* Update: I will cut off comments at midnight tonight for this post.
* Note from CM: I will try to moderate this closely today.
The “pro-life” (anti-abortion) movement has become invigorated since the election of President Trump in 2016, and many Christians support him largely on this basis. They cannot even conceive of voting for a Democrat or someone who supports a “pro-choice” position. They consider abortion to be pure moral evil, the murder of an unborn child.
And as long as they hold that position, there can be no reasoning or compromise whatsoever. And I agree. If all abortion = the murder of a baby, then there really is no discussion about the moral acceptability of the practice, except in certain health-related situations.
Here, for example, is a recent Facebook post by prominent biblical scholar Tremper Longman III, and excerpts from the comment thread that followed:
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Post: Why conservatives (and moderates like myself) should vote for Biden.
Link to article: Conservatives Have Only One Choice in 2020.
Comment: interesting article. But please tell me how I can forget the abortion issue. I just cannot. And what’s my alternative?
Comment from TLIII: Abortion cannot be the single issue. There are other pressing issues: climate change, immigration, poverty. Abortion is not an issue that can be “solved” by the government. The church needs to help men and women to make the right choices. Interesting that the Bible says nothing about abortion except when it says that a man should pay a fine if in a fight the fetus “comes out.” For more detail see The Bible and the Ballot. On other other hand, the Bible says a lot about helping the poor, immigrants and the environment.
Reply: … and administrations with a more tolerant approach to abortion but effective anti poverty measures, have lower abortion rates than anti abortion administrations that also favour the affluent.
It’s a poverty issue.
Reply: Would you vote for Biden if, instead of unborn, he promoted the murder of 5 year olds?
Reply from TLIII: Of course not, there is a difference at least according to the Bible.
Comment later in thread: the Democrat Party platform on abortion, completely antithetical to what scripture teaches (Proverbs 6:17, etc) on the sanctity of pre-born and born life.
Comment later in thread: I’ll never vote for anyone who promotes the murder of Children
Reply from TLIII: Abortion according to the Bible is a moral violation because it involves the ending of potential life, but not murder. Notice that nowhere in the Bible does it talk about abortion, but a lot about being kind to immigrants, the poor, and taking care of the environment. Read my book.
Comment later in thread: You are a Christian in name only sir because you don’t have the wisdom and discernment (Isaiah 11:2, John 14:17, 16:13) that comes from the Holy Spirit that a real born again Christian has. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, it’s always a choice between the lesser of 2 evils because all humans are imperfect and sinners (Genesis 3, assuming that you believe in Genesis, instead of the secularist creation myth, evolution).
Joe Biden is the worse choice between him and Donald Trump. Biden is an immoral and unprincipled liberal Democrat who supports such things as the murder of unborn children, and same sex marriage, 2 abominations that Bible condemns (Leviticus 18, Proverbs 6:17, Romans 1:25-28).
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His book to which he refers is called The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions (Jan. 2020). I think Longman’s chapter on abortion is well-considered, faithful to the texts of scripture, and reasonable with regard to the role of Christians living in a secular society. His concluding statement on abortion mirrors my own position.
In the final analysis, then, while Christians should keep upholding the sanctity of life and protesting abortion as an infringement on that sanctity, we should not put our trust in the law, but in our powers of persuasion to the gospel and to obedience. And, in the meantime, there may be wisdom in making abortion rare and safe. (pp. 152-153)
As Christians in America, we must recognize the necessarily two-fold nature of our positions on issues like these. This is one of those concerns where Christians tend to forget that we live as citizens in a secular society. Matters such as when life begins or whether or not a fetus has a soul from the time of conception may inform our theological understanding about abortion, but we cannot expect our neighbors or our legal system to accept these positions as inarguable.
The law certainly doesn’t care about these arguments. The specific issue in Roe v. Wade was not whether a fetus is a “human life,” but whether or not a fetus, especially in the first trimester, is to be considered a legal “person” — in the sense of a citizen due the full protections of the law — equivalent to someone already born and living in this country.
Longman observes that most people, even the most ardent “pro-life” advocates, tend to treat the fetus in the early phase of pregnancy as potential life — as human life but as something less than a fully developed person. Think, for example, about the way we handle miscarriages during those days. However — and this is important — as Longman notes, “To take the view that a fetus is the developing potential of life does not lead to a pro-choice position” (p. 149).
One can still advocate against abortion on the basis of the value of developing human life. Potential life “should be protected and not willfully ended or cavalierly treated” (p. 149). But one cannot simply say of all abortions that they represent “baby murder.” And when one realizes that more than 90% of all abortions happen in the first trimester, before fetal viability, that kind of passionate statement does nothing more than stop discussion about any possible nuances or other considerations regarding abortion itself or about the various factors that serve as context for abortion.
For example, we have not even begun to talk about…
- women’s health and better care for women who are pregnant — why, for example, does the U.S. have such high rates of maternal mortality — last among other similar wealthy countries? Need I say also that this leads to a discussion about access to healthcare in general?
- better education (about emotional health as well as sexual) and access to birth control, which is probably the single greatest factor preventing more abortions,
- the difference between abortion by choice and therapeutic abortion (a distinction I rarely hear the “pro-life” movement talk about),
- the societal conditions of family breakdown, poverty, and hopelessness that lead many women to seek abortions,
- the importance of fostering self-esteem and good mental/emotional health in our children and communities through supporting families and infrastructures that will encourage them to practice good decision-making with regard to sex as well as life in general,
- the role of men who demand (sometimes violently) that their partners terminate their pregnancies, making abortion something less than a “woman’s choice.” This has actually been the case in a number of abortion situations I’ve encountered, even in “Christian” homes and settings — but again, this is little discussed,
- support for women who choose to give birth in difficult life circumstances, along with more investment to build and maintain access to childcare and other programs for single and working moms, as well as healthy foster care and adoption systems,
- what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned. That would simply return abortion laws to the states and would not likely have a huge impact on the numbers with regard to abortion. Some estimate that the numbers regarding abortion in the U.S. didn’t significantly change in the years following Roe v. Wade (factoring in illegal ones), but what did change is that fewer women died from the procedure.
As Longman says, I think there is wisdom in the saying “Keep abortion legal, safe, and rare,” while at the same time encouraging Christians to follow Jesus by investing their lives in their neighbors and in their own communities to make them better places where people can (and want to) pursue healthy relationships and life goals. To choose life!
If you want to discuss the topic of abortion with me, these are just some of the things I think we need to talk about. Don’t just end the discussion by insisting it’s all about murdering babies.
And I hope you’ll take all of this — and more — into account when you vote as well.