Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Abortion, Abortion, Abortion. I've kinda sorta already presented my greyscale view on the issue in a variety of posts, but it's better to go at it in a systematic way. Here, I'll flagrantly repost from my old blog, and present you with my operating assumptions:

1) Abortion is Horrible. Unless you're a doctrinaire Soviet, a current member in good standing of the Chinese Communist Party, or a pathologically obsessive academic "feminist", there's nothing positive about it. It's not a joyful thing, in any way shape or form. In a best case scenario, it's a symptom of dysfunctional sexuality. It's a sign that somewhere, something has gone wrong. I'm talking here not moralistically, but biologically.

A male and a female homo sapiens have copulated. For whatever reason, the individuals involved are neither prepared nor willing to support the potential life that has unexpectantly come from their liaison. As a result, an invasive and emotionally traumatic surgical procedure is undertaken. Even if you're a full-gospel libertine, or believe that human sexuality does not need to be contained within the bounds of a covenant union between a man and a woman...and even if those words make you feel inadequately free to be you and me...abortion is still a narsty, bloody, emotionally trying and horrible thing.

2) There Are No Plain-Text Biblical Grounds for Opposing Abortion. Yeah, I know. Life, life, life. Many tighty-righties are monomanaically on about it, and in the midst of those arguments there are some interesting and significant points raised. But the most potent of the arguments have little or nothing to do with with a bible-based faith. When folks gather to protest abortion, there's a reason they don't have signs with scripture on 'em. The arguments to be made from scripture are far too abstracted and convoluted to fit on a sign or a bumpersticker. Why?

Because Christian Scripture read in it's objectively plain meaning is really quite noncommittal on the subject.

Where Torah speaks to causing an abortion, and it does directly, it straight up doesn't consider a fetus the equivalent of a fully gestated human being. If you kill one, recompense is financial and not a matter of blood-debt. In the Torah, life in utero is at best property.

Where the Prophets and the Writings speak directly of life in utero, they evoke that stage of being as something in which awareness...and thus essential not fully developed or even present at all.

Where the Gospels and Epistles speak to it...oh. Wait. They don't. Not really, not in that blessed plain sense of the text.

For all of the sound and fury from those who claim to argue from the plain text of God's inerrant Word, there is not really a sound case to be made from that perspective. Folks try to make it anyway, because the level of heat and the intensity of focus on this issue has tended to make every single thing in the world yet another piece of evidence in that struggle.

That doesn't mean you can't make a nuanced case from the foundations of Christ's teachings, from abortion's impact on our agape ethos. But that's an argument that must admit to some greyscale shading. And if there's greyscale, it's harder to get in a righteous froth about it. And if people aren't in a righteous froth about becomes less compelling as a wedge issue.

3) The Strongest Arguments Against Abortion are Scientific and Humanistic. In all of the civil discussions I've had with folks in the blogosphere and elsewhere around this issue, I've been most moved by those who argue the case in terms of the danger to how and who we consider human. The argument...and it is an essentially humanistic that the sacrifice of a genetically unique potential human being represents a significant loss, and one that should give us moral pause. This argument should be self-evident to anyone who has children, or knows anyone who has children. That would be pretty much all of us, I hope.

That a fetus at a certain stage of development has levels of awareness that can not be externally perceived is another contribution of science. As we've learned more about the processes underlying the formation of a child in the womb, it should give anyone halfway sentient some qualms about something that terminates that process. Reference point 1), above.

These humanistic and scientific arguments are certainly bolstered, and in some instances founded, in the Judeo-Christian love ethic. But if you're going to make the case in the public sphere and to non-Christians, that's got to be the emphasis.

4) Abortion Should Be Reduced. For all of the shrieking, posturing and poo-flinging from the far right and far left, as a culture we should be able to commit to the idea that abortion is both horrible and an evidence of societal dysfunction. It is not in any way desirable. That common ground is attainable, and allows us to work towards policies that will decrease abortion rates in this country, which are now nearly twice that of the more secular social democracies of Western Europe. The problem is that rigid absolutism does not contribute to that end...and is ultimately counterproductive.

If we don't get past our doctrinal rigidity on this issue, that end will never be attained.