Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Religious Liberty Dimensions of the Abortion Debate

I am not intending to discuss the morality of abortion per se. Frankly, I have long believed that both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” advocates have way oversimplified the moral complexities involved in order to rally troops. You know the drill: extreme pro-choicers talking as if the civil liberties of pregnant women were the ONLY consideration and of medical abortions having no more moral significance than wart removal and extreme pro-lifers (having the louder megaphone for some time now) equating all abortions with murder and demonizing the motives of anyone who brings up hard cases or complexities. Deciding in the mid’80s that one side yelling “woman hater” and the other yelling “baby killer” did not count as moral discourse, I joined Common Ground which seeks its namesake between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. I spent 10 years with the organization and the experience would make good training for negotiating Middle East peace! At any rate, if someone is interested in getting past simplistic slogans to hard moral reasoning, I recommend Abortion: A Reader, ed. Lloyd Steffan, The Pilgrim Library of Ethics (Pilgrim Press, 1996) which gathers some of the best arguments, religious and secular, on all sides of the debate.

What concerns me here is the religious liberty aspects of the debate–which, sadly, were not even addressed in Roe v. Wade (1973). A brief side-note: Contrary to the constant rhetoric of the right, this decision was NOT immediately controversial. Catholic officials opposed it from the beginning, but usually in language tied in with their opposition to artificial birth control. Many later figures of the religious right either ignored the decision or made statements in the affirmative. The latter category included the notorious fundamentalist Baptist W.A. Criswell, author of Why I Preach the Bible as Literally True. Criswell noted that biblically, life begins with breath, and said that he always believed abortion should be left up to moral decision of the mother. Another similar voice was that of the right-wing theologian Norman Geisler. In the earlier editions of his book, Christian Ethics, he laid down the principle that “born life has priority over unborn life” and spelled out a limited number of cases in which he would believe that abortion is a moral option. Later, after the pro-life movement dominated the religious right, Geisler’s book came out in a new edition in which this section was removed and he argued that all Christians MUST be pro-life. Changing one’s mind is perfectly okay, but it is dishonest not to admit that you HAVE changed your mind and not to admit that an issue is complex enough for people to come to different conclusions.

When the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, THAT was controversial. White preachers accused the SC OTUS of communism, billboards went up throughout the South threatening the lives of justices, and there were widespread calls for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren (although the decision was unanimous). NOTHING like that happened when Roe was handed down and abortion was not a hot political topic until the 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan, aided by a book published in the late ’70s by Francis Schaeffer and a then-obscure doctor named C. Everett Koop (later Reagan’s Surgeon General) called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? which first made abortion and euthanasia widespread evils among the Right and the battle cries for a new “right to life” movement.

This, in itself, is not damning. Sometimes it takes awhile for something to be perceived as an evil that must be opposed. I have nothing against people changing their minds. I do protest the dishonesty which claims that the new position is the one you’ve ALWAYS held, that ALL right-thinking people (all Christians, or all Bible-believing Christians, etc.) hold and have always held, and portraying your opponents as, at best, morally obtuse, and, at worst, in league with the powers of darkness. This is wrong, but it has characterized the Religious Right’s tone in the abortion debate from 1980 onward.

To a lesser extent, this kind of dishonesty has also occurred among some pro-choicers: acting as if all feminists always were pro-choice when the historical record indicates otherwise. (Abortion opposition wasn’t even a plank in the original platform of the National Organization for Women, nor in the first edition of Betty Friedan’s manifesto, The Feminine Mystique.) And groups like Feminists for Life are right to note the opposition to abortion by such feminist foremothers as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton–although they often act as if these women had all the scientific knowledge of contemporary gynecologists. Historical context is ignored by too many on all sides of this debate.

This leads me to my first liberty of conscience principle in this debate: Respect for the consciences of all requires portraying both your views and theirs as honestly as possible, refusing distortions for partisan political gain. One has to have a respect for “information integrity” in public moral discourse, one that refuses to twist facts, statistics, etc. to favor one’s own perspective. One has to be willing to admit to data that count against one’s own position and has to admit when one has changed one’s mind, and to the complexities which allow different people to come to different conclusions. This is not because “anything goes,” but because respect for liberty of conscience is tied in with respect for truth and for the morality of HONEST debate of important moral and public policy issues.

