Where I Stand Today on Abortion
Last week I was the foil for one of the many recent articles declaring “Obama attracts young evangelicals.” No disrespect to Jon Ward, who co-authored the Washington Times article, but I believe Jonathan Merritt’s Southern Baptist credentials made him an even better foil for the same article in the Washington Post.
The experience of being featured in a national newspaper article, however, has given me an opportunity to reflect on my changing political views, especially concerning the issue of abortion. Whether this is wise or not, I believe in transparency, so I want to be honest here (even though I realize this opens me up to even greater criticism).
This may ultimately be a stupid thing to do, but I’ll just do my best to answer some of the questions that have been raised—and live with the consequences.
First, Justin Taylor is right about the importance of appointing Supreme Court justices if the goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and that seems to be the primary goal of most pro-life advocacy. I recognize there are wonderful things happening in the areas of pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, etc., but the rallying cry of the pro-life movement is “overturn Roe v. Wade,” and I have to confess that is something I no longer support.
I simply do not believe that criminalizing abortion is the best way to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Already we’ve seen the abortion rate steadily decline since 1990. Why? Well, it’s a number of factors, but I think one of the primary reasons is education—more young people are being raised with an understanding of and appreciation for the sanctity of life. My parents, once they joined the pro-life movement, were quite vocal in their support for pro-life causes, and that was passed down to me. The fact that abortion (and along with it sex and contraception, etc.) became a topic of conversation in many people’s homes has had a very good effect on developing more pro-life young people. And that is a good thing.
But the bottom line is I don’t believe a woman or a doctor should be put in jail for having or conducting an abortion. I no longer believe that threatening punishment is the best solution (and the Guttmacher Institute seems to support that conclusion), and therefore I can no longer support the effort to criminalize abortion. This ties into another question, written in the form of this statement: “Evangelicals who support someone like Obama do not truly believe that the unborn are human persons deserving full human rights.”
When Does a Fertilized Egg Become a Person?
I can only speak for myself, of course, but I suspect there may be many like me who have serious questions about the “human rights” of a fertilized egg. Yes, there is biological life at the point of conception—the potential for it to develop into a full “human person” (this is not going to develop into a kitten or a squirrel)—but what “rights” should be afforded? and at what cost to the mother who may be at cross purposes, facing an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy? What about the “human rights” of the woman without whom the fertilized egg would never develop? These are deep and profound questions not easily answered by a pat “life begins at conception” statement.
I also find myself disillusioned by the apparent hypocrisy within the pro-life movement, which has tightly aligned itself to the Republican Party with its economic policies which seem to say to women, “You have to carry your baby to full-term, and we’re not going to do much to help you financially.” It’s an almost Darwinian “survival of the fittest” political platform that is inherently racist when you realize the abortion rates are highest among black and Hispanic women.
Here’s another reason for my disillusionment: Much of the birth control used by evangelicals essentially promotes “abortion” by not allowing the already fertilized egg to implant on the uterine wall. Now, if you really believe that life begins at conception, then this type of birth control should also be on your “to don’t” list. Perhaps Catholics have been more consistent in this pro-life practice, but I have not seen such consistency in the evangelical movement.
Why Risk Being Wrong?
Finally, I find myself questioning the theological arguments as to when life begins and the nature of the soul. None of these are conclusive in my mind. So I have to admit that I’ve become somewhat agnostic when it comes to the question of “When does life begin?” And, I can hear the response now: “Why would you want to be on the wrong side of that question? What if life does begin at conception? Then abortion is murder and even a holocaust! Why risk it?”
Well, I simply have to say that I would give deference to the life of the person standing before me who is faced with the abortion decision, over the potential life of the fertilized egg inside her. Maybe that’s being too pragmatic. To be honest, abortion has never had any real-life implications for me. Like it is for many (dare I say, most) people in the abortion debate, the actual people affected by abortion are just hypothetical and theoretical to us, and what happens on a daily basis has no real impact on our lives. I say this to my own shame, but also to hold a mirror up to my pro-life friends who fervently believe abortion should be made illegal in this country.
I have serious questions for you:
- Who goes to prison if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
- How do you plan to pay for all of the new prisons that will need to be built?
- Who is going to adopt or provide foster care for the thousands of unwanted babies that would be born and abandoned?
- What are you doing now to support the unwed mothers in your local community?
- Has your church come alongside any pregnant teens to provide a safe, supportive environment for them to keep their baby and still get an education and develop themselves further?
- Have you taken on any of the real financial costs for a woman who could not make it on her when faced with an unplanned pregnancy?
More importantly, I wonder:
- How can we work together to see the number of abortions in this country continue to drop?
- How can we work together to develop a culture of life in this country?
- How can we work together to seek justice for the poor and the oppressed who do not feel they have a safe, supportive environment in which to bring a child into this world?
No, I don’t have certainty about when personhood should be recognized and full human rights afforded to a baby—or if a fertilized egg should ever be elevated over the life of a woman—and that is certainly a factor in the erosion of my support for overturning Roe v. Wade (besides other concerns I have about the criminal justice system in our country). I can say this: I am still committed to reducing the abortion rate. And I still consider myself a pro-life evangelical. But if those movements are more narrowly defined, then maybe I am neither of those things. Perhaps “whole life post-evangelical” would be a better label for me. Let me know if any reporters are looking for that angle on the election story.
Frank Schaeffer’s latest article is a forceful argument for why he is voting for Obama. It is a must-read!
Conservative Republican megachurch pastor Joel Hunter has some interesting things to say in Zack Exley’s article “Will the Real Pro-Life Party Please Stand Up?” (www.tinyurl.com/prolifeparty) Link