Something about Abortion

Something about Abortion December 2, 2010

We’ve had an interesting comment thread going on Monday’s post, “Apple Pulls Manhattan Declaration App.”  We’ve had everyone from a legal scholar to conservatives who insist on calling me, “Mr. Jones,” weigh in.

I’ve been most engaged in a contretemps with my acquaintance, Bob Hyatt, a pastor and blogger whom I very much respect.   You can go to that post to read our comments.  The one thing that Bob seems to feel that I didn’t sufficiently address is the question, Does being pro-life make a person a misogynist? That’s what the MacWorld article to which I linked seemed to suggest, as did the original HuffPo article that seems to have moved Apple to drop the app.

As Bob wrote in one of his comments, rather pointedly, “as the child of a teen mother, I’m ardently pro-life. Am I a misogynist?”  I thought that question deserved a post, rather than a comment, in response, so here it goes:

1) Although Bob seems comfortable with it, I despise the terms, “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”  I think they fall far short of communicating the nuance and complexities of this issue.  Here’s why:

2) I believe that, whenever possible, a fetus/baby should be carried to full-term and delivered.  I believe this makes me “ardently pro-life.”

3) However, “life” does not begin at conception.  That is an untenable argument to make, since “60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women’s normal menstrual flows unnoticed.” (from, “Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?“)  That means millions and millions of fetuses (or, “babies,” as some would have it) die every day. (HT: Keith DeRose)

4) Therefore, one cannot credibly argue that every conception that ends is a tragedy on par with the death of a walking, talking person.

5) So the “beginning of life” is a tricky, or impossible, thing to pin down scientifically (and morally and theologically), and the only real, concrete watershed moment in the process of conception, gestation, and birth is birth.

6) Given that between conception and birth is a biologically and morally ambiguous period, a woman does has marginally more right over her own body than our society does over the fetus/baby that she is carrying.

7) I know of several cases — persons very close to me — who have undergone medically-necessary abortions.

8) Medicine has overtaken biology in many cases, and fetuses/babies whom nature would not have provided for in earlier times are now delivered and nursed into life.  In the past, these children would have died within hours of delivery, or died in utero, thus adding to the moral ambiguity, even of the moment of birth.

7) It has been proven by our societal experience that outlawing abortion does not serve to protect fetuses/babies from being aborted.

8) The evangelical church has made a major mistake in attempting to elect politicians to solve this problem — basically, hiring someone to do the dirty work of passing legislation.

9) The church — both conservative and liberal — should quit trying to legislate and adjudicate this issue and should instead work hard at the meta-level, reshaping American society into a place of love and care so that the teenage moms, like Bob’s, and the other women who contemplate voluntary abortions might be overwhelmed with the amount of support and care they will receive should they choose to carry their fetus/baby to full term.

In conclusion, No, Bob, I do not think you’re a misogynist for being “ardently pro-life,” because I am, too.

"Have you considered professional online editing services like ?"

The Writing Life
"I'm not missing out on anything - it's rather condescending for you to assume that ..."

Is It Time for Christians to ..."
"I really don't understand what you want to say.Your"

Would John Piper Excommunicate His Son?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ginger Veitinger

    Thanks, Tony, for nailing what evangelicals typically seem to miss about this issue. Your comments echo a lot of a what Hauerwas had to say in a sermon on abortion. Discussion on the issue must be reframed into something other than pro-life/pro-choice. As with other issues of social justice, it is time the church stands up to surround women with such a level of support & care that choosing to carry a child to term is not only a viable option, but the best option.

  • Tony (or should I say Mr. Jones), that’s one of the best statements on abortion I’ve ever read. I especially like the last point you made, as I think the church should operate outside of politics and more on the personal level. That’s where we do our best work, anyway.

  • Scot Miller

    So when the question is framed, “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” perhaps the answer is “Yes.” Give life a chance (as far as nature permits), unless there are good reasons (e.g., medically necessary conditions) to end a life. I agree with you that the idea that a fetus is the moral equivalent of a person from the moment of conception is implausible, which means that early-term abortions are not nearly as morally problematic as late-term abortions. But even if a fetus is a person from the moment of conception, there are too many good reasons to permit the termination of some pregnancies (e.g., ectopic pregnancy) to be adamantly opposed to all abortions. The key is take the concrete lived experience of real people as more morally significant than some abstract moral principle. Just as Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath,” so moral principles like “Life is good (and sacred)” need to be applied to the actual lived experience of real human beings who sometimes need to choose to end life.

  • CJ

    Thanks for this. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

  • Well-stated. The bulk of the way forward lies in your final remark. Perhaps the most important missing piece for many Christians in the abortion discuss is presence. While I certainly don’t want to overlook the valiant work many do with adoption agencies and crisis pregnancy centers, countless Christians who hold such “passionate” perspectives on the issues are strangely absent in ministering to those they argue so loudly about.