A negative example of what I have in mind happened a couple of years ago (2004) when my former teacher, Dr. Glen Stassen, now of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, wrote a widely reprinted op-ed which argued for keeping abortion legal, but reducing the numbers of abortions by examining the causes why women seek abortions. One major reason given is the unwillingness to raise a child on one’s own, but men do not usually marry unless they can find good employment–so when unemployment is down, abortion rates drop as well. After this was published, many on the right accused Glen of “economic determinism,” of being in the pay of the Democratic Party, of not being a “real Christian,” etc. and INSISTED that Glen’s data was wrong that abortions had declined under G.W. Bush, not under Clinton. (3 independent statisticians checked Glen’s data, corrected for some data he didn’t have, but basically supported his contention that abortions declined under Clinton and grew again under G.W. Bush and correlated with unemployment and lowpaying jobs.) That is dishonest and a failure to respect information integrity, as well as engaging in unfair ad hominem attacks.

The Stassens’ youngest son was born with several birth defects because Dot Stassen contracted rubella while pregnant–and they chose to carry to term and raise David despite the hardships. Moreover, Dot, a registered nurse, went to work for a school for unwed mothers seeking to provide alternatives to abortion AND unwanted pregnancies. The personal demonization of this wonderful Christian family because their approach to the abortion debate differs is intimidation and false witness–and stems from failure to respect liberty of conscience and debate issues fairly.

A second religious liberty dimension is this: Differing religions hold different views on the morality of abortion. Respect for liberty of conscience means that one cannot simply legislate one religious position (e.g. ,the official Catholic view) as the law of the land. Most religions appear to find abortion generally morally problematic, but there are widespread disagreements: Most Buddhists are pro-life, but Japanese Buddhists are mostly pro-choice and have developed rituals for abortions; Traditional Judaism allowed for abortion if the mother’s life was threatened and some rabbis extended this to a threat to the emotional health of the mother; the early church mostly opposed abortion, but it appears that this was strongly connected with its opposition to infanticide and it is impossible to tell from the sources  (e.g., the Didache) whether or not early abortions with modern methods would be allowed under some circumstances; abortion is not addressed directly in either the Old or New Testaments, despite its widespread practice in the ancient world; in the decades preceding Roe there was a growing number of Protestants who argued for the legitimacy of abortion in limited circumstances (the SBC was on record twice to this effect prior to 1973).

Does this mean that any attempt to restrict or outlaw abortion is automatically out of bounds on religious liberty grounds? No. In an analogy widely used by the Right, Southern slaveholders defended slavery on biblical grounds, but no one today argues that the outlawing of slavery is violation of religious liberty. And, if my religion allows for human sacrifice, the law will not support me in my desire cut out my neighbor’s heart and offer it to Kali. But, in these cases, the restrictions on some liberty are justified by the common good and by appeal to moral principles established by REASON that could be understood apart from a particular religious viewpoint.

For the most part (there are exceptions), the Right has been willing to engage in this kind of reasoned debate less and less as its political influence has grown. Now its attitude has been, “WE SPEAK FOR GOD, SO OUTLAW ABORTION NOW NO MATTER WHO DISAGREES!” That is clearly wrong. I especially object to the Right’s tactic of trying to stack the Supreme Court because the justices they want on the court in order to overtun Roe also hold to many views clearly at odds with the health of the common good (e.g., Renquist’s opinion that Plessy v. Ferguson should have been upheld; Scalia and Thomas’ opposition to the Miranda decision, etc.). A far more honest approach, respectful of liberty of conscience, would be to seek a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion, but this effort was early abandoned by the Right when it realized that it would have an easier time stacking the court than to get 3/4 of state legislatures to ratify the amendment–when polls consistently show that a strong majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legally available.

The ends don’t justify the means. This route may have been the harder road, but it would have respected liberty of conscience more since, to be successful, it would have had to persuade a large majority of the public that abortion is wrong under most, if not all, circumstances.

The right demonizes those who want to keep abortion as a legal option, but who recognize widespread abortions as being, at best, morally tragic, and working to reduce the number of abortions sought. I fail to understand this except as a theocratic exertion of power. After all, several European countries, especially Belgium and the Netherlands, have very liberal abortion laws, but very low abortion rates, due to strong social safety nets and widespread sex education and easy availability of artificial contraception. This approach is defended even by someone like Jim Forest, head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, who lives in Holland and who notes the strong opposition to abortion by Eastern Orthodoxy for centuries. Why is such an approach wrong in the U.S.? Especially since even the Right agrees that if Roe is overturned a vast underground network for illegal abortions will erupt? Wouldn’t working on the causes for which abortions are sought be a better approach–one that can potentially unite rather than divide the nation?

