Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is Abortion Murder?

American society continues to be divided over the issue of abortion and there doesn’t appear to be any truce in sight. For those who oppose abortion the possibility of a supreme court justice that will tilt the court toward outlawing abortion has defined their choice of a president.   Following the November, 2016 presidential election, exit polls showed astonishingly that 76% of voters who self-described as “evangelical” voted for Donald Trump.  It appears that the deciding factor for many, if not most of such voters was that Mr. Trump promised to appointment a supreme court justice who would enable the supreme court to overthrow Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion.  As I write this, senate Republicans and Democrats are battling the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the supreme court.

Abortion opponents insist that abortion is murder.  For many that hold this view there can be no dialogue about the matter. Yes, abortion is a serious matter and should not be considered lightly.  But I am willing to argue that whether or not this is ‘murder’ can be debated with valid points on either side.  As early as the 1940’s and 50’s, even many conservative Christian scholars and clergy did not view abortion as something to be forbidden under any circumstance.  Abortion opponents insist that human life begins at conception and to terminate a pregnancy after this point is murder.  But, this is a relatively recent view. Historically, there have been various views regarding when a human life begins. Many believe life begins at birth, others assert it is when a heartbeat or brain activity can be detected.  Still others state that life begins when the fetus could be viable outside the womb.  

The issue of abortion is not addressed in the Bible, contrary to what many people insist.  The only case in scripture of something analogous to abortion is the case, addressed by Jewish law, where an individual strikes a pregnant woman with the result that she miscarries.  The Jewish law specifies a punishment for such an act, but it is not the same punishment as for murder. As far as the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” there has been historical disagreement as to the application of this in several areas.  For example, does this forbid a person from fighting in a war for his/her country? Does this preclude capital punishment? These are questions that are not easily answered.

As I have struggled with this in my own mind over the years, several considerations have led to my refraining from viewing someone who chooses an abortion as a ‘murderer.’  It appears to me that to make it a criminal act for a woman to terminate a pregnancy is in essence forcing a woman to have child, even if she is unable to care for a child, or has no one to help her rear the child.  While adoption is a wonderful act,  I don’t see society being willing to take up this responsibility on a large scale.

The life of a mother and her potential offspring cannot be viewed separately.  In the animal kingdom, offspring become self-sufficient almost immediately at birth.  A giraffe can stand shortly after emergence from the womb and actually begin running within an hour or two.  Guppies give birth to tiny babies who swim off immediately to fend for themselves.  Humans, on the other hand are helpless at birth and this doesn’t change quickly.  Parents know that it takes upwards of 20 years for that child to become a self-sufficient adult. America has an incarceration rate higher that any industrialized nation.  At the risk of over generalization, our jails and prisons are full of individuals that were not adequately prepared by anyone to become productive members of society.

An egg and sperm come together and form a cluster of cells that we call, in layman’s terms, a ‘fertilized egg.’ While some assert that this is the beginning of life, one could make the argument that there is life even before this fertilized egg.  After all a viable egg and a sperm that can swim are ‘alive’ in some sense.  So why insist that after they meet it is immediately ‘murder’ to prevent this from developing into a person?

Further, to say that to terminate this cluster of cells is murder is essentially saying that it must be allowed to become a person regardless of whether there is anyone capable or willing to care for this life physically, emotionally, socially, and educationally.  What astounds me is that the voting block for whom opposition to abortion is the singular issue that determines their vote seems to be, for the most part, the same block that opposes expansion of welfare programs, meals for the poor, better pay for public school teachers, education to prevent unwanted pregnancy, etc.  It appears to be the same group that favors ever tougher laws and the building of more prisons to house the people who break these laws.

Does it not seem logical that the same people who say that every fertilized egg is a life which must be preserved would also be the biggest proponents of a systematic program to help these eggs become lives that are worth living? There is great outrage and protest at the performing of abortions at health clinics, but this rings rather hollow when there is nothing like the same outrage expressed about the conditions in which children live in inner cities or poor rural areas of the country. I would respect abortion opponents more if they put forth even half the effort to help children born into poverty as they put into protesting abortion.

Abortion is a serious matter. Personally, I have not had to grapple with such a decision.  But, I have sat with individuals who have and it is an incredibly difficult decision.  But it doesn’t seem to me that this is something that should be decided by the making of laws.   I respect those who oppose abortion and they have every right to promote their view and discourage people from having abortions as long as this is done in a non-intrusive, non-forceful manner.

For some who will read this, what I have said is ‘anathema.’  They are not likely to change their minds.  I also realize that some people will decide that I am one of the bad guys in this debate.  But, in the interest of civility, tolerance, and a path forward in our society, perhaps some reading this will broaden their view of this matter even slightly, and thus bring greater understanding among us all. 

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