  • Alex McCauslin

    I barely ever comment in any of the many blogs I follow. But I feel a perspective is missing from this discussion and I cannot keep silent.

    I do not disagree with your post. It is powerfully and passionately written in such a way as to support women, but I think it misses the question you are trying to answer.

    Is being pro-life misogynistic? Or rather, is the pro-life position innately oppressive to women?

    I think an earlier commenter, Ginger, hints at the answer when she says, “As with other issues of social justice, it is time the church stands up to surround women with such a level of support & care that choosing to carry a child to term is not only a viable option, but the best option.”

    Implicit in that statement is the fact that, at this point in time, society does not support women in this way.

    I have spent the last few years working beside women who do not have that support, who do not have men or even families willing to help them, who are not financially stable and are working at jobs which do not provide health care, child care or flexible hours to make doctor’s appointments, who are still in school, whose parents have threatened to disown them etc.

    I assure you, abortion is not taken lightly by these women. But their very lives (and the lives of their future children) are threatened by carrying a baby to term.

    The question for us as Christians is not: Should we legislate whether or not a woman can have an abortion?

    It is: How do we legislate and enact existing legislation that supports pregnant women from all socioeconomic backgrounds?

    If you are supporting pro-life legislation more vigorously than pro-women and anti-poverty legislation, then I believe that, yes, you are being misogynistic.

  • Jim

    Alex, though I respect your position, and think your heart is entirely right, you are discounting possible differences in the view of the role of government.

    I believe there should be anti-abortion legislation because I believe it’s the government’s role to defend the right to life from those who would take it. Depending on what you mean by “anti-poverty” legislation, I would probably oppose it, not because I am in favor of poverty, but because I think it is not the government’s role to defend people from poverty.

    Churches certainly should, I maintain. We all have a responsibility to the poor, which the bible constantly makes clear. But that does not mean that the government is the best way of dealing with poverty. In fact, I think it’s one of the worst.

    So one can support women, and support impoverished women, while opposing legislation that purports to do the same thing.

  • Alex McCauslin


    My point is that anti-abortion legislation may appear to you to save lives, but for many women it is life-threatening because of other factors in society that are already oppressing them.

    And many of these women, as Tony notes in his post, will still going to have abortions (but likely, under unsafe circumstances) as long as they continue to be unsupported.

    If we want to truly end abortions, we need to be advocates for systems that support and empower these oppressed women, whether these are government legislated systems or not.

    And from my perspective, it appears that by making abortion illegal, you are putting one more systemic barrier in these women’s lives, without removing any.

    The role of government in any situation is a complicated question. But I believe the Bible and, more specifically, Jesus and the prophets, force us to ask, in every legislative decision we make, how does this legislation affect the poor, the stranger (immigrant), the widow (the systemically oppressed woman), and the orphan (the family-less child)?

    I understand that abortion, particularly late-term abortion, may be considered murder. But I think abortion is simply a symptom of the oppression of women, especially, women in poverty. The women making these choices understand themselves to be choosing between two evils.

    We need to work toward ending the need to make such decisions, in the way that is the least damaging to women and to their children.

  • Thanks Tony,
    This issue is an emotional one to be sure, but must be addressed rationally or the conversation deteriorates to the level of shouting match and label-slapping. I appreciate points 3 and 4 particularly. It is possible to be pro-life while calling into question the claim that “life”necessarily begins at conception. The “life” issue here is also referred to as the issue of “personhood”, and is important to this discussion as well as those related to cases like Terri Schiavo. “Personhood” is explained well in the book “Kingdom Ethics” by Glenn Stassen and David Gushee.

    Also, a relative of mine had to elect to abort a fetus due to an ectopic pregnancy. It was both saddening and telling to see the abuse they endured at the hands of “pro-lifers” who had no clue what they were talking about scientifically or theologically.

    Thanks again for the post

  • Thanks, Tony. I agree with your thoughts, and it is a progression like that that leads me to be both pro-life and pro-choice.

    That said, I think Bob may credibly be able to accuse you of skirting the question he was trying to ask. When you said that “the MD states that true evangelicalism stands against the equal rights of women…” and then later that “Conservative evangelicals have every right to be homophobic and misogynistic”, I think that it was reasonable for your readers to link the two statements without regard to your position on women in church leadership—that is to say, I, like Bob, read you as saying that anti-abortion folks are misogynist.

    Perhaps it would help if you clarified this: do you think misogyny is behind conservatives’ opposition to all abortion, and desire for the government to intervene to prevent women from access to abortions?

  • carla jo

    Alex, you are brilliant.

  • Josh Mueller

    I agree for the most part, especially with #9. I also think that the issue of “rights” shouldn’t even come into the picture. Biblically speaking, we have neither a right to life nor the right to do with our bodies what we wish, especially if it harms or destroys ourselves or someone else’s ability to live a life of their own. We have a God-given ability to make choices – very tough choices sometimes. And we need to do all we can to help a person make the best choice in any given situation by providing the kind of supportive community and environment they need. Criminalizing abortion has usually exactly the opposite effect.