I’ll end this post with a personal narrative. I will admit to having changed my view on the morality of abortion at least 3 times in my adult life–on THIS, I have been a flip-flopper. From the moment I became a pacifist as a young man, I instinctively opposed abortion as a form of violence. Upon closer examination, I became convinced that the fetus is NOT a human person (it is human life) at conception, but only a potential person. As such, it has a presumptive right to life (which grows during gestation), but this can be overridden by the rights of the mother, who is already a person–but the later in the pregnancy, the more it should take to override the presumptive right to life of the person-to-be.

This became less abstract when my wife was pregnant with our second daughter. Even though Kate was in her late ’30s, we decided against an amniocentesis–the risk of this invasive procedure causing miscarriage outweighed what it was likely to tell us about birth defects–and we would have raised a Down’s Syndrome child. But we did use another technique, less invasive, whose name I forget–and we got an emergency call from the Ob-Gyn saying that our child-to-be may have Spina Bifida. In extreme cases, no real spine develops and the child is stillborn or dies right after birth. We could see no reason to carry to term in such a case, especially since fetal death could happen BEFORE birth and be a threat to my wife’s life. So, we rushed for a level 2 ultrasound and, thankfully, found that it was a false alarm–Miriam had/has a very healthy spine. Kentucky forbids abortions even in the late 2nd trimester, so we would have had very little time to make a horrible choice if the worst had proven true.

But what horrified me most was that pro-lifers lined up to condemn us for even considering an abortion, even in the extreme case. We should have been willing, we were told, to risk even Kate’s life to carry to term, even if the fetus had no chance at all, so it could leave the world surronded by love, instead of in a cold hospital procedure. The utter lack of regard for Kate’s life expressed here showed me why so many pro-choice folk think that all pro-lifers are really anti-woman and simply pro-birth. Missing from this was any conception of moral heroism going beyond moral requirements: A pregnant woman may choose to risk her life on a lost cause, such as a developing fetus with no spine, but no one can morally REQUIRE her to do so. (Considering that such a risk of life could have left me a single parent and my older daughter motherless, it is also not clear that moral heroism is only exercised in one direction.)

There are many such examples which is why abortion is a morally complex issue. Liberty of conscience requires not only seeking laws which respect different religious conceptions about life and personhood, etc., but requires that law and morality and public discourse recognize the difference between moral duty and moral heroism.

July 3, 2006 - Posted by | abortion, religious liberty, Religious Social Criticism

21 Comments

  1. >The utter lack of regard for Kate’s life expressed here showed me why so many pro-choice folk think that all pro-lifers are really anti-woman and simply pro-birth.

    The larger question is God anti-woman and simply pro-birth? Is He not big enough to take care of us or does He leave the really hard stuff up to us to figure out and choose? The answer is not to ask other people what they think, but to pray and ask God to show you what to do.

    >I am not intending to discuss the morality of abortion per se.

    There’s the heart of the matter. I commented earlier that I didn’t see how a Christian could separate their beliefs from their actions – and here you are proceeding to have a discussion about abortion and are wishing to exclude the moral question of it – when the morality of it cannot be extracted from it as it is a moral issue.

    >Liberty of conscience requires not only seeking laws which respect different religious conceptions about life and personhood, etc.,

    How can a believer whose views of life are determined by the reality of God as Creator as revealed in scripture not be passionate about that enough to want to share those truths with others? If someone has a light, why are they content to let others stumble around in the dark? That concept is not biblical. In the end, that’s the only person’s opinion that really matters anyway as our opinions are subjective – while God’s is objective.

    Look at the Declaration of Independence:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    In that one line we see a belief and proclamation based on a Creator God (created by their Creator) and propositional truth (truths to be self-evident – not relative to opinions or personal experience).

    Comment by Roger | July 3, 2006

  2. No, I don’t think God is anti-woman and merely pro-birth–but those who condemned us for considering an abortion in these extreme circumstances apparently do. Do you think we didn’t pray over that decision? What do you know about our prayer life? This incredible arrogance and judgmentalism is amazing. I don’t know what we would have decided had Miriam not had a spine, but I do know no law, no politician, and no minister could decide for us or tell us what God would have us do–as if they could know God’s will better than us!

    I didn’t bypass an in-depth substantive discussion of the morality of abortion per se bcause I am separating my beliefs from my actions or denying that abortion is a moral issue. My entire discussion of the flippant way some pro-choicers talk about the issue is predicated on my belief that this is very much a moral issue.

