When I was in college, I was strongly pro-choice. My reasoning was based on cold blooded utilitarianism. It went like this: a promising student gets his girlfriend pregnant. If he assumes the responsibility of fatherhood, then it will mean sacrificing his dreams and ruining his life. Ditto for the girlfriend. The blob of tissue doesn't get a vote. It is ruining 3 lives, because what chance would a child have growing up in such an environment? So a complicated moral dilemna is actually simple: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. It is a very cold system of math, especially if you are on the short end of it. It is not surprising I had this philosophy. In junior high and high school, I was repeatedly presented in public school with scenarios like “you have a lifeboat with only a certain number of seats and more people than seats. Determine who should survive and why”. I was taught that human life was not sacred and that some people have more of a right to life than others. And I learned the lesson well.
When my college roommate's girlfriend got pregnant, this cold-blooded logic is exactly what I said to help convince him to not abandon his childhood dream of becoming an astrophysicist. There is an interesting twist on this. My roommate was agnostic and yet had a very high moral code. An example: one time, when I left the bank after making a cash withdrawal, I found the teller had accidentally overpaid me $10. The immediate image that came into my mind was the card from the game Monopoly that says “bank error in your favor, collect $$$”. I was going to keep the money because, after all, what college student can’t use a few extra bucks? But my friend talked me into returning the money. It was typical of him.
Because of his very high moral standards, my roommate was dead set against having the abortion and was preparing to drop out of school, marry his girlfriend and start his family. The reason that did not happen was because his circle of friends, mainly me, talked him out of it. My friend resisted us for a long time, but we wore him down and he at last reluctantly consented. My argument prevailed, and the baby died. I felt I had performed a service for my friend and kept him on the path he had chosen when we were kids.
My friend was agnostic, and yet had more moral scruples than I, the “Christian” had. My friend Aaron Astor has term he uses for the type of Christianity I practiced, which was in name only. He uses Andrew Sullivan’s term “Christianist” to distinguish it from real life-changing faith. The pervasiveness of this attitude in the modern church is a real problem because it robs is of our witness. Friar Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel attests: “The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians, who honor God with their lips and then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply find unbelievable”. This is important for me to share, because too often Christians are viewed as extremely judgmental. Commenting back and forth with folks over last weekend, there is no doubt that many have felt harshly judged by Christians for their pro-abortion views and, reasonably enough, don’t like it. However know this – the well-meaning people who have hurt you have not spoken truth into the lives of others in the manner we are told to do in Scripture. Instead we are enjoined to speak the truth in love. 1 Corinthians 13 has become associated with marriage ceremonies so much that people assume that is what it is talking about. It is not. Instead it is a reminder that if we speak or do anything in the name of Christ, it must be in love. Otherwise we become nothing but noise. So remember that I am not judging you when I speak about abortion. Instead, I speak to you as someone with blood on my own hands, and I certainly cannot say I am better than you.
In Christianity, we talk about the idea of repentance. Repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means a changing of the heart and mind that leads to a turning away from the path you are on. It is genuine action and not the half-hearted “I’m sorry you are mad at me for what I did" or I’m sorry I got caught”. I was convinced my pro-abortion viewpoint was evidence of willingness to make the “tough call”. However God has a way of correcting us when we go off course. He gave me a strongly pro-life wife. She had assumed because I went to the same church she did, showed up every Sunday and asserted I was a Christian, I actually was. She was appalled when she found out my position on abortion and gradually won me over to her point of view intellectually. What made it a true metanoia was when I saw my oldest daughter for the first time via ultrasound. This was no blob of tissue, but a visibly human being. I have wept many times over the years for the life of the child I helped snuff out so callously. I am weeping as I write this. I have been forgiven by a merciful God for what I consider now to be complicity in murder, but not by my friend. Our relationship was never the same after the abortion I counselled him to seek.
In 1992, with the ending of the Cold War, I left the Army feeling that I had done my part and could not justify the strain my passionate love for the military was causing my family. I did this without a particular plan, and considered many career options. One avenue I explored was going into the ministry in my denomination of United Methodism (the same as Hillary Clinton, if you recall). The first step of the process was to be interviewed by local clergy and the District Superintendent. Somehow during the interview, my strong pro-life position was brought up. One of the clergy told me, ironically, that “perhaps I should go home and talk to my wife about that”. Needless to say there was mutual agreement that I was not a good fit for the UM Church and I left it shortly thereafter. I mention this for two reasons: first, it shows how deeply the lie is that women walk in lockstep on this position and, second, it points out that the Christianism is not only found in the pew. In 1993, the Religious Coalition For Abortion Rights (RCAR) actually rented space for their lobbying activities in an office building owned by the UMC. But if “Christians” cannot even agree about abortion, then who am I to say the prolife position is correct?
A succinct and compelling argument about the morality of abortion is based on the question of whether the unborn are human or not. If they are human, then they deserve the full protection of the law. If they are not human, then they can be disposed of as wished. The other question is if they are human, then when do they become so? Hillary Clinton rightly observed that the law as written says the unborn are not entitled to rights until they are born and thus can legally be killed until they are completely outside of their mother's womb. This is the rationale that allows the butchery of partial birth abortion. However, as the Reverend Martin Luther King observed so powerfully in his magnificant Letter From Birmingham Jail, there are times where civil law should not inform us of what is right and wrong:
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a
legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just
or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.
Over the years there have been attempts to say when human life begins. Usually the definition is subjective, like "at the point of quickening" or "viability" or else is completely arbitrary, like x number of weeks. The only non-subjective startpoint for human life is at the point where, if uninterupted, it will continue. That point is conception.
By relegating the unborn to the status of thing, killing it becomes no more of a moral decision than swatting a fly. Most people are rightly uncomfortable with this and that is why most people will say "I would not have an abortion myself, but I don't want to tell others what they should do". However, if the unborn are human and abortion is murder, this argument doesn't fly. How does one say murder is wrong for me and not for you? You can't.