Monday, October 15, 2012

How Can a Christian Be Pro-Choice?

In spite of what he said in August about "legitimate rape" and other controversial statements, Republican leaders are still (or again) supporting U. S. Representative Todd Akin in his Senate bid because he has voted the “right” way on selected House votes. That was the gist of a Facebook posting I made earlier this month.
Soon this response appeared under that FB posting: “My question is, what kind of Christian can possibly support abortion? That’s way beyond my comprehension.” That pointed question and statement caused me to think again about the issues surrounding the knotty question of abortion.
(The person who raised the question is the granddaughter of two of the finest people I have ever known; back in the 1950s they were core members of the first church I pastored, and I remember when she was born during that time.)
Here is my response to her pointed question, What kind of Christian can possibly support abortion?
(1) First, probably no Christian supports abortion in the sense of thinking that it is a good thing. All references to people, Christians or otherwise, as being pro-abortion are usually mistaken. It is much more accurate to say that they are pro-choice.
(2) Many Christians realize that we live in an imperfect world filled with sinful people. Thus, they can in good conscience condone abortions when women, in consultation with their doctors, think that there are compelling physical, emotional, or economic reasons why they should not continue a pregnancy. In such cases the abortive procedure should be done at an early stage in the pregnancy (preferably in the first trimester) and in a safe, supportive environment. Ideally, every pregnancy should be a wanted pregnancy, and every mother should be able to love, care for, and nourish her child(ren) adequately. But, sadly, we do not live in a perfect world.
(3) Most Christians, as well as most non-Christians, who are pro-choice confidently believe that personhood does not begin at conception but much later, probably not until the time of viability. Thus, abortions done early in the pregnancy are certainly not the same as murder, as the so-called pro-life people often charge. 
(4) Because abortion is not the “taking of human life” in any sense, many Christians (and others), believing in the inviolable personal freedom of all people, affirm the right of women to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy. That choice, of course, should not be made rashly or in a cavalier manner. Certainly a woman contemplating an abortion should talk with her doctor, her family, and, ideally, her pastor. But, still, the final choice should be hers. She should not be forced (by the government or anyone else) to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
(5) And then many Christians who would countenance abortion under the circumstances mentioned above believe that there are more important “pro-life” issues that need to be addressed, ones that are often overlooked, or even opposed, by many anti-abortion people—issues such as capital punishment and especially war, both of which are clearly the killing of human beings. They also believe that hunger and poverty are rampant causes of death, especially of young children, so impoverished women especially should not be forced to carry an unwanted child—or to resort to “coat hanger” abortions out of desperation.
So this is the kind of Christian who can “support” abortion, one who is certainly pro-life, but not “pro-birth” in every case.


  1. Masterful job, Leroy! Concise, clear, and thorough. I'm going to share it far and wide.

    I might add, Leroy, that it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to post responses. Rarely can I read the robot-proofing words and get them right the first time. I'm not even sure I'm going to be able to make this post since I've already tried four sets of words.

  2. Soon after posting this morning, I received the following comments (by e-mail) from a Thinking Friend in Wisconsin:

    "Be careful my brother

    "Hope your helmet is on tight

    "Please keep your head down

    "Blessings for this one

    "Will be sharing it around

    "God had a choice

    "And here we are

    Thanks, Leroy, you hit it on the head

  3. Dr. Will Adams, a Thinking Friend who lives here in Liberty, asked me to post his comments about today's posting:

    "Well stated. I have close friends who also ask how I can support abortion. As you said, I don't "support" abortion; I support a woman's right to choose. I've always found it intriguing that the same politicians who say they want to get government off our backs want to put it under our beds instead.

    "More seriously, I think the key question is when life begins. If you think a zygote is a human being, then any abortion is murder. I once asked Phyllis Schlafly (staunchly anti-abortion) this question: 'If you went into a restaurant and ordered fried chicken, and the waiter brought you a fried egg with a blood spot, would you think you got what you ordered or would you complain?' She pretended not to understand, so I stated it more clearly: 'If a zygote is a human being, is a fertilized hen's egg a chicken?' I've never gotten an answer to that from an anti-abortion person.

    "I don't mean to make light of those who differ with me, but I don't see how one can claim otherwise except for a religious doctrine. St. Augustine wrote that the soul enters the body at quickening, and that makes sense to me. It would also mean that abortion before that time is not murder, and while sad, may be the lesser evil under various circumstances."

  4. Let me start with my proof-text on abortion: "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire." Matthew 18:9 KJV

    Now this meets both parts of the standard for a proof-text on abortion, namely, it literally has nothing to do with abortion, while metaphorically it expresses how I feel on the subject. Abortion is a different subject from, say, slavery or gay rights, in that the Bible has nothing explicit to say about it. It took the Christian world nearly two millennia to figure out that the deep meaning of the Bible on slavery overturned the explicit statements of the Bible on slavery. It took even longer on gay rights. Yet, somehow, a wing of Christianity has launched a ferocious war against abortion rights without the words 'abort' or 'abortion' even appearing in the Bible. Imagine what might have happened if they had shown that level of dedication to fighting against poverty, hunger, war or disease. Perhaps those were too boring since the Bible says so much about them.

