There is a Biblical Basis for Reproductive Rights

For the past 40 years, the religious right has co-opted the discussion around abortion in this country. The foot soldiers of this movement have aggressively fought for their place as the only political and religious contingent that takes a moral, faith-based stance on abortion. And in their worldview, to take a moral stand on abortion is to stand against it. We have seen this played out with homosexuality in a long, tragic parade of condemnation and shattered lives. The religious right has spent decades and millions of dollars positioning the Republican Party as the “pro-family” (anti-LGBT) party at the same time they positioned themselves as the “pro-life” (anti-reproductive justice) party.

The difference is the response by progressive faith communities. These communities have diligently- if at times too quietly- staked their own claim within the pro-LGBT rights movement. I hear from more progressive clergy members every day who argue strongly in favor of full social inclusion and political rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. And, just as importantly, LGBT Americans are standing up to be counted in their own faith communities. But on reproductive rights issues, progressive people of faith have been comparatively silent, at least on how its members’ faith informs their beliefs.

How can someone with a progressive Christian background argue for reproductive rights in the context of her faith? The same way we have argued for LGBT rights on the basis of our faith. By focusing on the fundamental values of the Bible, we can make a Christian case for reproductive rights.

It is essential to clarify what I mean by “reproductive rights.” Safe, low-cost abortion access is essential, but reproductive rights does not mean- it cannot mean- simple access to abortion. Reproductive rights, described broadly, means having the political freedom, economic resources, and information that allows you to understand how your body functions, protect it from disease, and control how many children you have and when you have them. It means comprehensive sex education, easy-access birth control and emergency contraception, and safe, emotionally supportive, inexpensive abortion services. 

 

At the risk of sounding like the word for “right” is sprinkled all over the Bible (it doesn’t appear once- the concepts of rights didn’t exist yet) I think we can argue for a modern system of rights based on Christian values. I will make an important departure from our friends on the Christian right and clarify that I don’t believe in the traditional idea of “natural rights,” this concept that God has granted us unassailable rights that reveal themselves clearly in nature. I believe that a modern society worth living in- a society governed by love, mercy, and compassion- operates under a set of human-written, universally recognized, fundamental human rights that serve as a basis for our laws and conduct.

            Here are some simple arguments you can make about how the Bible supports reproductive rights: 

 

Ø    Love thy neighbor. If we want to talk about fundamental principles, we have to go to the most fundamental commandment of Christianity: love one another as God has loved you. Jesus did not preface his Greatest Commandment with “As long as your neighbor has stayed totally chaste, forsaking all sexual desire, and done nothing that might involve any risk.” Jesus commands us to do justice and love mercy, to never judge, and to care for the needy. One simple fact that socially conservative Christians who wish to help the poor deny is that reproductive justice is essential to poverty reduction. Children cost money. LOTS of money, both in material goods and hours lost in the workplace. The younger, poorer, and less educated you are, the more likely an unexpected child is going to keep you, and your children, in poverty. The right not to become or stay pregnant is an economic right. Most importantly, the purpose of commanding an entire group to love one another is to alleviate the suffering of the people in the group. Forcing a person to give birth against her will, especially when it might harm her body, impoverish her and her children, or force her to relive her rape, increases her suffering.

Ø    The primary verses used by those on the right are not conclusive. Our pro-life friends tend to argue that the life of the embryo or fetus is more important than the well being of its mother. The verse I most often hear is drawn from Psalms 139 (“You knit me in my mother’s womb… nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret”) and other verses that are examples of individuals expressing adulations to God, not laying down moral principles. The ultimate verse cited, however, is “thou shalt not kill.” Obviously, murder is not allowed. But I am not convinced that the Bible, on the whole, regards human fetuses on the same level as those who have been born. There is no passage that states that life begins at conception rather than birth or viability.

Ø    The idea that birth control and sex education should not be available because they lead people to have immoral sex is both factually wrong and irrelevant. Besides the fact that many women use birth control for health reasons other than pregnancy prevention, its lack of availability did not stop people from having sex outside of marriage. It simply meant that more people got married while too young, poor, uneducated, and unhappy. And if the state of Texas is any indication, a lack of comprehensive sex education has the same effect. In any case, a person can still choose to stay abstinent if she wishes, no matter how educated or birth-controlled she is.

Ø    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female. If there is one Bible verse that supports fundamental human equality (save for the Greatest Commandment, which implies equal treatment out of love) it is this one. Paul asserts that when one enters into the body of Christ, the old social constructions used to maintain inequality are no more. In the body of Christ, no one is valued more or less; no one is treated as inferior because of difference or previous subservient status. In order for female people to be treated as full, equal humans- as this verse asserts they must- they must be able to control their own bodies, lives, and health. To take this right away from females is to treat them like lesser beings that lack autonomy. 

 

The Bible provides a powerful ethical basis for reproductive freedom. It is imperative that progressive Christians not cast aside this powerful tool when strategizing to protect and advance these rights. We continue to prove that the right does not have a moral monopoly on the issue of homosexuality; we must prove that theirs is not the only biblical perspective on reproductive rights. 

  • Rebecca

    I stopped reading after the first point, Love Thy Neighbor. As if God is so small that he can’t help society, who values and treasures all life come up with the resources to care for that life. Here is a God who gets left out of the equation after the abortion debate is finished.

    Hmmm what a small, small god you speak of. As if a God of faith cannot relieve the suffering of those who lack, have been raped, struggle. I think you may have supplanted God’s role in being God. It is our job to do what we can with the help of God and each other to feed, cloak, shelter and seek justice for others. We can justify just about anything if we’re discussing relieving suffering.

    It ain’t happening for me. Life is precious. All life! And when we really want to relieve the suffering of others who face an unwanted pregnancy, we will attend to that issue in palpable, honest, reflective, life-affirming, practical, pro-active ways.

    What I hear you saying is, it might make US suffer to actually do the hard work of relieving others’ suffering, who are about to bring an infant into the world that will require our worldly goods for care and sustenance. The cost is too high for us, so please do us all a favor and have that abortion.

    Um how about the verse, I knew you before you were born…
    Life is precious. We’ll protect its advent under any circumstances when we understand its value! And we’ll be sad when someone FEELS no other choice but to have an abortion.

    There is enough love, enough food, enough resources. There are just not enough people who believe it or act like it. God is the God of compassion and integrity, who fed the multitudes with the gifts of a few. This is a “faithful Democrats” blog. How much faith are we allowing ourselves to have as we squander it on a post like this.

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