Abortion and the Mercy of God
By Dr. Jim Denison
Every year, approximately 40,000 people die on American highways. Every ten days, that many abortions are performed in America. Doctors conduct 1.5 million abortions every year in the United States, more than the total of all America’s war dead across our history.
Since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in January of 1973, more than 48 million abortions have been performed in America. This is a number larger than the combined populations of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Depending on the year, an abortion occurs for every three or four live births in our country. Abortion is the moral issue of our time. It seems impossible to wrestle with the difficult issues of our day without addressing this crucial debate. Most conservative Christians believe that life begins at conception and abortion is therefore wrong. But are we sure? Is this a biblical fact? If the answer is clear, why have so many denominational leaders taken pro-choice positions? Is there a biblical, cohesive, practical position on this difficult subject?
I began this essay with the conviction that the pro-life position is most biblical. But I did not know much about the legal issues involved, or the theological arguments for a woman’s right to choose abortion. As you will see, the debate is much more complex than either side’s rhetoric might indicate. But I believe that there is an ethical position which even our relativistic society might embrace.
An “abortion” occurs when a “conceptus” is caused to die. To clarify vocabulary, “conceptus” is a general term for pre-born life growing in the mother’s womb. More specifically, doctors often speak of the union of a sperm and an ovum as a “zygote.” A growing zygote is an “embryo.” When the embryo reaches around seven weeks of age, it is called a “fetus.” However, “fetus” is usually used in the abortion debate to describe all pre-born life.
A “miscarriage” is a spontaneous, natural abortion. An “indirect abortion” occurs when actions taken to cure the mother’s illness cause the unintended death of the fetus. A “direct abortion” occurs when action is taken to cause the intended death of the fetus.
Why do so many people in America believe that a mother should have the right to choose direct abortion?
In 1973, the Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade, its landmark abortion ruling. In essence, the Court overturned state laws limiting a woman’s right to abortion. Its decision was largely based on the argument that the Constitution nowhere defines a fetus as a person, or protects the rights of the unborn.
Rather, the Court determined that an unborn baby possesses only “potential life” and is not yet a “human being” or “person.” It argued that every constitutional reference to “person” relates to those already born. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees protections and rights to individuals, but the Court ruled that the amendment does not include the unborn.
The Court further determined that a woman’s “right to privacy” extends to her ability to make her own choices regarding her health and body. Just as she has the right to choose to become pregnant, she has the right to end that pregnancy.
The Court suggested several specific reasons why she might choose abortion: “specific and direct harm” may come to her; “maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future”; “psychological harm may be imminent”; “mental and physical health may be taxed by child care”; problems may occur associated with bearing unwanted children; and “the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood” should be considered.
Since 1973, four positions have been taken in the abortion debate:
•There should be no right to an abortion, even to save the life of the mother. This has been the Catholic Church’s usual position.
•Therapeutic abortions can be performed to save the mother’s life.
•Extreme case abortions can be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or severe deformation of the fetus. Most pro-life advocates would accept therapeutic and extreme case abortions.
•Abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it. This is the typical “pro-choice” position.
Moral arguments for abortion
“Pro-choice” advocates make five basic claims: (1) no one can say when a fetus becomes a person, so the mother is the most appropriate person to make decisions regarding it; (2) abortion must be protected so a woman who is the victim of rape or incest does not have to bear a child resulting from such an attack; (3) no unwanted child should be brought into the world; (4) the state has no right to legislate personal morality; and (5) a woman must be permitted to make pregnancy decisions in light of her life circumstances. Many theologians, pastors, and denominational leaders consider these claims to be both biblical and moral.
First, “pro-choice” proponents argue that a fetus is not legally a “person.” They agree with the Supreme Court’s finding that the Constitution nowhere grants legal standing to a pre-born life. Only 40 to 50 percent of fetuses survive to become persons in the full sense. A fetus belongs to the mother until it attains personhood, and is morally subject to any action she wishes to take with it.
Second, abortion must be protected as an alternative for women who are the victims of rape or incest. While this number is admittedly small in this country (approximately one percent of all abortions), it is growing in many countries around the world. As many as one in three women may become the victim of such an attack. They must be spared the further trauma of pregnancy and childbirth.
Third, no unwanted children should be brought into the world. If a woman does not wish to bear a child, she clearly will not be an appropriate or effective mother if the child is born. Given the population explosion occurring in many countries of the world, abortion is a necessary option for women who do not want children. The woman is more closely involved with the fetus than any other individual, and is the best person to determine whether or not this child is wanted and will receive proper care.