I’m quite certain this post will upset some people. It’s hard to say anything about abortion without upsetting someone. All I can do is forthrightly state my views. In this case, I do not intend to make a lengthy case (that’s not what this blog is about); but I do intend to explain an argument that I have not been able to shake. I hope that this will at least explain why one person is pro-life.
First, some preliminaries. For some people, abortion is an issue to which they feel a profound personal attachment, because they themselves had an abortion or they are close to spouses, significant others, and dear friends who did. And for others abortion is a matter of deep conviction because they firmly believe it is the destruction of an innocent human person. As a Christian, I believe that the grace of God is sufficient even for those who have done the worst of things, and our judgments on whether abortion is right or wrong should be based on a sober consideration of the issue and not on concern over whom we might offend.
I am quite certain that nothing magically changes in the passage from the womb to the world such that the baby’s life in the world is of ultimate value and its life inside the womb is not. Late term abortions are, to my mind, unquestionably wrong, or only morally debatable in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. Early term abortions are more difficult to judge. Should we say that abortions are only permitted in the first six months? But what then changes between day 180 and day 181? Or perhaps the first three months? But what is the difference between day 90 and day 91? Perhaps it is better to avoid drawing distinctions altogether, and to find the sacred not in the fetus/baby’s brain waves or heart beat or etc., but simply in its creation in the imago Dei and its potentiality for life. The fertilization of an egg begins a process that will lead to a living human person, and perhaps we should draw a bright line where a genetic human is created.
“Can you really ask a woman to make all of the extraordinary sacrifices of motherhood for a clump of cells?”
This is the response, in various forms, that I often heard throughout my years in undergraduate and graduate studies. It is one-sided, of course; alongside the sacrifices are extraordinary blessings, and it is no mere “clump of cells.” But the argument that I cannot shake is this — not that I know for certain that the embryo and then the fetus should count as a human life in the fullest moral and spiritual sense, but that I do not know. In other words, I’m willing to confess that I do not know for certain how early-term fetuses should be classified; but the mere possibility that the unborn child “counts” (morally, spiritually, in the eyes of God) as a human in full is enough to make me pro-life.
Imagine that you emerge from your house one morning and find a man standing in your yard with a box and a remote control trigger. “Inside the box,” he says, “there might be a baby. You must tell me whether to flip the trigger, and if I flip the trigger then a gas will be released inside the box that will kill any baby that may be inside.”
“But there’s a wrinkle,” the man goes on. “If we flip the trigger, a baby might die. But if we do not flip the trigger, it is a certainty that the young woman over there will have to raise a baby from birth to adulthood.”
Again – Would you do it? What if you were told the probability of having a child in the box is only 50 percent? Or only 25 percent? Or only 10 percent? Would you take a ten-percent chance that you might be killing a baby in order to spare the young woman who does not want to raise the baby? What if she had no resources? What if it would require her and her boyfriend to drop out of school?
For my money, you can’t flip that trigger. You just can’t. The possibility of destroying something of ultimate value, the possibility of committing an absolute wrong, always outweighs the less-than-absolute difficulties of child-rearing. To be clear, Christians who oppose abortion possess an enormous responsibility – an enormous responsibility – to adopt unwanted children and support foster families and orphanages. But the possibility that abortion may amount to the destruction of an innocent human life is enough for me. Just the possibility.
The general liberal response would be: “You let the young woman decide.”
In the hypothetical, however, I am morally responsible not only for the young woman but also for the unborn child. Imagine that you are told, “The young woman will flip the trigger in one minute unless you stop her.” What would you do? I would have to stand between her and that trigger. And when I cast my vote, or when I confront the question of whether I should get involved in advocacy over this issue, I have to take both of those responsibilities in hand. My responsibility to the unborn child makes me stand against abortion. And my responsibility to the young woman makes me accountable to help provide for her.
Amidst all the polemics, it’s easy to forget that the central question in the abortion debate is whether that fetus/child is a living human person who is therefore deserving of protection. Biblically, philosophically and scientifically, I answer in the affirmative. But just the possibility is enough for me. That’s why, even in settings where it was neither popular nor comfortable, I remained pro-life over the years.