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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Reality in Abortion

Chances are, if you are an American, you have some political view of abortion. It may be informed by your understanding of fetal development, religious doctrine, or civil rights. It may be informed by none of the above. Chances are, though, you are pretty sure you are right and you can’t understand how a reasoning and moral person could take the opposing view. Abortion is the very definition of a divisive issue in America.
It’s also an issue where liberal Christians simply do not speak. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s I sat in various pews and heard unequivocally how evil abortion was. It was murder – end of discussion. Anyone who believed abortion should be allowed in any circumstance was dancing with the devil. After all, how can a Christian morally defend murder? How can a Christian see the intentional death of an innocent as anything but murder?
I didn’t have the knowledge or understanding to answer those questions back then. Trying to be a good Christian, I bowed my head and whispered a prayer for understanding. I looked out at a world where drug-addicted women gave birth to drug-addicted and horribly deformed babies and heard from my spiritual seniors that this was God’s punishment or that they simply had to accept the responsibility for their actions. Then I read about the incidence of babies along the Rio Grande Valley born with only a brain stem – dying from the moment they were born because their mothers were exposed to chemicals as they picked the fruit that I ate at my dinner table. Who was being punished for what here?
In my volunteer position at a child abuse prevention agency, I sat and listened to a woman tell me how her husband of fourteen years had impregnated their twelve year old daughter. As a conservative Catholic, the idea of abortion simply had never been discussed. When I brought it up, she looked through the open doorway to her daughter who might be a mother before she was a teen and refused to contemplate that sinful path. After they left the office I went down to the chapel downstairs and looked up at the cross over the altar. Where was the will of God in this?
A couple of months later I sat down with a woman who had been beaten with a hammer and gang-raped. She had missed her period twice and was sure that she was pregnant. This would be her second child in three years and the tips she made as a topless dancer just wouldn’t cover diapers and formula on top of the other living expenses she already couldn’t pay for. When you added the fact that she was prescribed lithium and periodically used both heroin and cocaine when her meds ran out and the chance for the baby being healthy were fairly short. Would Jesus simply have told her that she must take responsibility for her life?
I spent much time on my knees in prayer and in diligent study of the Bible in various translations to try and guide me through this moral minefield. I talked to my pastor, to my Sunday School teacher, to the old white-haired men who seemed so wise. No one could give a satisfactory answer to my questions. Time and again I heard, “The wisdom of God is beyond the understanding of man.”
I don’t doubt that this is true. God has a much better picture of what is going on that I do. However, my follow up question was always dismissed out of hand. “Is it possible that God allowed man to learn to perform an abortion to deal more humanely with such events?” No one could point to any passage in the Bible where abortion was dealt with directly. Eventually, I understood that the opposition to abortion was based less on Biblical understanding and more on taking a position and using the Bible as a crutch for defending it.
I don’t pretend to say that abortion is the answer to every unwanted pregnancy. However, I do believe that there are situations in which it can be both merciful and moral. If the Bible is to be of any use to Christians, it – all of it – must be applied with zeal to reality. We cannot simply pretend that everything always works out the way it should.
Shakespeare wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Christians should strive to make this untrue of our teachings. We should bravely face the injustice and incredible pain of the world. Our goal should always be to offer hope and alleviate pain and show other humans by our example what it means to be loved by Christ. If this is not what it means to be Christian, then we have fallen too far from where we should be.

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