“Abortion is a complex, painful issue that touches upon faith, gender, and class.”
This quote was pulled from an opinion piece on the emphasis given the abortion issue at the Democratic National Convention. The piece is worth reading, but I want to address some ideas with regard to this particular statement.
This summarizes the collective thought about abortion from many who claim to stand on “middle ground.”
I recently attended an informal debate, the topic of which was: “Is There Middle Ground On the Abortion Issue?” The outcome that day seemed to be a resounding “yes,” the reason being that both sides of the debate cared about the same things — families, women, caring for those in need, providing support and resources for women who face unwanted pregnancies, etc.
Both the statement above and the debate I attended address the psychological complexity surrounding the abortion issue, the complex and painful issues that bring women to the decision of whether or not to abort a pregnancy. I use “surrounding” because the issues they address are parallel to abortion. But unless “abortion” is defined broadly so as to include poverty, access to healthcare, lack of emotional support, church-and-state legislation, the overwhelming need for revolutionized sexual ethics, and other — albeit [very] important — issues, neither the statement nor the debate really focused on the issue at hand.
For the sake of clear thinking and decision making, we need to carefully consider the rhetoric and make some important distinctions. What is meant by the term “abortion”? What are the issues that touch the abortion issue? Are there limits out of which we must not step? What is the most human response?
Philosopher Christopher Kaczor defines abortion this way: “Properly speaking, abortion is the intentional killing of a human fetus.”
His terms are carefully chosen and scientifically accurate. Working with this definition, either abortion is morally permissible, or it is not.
I suppose middle ground means the instances in which intentionally killing a human being might be up for consideration. Let’s look at some suggested instances from the “middle,” keeping in mind that I am addressing each one in an intellectual manner. My feelings are another matter, but I must check them by what I know to be true.
• Poverty — Though poverty is a travesty, and a result of a broken world, and though we should all have strong convictions about the need to bring an end to it, one cannot justify taking the life of an innocent human being to lessen the burden. I think that communities should work together to help those in need — including unborn children before and after birth; but just as I think a family cannot kill their 3-year-old to lessen the financial burden on the other family members, financial hardship does not justify abortion.
• Emotional support — Facing an unwanted pregnancy is, in many cases, terrifying. In some cases, it may be the most difficult thing a woman ever has, or ever will, face. Once a pregnancy begins, the “getting pregnant” cannot be undone. Where does a woman go from there? I agree that emotional support is much needed, and I think that communities should rally around women and families facing crisis pregnancies. I understand that so often, in our predominantly self-centered culture, this does not happen. But if a troubled woman cannot take the life of her toddler because she lacks emotional support, neither ought she be able to kill her unborn child.
• Church-and-state — Many claim that the pro-life view is grounded in “religion,” and so it has no place in discussions on matters of the State. If by religion, one is loosely referring to a metaphysical realm of unseen ideas, it may be true that the pro-life view is grounded there. But the pro-lifer’s claim that the unborn are deserving of a right to life is no more religious than claiming the unborn do not deserve such a right. Also, the claim that the unborn are human beings is not religious, but scientific. Science, not religion, tells us that from the very beginning, the unborn are living, distinct and whole human beings. Lastly, it is important to point out that the pro-life view is shared by individuals among a broad spectrum of “religious” views, and that all laws deal in morality, in setting parameters on what ought or ought not be allowed, which inevitably brings us back to metaphysics.
• Gender — The reality is that abortion is perceived as a “women’s rights issue.” Because I must operate according to what is, I keep this in mind when thinking, writing, and speaking. But even as I work in this reality, I work diligently toward replacing the wrong thinking with true ideas. The unborn are unquestionably human, which makes abortion a “human rights issue.” To perceive it as a women’s rights issue is to beg the question, “What is the unborn?” by assuming at the outset that the unborn — including unborn women — are not human beings deserving of rights.
• The need for a better sex ethic — I agree. Resoundingly. Just as I think that this issue, in particular, is one that undergirds the overwhelming number of elective abortions in our country and in others. But even as we work toward achieving this, there are new lives coming into existence all the time. Should we kill innocent human beings on the grounds that young people are lacking in sex education, access to or understanding about birth control, or in understanding sexual ethics? To improve upon those problems is a worthy endeavor, but to allow abortion-on-demand just because those problems exist is impermissible.
When human life hangs in the balance, distinctions must be made. While I agree with the seriousness of the issues that make contact with the abortion issue, and while I think fruitful discussion can be had on how to improve the state of things with regard to those, none serve as justification for taking innocent lives.
On that issue — abortion as “the intentional killing of a human fetus” — there is no middle ground. Either it is morally permissible to unjustly take innocent human lives, or it isn't.
And while any progress that lessens the number of lives lost is good and deserving of support, it should be supported with the goal — to bring the killing to an end — in mind and in sight.
To protect the most fragile among us, even in the face of extreme difficulty and turmoil, is the most human response.
As we discuss weighty matters with one another may we do so winsomely and wisely; and with sharp awareness of exactly what it is we're discussing.