Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice - Analyzing the Arguments with a Christian Perspective

Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice believers and activists have some valid, important points. Both sides would benefit from understanding and appreciating the validity of each others' points and attempting to arrive at a middle ground that honors their true intentions.

Contrary to the beliefs of many people on both sides of the issue, it is actually possible to accomplish this, and to do it within the framework of Christian belief. For those who read this post and aren't Christian, I think the moral values are generalized enough to fit within most religions. The point is that it is possible to analyze the issue from a Christian perspective and arrive at a Christ-oriented understanding and compromise.

Prepare to suspend your previous understandings, beliefs, and feelings on the issue until you finish reading the article. If you do not do that, there isn't much point in reading the article, is there?

First let's explore the Pro-Life perspective. The Pro-Life belief matches the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." It's a clearly defined, unambiguous rule. It is also part of the "Old Testament," which means "Old Agreement." That was God's "old agreement" with humanity about what we would and would not do and therefore what would happen to us in the afterlife. Jesus' birth and death established a "new agreement," in which Jesus took on the sins of all and because he was himself sinless, all of our sins are forgiven. Our job is to try as much as possible to live like Jesus instructed and demonstrated and when we do sin, to recognize and admit it, ask for forgiveness and strive to never do it again. Because we are frail, imperfect humans, it is guaranteed that we will not perfectly achieve this goal. That's the legalistic part of the Christian argument. As you can see, it might be undermined by the fact that it's based in the Old Testament, but we can analyze that further later on.

Besides the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" underpinning of the Pro-Life position, there is a more emotional motivation, the feeling that babies, including fetuses, and for some Pro-Lifers, even zygotes, eggs, and sperm, are precious, sacred, a form of life, and should not be killed or wasted for any reason. Again there is that sort of hard-line "for any reason." There are a few Pro-Lifers who will concede a couple of extreme situations where that fragile early life could be understandably killed, such in the case of incest or the probable death of the mother if the baby were allowed to go to term. However, they are the exception. This really isn't in the core of belief of the Pro-Life perspective. Their essential position is that the procedure of abortion should be illegal.

Many of them are also against sex education, contraception, or even sex for any purpose other than pro-creation, at the extreme end. I'll get into that later.

The Pro-Choice perspective is that women must have freedom to make choices about their bodies as a matter of personal liberty, and that this freedom trumps the rights of the unborn to live, depending on the circumstances. There are a few Pro-Choicers who believe that women should have the right to abort at any stage of the fetus' development, for any reason, but most Pro-Choicers would prefer some limitation, including not allowing 3rd-term abortions except in the case of danger to the mother's health. Danger, not necessarily guaranteed death. This is the modern legal push of the Pro-Choice moment.

The Christian underpinning of the Pro-Choice moral perspective is in the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, specifically detailing the life and teachings of Jesus. What did Jesus preach in relation to abortion? Nothing. What did he advocate that we should do? Take care of the sick and needy. Jesus didn't condemn sinners. He reached out to them, demonstrated his compassion and took care of them and spoke to them about a better path, but not speaking cruelly to them or condemning them. He didn't state that everyone had the right to become rich. Quite the opposite. His rejection of the pursuit of worldly wealth is well known. He elevated as our example those who gave freely to those in need.

Where is the righteousness in these arguments? Murder is a sin, but we do not condemn the sinner, we reach out to them, care for them, heal them, and demonstrate our compassion.

How does this apply to resolving the conflicts in the positions of the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements?

First, let's be clear, Jesus never got involved in government. He refused to be or be considered a king, and did not get tangled up with politicians or governments. He reached out kindly to tax collectors, and when He was tortured under Roman punishment, He did not recant his beliefs, get into political arguments, or condemn anyone. In fact, He forgave them.

Would He have supported abortion? I doubt it. Would He have tried to pass legislation banning abortion? I doubt that, too. What would He have done? I believe He would have reached out to pregnant women and taken care of them. If they chose to have abortions He would not have condemned them or attempted to punish them. He would have kept reaching out to them, showing them compassion for the difficult situations they found themselves in, and hoped to convince them not to have an abortion.

Back then things were a bit simpler, and different in significant ways. Medical knowledge was very limited. It's unlikely they would have been able to identify whether a pregnancy was likely to kill the mother. They knew as a fact that many women died in childbirth and believed there was nothing they could do to prevent. They didn't have safe contraception. Life expectancy wasn't long. Most women did not have jobs away from home like we do now and it was easier to raise your children right there, as you worked in the fields or around the home, with other women around you doing the same thing. One thing Jesus made explicitly clear is that we should reach out and help widows, particularly widows with children, since there were few accepted ways for them to support themselves and their children. We know Jesus valued and reach out to children often.

