My Bottom Line on Abortion—and Why I’m Going to Stop Writing About It for a While

Several years ago, as I was just beginning to blog about reproductive ethics, I asked my editor whether I should proactively write about my pro-choice leanings on abortion, or just let the topic arise naturally. I decided on the latter course, in part because I feared that if I wrote explicitly about abortion, the divisive and incendiary nature of the issue would distract from everything else I was writing about in reproductive ethics. Our cultural preoccupation with abortion, and tendency to discuss it in simplistic terms, so often detracts from our ability to effectively discuss other issues, such as the implications of reproductive technologies.

But beginning last summer and fall, I started writing more explicitly about my views on abortion, in part because it seemed that it was time, in part because others asked me to, and in part because my pro-choice position on abortion often informs my writing in other areas of reproductive ethics.

Many of my online conversations about abortion have been gracious and eye-opening for both me and my conversation partners. And, as I feared, some conversations have been distracting and divisive.

I plan to write about reproductive ethics for a long time to come, and this focus will no doubt require me to take up the abortion question from time to time. But for the immediate future, I’m taking a break from writing explicitly about abortion on this blog. I have used gallons of virtual ink explaining here and elsewhere why I am pro-choice. I have tried my best to respond honestly to readers who have pushed me to explain my views. I am particularly grateful for readers who disagree with me, and have nevertheless treated me with kindness and respect.

Here’s my bottom line: I am pro-choice for reasons that are far more practical than they are scholarly, theoretical, or theological. I am certainly not “pro-abortion.” I think that both pro-choice and pro-life advocates can be shamefully inaccurate, divisive, and mean-spirited in how they speak to and of those on the other side. I think that the vital concerns around reproductive ethics facing us in the 21st century go far, far beyond the traditional arguments central to abortion debates (namely, the moral status of embryos and freedom of reproductive choice).

As I was finalizing this post, I read Sojourners’ editor Tim King’s discussion about being a progressive Christian on Rachel Held Evans’s blog. (That first question that Tim answers, by the way, is mine!) Tim said a couple of things about abortion that made sense to me. He wrote,

Most people don’t view a fetus as a clump of cells indistinguishable from any other clump of cells but many also don’t see that the state has the same interest in a fertilized egg as it would a three-year-old child…The interest of the state is not the same at the moment of conception as it is at the moment of birth. This is what leads me to believe that the primary role of the state is not to dictate decisions around these complex ethical considerations and its primary role lies with preventative and supportive policy.

That explanation is consistent with my position on abortion: I think it should be legal for many reasons, such as making abortion as safe as possible, given the fact that making abortion illegal doesn’t appear to lower its incidence. But I support initiatives that could lower the abortion rate by alleviating poverty, providing needed supports for parents (such as affordable child care), encouraging healthy sexual relationships, etc.

In explaining why he supports legal abortion but doesn’t support the death penalty (a position that Tim’s employer, Sojourners, calls “a consistent ethic of life”), Tim said:

The death penalty question is concerned with what actions we should allow the state to perform while abortion is a question of what actions of individuals we allow the state to restrict. The better comparison would be the death penalty and a state mandated abortion policy like in China. That, I would oppose.

I’m always grateful when I connect with other Christians who articulate what I feel and think better than I can, and Tim’s responses have further clarified some important aspects of the abortion debate for me.

One of my favorite lines of scripture is 1 Corinthians 13:12 — For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. The glass is indeed dark, and I have no doubt failed to see or understand much of God’s truth.

My views on abortion may be absolutely wrong.

But I trust that I am not wrong about God’s grace, which God offers freely in spite of all I have done and will do wrong in this lifetime. And I am certain as well that my position on abortion (or homosexuality or the death penalty or welfare or warfare) is not what determines whether I am or am not a Christian. I am a Christian because I follow Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection hold the key to abundant life.

*The inspiration for this post, and my decision to lay off the abortion discussion for a while, was the now-notorious Journal of Medical Ethics paper published last week titled “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” Every time something about this paper landed in my inbox or Google Reader (about once an hour, it seemed), my blood pressure shot up. My angst—Should I write about it? What should I say? Are these authors for real or is this satire? Were the authors hoping to start a firestorm? If so, is it better to ignore them? Will we ever be able to talk about abortion without hyperbole?—was a clue that my anxiety over the abortion topic was getting a bit out of control, and that I need to take a break. I’m not providing a link to the article here, by the way, because it appears that the journal pulled its online abstract. But there are plenty of pundits who would be glad to enlighten you, so just Google “after-birth abortion” and start reading, if you are so inclined.

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