    I was bypassing that larger discussion simply because I am trying to write about liberty of conscience and religious liberty–and so the only part of the abortion issue germane to the larger discussion is the religious liberty dimensions. To read me as saying otherwise seems to be a deliberate twisting of my words, rather than an attempt to understand what I am writing.

    Of course, my views are determined by the reality of God, not just as Creator, but as Preserver and Redeemer, and of course I want to share them with others. Are you being deliberately obtuse, Roger? I am not talking about Christians refusing to engage in evangelism (perish the thought!) or refusing to reveal their religious motives for seeking certain public policy courses instead of others. But Christians cannot DICTATE public policy in a pluralistic democracy, and, if we are to persuade others, we must do so using reasons (God gave us brains, you know) that others who do not share our faith can also agree with and support. This goes back to the Wisdom tradition in Scripture–a tradition Jesus followed in his parables!

    The Declaration of Independence recognizes the existence of God–the Constitution is silent on the matter. But the Declaration doesn’t give us guidelines for creating public policy–it wasn’t intended to do so. If we are just to write laws based on “the God view” whose interpretation of God’s will are we to follow: James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? Richard Land’s or Jesse Jackon’s? And those choices are just within a narrow range of Protestantism. Should we enact laws based on the views of the Pope? This radical Baptist would not be willing to do that even with a pope I liked better than I think I am going to like Benedict IV.

    Self-evident beliefs are few and far between.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 3, 2006

  3. A series of hard cases;

    1) After trying for a long time to get pregnant, a couple finds that their child-to-be is anencephalic–i.e., being born with no brain, just a brain stem. If they carry to term, the fetus may die before hand and either miscarry (at some risk to the mother) or even become cancerous in the womb. What should they do?

    2)A couple discovers their child-to-be has the genetic disease Tay Sachs, which is 100% fatal (almost always before age 4) and is accompanied by excruciating pain for which there is no treatment. What should they do/

    3)An 11 year old girl is kidnapped and repeatedly gang-raped prior to being rescued alive. Emergency contraception (a “morning after pill”) would prevent any conceptus from attaching to the uterine wall. Some consider this to be a form of abortion, even though 40% of all fetilized ovae never attach to the uterine wall and pass from the woman’s body without her ever knowing she had conceived. Should the child be given emergency contraception as part of her healing process?
    If no emergency contraception exists and she becomes pregnant, should she be counseled for an abortion (how does an 11 year old exercise choice in such a case?) or encouraged to carry to term–when her own body is barely pubescent and at great risk from any pregnancy? What of her mental health? The chances are that if she conceives, she’ll miscarry (spontaneously abort), but this at a much greater health risk than an early induced abortion.

    4)An older woman, still fertile, has had 2 difficult pregnancies and 2 miscarriages. Her gynecologist tells her that another pregnancy would risk her life, but she is also becoming old enough that The Pill is riskier. Her husband, loving his wife and kids, decides to do the responsible thing and have a vasectomy so that their married sex life doesn’t endanger his wife’s life and health. But, he works for the city government, and, thanks to a local lobby coalition between fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, the city health plan no longer pays for “artificial birth control” including the elective surgery of a vasectomy. The couple choose to use condoms, despite the inconvenience, but the local pharmacist refuses to sell them and threatens to tell their church about their “immoral lifestyle.” What should they do?
    5) A teenaged girl whose conservative family told her very little about sex was manipulated into heavy petting by a an emotionally coercive boyfriend who told her she couldn’t get pregnant if he ejaculated in her vaginal area without actually penetrating her hymen. This turns out to be erroneous and she becomes pregnant. She knows that her abusive father will likely beat her to death if he discovers her secret, knows the boyfriend would make a poor father, and so, in fear, “chooses” an abortion. But her state has a mandatory parental notification law and a 24 hour waiting period, so now she is running away in the middle of the night before her father can find her. There used to be a women’s shelter she could go to in her town for help, but when local churches found it had connections to Planned Parenthood, they forced it to close by threatening the lives of the staff with anonymous bomb threats.

    All of these examples are based on real cases, I dealt with in my time in Common Ground.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 3, 2006

  4. >I don’t know what we would have decided had Miriam not had a spine, but I do know no law, no politician, and no minister could decide for us or tell us what God would have us do–as if they could know God’s will better than us!

    And I know you won’t find answers outside of His Word. And God will never contradict His word. He will never have us do something disobedient to His word inorder to do His will. The root of my comment was not judgementalism – far from it. I’m sorry if you inferred that.

