Raised in a religious institution, I was taught to believe certain things before I even fully understood what they were. This essay explores how I slowly took a 180-degree turn from a pro-life teenager to a pro-choice adult.
Looking back to my teenage years, I sometimes find myself cringing. It’s not because I am ashamed of who I was or the things that I did, despite the countless mistakes I’ve made. I cringe because of how I thought I knew the answer to everything and how determined I was to be “right.” I wouldn’t call my younger self arrogant, but I was definitely stubborn and quite opinionated, and I learned it from the best.
I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, attending private Catholic school from third grade until I was a sophomore in high school. My “theology” classes did not facilitate the logical study of the nature of god, but rather, they provided a precise belief system for which I was to adopt. Alongside my classes in mathematics, language, science, and art, I was studying religious dogma as if it were factual information versus cultivated personal theory.
Before I learned simple arithmetic and memorized the multiplication table, I was sitting in confessional with a priest asking forgiveness for my earthly sins. Before I was old enough to stay home alone by myself, I was pronouncing my faith in Jesus Christ by participating in the church’s ordained activities. Before I fully understood my own menstrual cycle, I was fed the idea that a fetus is equivalent to a mature human being.
I soaked up these rigid worldviews and they became my own. I tried to develop a personal relationship with a god in a way I did not fully understand, and my feelings of guilt and shame were perpetuated by this confining system of right and wrong that I had adopted for myself. I desperately wanted to feel that my experience was valid and my time was not wasted, so as a teenage girl with an abundance of sexual desire, I funneled my energy into a strong pro-life perspective.
At the ripe age of 16, I remember feeling personally offended by the thought of abortion. I dug deep down into my position, passionately formulating arguments to refute anyone who thought it was acceptable to end the life of an unborn child. I even created a collage in my art class, attempting to convey the value of human life and the horror of disrupting that natural cycle. But after going away to college, I discovered that I had much to learn.
The shift happened slowly and in small increments. I remember experiencing my first scare of being pregnant, accompanied by physical paralysis and the seemingly impossible task of telling my parents. I remember graduating college, and thinking about all the directions that my life could go and how significantly different my life would be if I had a child. Two years into “the real world,” as I struggled to pay my bills, I remember experiencing a thought that was completely foreign to my upbringing. Unfair isn’t the right word to use, for it implies that the detriment would be of my own person. Rather, I genuinely felt that it would be unethical for me to bring a child into the life that I was living. I did not have the tools nor the means to care for another human being, but mostly, I did not have the desire.
If I didn’t have the tools and I didn’t have the means, but my heart was genuinely devoted to having a child, that would be another story. But that wasn’t the case, and for the first time in my entire life, I actually understood the pro-choice perspective. Finally, I identified fully with the women who fought to exercise their right to choose. Because who wants to be raised by a mother who doesn’t even want them? I don’t know about you, but I would not want to be born into a world where personal choice is subordinate to institutional belief.
I’ve had to discover this perspective, and newfound worldview in my own time though. I vividly remember the final turning point of this realization, because I was now standing at a complete 180-degree stance from where I had been before. Yet, the same sense of certainty remained as when I was creating that collage for my high school art class. I felt the same passion and personal connection as when I identified as pro-life, but now it was reversed, almost as if I was offended by the idea of someone forcing me to give birth to a child that I didn’t want. The thought of losing my personal choice felt more immoral than the preservation of an undesired human life.
I’ll admit that it has been a difficult journey to release my feelings of self-righteousness and my need to validate my own beliefs through persuading others that my views are “correct.” But slowly, I’ve come to learn that this is what works for me, and it is not my place to influence anyone else’s personal choice, because it is theirs, and only theirs, to make. My responsibility is to communicate my beliefs as clearly and compassionately as possible to the people who inquire.
Now that I can wholeheartedly empathize with people on both sides of the fence, I see so much value in women participating in a dialogue with other women who share different beliefs. This is the only way for us to understand our own prejudices, evaluate our reasoning, and exercise the boundaries of our limited perspectives. Because if there is one thing that I’ve learned from this constantly changing world, we should never say never.
Maria Borghoff, BFA, 500-RYT, is a community artist, creative wellness coach, and curator at GROOVE. She teaches individuals and communities the practice of harmonious living, and her dream is to live in a world full of people who use their creativity to enhance their daily lives.
Photo Credit: stevanovicigor, Getty Images/iStockphoto