“My Body, My Choice”.
During the Freedom Protest a week and a bit ago, this sign was one of those being held proudly throughout the event. The protest was about putting pressure on the Government to ease their Public Health Measure, and to call for an end to lockdowns, vaccinations, and a whole range of issues.
It interested me because many within the gathering self-identified as Destiny Church whānau. Conservative Christian’s who have traditionally stood on the other side of that slogan.
I’ve also been hearing the slogan used a lot more frequently by Christian’s who have traditionally identified as “Pro-Life”, and to be honest, I have found the use of it particularly ironic. In no large part because it is being used within the context of condemning the use of medicine that will save lives and prevent chronic illness. A decidedly pro-life thing to do.
Adding to the irony is the fact that over the last year many Christians mobilized to demand that the state have a measure of control over people’s bodies, hoping to protect the state’s power to prevent a person from accessing an abortion or euthanasia, and deny people from being able to legally consume cannabis.
Now, I know that these are all big issues with a lot of complexity, yet still, the irony is striking.
The arguments from the dominant Christian perspective refuting the slogan that is now being employed has been that a person’s individual choices impact and affect others within our community. These are not just individual choices, but rather choices that have a ripple effect on the people, and the lives around you.
Ironically again this is now the argument for getting the vaccine.
That though getting the vaccine may be your choice, it is not strictly a personal one. It is one that will have an impact on you, on the ones you love, and on the sick and vulnerable within our communities.
You might of course be thinking that it is equally ironic for people who are traditionally pro-choice to argue for forcibly injecting people with the vaccine. And that would be true, but I think we should clarify things further. The idea that people want to force individuals to be vaccinated is an extremally minority view. Except for the odd troll on twitter, I haven’t heard it expressed, and I doubt any sane person would suggest it. The conversation about vaccine mandates is a different one. Vaccine mandates are not enforced vaccination. Some businesses and professions are having to ask themselves; do we have a responsibility to the vulnerable people we serve to have a workforce that is vaccinated? This is the conversation that is happening within the teaching community currently. Until children can be vaccinated, do schools have a responsibility to ensure their staff provide the greatest protection for children coming to their school? The evidence continues to show that vaccinated people are far less likely to get covid, and far less likely to suffer significantly from its effects. In fact, almost 90% of those who have gotten Covid this outbreak have been unvaccinated.
So, it’s understandable that parents, teachers, and the government are asking these questions.
And if they go ahead with a vaccine mandate, it will be sad for those teachers who are sincerely concerned about the vaccine, and decide to leave their jobs, but (and I can’t say this more clearly) they won’t be forced to take it.
Those who are able to receive the vaccine safely will be making a decision not to take a vaccine which has been proven will protect their students, themselves and the community. Depending on how it all panes out, that decision might mean that they have to leave their current profession or place of employment.
Now, I have so much empathy for people in that situation, but it is a very different scenario to abortion.
And yet, alongside the increase in the use of this slogan, I’ve noticed something else.
It has become more and more common, at least in my circles, to see some Christians seeking to diminish and distract from concerns regarding the harm and death that Covid brings, by arguing that the Government’s policy on abortion is worse.
And to be honest this form of distraction technique isn’t all that uncommon.
Whenever I write or speak about poverty, inequality, and in fact any other justice issues, I’m bound to have someone jump in the comments with the whole “what about abortion…” argument.
It is this sort of behavior that leads many people to assume that some Christians are more pro-abortion, than they are pro-life.
Now, I know many people who are against abortion hate that characterization, but it’s hard to argue against when abortion is being used as a tool to distract and undermine work that is being done to save lives in a whole range of other areas.
For a truly pro-life ethic won’t just fight for the lives of unborn babies, this ethic surely should also wish to end poverty, eradicate homelessness, ensure the #Right2Housing, and put Public Health measures in place that protect the most vulnerable and at risk from a deadly disease.
What’s more, abortion is also a very different issue to that of taking a vaccine to prevent the spread of a deadly disease.
When a woman is asserting her right to be able to choose to have an abortion, she is asserting that the state should not have the power to dictate to her what she can – or can’t – do with her own body. Now I don’t want to get into the weeds of the abortion debate here (we don’t have time), but regardless of the way you come at this conversation, it is still a very different scenario to someone who utilizes the same slogan as justification for not taking the opportunity to become vaccinated. This choice is a choice not to take a form of medication that has been offered (not forced), that if taken will potentially save their lives, and will decrease the risk of a person getting the disease and passing it on to others.
In one scenario, a person is being prevented by the state to undergo a specific medical procedure that they believe is in the best interest of themselves and their whānau.
In the other, a person is being offered medicine, and is saying no because they do not believe it is within their best interests (which they are free to do).
Whether you get the vaccine or not, I’m not going to love you less. You have value, and you matter, and your choice doesn’t diminish my respect for you as a person.
This is a complex time, and with all the fear and anxiety surrounding it, I get that for some people, this conversation is just really hard right now.
I guess what I would ask you to reflect on, especially if you class yourself as pro-life, is what is a prolife stance when it comes to fighting this pandemic?
For me, prolife means locking down, so that I can help prevent the spread of this disease into vulnerable communities. It means getting vaccinated so that I’m less likely to get the disease, and then pass it to others. It means wearing a mask, for all the reasons listed above.
As a follower of Jesus I continue to believe that whatever decision I make in situations like these, should be made with the most vulnerable in mind. The question I continually ask myself is how do my choices in these matter most effect those who have the most to lose?
That question won’t magically give you all the answers, but I believe it is a good place to start.
But hey, as we close please remember, whatever your choice, whether we agree or not, my respect for you as a person is not diminished. Know that you are Loved, that you matter, and above all else, that you bear the image of the Divine.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.