    The Bible tells us that life began when God breathed into a lump of clay. Science tells us that somehow the chemistry of life began stirring on earth billions of years ago. Fossilized remains of bacteria clumps have been found that are over a billion years old. However you want to look at it, that is when life began. Since then, from generation to generation, life has passed on like the light of Christmas candles spreading through a church as one worshipper passes the light to the next. For life with a double-helix of DNA, this involves alternating generations of single and double-stranded DNA. In a simple life form like moss that can involve the different generations of the plant creating different parts of the moss plant. In humans, it involves alternating generations of double-stranded people and single-stranded eggs and sperm. In a very profound sense, you are your child's grandparent, not parent. The true biological parents are a genetically unique egg and a genetically unique sperm who joined together to become the fertilized egg, just as your own DNA had once split creating the cells that became the egg and sperm. All of it is alive. There is no gap. If there is an absolute right to life, it applies just as much to every egg and sperm as it does to a fetus or an adult. If there is an absolute right to life, then virginity is murder, and every teenage boy has a divine mandate to have procreative sex as often as humanly possible. The alleged absolute right to life is a black hole that collapses into quantum chaos. To try to follow it would lead not to life but to universal destruction.

    So what is the alternative? I believe the alternative is a tragic sense of responsibility. Quantum mechanics suggests a universe where each electron is surrounded by a cloud of virtual electrons, each trying to take a turn in actual existence. For the electron, this is as best we can tell a mindless process, with no electron making any formal decisions. (I say this carefully, because quantum mechanics can involve some very strange stuff.) If we consider this as a metaphor for our positions, surrounded by clouds of virtual persons in all those unfertilized but living eggs and sperm, then our uniquely human characteristic points to the answer, unlike the electron we know we are here, and we know we have responsibilities. We must make the tragic choice of when to let a virtual person jump into existence, and when to not.

    SEE PART 2

  5. PART 2

    Now children do not jump from the head of Zeus, no matter what mythology may say, nor do they pop into existence quite like sub-atomic particles seem to do. There is this long process in-between called pregnancy. The expectant mother is the natural gate-keeper of this process. There is a reason why governments is most places wait until a breathing baby is ready for a birth certificate to declare a legally defined person.

    So I say to pregnant women, if your pregnancy offends you, pluck it out. I do not promise that this will be any easier than plucking out your eye, but it is your choice. Talk to your doctor, your family, and others whom you value, but realize that ultimately this is your decision. This is the woman's natural sovereignty. All the things you should think about are too great and too numerous to discuss here. There is time enough for the government to get involved AFTER the birth certificate is completed.

    To those who are opposed to abortion I say to do what you can to alleviate the need for abortion. Pregnant women need food, clothing, shelter, medical care, friends, family, and so much more. Ironically, one of the best ways to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which means sex education, birth control supplies, and a supportive community. This irony goes a long ways towards explaining why conservative parts of the country with the strongest opposition to abortion actually are frequently the places with the most abortions.

    President Clinton laid out the proposal that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." A lot like the removal of eyeballs. Do not do it yourself, talk to your doctor.

    Now there is one more loose end, this thing about when a soul is first involved. All I can add on this is that about 25 percent of all pregnancies end in a spontaneous abortion. I am sure God has a way of love and mercy to deal with that. I see no reason why from God's perspective there should be any difference between a spontaneous abortion and a therapeutic abortion when it comes to the question of a soul. Let us cast our burdens on the Lord, rather than on each other.

  6. A Thinking Friend in Arizona, who is a retired Baptist pastor, sent the following powerful comments:

    "Your address of a very sensitive issue was outstanding. It has always amazed me how rigid and emotional those who embrace the “Pro-Life” point of view can be but have no trouble with capital punishment or war.

    "Life may begin at conception but a fetus can hardly be equated with a viable baby. My wife and I worked in a maternity home back in the 1960’s when it was a disgrace to be pregnant and unmarried. We took care of girls whose ages ranged from twelve to thirty. If you are a father or mother of a pregnant twelve-year old child, your view of abortion will be greatly influenced by that situation.

    "The right-to-life bunch should visit a children’s nursing home and witness the twisted, deformed bodies and demented minds of babies and children who will never be able to walk or speak and they will spend their days rolling around the floor on a mat; making unintelligable sounds, slobbering, and totally incontinent. This is not the “life” any of us would wish for our children.

    "There are so many variables in the abortion issue and are rightfully addressed only by the prospective parents, their families, doctor and minister.

    "Government needs to stay out of this very complicated situation."

  7. Concerning chickens and eggs, there was a small restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica which primarily served the locals and served a dish called "Mother & Child Reunion" According to Paul Simon, this is where the song came from.

    My wife had three miscarriages over her child-bearing years. We considered them our children, and grieved the loss. Of two we had witnessed the heartbeat and movement prior to their deaths. Before marriage we had talked of having 4 - 6 children. We had 5, two are still with us. We have considered adopting another.

