Lots of accusations being hurled about right now. "You want to take away my religious freedom." "You want to force me to have children when I am not ready." "You want to remove all consideration of God from public life." "You want to keep me from having someone to love." And on and on....
One thing that concerns me about all this? The idea of MOTIVATIONS. It seems to me that people, on both sides of the important issues being discussed in our society right now, are quick to assume the worst possible motives on the part of those who disagree with them. I was talking to my husband about this on Saturday night, and he told me that there is a Catholic idea which holds that you should always assume that others have the best possible motives. Seems wise to me....
So, I was thinking about an experience I had when I was about 19 years old. While attending San Francisco State University, I was the student assistant for a class entitled: Human Sexuality. As you can imagine, this was a very popular class. Three to four hundred people usually signed up for it each semester, so it was easily the largest class on campus. And the teacher was a kind, funny, Jewish man, who was married to a kind, funny, Jewish lady. The two of them had a kind, funny, Jewish son. I spent a lot of time with this family, as my job for the class entailed quite a bit of work, which the professor and his wife often helped me with. (Yes. I just dangled a preposition. I am such a rule-breaker.) There were tests to be written, typed, and graded. Exam scores to be recorded. Grades to be calculated. And, sometimes, I even got to help plan and deliver lectures -- something which greatly appealed to the "ham" side of my personality. And I can be quite a ham. Around campus, I was often fondly referred to as the "sex tutor", which caused me great amusement. All in all, not a bad job.
Since I spent much time at the home of this family, I was invited to their son's Bar Mitzvah. It was a great occasion -- a beautiful ceremony at the Temple and a wonderful party, with traditional Jewish dishes and much music and dancing. If you have never had the opportunity to attend a Bar Mitzvah, I would recommend immediately making some Jewish friends, as you would not want to miss out on the experience.
Now, at this lovely party, I was seated next to a beautiful Jewish woman who was probably in her early 40's. She was an administrative assistant at the university, and was pretty high up the "totem pole", as far as administrative jobs went. As we were enjoying our food, she turned to me and asked, "You are Catholic, aren't you?" To which I replied in the affirmative. She then said, "Well, then you are probably against abortion rights. I am for abortion rights." She then proceeded to tell me all about why she was for abortion rights. I was a little taken aback that she would bring this topic up on this particular occasion, but I listened to her, as I was interested in what she had to say. (I was also basically "trapped" in my seat, giving me really no alternative but to listen to her, even if I hadn't been interested. Divine Providence, I believe. God is truly at work at Bar Mitzvahs.)
In a nutshell, her reasons for supporting abortion rights were, in many ways, my reasons for not supporting abortion rights. We were both concerned about upholding the dignity of women. We were both concerned that children would be loved, cherished, and well-cared-for. So, when I hear people who are against abortion rights accusing pro-choice people of not caring about women and children, it irritates me. They do care. So, let's not assume their motivations are evil, because they are not. It's not that they believe abortion to be an actual "good". It's not that they assume everyone with an unplanned pregnancy should have an abortion. It's that they actually do believe that women should have a real choice. They believe that the lack of this choice is a type of manipulation of women that undermines their dignity. And, on the other hand, people who oppose abortion rights should not be labelled as enemies of women. Most people who oppose abortion rights, especially these days, want to truly help both the woman and her child. Many of them donate much of their time and resources for women in difficult circumstances. When I was younger, I admit that there were a lot of "pro-life" people who were basically mean in their attitude towards women who became pregnant in difficult circumstances and who wanted to choose abortion. I knew people who would accuse these women of being "baby killers" and would condemn them to hell and would not even want to offer them to much help. "She dug her grave. Let her lie in it," was an attitude I encountered more than once. I have come to see, though, that the vast majority of the younger people who are against abortion rights are not this way. They are truly interested in loving and helping women and children, whatever their circumstances. They are much more charitable, in general, than those of my generation.
So, as we have this important discussion about reproductive rights in our culture, I hope we can bring ourselves to assume the best possible motivations from The Other. And we want to remember the women in these very, very difficult circumstances. We don't want to add more pain and heartache to the pain and heartache they are already suffering. That is cruelty. There is no excuse for it.
And in all our discussions about all the important issues of our day -- national defense, the social safety net, gay rights, environmental issues -- let's try to assume the best possible motives from each side, instead of jumping to the worst possible conclusions about those who disagree with us. It seems to me that charity demands this.