It is a woman’s right over her body as a personally responsible moral agent to decide what to do with her own body. However, my faith leads me to conclude that planned and deliberate abortion of life before birth as allowed under this decision is morally wrong. But also and equally morally wrong, even sinful, are many actions that ultimately lead to the making of the decision to abort, as well as those actions and practices that abort life after birth – that do not allow for the promotion of life after birth. These actions and practices include the promotion of and engagement in sexually irresponsible behavior and the abortion of equal access to health care, fair employment, legal justice, and humane treatment of all human beings.
God’s love is large enough to offer us choices of any kind! Why do we deny that gift to one another? Vintage women like me know how destructive butcher-shop abortions were to our foremothers and sisters in pre-Roe v. Wade days. Repeal assures they will resume. It is outrageous that male votes dominate female reproduction legislation; and then, they legislate our access to food, shelter, clothing and education for the children they determine we must bear! Believers are not called to be the “sin police” where God issues no orders.
If life was simple, then I’d be an absolute pacifist and ardently anti-abortion. But life isn’t simple.
I mention pacifism in a post about abortion because of parallel responses I’ve had to these issues. I believe the NT teaches that violence is evil but find myself understanding, even admiring, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s decision to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. In a world that isn’t simple, which is the more faithful response: non-violence which would allow Hitler’s violent madness to torture more people, or committing a violent act to stop Hitler? People of faith chose both options. I’m not in a position to judge any of them, including Bonhoeffer who chose something that I oppose.
Similarly, I once knew a couple, pregnant with their third child, who discovered that their new baby had an awful deformity which would prevent the child from having a decent quality of life for however long it might live. In addition, caring for such a child would take huge emotional and financial resources away from their other 2 small children. So, which is the more faithful response: choosing to have the baby and giving it whatever life is possible, or choosing abortion so as to prevent a baby’s suffering and give the resources for life to their other 2 children? I moved away before they had to decide and never knew what choice they made. But I was clear that I could not pass judgment on them no matter what choice they made.
The stereotype of the woman who callously gets rid of an “inconvenient” pregnancy is just that — a stereotype. It has little to do with the harsh reality which mothers (and fathers) sometimes find themselves facing.
Sometimes our choices in life are gut-wrenching. Sometimes our choices aren’t between right and wrong options but between incredibly painful ones. I am clear that in such moments we must make our choices in the presence of God and surrounded by people who love us, support us, pray with us, cry with us. NO ONE should be able to tell us which choice we can or cannot make in such a moment. NO ONE is in a position to pass judgment on us when we face gut-wrenching choices. So, I support the decision in Roe v. Wade, but I do so with sadness, knowing that if life weren’t so difficult at times, then the justices’ decision wouldn’t have been necessary.
Faith expressed through the Bible is the final voice of morality for the Christian. Psalm 139:13-16 says, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
Last year I invited Rebecca Terrell, the executive director of Choices, the second largest abortion provider in Memphis, to lunch. During our frank discussion, Rebecca pointed out that in the 1970s major American Protestant denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed support for abortion.
Three things altered that reality. First, a coalition of prophetic Catholic and Protestant leaders aroused the larger Christian community, reminding them of the centrality of protecting vulnerable human life. Secondly, the public understanding of fetal development dramatically increased. Lastly, the abortion rights movement moved from advocating abortion in relatively few, difficult circumstances to its present position of “abortion on demand and without excuse”.
Rebecca and I agreed to disagree that afternoon. From my standpoint, protecting an unborn child’s life, no matter what the circumstances of her conception, is the overriding issue. From Rebecca’s side, the free choice and well-being of a pregnant woman trump the unborn child’s right to life.
The Christian pro-life position dates to centuries before 1973. As far back as the Roman empire, Christians rescued unwanted children left to die from exposure. “Do not murder” is the first of a litany of biblical commandments, Old and New Testament, designed to protect the lives of the powerless and vulnerable. Giving and taking life is solely the province of God. The notion that individual rights of choice supersede the right to life is unknown to biblical faith.
The closest we come to a biblical abortion case, Ex. 21:22-25, teaches that the fetus and mother are not equal, nor are they accorded the same legal status. The mother’s life ALWAYS takes precedence and that has been the normative Jewish view ever since. From a Jewish lens, abortion is not about murder or reproductive rights; it is about compassion, justice, and the physical/psychological welfare of the pregnant woman (or girl). Regardless of one’s religious or political leanings, whether or not to terminate a pregnancy ought to be made without the involvement, interference or intervention of the State. This is a matter between a woman, her minister, family, and God.
The intelligent design of the universe suggests an intelligent source, which many have called divine Mind. Our ability to think and reason about matters such as Roe v. Wade helps confirm that suggestion that there is an active divine intelligence. When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, what could be more important than to turn in earnest prayer to listen quietly to the guidance of God, divine Mind. The name “God” means “good,” so in listening to God, it is important to expect good, regardless of the status of an human law or court opinion.
Before 1973, almost every state outlawed abortion on demand, allowing only for cases in which a mother’s life were endangered or a woman were violated through rape or incest. On January 22, 1973, however, the Burger Court, in a mind-boggling assertion of “raw judicial power,” overthrew the laws of 46 states to create a new “right” to convenience abortions. It was perhaps the worst decision ever made by any U.S. Supreme Court, both on constitutional and also on ethical grounds, and has led to the unjust slaughter of over 50 million human beings. No Christian theologian or ethicist, for nineteen hundred years before Roe v. Wade, had ever condoned convenience abortions; and none should today.
Roe v. Wade’s ruling that the unborn are not legal “persons”, with the resultant understanding that the fetus, considered the mother’s property, can be expelled by the mother’s choice, flies in the face of the biblical view of human life in the womb.
For one thing, scripture sees conception as the moment of our beginning (Genesis 4:1, 21:2, 29:33-35, 30:7; 1 Samuel 1:20; Matthew 1:20, 21). Moreover, scripture shows that before birth we are known, cared for, and loved by God (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4,5; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Job 31:15).
Take Psalm 139:13-16:
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
Now think of the following questions: Is God concerned about us in our unborn state? Is God involved in our development within the womb? Do we have an identity prior to our birth? Does God have a relationship with the unborn? The answer I hear through Psalm 139 to each of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” The sacred worth of human life in the womb is underscored. And on that basis no such life should be terminated except for the most compelling reasons, one example of which would be saving the mother’s life.
As for predicating the legitimacy of abortion on the woman’s “right to choose”, this, too, flies in the face of a biblical understanding: namely, whom we, men as well as women, are accountable to. We are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19). We do not own ourselves or our bodies. “It is he that made us, and we are his …” (Psalm 100:3). As a steward, then, of what has been entrusted me, I am not answerable to myself for the choices I make, especially one as weighty as taking a human life. I am answerable to the author of life. He is sovereign, after all, and I should make my decisions on my best understanding of his will.