gray

by Regina Cole

[Breakdown Lane: Regina Cole of Lanesville writes a weekly column for the Times]

Today there is one topic that brings out the most visceral reactions in people. One issue that brings the slow workings of government to a halt while legislators argue questions they admit they have no answers to. It is a thorny dilemma that brings former friends and close neighbors to opposite sides of an argument they often wish they had never heard of. No one seems to feel lukewarm about this one. Polite folks call each other hideous names. Gentle souls become shrill. And all over a question that the highest court in the land supposedly settled in January of 1973.

To be glib, one could support from this that, in matters of personal belief, legal means nothing.

But one does have to stand back for a moment and wonder about the problem that brings out such hostility.  For this is no local political hot potato. This problem does involve the nuclear arms race. Nor does it address:

World hunger and the unconscionable abyss that seems to separate those who have from the multitudes that have not.

Or the emergence of the third world, much of which is influenced by Moscow or Havana, and a large part of which is the Arab world.

Or even the chemical and industrial pollution of irreplaceable natural resources; not only in the developed population centers, but all over the planet.

No, the subject that people become so undone over is abortion.

It cuts through to what we hold most dear. And those who rant and cast stones at each other across the perceived line dearly hold that their own belief excludes the other side’s beliefs.

On the one side is the belief in the sanctity of all human life.

On the other side is the conviction that every person needs to have control over his or her own destiny.

Need these two cherished principles be mutually exclusive?

When this argument really heats up, however, is when religion is drawn into it. Is the time-honored tradition of human history that dictates that some of the most barbarous acts have been committed in the name of one deity or another, the abortion question becomes most inflammatory when the supposed will of God is invoked.

It is when people feel moral superiority over each other that they become really nasty. Strangely enough, few things seem to limit compassion and understanding like a conviction that God endorses some dearly held belief.

That is where the current abortion debate makes me queasy. I do not pretend to have the answers to some of the tricky issues that are raised. But I do know that, the more difficult the issue, the more empathy and understanding is needed.

It might be what we are called on to understand and to practice as the creatures who have souls, as these animals with the enormous brains and the complex range of emotions. Maybe God put us on earth to learn how to be kind to each other even when the “other” believes something we find repugnant. Jesus never advocated the forcible change of another person’s life. He did talk a lot about trust, love, about letting the system do its work while doing one’s own.

Inside every clear statement lies a logical curve. Blacks and whites dissolve at close range into many shades of gray. Nothing is simple, nothing is totally without some qualification or attendant circumstance. We learn this as we grow.

And we learn to fashion a set of personal beliefs that sees us through the quagmire of modern moral dilemmas. We try to understand what is best for us, and we base our code of ethics on many things. Among them is traditional and cultural religious training.

Our religious background can be as varied as any of the other wonderful differences we have. But hopefully every religion teaches acceptance of others.

No one has all the answers. No one is perfect, and thus able to judge others. Maybe we should start discussing the abortion question from this perspective.