This is a guest post from Rev. Wendy Holland.
Last week Alabama’s governor signed the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation, banning the procedure at all stages of pregnancy, and providing no exception for rape or incest. According to the New York Times, doctors who terminate pregnancies will be at risk of felony charges and prison terms of up to 99 years. A number of other states have recently enacted legislation that makes abortion illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, typically at six weeks (long before most women realize they’re pregnant), with the assumption that a heartbeat indicates a person with inalienable rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The logic of those pushing for these bills claim to fall back on a Judeo-Christian ethic that life begins at conception, and that complicity in ending a pregnancy is therefore akin to murder. And while we do have Bible passages that discuss God’s omnipresent knowledge of humans prior to and, more importantly, outsideof birth and conception, the only Biblical mandate concerning fetuses comes from Exodus 21:22-25, which states:
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
This is an interesting precedent, because the Torah demands equal restitution for loss; hence, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Yet here, in the case of what is for all purposes an initiated abortion, there is no demand for that restitutionary payment of a life for a life. Instead, the only requirement is for financial compensation.
I want to be transparent in saying that, while I am adamantly pro-choice, I personally believe—except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger—abortion should only be available to the point of fetal viability. Recent studies have shown that a fetus delivered at approximately 22 weekshas a slim chance of survival with heroic medical intervention, though there is a significant possibility of developmental issues. Nor do I think it is too much to ask that anesthesia be administered where there is any possibility of fetal pain, though it must be acknowledged that a fetus likely does not process pain until at least 23 weeks. Incidentally, it is widely recognized that less than 2% of U.S. abortions occur after 20 weeks, and the vast majority of these are medically mandated.
But the issue in the current wave of legislation is, for me, one of profound hypocrisy. The Bible contains hundreds upon hundreds of verses calling us to provide, with generosity and compassion, for those who are at a disadvantage, socially, emotionally, physically and financially. Ironically, the states determined to force women—who are often seeking abortions because they are without resources—to carry to term are also the states with some of the lowest ratings, and most limited availability, when it comes to food support, education, social services, and childcare subsidies. These are the same states that are tirelessly pursuing a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), yet have nothing with which to replace it. And there are incessant efforts to furtherreduce assistance in all of these areas. These are also the states with the lowest minimum wage—and nominimum wagein Alabama. They are the states where laws intended to protect the voting rights of people of color are being repealed en masse. Unsurprisingly, these states are at the top of the list when it comes to rates of both poverty and incarceration. This is relevant in that it directly affects the ability of a parent to provide for a child’s most basic needs, let alone provide the time, nurturing, and stability required to raise the type of secure, emotionally healthy child that can become a contributing, productive member of society.
Additionally, these are the states in which the rights of loving and qualified LGBTQ parents to foster and adopt are being sharply curtailed, while access to sex education, birth control, and family planning clinics are being systematically defunded. This makes absolutely no sense, especially when we look at access to free contraception. Colorado’s IUD programis a powerful example of the effectiveness of education and birth control access and funding, with teen pregnancies dropping by 56% over eight years, and abortion declining by 64%. Why would anybody have an aversion to this?
Anti-choice advocates like to talk as if there is not only a wealth of resources available to every pregnant woman, but that there are people lined up to adopt the children born to women who might otherwise abort. Unfortunately, we have a nationwide deficit of both foster and adoptive parents, and the states pushing for the most restrictive abortion regulations are mostin need, especially of those who can take on sibling groups and kids with special needs. It’s been my own personal experience—and likely yours—that of the many vehement anti-abortion advocates I’ve encountered over the years, maybe.05% of them have provided loving, stable homes to any of the 443,000children in the U.S. foster care system on a given day. Even more tragically, “loving” and “stable” do not always describe the people who dofoster and adopt. This isn’t new information. In “first world” countries where abortion is illegal (and in thiscountry when abortion was illegal) orphanages are commonplace, and filled with children who are suffering, because those same places aren’t valuing the many increased physical, emotional, and psychological needs of those kids. Eventually they age out of the system and go on to either work menial jobs, populate the military, or end up homeless, on the streets, and in their own desperate circumstances. We love the fairytale of the child who grows up in deep adversity, “pulls himself up by his bootstraps,” and goes on to great success, but it’s largely a fantasy—and a terrible gamble to take on the life of a child.
On its face, this mass repealing of laws guaranteeing safe and legal access to abortion is an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. But it’s also a concerted effort to create a greater chasm between the rich and the poor, and a hopeful bid to fill the void created by blocking less educated immigrants to our country who would take on agricultural and domestic jobs (and don’t get me wrong—the current administration is looking to block black and brown migrants regardlessof education and ability to contribute).
As I’ve discussed the topic of abortion legislation just over the past couple of days, I am reminded that fallacies abound: that Planned Parenthood is an abortion mill; in reality it’s a haven for women without access to healthcare, with 97% of its work dedicated to family planning and health care screening, and only 3% to abortion services. That abortion always leaves an emotional scar; while I know women and men for whom this is true, I know an equal number of people who are deeply at peace with their choice to have an abortion–who were, and continue to be, grateful for the option and accessibility. Maybe most insidious is the myth that adoption is overpriced, and that the foster care system is a potential pitfall for those who would offer up their services—leaving those opposed to abortion with no accountability to contribute to the wellbeing of the unwanted children left in the wake of this tragedy.
Showing the mercy and compassion of Jesus, and alleviating suffering, should be our greatest priority as Christians. If we really want to make a difference, we must provide food support, so no child has to deal with the pangs or humiliation that come with hunger. We must provide access to birth control and family planning. We must restore our educational system, with an emphasis on equipping everyone from preschoolers to college students forgenuine success in our world. We must provide access to adequate medical care—and we must do all of this without complaining about the few hundred dollars a year it might cost each of us in taxes.
Until we are actually willing to prioritize and follow through on these things, we are no representatives of Christ. And we have no right to interfere with access to safe, legal, humane abortion.