    >What do you know about our prayer life?

    It’s hard to communicate this way as you only know me by what I type – and vice versa. You didn’t mention seeking God’s will through prayer – that He was still in control through the whole thing, that he is intimately involved in our lives, that He is sovereign, that He is good and blessed you all with health.

    Do you realize you to tend to be explaining the rationale for your stance based on the words of people (whether it’s founding fathers, Christian friends, etc) instead of the truth of scripture? That truth is unchanging and outside of the realm of politics and personalities. God’s word addresses these issues that you’re talking about.

    >whose interpretation of God’s will are we to follow:

    Do you believe scripture can be understood as God would want us to understand it? Where is the Holy Spirit? Are we left to let the world or our intellect help us intrepret God’s word – does God mean for us to try to do it on our own?

    Comment by Roger | July 3, 2006

  5. Roger,
    Where in God’s Word (I assume you refer to Scripture whereas I use that phrase to refer to Christ or to the gospel) does it discuss abortion or problem pregnancies?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 3, 2006

  6. Are any of those cases outside of God’s sovereignty and power? How did the specifics of those cases change the principles that are in place? Do we have evidence in scripture of God’s blessing when we take courses of action upon ourselves outside of what He has said? What role does faith in God and His nature factor into my questions?

    Comment by Roger | July 3, 2006

  7. >Where in God’s Word (I assume you refer to Scripture whereas I use that phrase to refer to Christ or to the gospel) does it discuss abortion or problem pregnancies?

    Jesus is the God-man. His word is God breathed – just as is the rest of scripture. Don’t handicap your understanding of God by neglecting part of the scriptures. It’s all there for our benefit.

    If all of the specific answers for every hardship were in the Bible, we wouldn’t need faith, or God. We’d know answers and the proper actions and God would be irrelevant. But if we know God, we know His nature – and by casting our cares on Him, we trust Him.

    Comment by Roger | July 3, 2006

  8. Roger wrote: If all of the specific answers
    for every hardship were in the Bible, we wouldn’t need faith, or God.

    Now you have me completely confused. Weren’t you just criticizing me for NOT appealing directly to “God’s Word” for the answer to abortion-related cases? Now you admit that they aren’t specifically in Scripture?

    Oh, I see, I have “trusted the Holy Spirit” and trusted in God’s sovereignty if I come to any decision OTHER than the decision to abort, right? This despite the lack of any “thou shalt not abort” Scripture.

    And, of course, everyone who has decided to “trust God for the answers” (as long as that answer doesn’t involve aborting) has never had a pregnant woman die on them or had to watch a child die of Tay Sachs less than a year after birth, etc.?

    Go away.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 3, 2006

  9. >If all of the specific answers
    for every hardship were in the Bible, we wouldn’t need faith, or God.

    My comment was in direct answer to your question to me of specific cases:

    >Where in God’s Word (I assume you refer to Scripture whereas I use that phrase to refer to Christ or to the gospel) does it discuss abortion or problem pregnancies?

    The big question still remains:

    Why are you handicapping your view of God by choosing to believe only Christ’s recorded words and the gospels? This is critical as it may very well determine if you truly know God or worship an idol (a view of God as you have determined Him to be by picking and choosing what to believe as His word).

    Comment by Roger | July 5, 2006

  10. >And, of course, everyone who has decided to “trust God for the answers” (as long as that answer doesn’t involve aborting) has never had a pregnant woman die on them or had to watch a child die of Tay Sachs less than a year after birth, etc.?

    Where is the master list of problems that we use to determine who lives and who dies? Why doesn’t God give us a list of those? What about physical handicaps? Does He expect us to figure it out on our own and take action – or to trust Him with the results?

    >watch a child die of Tay Sachs less than a year after birth, etc.?

    There’s a difference between aborting that baby and having it die a year after birth. For one, the parents forfeited the time to get to know and love their child – a unique soul that will exist for all eternity. They missed out on a unique opportunity that will never come again on this side of heaven.

    It all comes back to this…

    Are any of those cases outside of God’s sovereignty and power? How did the specifics of those cases change the principles that are in place? Do we have evidence in scripture of God’s blessing when we take courses of action upon ourselves outside of what He has said? What role does faith in God and His nature factor into my questions?

