With protests still going on all over the U.S. over the overturning of Roe v. Wade, one despairs of having a reasonable conversation about abortion in such a heated environment. And there is no doubt that the issue is complex. Many of the arguments both pro and con are specious. For example, the notion that an unborn child is simply another part of a woman’s body and she should be able to do with it as she likes, as if this were no different than deciding whether or not to have one’s gall bladder removed, is frankly not a valid or moral argument. A growing fetus is not merely a mass of tissue like one or another body part.
And frankly the more profound question that needs to be discussed is whether or not a mother should have some sort of inalienable right to terminate the life of a fetus or unborn child. The Founding Fathers do not mention in the Bill of Rights the right of a woman to have an abortion, and when a country gets to the point of thinking that one person or another should have an inalienable right to terminate the unborn who have no say or rights in the matter is frankly a sign that the country is morally going in the wrong direction. In fact, framing this whole question in terms of rights with no mention of responsibilities or for that matter no mention of whether the person who fathered the child or provided the sperm has some sort of ethical right or responsibility in regard to the unborn is deeply flawed reasoning.
On the other side of the ledger, there is also a major problem ethically with banning abortions altogether. Why? Because sometimes tragically abortions are necessary to save the life of the mother, and if she already has a family, say a husband and/or other children, it is frankly the lesser of two evils to allow for an abortion rather than deprive the rest of the family of their wife/mother. The latter would be a greater wrong. But guess what?
The 2019 statistics from the CDC show that 86% of all abortions in that time period were had by unmarried women. And therein lies a further major ethical problem—- sexual activity outside the context of or before marriage. From a Biblical and Christian point of view that should not be happening. Unlike some pro-lifers, I do not think we should be anti-contraception. In our grossly over-sexualized culture it is simply folly to think that preaching abstinence is sufficient when it comes to birth control, even though only about 10-12% of abortions in a given year are performed on teenage girls. In fact the Guttmacher Institute has noted at various points that about half the abortions are performed for women who have had abortions before. ‘Houston we have a problem’. Indeed, when the statistics show that there were some 877,000 abortions in 2019 and very very few of them were medically necessary (and the statistics do not include spontaneous abortions or miscarriages) we have an enormous problem. The right to lifers are correct that this is a major moral problem in our country. And if we insist on talking about a right to choose an abortion, such a right is surely secondary compared to the right of the other person about to be aborted to have a life at all. But this gets us into the whole sticky issue of the debate as to when human life begins— at conception, when the fetus becomes viable, when the child is born? I would have thought if there is any uncertainty about when human life begins then one would take a conservative approach and say human life begins at conception or when a real heartbeat can be detected.
All of this can be debated, and there should be reasonable discussions about these matters, not merely polemics and heated rhetoric full of sound and fury, and accomplishing next to nothing. What I think should not be disputed is that in a fallen world there are sometimes lesser of two evils decisions one has to make in life, in regard to life itself— these include saving the life of a mother from say an ectopic pregnancy. What about cases of rape or incest where there is no medical necessity to have an abortion? Equally pro-life persons may differ on this issue. The question to be asked is why should the unborn, who did nothing wrong, have to pay the ultimate price for some crime or sin committed against a woman? There are indeed lots of people out there prepared to adopt children from such pregnancies, quite frankly. A fourteen year old girl doesn’t have to suddenly become a mother just because she is pregnant. My point is that the unborn life has to be taken into consideration even in the cases of rape or incest.
What about the criticism that pro-lifers are just pro-birthers? This criticism has some validity to it in some cases, but certainly not in all. Many pro-lifers are very concerned about children born into poverty, children born without viable parents (e.g. drug addicted mothers, and disappearing fathers), and much more. Many Christians work with organizations like the Salvation Army that deal daily with those in poverty, those who are drug addicted. Having worked with the Salvation Army as a teacher I have seen the marvelous work they do. And I totally agree that one needs to have a consistent life ethic— not merely be pro-birth, but truly pro-life. For me that also means taking into consideration issues like capital punishment and war too as ‘life’ issues. Very few of the pro-life folks I have run into are consistently pro-life when it comes to also thinking through whether capital punishment and war are good solutions to human problems. And I would say that in all three cases— abortion, capital punishment, and war reasonable cases can be made for seeing each of these in some extreme situations as the lesser of two evils choice. For example, should Ukraine not have opposed with military force the invasion of their country by Russia? I would say that is not the better and more moral option.
I hope these thoughts may promote some reasonable thought and discussion. What we need on life issues is less heat, and more light, less narcissism and more putting the other person’s life first.