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On Being Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice

While preparing this week’s Christian Carnival, which I hosted at my Participatory Bible Study Blog, I encounter a post on how Christians should make voting choices, What’s a Deal Breaker?, which is actually the end of a series.

In general, this is an excellent article, in my view, because it discusses prioritizing one’s values and goals and thus making more intelligent choices between candidates. This would be a substantial improvement over the process of eliminating candidates based on a limited number of test issues, which sometimes results in an unnecessary and wasted third party choice.

The “deal breaker” that the author, Chris Brooks, proposes, however, is abortion. Now I can easily understand how someone might make this a deal breaker issue. If one holds that all abortion is murder and should not be distinguished in any way from killing after birth, then one is probably painted into a corner simply by means of words. I would note that the logical conclusion of such a view, which few people make, is that the penalty should be the same for all involved. (Those who have drawn this conclusion have often made very tragic choices.)

When I describe myself as “anti-abortion” I do not mean such a position. I don’t support the current exception-free Republican platform plank on the matter. I do, however, regard abortion as something we should sincerely hope to reduce to those specifically chosen exceptions.

In calling this a deal breaker issue, Chris says:

On abortion, I really didn’t want to argue whether abortion is wrong – both because people rarely change their minds in this debate and because I think most Christians already think it is wrong. Instead I focused on those Christians who believe abortion is wrong and yet support keeping it legal. I made the case that IF you think abortion is wrong, supporting its legalization makes you, in God’s eyes, guilty of “aiding and abetting” abortion. Supporting those who want to keep it legal is the same thing. [Note that the link here refers to his lengthier earlier discussion of this issue.]

This is a position that I believe is logically flawed. I hear it expressed repeatedly. There is an unstated assumption in there, that “making something illegal” is always the best way to attempt to put a stop to it or reduce its incidence.

Murder is illegal, and yet it happens every day. The sale and use of quite a number of drugs are illegal, yet we have one of the worst drug problems in the world here in this country where we are purportedly fighting a drug war. I could cite many examples, including the fact that speeding is also illegal, yet it happens more often than not on most roads here in my own county.

The reason I cite murder and drugs, however, is that I would advocate different approaches to dealing with them. Willful taking of human life (outside the womb, and I do make such a distinction) should be illegal, and that is the key element in fighting that type of behavior, though I don’t think it is the only element.

I personally would prefer at least some relaxation of laws on drugs, if not outright legalization, and an effort to reduce their use and the damage that they do by other means. It’s interesting that I often get similar responses to this call for legalization. I must want to get high without risking jail! But the fact is that I don’t use alcohol, much less illegal drugs, and I would have no intention of doing so were they legal. I am against them, but I believe that the best way to fight them is not through our current unproductive (or counterproductive) drug war.

In the case of abortion, I believe that the fact that we are applying the law inside another person’s body is significant. The fact that the majority of people in this country do not see abortion in the same way as murder is also significant. Why? Am I arguing that people’s opinions changes moral imperatives? Not at all. But it does change what is the most effective approach to dealing with an issue.

It’s not my purpose here to make a full case for abortion being legal, even though I deplore it in most cases. My purpose is simply to point out that people can and do differ on how to deal with a problem, even when they may agree on the desirable result.

Crossposted to RedBlueChristian.com.

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  1. PamBG says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful piece. I too believe that abortion is a sin but I struggle with it’s 100% illegality.

    I appreciate your logic here with respect to other issues. I have heard people use the same ‘all or nothing’ arguments regarding drinking and and gambling.

    An additional question to complicate matters: Are Christians required to urge their their secular State operate as if it were the Kingdom of God already come? I’m not so sure.

  2. Larry B says:

    I struggle a bit with these ideas too. Much of my thinking is informed by the writings of Hayek, where one of my main take aways is that the free exercise of a society has to be underpinned with a moral direction otherwise the freedom breaks down.

    So I see it as a fine balance between allowing a free society, while limiting behaviors in order to continue a free society. In the case of abortion as you talk about here, I think there is a moral responsibility to protect the unborn here and legislation to do so is highly appropriate with the aim of creating and maintaining a free society. I think you can come to this conclusion apart from a specific religion and therefore, you can remove the debate from the “my religion demands it therefore it must be a law”. Once you have that established, you can find exceptions that still serve to preserve the morality of protecting the unborn, while allowing for the possibility that a difficult situation may exist where competing objectives must be managed.

