This past week marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the (in)famous Supreme Court decision that decreed that women, with certain caveats, have the right to abort their pregnancies. It’s been a divisive issue in politics ever since, with the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps constantly battling it out through legislation, media confrontations, and protests.
I should start with a critique of the pro-life movement, since it was the view I was raised with, as well as the view I pretty much identify with now.
On the positive side, activism against abortion, was, in many ways, the tipping point that energized Christians to be active in civic life, a wake up call that there were many who desired to legislate ideas contrary to the Christian worldview. While Catholics had always been active against abortion, Roe v. Wade helped create an evangelical-Catholic alliance.
On the darker side, many overzealous activists in the pro-life camp have caused the movement to be appear to outsiders as out of touch with reality. The angry rhetoric of many in the camp often comes across as having no realization how agonizing the decision is for many women who make it. Many women make the decision genuinely not realizing that there are other options available. Many pro-lifers, particularly in the upper and middle classes, also do not have any idea of the impoverished lives of lower class women faced with unplanned pregnancies. Furthermore, one common criticism I have often heard levied by my pro-choice friends is how hypocritical it is that some the most fervent “pro-lifers” often have an apparently dogmatic opposition to any and all government aid programs, many of which might help women in this situation, making abortion less likely. I unfortunately do not have enough data to truly examine the merits of this, but it certainly caused me to think. Finally, many have noted that truly being pro-life must extend far beyond abortion. It must include a desire to fight poverty, hunger, economically-motivated wars, bigotry, and abuses of the environment that cause health problems. This resonates very powerfully with me. Finally, I feel that the pro-life movement has allowed itself to be perceived as anti-woman because so many of its leading spokespeople to be men. The issue primarily affects women, and thus I feel that Christian women are the ones who ought to lead the charge against, and my primary responsibility is to be supportive of my sisters in Christ in these efforts.
Turning to the pro-choice movement, there are a couple of pointers within their viewpoint that I can strangely sympathize. In their minds, it appears that restricting abortions goes hand-in-hand with other aspects of an era in which women were denied equal pay, equal access to employment, where rape and domestic abuse had a blind eye turned to them, and many viewed women as primarily society’s breeding machines.
I have no desire to enable these things. I desire a society in which women are given basic equality with men. But is with these caveats out of the way that I will say that I believe the “right to choose” is a truly horrifying concept. It horrifies me that terminating a human life is viewed as an important human right by people. Again, I unfortunately do not have data or knowledge to truly get into the specifics of when life begins, but I know there are some biologists who contend pain can be felt by the unborn as early as 20 weeks. Regardless of when pain begins, there is a lot of gravity, to me, involved in the fact the fetus is on the fast track to developing into a full-fledged human person. And it disturbs me that the most zealous members of the pro-choice movement nonetheless seem to consider the ‘right to choose” to be more important than this fact.
In conclusion, what must we do? I will admit that this overview has probably been quite unsatisfying to many, as I have demonstrated my own lack of knowledge on the subject. I definitely think abortion should be legal if the woman’s life is in danger, or she has been raped, or there has been an incestuous relationship. We in the pro-life camp must correct people such as Rep. Todd Akin when they make statements denying the situations many female victims find themselves in. Perhaps even allowing it in the first trimester in exchange for making it illegal after that would be a reasonable compromise.
However, while advocating for the legal rights of the unborn is important, the most important thing we can do as the church is to be there for all those that society has turned its back on. This can include both the unborn and the women who find themselves in this unfortunate place. Calling women in this situation “whores” does no good, nor, really, does calling them murderers when they do have abortions. We must offer them the comforting love of Christ, and advocate for them to be provided food, healthcare, decent living, and a loving environment for their child. Whether this involves government, church, charity, a little of each, I’m not sure. I admit my lack of expertise on these issues. What I DO know is that from its inception, the church has provided a helping hand to those whom the establishment had forgotten, particularly babies left by the side of the road. While I’m still trying to work through the precise specifics of what needs to be done, we must emulate the person of Jesus when approaching abortion and the surrounding issues. And both sides of that debate, at this time, have some glaring spots on their record as far as this goes.