    Comment by Roger | July 5, 2006

  11. >Where in God’s Word (I assume you refer to Scripture whereas I use that phrase to refer to Christ or to the gospel) does it discuss abortion or problem pregnancies?< I asked you this because you kept telling me to “go to God’s Word” for the answers. As soon as I ask WHERE, since NOWHERE in Scripture is abortion even mentioned, you tell me to trust the Holy Spirit to interpret for me–interpret what since there is no passage to interpret?!!! Even IF there were a “Thou Shalt Not Abort” passage or “Thou mayest abort only to save the life of the mother” or whatever, this would solve the problem ONLY for Christians whose final authority is Scripture. But why should a secular government (and our Constitution demands a secular government) whose citizens include many different types of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc. legislate according to Scripture? THAT’S the religious liberty dimension of the issue and why one MUST be able to give sound reasons that everyone can follow for particular laws. Now, you said: >Why are you handicapping your view of God by choosing to believe only Christ’s recorded words and the gospels?< This shows a remarkable inability to read what I have written. I never said I only believe Christ’s recorded words, nor only the Gospels. Warning: Elementary theology lesson follows: 1) You kept telling me to “go to God’s Word.” So, I was asking whether you meant by “God’s Word” the Bible. Because the Bible itself NEVER uses the phrase “God’s Word” or “Word of God” to refer to sacred writings. Check it out. 2) No such phrase exists in the early part of the OT, although there are examples of God speaking. The phrase first appears in the writing prophets, but NOT to refer previous sacred writings–that is referred to by the term “the Law” of “the Law of Moses.” No, the prophets use the term “Word of God” ONLY to refer to the direct message they receive from God, to their prophetic words which have not, at that time, been written down. 3) In the NT, the term “Word of God” is most often used in the Johannine writings: The Gospel of John, 1 John, and The Revelation to John. In every case, those writings use the term “Word of God” to refer to the PERSON of JESUS CHRIST (not his recorded words)–preexistent, incarnate, or risen. So, following the NT’s own usage, I usually mean “Jesus Christ” when I use the term “Word of God.” 3)When the Apostle Paul uses the term “Word of God” he doesn’t mean the OT (that he calls “Scripture”), but the gospel, the message/story about Jesus and the salvation Jesus brings. (Not the Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John–which were not written yet when Paul wrote his letters. Gospels with a capital “G” refer to those books, but ‘the gospel,’ small ‘g’ means, “the message about Jesus.” Everyone knows this.) So, following the NT, I sometimes refer to the gospel by the term “Word of God.” Get it? That doesn’t mean that I don’t consider the entire Scripture authoritative as canon, as rule of faith. I do. End of theology lesson. Now, and this is my FINAL comment (although I invite others, PLEASE, to join in), when you write: >There’s a difference between aborting that baby and having it die a year after birth. For one, the parents forfeited the time to get to know and love their child – a unique soul that will exist for all eternity. They missed out on a unique opportunity that will never come again on this side of heaven.< You’re right. And that is the first comment you’ve made that is relevant. But that is only advice you can give, not something you can demand without usurping others’ liberty of conscience. And, it doesn’t address the cases where the fetus is likely to die before birth or at birth and where the mother’s life and health is at increasing risk if she carries the doomed fetus to term. You write:
    >> Are any of those cases outside of God’s sovereignty and power? < <
    No, but God doesn’t exercise that power to save at all times and leaves MUCH to us. One can trust in God’s sovereignty and die–and that is something only the individual can decide to risk, no government can tell anyone, “You must risk your life and trust in God.”

    >How did the specifics of those cases change the principles that are in place?< You keep referring to principles, but you don’t state any principles. I have stated religious liberty principles as this issue pertains to public policy. If this were a different discussion topic, I could state principles for trying to decide complex moral problems (but I couldn’t demand that everyone follow those principles). But you keep mentioning some principles as if I am supposed to know them, but never spell any out. >Do we have evidence in scripture of God’s blessing when we take courses of action upon ourselves outside of what He has said?< No, but, once again, Scripture NOWHERE talks about abortion. The only place it comes CLOSE (Ex. 20) is a case law about 2 men fighting who (somehow) injure a pregnant woman. If the woman dies, the principle is life for life. If she miscarries, but is not further harmed, the penalty given is a fine. This shows that developing fetal life is valued, but NOT as highly as the already born life of the mother. And that’s as close to the topic as the Bible gets. And, again, the Bible only settles the case for Christians. >What role does faith in God and His nature factor into my questions? < Much--for Christians. But even there no one can decide the outcome of HOW that factors in for another. What you refuse to see (other than the obvious fact that abortion is nowhere discussed in the Bible!) is that CONSTITUTIONALLY, one can impose one's own religious convictions on others through law only if one can appeal to reasons that are persuasive to others who do not share the faith. One can only override liberty of conscience when the common good is at stake in pretty obvious ways--e.g., not letting someone who believes in human sacrifice kill their neighbor. Those Christians like you who believe abortion to be obviously wrong, in all circumstance, seem unwllling to try to persuade others through sound REASON.
    You seem to say, “WE ARE CHRISTIANS AND WE SPEAK FOR GOD (even where the Bible is silent) SO YOU MUST OUTLAW ABORTION BECAUSE WE SAY SO!” That is a theocratic move and THAT is what I and everyone else who believes in liberty of conscience (and the constitutional guarantees of such) will resist with all of our lives.
    Such religious dictatorship is simply wrong. You can’t even point me to an appropriate biblical passage to convince me, a fellow Christian, so why should a non-Christian listen? They shouldn’t.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 5, 2006