    On other issues like drugs, alcohol, etc – I think the same kind of analysis can be applied. In my opinion, for example, it is beneficial to a society to outlaw drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth, that science shows us fundamentally alters our brains with each use and lessens the ability of a person to be a productive member of society.

    1. Larry- I think I would have to present a great deal more to make the rudiments of a case that outlawing abortion is not the best way to prevent it. What I’m trying to show is that it is possible to discuss the strategy for dealing with something separately from determining whether it is wrong or not.

      IOW, determining something is immoral does not necessarily mean one should make a law, nor if one should make a law, just what variety of law that should be.

      Your points are well taken, however, and should be discussed in any debate on strategy.

    2. Scott Overpeck says:

      Sounds like you have superimposed your beliefs on your reading of Hayek. Further to outlaw anything that alters your brain in the way that heroin does is to outlaw hugs, kisses and sex. They all cause a rapid release a dopamine causing feelings of euphoria. They are also all potentially addictive and fail to satisfy after awhile (one of the reasons sexual purity is such a challenge. Starts with hugs, moves on to kisses…) One need not openly accept drug use though, to recognize that the hundreds of billions fought on the war on drugs and the hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters thrown in jail may not be worth the moral claim that we don’t allow drugs in our society.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    In this matter I think you also need to consider the practical effects of any policy. A presidential candidate who, in a democracy, promises to stop abortion by making it illegal is in practice not going to be able to deliver this, because the complex legislation required has to be passed in legislative bodies which are known to have a pro-choice majority. In practice the realistic goal for the pro-life lobby is a significant reduction in abortion. And this goal might in fact prove more achievable if addressed by a President who is not doctrinaire anti-abortion but is able to build a consensus, perhaps that abortion should be allowed but only with significantly more restrictions than are currently in place.

    1. Peter-your comment points to one of my objections to the Republican platform which does not allow exceptions. I think there is some moral gray area there that should be considered.

  4. What I find interesting in the abortion debate is its incompleteness.

    First, what role does sex education play in this? Those who oppose abortion also seem to oppose almost any form of sex education. In addition, many of those organization also oppose contraception. This makes abortion almost all or nothing option, which it should never be and pro-choice people agree on that point.

    We speak of abortion without thinking about what happens to the child that would be if abortion is illegal and we do nothing to insure the welfare of the child after he or she is born.

    Finally, abortion is a private matter between a woman and her doctor and based on her beliefs. You cannot force your beliefs on another human being and to do so is arrogant and ignorant.

    1. Tony- in one sense your argument resonates with me, but you express certainty that the choice of an abortion is between the woman and her doctor, yet those on the other side express equal certainty that the fetus is a human being who must be protected as one of the weakest in society.

      That is an issue that divides, and regarding which I see very little constructive on either side. Why is this completely a private decision, whereas care of one’s children is not? Parents have been considered almost strictly the jurisdiction of parents in some societies in the past. On the other hand, just how can the government claim jurisdiction inside someone else’s body?

      In my view, those questions provide quite a bit of ground for legitimate debate.

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    Tony, I agree that the welfare of newborn children is important. So I suppose that you would not consider a mother killing her newborn child a private matter between the mother and whoever helped her. If not, what makes the difference between that situation and abortion?

    1. That’s a good article and leaves us with much to think about.

  6. Wayne Leman says:

    I’m struggling with this issue in this election. There are so many other issues this time that are so important to me. But I sincerely struggle with the idea that abortion is simply a private matter for a woman to decide. It is lumped under the umbrella of “women’s rights.” I am an advocate for women’s rights and would not want to vote for someone who did not believe that women should get equal pay for equal work, should be able to do anything outside the home she wanted to do and was qualified to do, etc. I believe it is proper to have gun control. There is no need, IMO, for there to be assault weapons available for sale to private citizens. Of course, it’s true that criminals will find a way to kill with assault weapons even if we ban them, but banning them still helps some. And it seems to me that abortion deserves to be somewhere in that ballpark of what we decide as a society is not in the best interests of all living beings, whether the parents or the unborn infant. I don’t want to vote for more of the same misguided military and foreign policy and tax equity policies that we have had for too long. But I also don’t want to vote for people who consider having a baby to be a “punishment” when the mother doesn’t want the baby.

    I’m truly conflicted.

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