  • Josh Mueller

    Since Ginger mentioned Hauerwas, here is an excellent message on the topic:

  • So this is what post-partisanship looks like. I like it.

  • I don’t meant to be contrary but I think there’s a slight problem with two things that you’ve said here, from an entirely human, pastoral standpoint, when they are taken together. You identify the beginning of life with birth and you say that we cannot consider the loss of every embryo as being on par with a walking, talking person. I understand the point you’re making but I can tell you that as someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, these two statements–and especially their juxtaposition–strikes me as offensive.

    In fairness, you say that not every embryo that is “flushed” from the system can be counted a loss, which means that perhaps some can? But you also place the beginning of life at birth, which suggests that the loss I experienced was insignificant or at least less significant than any loss of real life that took place after birth. Again, as a woman who has experience pregnancy loss, this leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I can only imagine that the effect would be worse for women who had multiple pregnancy losses, late miscarriages, or stillbirths that required a process of labor and delivery.

    Again, I understand the point you’re making (even if I don’t entirely agree) but I think there’s a real problem with identifying birth as the start of life when it comes to addressing women who have lost unborn children. And I’m not sure I think it works to make one sort of argument if the pregnancy is wanted and another if it isn’t.

    I do think it’s worth taking some care because these comments can trigger a negative emotional reaction for women who have suffered these things.

  • Carl

    The scientific FACT that life begins at conception and not birth has been known for years. Read Francis Beckwith’s Defending Life book or The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf for a thorough explanation and defense of that fact, along with a decimation of other abortion myths. It shows that the pro-abortion folks (I too don’t like the “pro-choice” verbiage since the opposite of life isn’t choice) are inherently anti-science.

    4) Seriously? So because thousands of people die every day because of hunger, it’s not a tragedy when someone starves someone else to death?

    5) Wrong; as I said above, the beginning of life HAS been pretty well pinned down by scientists.

    8) This doesn’t make sense. So because elderly people who would have died at age 70 a hundred years ago now live longer due to medical advances, during those “extra” years, they don’t qualify as being actually alive? Does anyone think this sound logic? Or is it rather a tortured defense of genocide?

    7 or 9) Legislation doesn’t protect all of them, but it certainly saves some. Again, the logic here is breathtaking in its silliness. What you’re saying is that because laws against murder don’t keep some people from killing other people, we shouldn’t fight for laws against murder (or whatever crime).

    Thankfully, the author of this post doesn’t actually live according to this logic. Otherwise, no one would take him seriously. It’s still a wonder that anyone does now.

  • I’m not so sure that your statistic about embryos being flushed out is a valid arguement for saying therefore that life does not begin then but instead at birth. In the span of history, it has only been in recent history that childbirth has become something relatively safe without a significant percentage of babies (and mothers) dying in the process. In fact, a mistaken belief by many is that the average age of people being 35-40 in past centuries was because people were dying at that age – it was actually because such a huge percentage of the population died before the age of two. If babies go to heaven, then it is certainly populated with a tremendous number of babies who died in childbirth or in their first two years. By your rationale, wouldn’t we have then said that life did not begin until the age of two when the survival rate greatly increased?

  • However, “life” does not begin at conception. That is an untenable argument to make, since “60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women’s normal menstrual flows unnoticed.”

    Hey, Tony: As you know, I think that’s a fact that’s very important to these discussions, but I don’t think it completely undermines the view that life begins at conception. What I think it does is put considerable practical pressure on one to not hold that having full moral status begins at conception. But (1) this can be done *either* by giving up the view that life begins at conception, *or* by detaching the issue of when having full moral status begins from that of when one’s life begins. In fact, I am myself very open to views on which one’s life begins very early indeed, and I feel (and succumb to!) the resulting pressure to detach those issues. And (2) this pressure, while pretty strong, can be resisted. It’s tough for most people, I think. I mean, if that estimate is correct, and more than half of naturally conceived embryos die such very early deaths (mostly completely unnoticed), that means these deaths constitute an enormous tragedy, supposing full moral status begins at conception. For then, of course, there are more (and if the actual figure is close to the 80% high end of the range, *many* more) of those very early deaths than there are of human deaths of all other causes combined: heart disease, plus cancer, plus intentional abortions, plus auto accidents, plus everything else, all wrapped up together; and all of these very early deaths are of persons of full moral standing, so each is intrinsically as tragic as the death of, say, a young child. It seems that someone who really believed this would be compelled to urgent action: to study ways to avoid as many of these deaths as possible, etc. But few who learn of these supposed facts seem to be so moved, at least in my experience.

  • Nice post, kind of drawn out though. Really good subject matter though.

  • Pingback: They’re Not the Same Thing()

  • Pingback: Black Genocide()

  • Pingback: Pro-life? Really?()