Shortly before the Victorian Parliament passed Australia’s then (perhaps?) most progressive abortion laws in 2008, The Age newspaper published the following letter from me:
“In weeks, we will become a very confused society. Under current law, a miscarriage of pregnancy of 20 weeks or more must be registered as a birth, given a name, and given a burial. At the very least, what that says is that this was a person. Apart from that, it means more than that the person was part of a family and indeed the community, that they died, and that their passing is a cause of grief.
“So what kind of intellectual gymnastics will we now juxtapose legislation based on the baby’s personality and another that declares them expendable? What shall we say of the legally aborted 22-week fetus? Declaration of their birth. Shall we name, bury, mourn, and remember them?
“You can’t have it both ways… Either they’re a person, or they’re not. If you must pass this dehumanizing legislation, at least dare to change birth and death laws too. Then those of us with choice will know where we stand.”
Fellow Christian believers praised my letter. Am I still behind it? Fourteen years later, that’s a “yes” and a “no”. My disgust at the everyday medical practice of termination of pregnancy remains unchanged; it may even have gotten stronger.
So what has changed?
Please make no mistake; I hate abortion as much as ever. And I dream and long for a world where no unborn child will ever be deprived of life by human intervention. Unlike most progressives, I don’t question any child’s personality, and if I were to ask whether abortion is “murder,” I think I would still answer in the affirmative. I may be less sure what lines I would draw further in the sand.
So what has changed?
In short, I have done much of what evangelical Christians like me have done poorly; I have listened sincerely and thoughtfully to other voices, stories, and analyses. Yet I have heard no less of the word of God in Scripture. I wish I had heard more.
In this season of encouragement of an anticipated radical change that would be the retraction of Roe v. Wade, I want to reflect here on where I’ve come. I pray that my reflections may challenge, trouble, and encourage others.
It may surprise many Christians that “pro-life” has not always been touted as a core Christian faith. Certainly not among Protestants, anyway. It’s quite recent, a late-20th-century innovation.
Swearing at women and their doctors…will not reduce the number of abortions.
And one of the sad ironies is that those who have the most to say about how bad abortion is are the ones who do the least to lower the number of abortions, to see fewer lives of unborn children ending.
Swearing at women and their doctors and demanding the criminalization of abortion can feel very fair. But it will not reduce the number of abortions. And that reality should haunt evangelical Christians far more than it seems. We seem to feel that our gospel-driven task has been accomplished and that the Lord glorifies it when we have somehow interfered with the medical provision of termination of pregnancy.
If we Christians want fewer abortions on our watch, the thing to fight for would be more money for sex education and easy access to birth control, especially among the most underprivileged sectors of our community. Most of the time, Christians find that thought repugnant. It seems like a sell-out for the free and easy sex movement. The wicked hippies have won; let’s pass the dope. But in reality, “they are the choices” in this imperfect world.
Ganders who spoke out about what is good for geese have never been constructive or honorable.
Ignoring this reality, continuing to campaign for criminal penalties, and attempting to use the country’s laws to force desperate women to carry unwanted pregnancies into full-time pregnancies is not just another rush to the barricades of the decaying corpse of Christianity. Far worse, it makes us accomplices to the abortion rate we claim to deplore.
Scared women and girls will have an abortion one way or another, safe or otherwise. Ganders who spoke out about what is good for geese have never been constructive or honorable. And so I hesitate to make hypotheses about a condition far removed from me or my world. But I will try once. If I were a needy woman carrying an unwanted child, forcibly cut off from family or other support, I might decide that prison without the child has more to offer than life on the street with the child.
Christians, beware of the persistent temptation of Pharisaism.
I am encouraged when I hear of Christian leaders and church communities acting on their “pro-life” statements by providing financial or practical care and support to vulnerable women about to be born. All the strength in their arms. And yet it is not enough if we are shocked by the abortion rate. Much better to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Lobby your politicians for this. As always, prevention is better than cure.
Christians, beware of the persistent temptation of Pharisaism. Ultimately, if we stick to the anti-abortion Christian status quo and set abortion clinics on the road to see them shut down by law, it may serve the interests of our souls to tag the “pro-life” tag silently. Drop.