The topic I want to address today is a subject that has managed to polarize most of the country, one that many people have very strong opinions about, and which has even led to extreme reactions including violence: abortion. This post will probably not manage to sum up the entirety of my thoughts on the subject, and I am certainly open to further civil discussion. I can guarantee that not everyone who reads this will agree with me, but that is likely true of every issue. I simply want to articulate in writing where I stand, in part for my own benefit as I verbally process my thoughts. It has certainly become an important issue in this upcoming election, so I think this is timely.
I was prompted to write about this issue by several things, and this post has been a work in progress for some time now. First, I had strong feelings about this photo, seen on Facebook.
This photo, and the Facebook page that generated it, distinguishes between "pro-life" and "abolitionism", which I thought was a helpful and significant distinction. More on that in a bit.
Another motivating factor for me was this article about congressman Joe Walsh's recent statement: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/19/163239925/life-of-the-mother-never-a-reason-for-abortion-congressman-says
That article is the second example lately of idiotic foot-in-mouth moments, unfortunately by Republicans, regarding abortion. The previous instance, referenced in the article, was Todd Akin's statement that a woman couldn't get pregnant if she were "legitimately" raped. First of all, let us be clear that both these men are (at best) ill-informed, because there absolutely are cases of pregnancy from rape, and there absolutely are risks involved with pregnancy today, in this country, despite all our advances. Setting aside their inaccuracies, the bottom line is that both men are trying to be pro-life without exception, right? Neither one wants to allow any reason for abortion to continue to be legal. Well, I have a problem with that.
The photo above differentiated between being "pro-life" and being an "abolitionist". It also implies that abolitionism is the only possible moral action one can take when one's moral opinion is pro-life. I am 100% unapologetically pro-life. I am not, however, an abolitionist. I believe life is sacred, and all life has value, and I therefore believe that I cannot in good conscience support making abortion illegal without exception.
Because I believe all human life is valuable and all lives should be protected, I believe the life of the mother has equal value to the life of the unborn child. Abortion is the tragic loss of the life of an unborn baby, but if abortion was never an option, there are cases in which two lives would be tragically lost. I believe abortion is evil, and when used without limits it is morally reprehensible, but I also believe it is a necessary evil in some instances. Ectopic pregnancies, where the fetus is implanted outside the womb, will always or nearly always threaten the life of the mother, and the fetus cannot even survive that way. There have been cases when a woman finds out she has cancer while she is pregnant, and although some bravely wait to have treatments until after they deliver, that is not always possible. In that difficult situation, there is no easy answer. I could come up with more examples, but the fact remains that this issue is not as simple as many people make it out to be.
Secondly, because of the value of all life, I do not want to revert to the era of seriously unsafe (read: fatal) abortions. Before abortion was legal, far more women died of infections and botched abortions. Don't get me wrong, and don't be deceived: they still do. There are injuries and deaths of women every year because of abortions. Making abortion illegal, however, is not actually going to eradicate them, and it's certainly not going to help make them safer. I am a nurse, and as a medical professional I am privy to the fact that there are less than scrupulous medical professionals who do not document truthfully. As such, it would be incredibly easy for abortions to continue if they are illegal, because some would simply not document them as what they are.
Many Christians (perhaps the vast majority) are pro-life and/or do not support abortion. I think it is likely that many of them have not thought it through extensively as far as what it means to be "pro-life", but that is beside the point. There are many Christians who believe that we must fight against abortion, in part by working to make it illegal. Yet, we are not here to Christianize the culture, we are here to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Although our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, it is not a Christian nation, and will never be God's chosen nation. By trying to make abortion illegal, aren’t we at least partly relying on the government to change what people do, rather than recognizing God is far more effective at that since He changes how people think and what they value? I strongly doubt that debates over “rights”, whether to personhood or control of one’s body, or the successful reversal of Roe V. Wade will change people’s hearts. Arguments don’t change hearts, they merely address the issue intellectually and may even lead to hardened hearts.
I do think that abortion is incredibly overused. I believe we as the medical community have failed women in a terrible way by allowing this to happen. In part, this failure is due to our passing the buck to abortion clinics rather than maintaining a stricter control on abortions, and holding the procedures (and locations) to higher standards of safety and cleanliness, as well as performing honest academic studies on the effects of abortion on the body and particularly its impact on the psyche of a woman. Regardless of what you think of abortion morally, everyone should acknowledge that this is a surgical procedure, and is not without risk of complications or death. In fact, I guarantee that the clinics who perform abortions give their patients a waiver regarding these things. I would fully support legislative changes limiting abortions so that they are not used as a form of birth control and not available to just anyone for any reason. I’ll be the first to admit I don't know what those regulations would look like. I do wonder what would happen if some of the people who work so hard to abolish abortion redirected their focus to that effort. A smaller victory, yes, but I think it would be an effort in which the “pro-lifers” may find some surprising supporters and unlikely allies.
So, if we Christians shouldn’t necessarily be putting so much of our efforts toward making abortion illegal, what should we do? Put our “money where our mouth is”. I once read a comment online from a person who was “pro-choice” who asked something to the effect of, “Who would adopt all the babies put in the system after not being aborted? Would you?”. It was clear from the tone and comment that this person expected that query to make a “pro-lifer” hesitate, but I mentally answered, “yes! I would!” without pause. I believe that kind of thing is exactly what we Christians ought to be doing. We should be standing outside abortion clinics, not yelling in protest, but available to talk, counsel, and deter women from having abortions by giving them other options. Our efforts through crisis pregnancy centers and community involvement should be so excellent that all women who feel they cannot handle a pregnancy should know where they can go. We should be lovingly supporting those women emotionally, financially, and providing a place to stay. Then, once we’ve made an impact with our actions which speak louder than words, we can have the opportunity to share the gospel with them and support and counsel them spiritually. That should be our goal and is our calling. Yes, saving the lives of unborn babies is vital, but saving the souls of their mothers as well as giving them the chance for life is better by far.