    Chapter 1 of a catechism of the early Antiochian Church, within 100 years of Christ, and in usage until at least 1056, reads - "The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new-born. You shall not covet your neighbors goods. You shall not perjure yourself. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not speak evil. You shall not bear malice. You shall not be double-minded or double-tongued; for this is a snare of death. Your word shall not be false or vain, but fulfilled in deed. You shall not be greedy, or extort, or be a hypocrite, or malicious, or proud. You shall make no evil plan against your neighbor. You shall not hate anyone; but some you may reprove, some you shall pray for, and some you shall love more that the breath of life in you. You shall not make a schism." The "shall not" section is about 1/5 of the work, the rest regards positive action and thought, the practice of the faith, and some theological commentary.

    Commentary of war by other early Church fathers. Sadly, much of the thinking and practice of the early Church has been discounted by churches today.

  8. J.P., a Thinking Friend who lives in Seattle, sent the following comments for me to post here:

    "Thank you for the wonderfully clear and articulate presentation of a complex subject!

    "I've long thought that one can be both simultaneously anti-abortion and pro-choice in the same way you describe it, but you developed the dimension of the desirability/viability of birth (the "pro-birth" label) in a way I had not thought about before.

    "I've also been struck by the incongruity, on the one hand, of folks who are militantly pro-life and pro-capital punishment, but on the other hand, of the dissonance between those who are anti-capital punishment and pro-choice (but as you point out, there is not necessarily a true correspondence in kind between the objects of capital punishment and abortion).

    "I also wonder—I'm sure someone has addressed this somewhere but I haven't seen it—how do those who identify as pro-life view spontaneous miscarriages, if not involuntary manslaughter?"

  9. People who support the criminalization of abortion are willing to impose their beliefs and values on others, and they are willing to put others in jail if they don't comply. That's a violation of the First Amendment.

  10. At the risk of making everyone mad, I've decided to post my comments.

    At the outset, let me say that I am staunchly Pro-Life--but not in the way this term is usually narrowly defined to mean anti-abortion (ignoring all other human life). As a geneticist, I DO believe that there is no event in human development so decisive as fertilization, although fertilization itself is a process. When this process is completed, there is a new genetic organism. I cannot buy the idea that human life begins with viability. Viability is a point in time that has varied greatly with medical and technological developments. Viability in the 19th century is quite different from viability today (or tomorrow). Even a newborn is not viable without the almost constant attention of a carer. Does this make me anti-abortion? Well--maybe more yes than no. I do believe there are exceptional cases where abortion is permissible? Yes. Do not believe abortion should be criminalized? No. Are there logical inconsistencies in my position? Probably so. But, that is probably true of nearly any stance on this issue.

    About now, I'm starting to hear a few amens from any right-wing readers. (Only a few, because most would say I'm too wishy washy.) But read on.

    Am I Pro-Life? Absolutely. Who am I going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election? Obama. I believe he is much more Pro-Life than Romney. Here are just a few examples.

    The Environment: Which candidate has taken a stronger stand on preserving the environment of the earth (over which we are stewards)? Although I wish he had been able to do more, it is Obama who has made attempts to limit our emission of greenhouse gases and instituted other measures to protect the environment. It is probably too late to reverse the effects of global warming over the next years (or decades), but it shows a complete disregard for the value of human life to not start doing all we can to reduce it in subsequent years. The first catastrophic effects of climate change may be seen in third world countries, which only further removes the urgency from us. In future years, we'll console ourselves by saying, "Well, no one can prove that the 100,000 people who died in that recent typhoon in Bangladesh died due to human-caused global warming." It may take 50-100 years of data collection beyond that point to do so. If I give you that abortion is murder, then you must give me that not doing all we can to reduced greenhouse gas emissions is mass murder.

    Health Care: Which candidate is more Pro-Life on questions of health care? Obama. He has taken a stand to at least begin to make good health care available to all Americans. Support for Obama-Care is Pro-Life. Romney opposition to Obama-Care (on the days he is actually opposed it) shows a complete disregard for the value and dignity of human life.

    Social Programs: Which candidate has take a stronger stand in assisting those who cannot afford to feed and clothe their families, put a roof over their heads, and educate them? Obama. Standing for social justice is the right thing, the Biblical thing, and the Pro-life thing to do.

    Who will I vote for? Barack Obama. The Pro-Life candidate.

  11. Me again. Forgot to add one other issue on which Obama is more Pro-Life than Romney. (As important as the Environment):

    Diplomacy vs. War: Which candidate more likely to try diplomacy over war to resolve global problems? Obama. The Pro-Lifer.

  12. I much appreciate all the good and thoughtful comments about my posting on abortion. There are many things I would like to say in response to many of the above comments, but at this time only two words: Thank you.

  13. Do I believe is it possible to be a Christian and pro-choice. The answer is no. All forms of abortion should be banned with these three caveats, Rape/incest, health of the mother, and quality life issues for the child. Most reasonable conservatives believe this way. Human life begins at conception, pro-choice supporters saying it does not are very misguided. At the conclusion of fertilization, the embryo possess its own unique DNA. Not life, I beg to differ. From a very young age, most children who are raised in Christian homes are taught that God knew then long before they were in the womb.