Would Jesus have tried to get laws passed banning abortion? No. Would He have encouraged women to have abortions? No. He would have reached out to women considering abortions, helped them, not condemned them, and helped them after the pregnancy, whether that meant forgiving their choice or getting them help with raising the children if needed.

He would not have tried to eliminate public education and welfare programs. He would not have tried to cut or eliminate Unemployment, Social Security, or Medicare. He would not have supported money wasted on military or wars.

The living women and the children they already have would be important to him, and His approach would be compassion, inclusion, and care for them. He might well have counseled against abortion, but He would not have condemned those who made that choice.

If a woman became pregnant and for whatever reason felt that she couldn't physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or for whatever reason, properly care for the child, He would have tried to find alternatives for her. He would NOT have wanted her to risk her own health to have the child. He would not have wanted her to carry the pregnancy if it would harm the children she already had, but he would have tried hard to offer alternatives.

How have both sides gotten away from Jesus' principles? The Pro-Lifers need to forgive women, stop trying to legislate against abortion, reach out to them, and offer alternatives. That means supporting poor women, women who are ill, and women who work, so that they are able to properly care for their children. That means supporting public education, maternity and paternity leave, health care, and child care. If you want to set up an outreach program to spread the message against abortion, do it honestly. Call it "Alternatives to Abortion" or something, but do not pretend to be something you are not or lie to women who are investigating the option of abortion. Lying is a sin covered in the 10 Commandments, too. Be caring, compassionate, and offer real options to pregnant women, whether that be adoption or additional help so that they are able to keep the child, without giving misinformation about abortion. No one who calls themselves Christian should harass, threaten, or kill abortion providers or women who have chosen to have abortions.

The Pro-Choicers need to be more compassionate as well, and be willing to support women who choose to keep a pregnancy. They can acknowledge that life is sacred and that there are Christians and other people of various faiths who feel that abortion is wrong. In abortion counseling and clinics, they should provide complete information, including information about adoption and public services that might be able to help the women keep their children.

Those in the medical community who are uncomfortable providing abortion services must at least provide information to clients who request it on where they can get that information or those services. In the same pamphlet or packet could be information about other options. Pharmacies must fill prescriptions for contraceptives, including Plan B. If an individual pharmacist believes deeply that abortion is wrong in all circumstances, the most he or she should be allowed to do is include a pamphlet which compassionately offers information on other options. Honestly, it should probably be very similar to the same pamphlet the doctor would give out.

If a town does not have a medically licensed abortion provider (such as an RN or MD), there must be some sort of referral and transportation service to a nearby facility equal to what there would be for any other kind of medical need that the local community could not provide.

Children must be given clear, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education. I think it should include a discussion of reasons to abstain from sex entirely until marriage and in particular circumstances, such as with drug users, prostitutes, strangers, or anyone known to have multiple partners. A discussion about hormones and the difficulty of abstaining should be mentioned. Let the kids be prepared to resist and protect themselves. Rape and child and animal molestation should be clearly condemned. The discussion can include the time and expense of raising children, and data on how teen pregnancy effects their long-term financial prospects. Sex should not be demonized, however. It is a healthy expression of love and commitment within a safe relationship. The benefits of life partner relationships should be mentioned, including emotional, financial, physical, and in the raising of children. Alternatives to heterosexuality should be mentioned, at least in passing. Homosexuality is common enough that it should not be demonized, but again, life partnering and waiting to have sex until at least deeply committed should be encouraged. Fertility and the health risks of pregnancy to the mother and child should be discussed, especially in related to age, with both boys and girls.

The discussion can include encouragement to ask adults they trust and their faith community for their advice on a healthy approach to sexuality.

Parents should be encouraged to experience the program for themselves before deciding whether or not to allow their children to participate, and if they do not want their children to participate, the waiver form should specify that they promise to ensure their children receive adequate sex education from another source. They can be the source themselves, but they are at least promising to have those awkward discussions with their child.

A solid sex education program like the above, along with open discussions with children by their families and faith communities, will successfully teach children to handle sex and relationships responsibly. Some will choose to have sex anyway, but they will be armed with solid knowledge on what they are risking and how to obtain and use contraception, including STD-preventing devices.

Jesus' teaching and life comes down clearly on the Pro-Choice side, but only with the addition of providing care, options, and information to adults and children.

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