Voices: Discussing abortion responsibly

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I consider myself very strongly pro-life. I believe abortion is the killing of an unborn child and should be illegal in most circumstances—the major exception being when the life of the mother is in danger. I worry, however, that we in the pro-life camp do not always discuss abortion responsibly. I would like to offer a few thoughts on how pro-life people can talk about abortion better.

This is about women.

I am biologically male. I cannot get pregnant unless God chooses to do something very unexpected. For this reason alone, the abortion debate impacts me differently than it does women.

I do not have to worry about being impregnated against my will. I do not have to worry about the impact of pregnancy on my body and health. I do not have to worry about giving birth.

Some people who are pro-choice take serious issue with men telling women what to do with their bodies. At one level, I do not think this is a persuasive argument. As a friend of mine has said, virtually all laws amount to a restriction on what people can do with their bodies. Moreover, plenty of women are pro-life. This is not simply men trying to control women.

Nevertheless, abortion is a distinctly gendered issue. Pro-choice people have some valid concerns about how this debate connects to the broader issues of sexism and women’s bodily autonomy.

Those of us who are pro-life would do well to listen and to let women—pro-life and pro-choice—lead the discussion.

Pro-choice people do not support “murdering babies.”

One very harsh way of describing people who are pro-choice is to say they support the murder of babies. This accusation carries considerable rhetorical and emotional force and is also unfair.

An important rule in debate is never to ascribe views to your opponents that they do not hold and to describe your opponents’ views as fairly as possible. I have never encountered a pro-choice person who would say she or he supports the murder of babies.

One of the areas in which pro-life and pro-choice people disagree most strongly is the discussion of what constitutes “human life” in a morally significant sense. If something is biologically human and technically alive, does it automatically have an inalienable right to life in the same way as someone like you or me?

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This is a deep, difficult and serious question. Simply to accuse pro-choice people of supporting “baby murder” circumvents this important discussion for the sake of a rhetorical sucker-punch.

There are other important social issues tied up with abortion.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, poor women and women who are ethnic minorities have abortions at a much higher rate than women who are affluent and/or white. Put simply, racial injustice and economic inequality are just two examples of major public issues closely connected to abortion. Precisely how they are connected is complicated, but they are connected all the same.

We cannot talk about abortion without also talking about race, poverty and a slew of other topics. This makes questions of public policy and legislation even more difficult. If tonight we were to make abortion illegal in any and all circumstances, what would the impact be tomorrow morning?

Women do not get abortions on a whim. There are a variety of factors that play into a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy, and to ignore these will make the situation worse. Simply banning abortion will not stop the practice. If we really want to end abortion, we must get at the root cause(s).

Unfortunately, there are those who are against abortion who also deny the existence of systemic racism and suggest that poor people should just “try harder.” If we who are pro-life want to deal with abortion in a way that is effective and holistic, we must reckon with other social ills.

This is a real-life issue in our churches and families.

It is quite likely at least one woman you know has had an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion. It is quite likely at least one woman in your church has had an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion. It is even possible a woman you love deeply has had an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion. That woman might even be you.

What if a young girl in your youth group gets raped and becomes pregnant? What if a woman in your church confides to you that she terminated a pregnancy because she had no idea what else to do? What if you make a mistake and impregnate your girlfriend? I could go on.

These hypothetical scenarios all illustrate the various ways abortion can impact our lives and the lives of those we care about. This is not an abstract debate; this is real life. We can debate abortion until we are blue in the face, but what matters most is how we care for women who are considering or who have made this decision.

James 2:15-16 teaches that talk is worthless if it is not accompanied by action. How can we talk best about abortion? By showing compassion in both word and deed.

Joshua Sharp is a Master of Divinity student and graduate assistant in the Office of Ministry Connections at Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas.

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