  12. >I asked you this because you kept telling me to “go to God’s Word” for the answers. As soon as I ask WHERE, since NOWHERE in Scripture is abortion even mentioned, you tell me to trust the Holy Spirit to interpret for me–interpret what since there is no passage to interpret?!!!

    Scripture reveals a God who is creator and intimately involved with each of us – from time of creation in the womb to our death; Not one who is only there for the good times and not the bad. This is one of the principles that you were asking about.

    >Even IF there were a “Thou Shalt Not Abort” passage or “Thou mayest abort only to save the life of the mother” or whatever, this would solve the problem ONLY for Christians whose final authority is Scripture. But why should a secular government (and our Constitution demands a secular government) whose citizens include many different types of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc. legislate according to Scripture? THAT’S the religious liberty dimension of the issue and why one MUST be able to give sound reasons that everyone can follow for particular laws.

    Governments can’t make people good. But they can restrain evil. If governments have no problem with abortion, then they are not protecting those that can’t protect themselves. So, take another look at the abortion issue. Are those that want a law doing so in the name of a theocracy (to make us good?) or to save lives?

    >You keep referring to principles, but you don’t state any principles.

    That’s why I keep referring you to scripture. It’s what we learn of God as revealed in scripture.

    >”WE ARE CHRISTIANS AND WE SPEAK FOR GOD (even where the Bible is silent) SO YOU MUST OUTLAW ABORTION BECAUSE WE SAY SO!

    The problem is that Christians cannot agree that abortion is a moral issue – and not a political one. God is not pragmatic. That’s another principle. It’s never politically right if it’s morally wrong.

    >Those Christians like you who believe abortion to be obviously wrong, in all circumstance, seem unwllling to try to persuade others through sound REASON.

    Who? I’m asking questions. You answer: “Stop that!”
    I ask more questions. You answer: “Go away.”
    I hope I’m being reasonable – albeit challenging. Are you being reasonable to me?

    I’m really trying to understand the biblical case for your views.
    You seem to be deferring to politics and history. That’s confusing to me because we are first and foremost Christians, superceding denomination, political party, country citizenship, etc.

    Comment by Roger | July 5, 2006

  13. I have had similar thoughts concerning the issue of gay marriage. Personally, I believe it is wrong for us to adopt the modern Christian definition of marriage as our nation’s definition of marriage. Polygamist forms of marriage have existed for as long if not longer than the one man one woman scenario. The last time I checked, David, described by the Bible as a man after God’s own heart, had multiple wives. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating a new Christian definition of marriage. I just don’t think that non-Christians should have to abide by the tennants of the Christian faith.

    Comment by Gil Gulick | July 7, 2006

  14. Gil,
    You are precisely right and I will address this further in a later post. I had hinted at this implication in what I wrote earlier in this series on liberty of conscience about the Mormon polygamy cases.
    Civil marriage and religious marriage are two different things, though they often overlap. No religion is forced to recognize any civil marriage. Nor, however, should religious definitions of marriage be enforced on civil marriage. Civil marriage is a civil right.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 7, 2006

  15. Did Roger EVER answer where in the Bible God tells us not to commit abortions?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | July 17, 2006

  16. No, he seems to think that the general principle of caring for life (definitely in Scripture), along with the general attitude that children are a gift (also definitely in there) and a stress on God’s sovereignty combine to prohibit all abortions. I think they combine to PREDISPOSE Christians against aborting, but this says nothing about public policy in a pluralistic society with religious liberty and it says nothing about the hard cases even for Christians. This is especially true since the only case even CLOSE to the issue of abortion, Ex. 20, clearly values the life of the mother above the (also valued) life of the unborn fetus.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 17, 2006

  17. For a slight twist on things, lets take a closer look at Ex. 21:22-25

    22 “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

    Being STRICTLY LITERAL about it, it has to be men (not women, or women and men) fighting who either accidentally or on purpose hit a pregnant married woman who then miscarries, but in the process also sustains “serious injury” to life, and/or an eye, and/or a tooth, and/or a hand, and/or a foot, while such injury may or may not include burns, wounds, and bruises to any or none of the above. Internal injuries would presumably fall under the “life” category, but other body parts, such as ears, knees and elbows, not being specifically mentioned, are presumably not covered.

    If the woman isn’t married, too bad!

    The aggrieved husband must haggle his way in court for fetal demise compensation, in addition to all else, presumably before a male judge, and hopefully one who was not also involved in the altercation. Hell, the judge might even be her ill-tempered husband who picked a fight with a male neighbor and she tried to break it up… but what if both men struck her accidentally on purpose?

    The woman can’t petition the court on her own behalf. Nor is there mention of self-inflicted wounds, suh as in self-aborting. In this case, would she pay her husband a fine, whatever the husband demands and the court allows? That wouldn’t fly today, no sir!

    Comment by Lex | July 22, 2006

  18. Hi, Lex. You’re absolutely right and thanks for quoting Ex. 21:22-25. I had been saying Ex. 20 in citing from memory–sigh, middle age.

    It’s an odd case law, all right. And, weird as it is, something like this must have actually happened because it isn’t a common hypothetical, but something so odd that a Hebrew judge must have actually had to deal with this. And the case doesn’t have to do with a voluntary abortion, but an accidental miscarriage.

    Despite the widespread practice of abortion in the ancient world, there is no direct mention of it in Scripture. But in the Talmud (compiled in the centuries between the end of the Hebrew canon and about 200 C.E.) this passage is already cited by the rabbis as precedent for allowing some abortions since the developing life is valued, but valued less than that of the woman (who is clearly valued less than her husband and father, but the rabbis don’t mention that).

    Now, Christians are not bound by the Talmud and Jesus clearly valued women and children higher than the Hebrew Scriptures, but the New Testament is also silent about abortion. There is no passage that is closer to the topic than this one. So, in the absence of any other, I think the principle of valuing unborn life, but valuing born life higher must remain–for Christians.

    But, again, this doesn’t have direct application to abortion in a religious plural society. One can argue that developing fetal life, as a potential person, has a presumptive right to life which should not be lightly overridden. Such a principle would appeal, I argue, broadly and would restrict most abortions. Phrased in such a way, it would not be a violation of religious liberty. But complete bans would UNLESS they could justify themselves on nonreligious grounds.

    Conservative pro-life Christians were initially willing to try to make such arguments, but, as their political power has grown, they have chosen power over reason. In fairness, Catholic pro-lifers, using natural law reasoning, have been more willing to make such arguments–but not usually to listen to replies that use the same methods but come to differnt conclusions. Nonethless, Catholic pro-lifers have, on average, been more respectful of the religious liberty dimensions of this debate than their conservative Protestant counterparts.

    No need to add your comment more than once, Lex. It won’t appear until after my review–that’s my spam protection for the blogsite.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 22, 2006

  19. For a slight twist on things, lets take a closer look at Ex. 21:22-25

    22 “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

    Being STRICTLY SEMI-LITERAL about it, it has to be men (not women, or women and men) fighting who either accidentally or on purpose hit a pregnant married woman who then miscarries, but in the process also sustains “serious injury” to life, and/or an eye, and/or a tooth, and/or a hand, and/or a foot, while such injury may or may not include burns, wounds, and bruises to any or none of the above. Internal injuries would presumably fall under the “life” category, but other body parts such as ears, knees and elbows, not being specifically mentioned, are presumably not covered.

    If the woman isn’t married, too bad!

    The aggrieved husband must haggle his way in court for fetal demise compensation, in addition to all else, presumably before a male judge, and hopefully one who was not also involved in the altercation. Hell, the judge might even be her ill-tempered husband who picked a fight with a male neighbor and she tried to break it up… but what if both men struck her?

    The woman can’t petition the court on her own behalf. Nor is there mention of self-inflicted wounds, as in self aborting. In this case would she pay her husband a fine, whatever the husband demands and the court allows? That wouldn’t fly today, no sir!

    Comment by Lex | July 25, 2006

  20. […] Religious Liberty Dimensions of the U.S. Abortion Debate […]

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